Beyond the Zoo in Downtown Dubbo

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May 30, 2017

Dubvegas. That’s what locals call Dubbo, where bright lights and the bush merge. Long-time resident Natalie Holmes plays tour leader.

What to do

Dubbo is a city on the dusty Great Western Plains, renowned for a zoo with landscapes that look as if they’re straight from the African savanna. Yet it’s also a city of gardens and parks, with a river – the Macquarie – running through it.

A good way to explore Dubbo is on two wheels. In this bike-friendly city, your first destination after hiring a bicycle at the Visitor Information Centre should be the Tracker Riley Cycleway, named after an Aboriginal tracker and police officer, Sergeant Alexander Riley, who was famous for finding bushrangers, murderers and lost children. The path loops around the river, which is a hub for swimming, boating and fishing. 

Macquarie River is known as “cod’s country” so if you’re keen, throw in a line (or take a dip) at Sandy Beach, Dubbo’s own version of the seaside. You can also stroll along the riverbank or join the weekly Parkrun, a popular Saturday-morning five-kilometre run with the city’s more athletic types. Alternatively, hire a kayak from the boat ramp at Ollie Robbins Oval and paddle past gum trees and weeping willows, spotting birdlife as you go. While there are some tricky spots, it’s a fairly easy course so you only need basic kayaking experience.

In town, pick up freshly made wraps from Relish and head to Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden, off Coronation Drive. Make a beeline for the Shoyoen Japanese Garden, a living gift from sister city Minokamo, accessed via an ornamental gate, or sukiyamon, built by Japanese artisans. Ask one of the friendly volunteers for some fish food then feed the ducks or koi in the small lake. As far as botanical gardens go, Dubbo’s is a fledgling, established in 1999. But it can lay claim to annual visits by Minokamo gardeners, who help tend the cherry and pine trees, camellias and hydrangeas, among others, which make Shoyoen one of Australia’s most authentic Japanese gardens. It’s a place where you can leave the chaos of the world behind. 

Closer to the CBD is the elegant (and much older) Victoria Park. Wander along its pretty tree-lined pathways and you’ll come across a duck pond, playground, skate park and orchid house. The shiny, modern Western Plains Cultural Centre backs onto the park. Exhibitions at the gallery include the second Dobell Australian Drawing Biennial, opening on May 5. The Dubbo Regional Museum, also within the centre, contains artefacts that tell the stories of local people through their possessions and tools of trade. There are war medals, household items, clothing, farm implements and even the artificial arm of late Tomingley farmer Bill Cross, who lost his limb to a Turkish bullet at Gallipoli.

A large mural of Aboriginal rights activist Pearl Gibbs is situated near the start of the Dubbo Heritage Tour (download a map from dubbo.com.au) at the intersection of Talbragar and Darling streets. Along Talbragar Street you’ll find historic buildings such as the Pastoral Hotel, established in 1886, and see where the flood of 1955 reached the city centre. 

Keep an eye out for public artworks scattered around the city. There are murals of bushranger Ben Hall, Boer War soldier Harry “Breaker” Morant and cattle king Sir Sidney Kidman and a wall of sports greats, including Dubbo-born cricketer Glenn McGrath, all created as part of art movement Boom Dubbo.

Note, too, the signage in the CBD describing past citizens and events. Read about notorious underworld figure Kate Leigh (portrayed in the television series Underbelly: Razor) and the trial of 1930s serial killer Albert “Mad Mossy” Moss, the city’s most sensational criminal case.

At Old Dubbo Gaol, which closed in 1966, see the cells, prison yard, hospital and hangman’s kit and gallows and catch an interactive performance depicting a prisoner’s attempted escape. Also view the padded cell where the scratch marks of deranged prisoners are still visible. The jail is an eerie place during the day but positively spooky at night. Do the Beyond the Grave Tour and decide for yourself whether or not the place is haunted. There were at least 35 deaths, including eight hangings, at the jail and four prisoners are known tobe buried here. An electromagnetic-field reader used during the tour is believed to register paranormal activity.

If you need a drink afterwards, swing by Macquarie Street’s Old Bank Restaurant & Bar, where the blues and rock scene is lively and there’s a range of 80 craft beers. The cool décor includes the guitars of AC/DC and Buddy Guy, plus posters of music legends.

On the first and third Saturdays of the month, head to Dubbo Farmers Market at Macquarie Lions Park and peruse the stalls of local produce such as fruit and vegetables, poultry and wine. Try the nuts from Murrungundy Pistachios, a family operation headed by Richard and Diana Barton; seek out Bodolio Grove for olive oil and olives grown on a property that’s been in the Martin family since 1898; and say hello to mother-and-daughter dairy farmers Erika Chesworth and Emma Elliott from The Little Big Dairy Co., a small farm making a big splash in the industry with its single-source milk and cream.

And, of course, there’s Taronga Western Plains Zoo, which is well known for its African animals but is also home to creatures from around the world. It has become a Dubbo icon over its 40 years and, while it’s a tourist hotspot, locals also treasure it. To avoid the crowds, go early and catch the sunrise over the city. Do a guided Early Morning Walk while the animals are waking and you’ll see the rhinoceroses’ breeding yards and the giraffes’ night barn. But nothing beats an overnight stay at the African-style Zoofari Lodge; take a seat on your private verandah and, before you know it, giraffes and zebras will be eyeing you off from just metres away.

Where to eat

Locals love their pub grub. Drop in to the Amaroo Hotel, affectionately known as the Roo, for a “six-fitty schnitty” ($6.50) on Wednesday nights. It’s a Dubbo institution.

Off the main drag, on Boundary Road, South Dubbo Tavern is consistently good, offering affordable schnitzels, steaks and pasta.

Macquarie Inn on Wheelers Lane serves classic counter meals, while the Macquarie Club does a cheap-and-cheerful Chinese lunch in an old-fashioned dining room.

Dahab Café (02 6884 5320) on Brisbane Street is Dubbo’s slice of the Mediterranean. Go for breakfast and try the dukkah eggs or the Eggs Benedict Three Ways comprising three eggs and hollandaise sauce, served on a split English muffin with smoked salmon, bacon, mushroom and avocado. Like all the meals here, the serving size is as generous as the hospitality of owner Mali Khattab and his staff.

In town, trendy Church St Cafe & Bar is a popular hangout for locals, who call it “CSC”. Many people dine al fresco, with the café opening onto the Cyril Flood Rotunda, a central meeting point where the free wi-fi is a bonus. The coffee is great and the menu ranges from breakfast burritos to lunchtime salads. At night, the emphasis is on sharing, with lamb meatballs, five-spiced squid and ricotta dumplings among the standouts.

Sit on the balcony of the Milestone Hotel or explore the cellar where, it’s believed, outlaw Kate Leigh ran a bootlegging operation. If nothing else, go for the chicken breast stuffed with camembert, sun-dried tomatoes and bacon, served with pumpkin and spinach risotto and crunchy sweet-potato chips.

Traditional decorative touches give Rose Garden Central Thai Restaurant (02 6882 8322) a terrific ambience, enhanced further by attentive staff and authentic food. The massaman curry melts in your mouth.

Tish Pintusen and her team at Westbury Boutique B&B in Wingewarra Street serve authentic Thai. Enjoy dishes such as soft-shell crab with chilli jam and caramelised pork belly in the simple yet stylish surroundings of a residence built for a local doctor in 1915.

Tucked behind Sticks & Stones Woodfire Pizza (02 6885 4852) on Macquarie Street is Two Doors Tapas and Wine Bar, where purple bougainvillea overhangs the tiny brick entrance. The chorizo meatballs, Spanish garlic mushrooms and double-crumbed camembert are all must-orders and best paired with sangria. 

At award-winning One 7 Eight Dining and Cocktail Bar at the Dubbo RSL Club, head chef Robert Leonard offers fine dining with a focus on local produce. The restaurant picked up a bronze medal at last year’s Chef’s Table Competition for NSW clubs.

Where to stay

The family-friendly Dubbo City Holiday Park has a pool, a jumping pillow and playground equipment, as well as barbecues and a fire pit. Bring your own camping gear or caravan or stay in one of the cabins. 

Cattleman’s Country Motor Inn and Serviced Apartments, set on 1.2 hectares, is Dubbo’s only 4.5-star motel. The 300-seat restaurant serves Australian fare with a Mediterranean influence and the emphasis, as the Cattleman’s name suggests, is on meat dishes.

At Walls Court Bed & Breakfast farmstay, hosts Neil and Nancy Lander will treat you like part of the family and you’ll have your own self-contained country-style quarters. Walls Court is pet-friendly and you can collect eggs and feed the sheep and chooks.

No. 95 has boutique accommodation and its own piano bar, where host Rod McDonald entertains guests. There’s also an outdoor saltwater swimming pool. At the excellent modern-Australian restaurant Red Earth Dining, pan-seared scallops and slow-cooked lamb shanks are teamed with regional wines.

Wake to the calls of the wild, thanks to the accommodation packages at Taronga Western Plains Zoo. Choose from the super-luxe Zoofari Lodge, permanent tents at Billabong Camp or self-contained Savannah Cabins.

At Lazy River Estate, just three kilometres out of town, the Boat House Villa features loft bedrooms, a two-person Balinese stone bath, a barbecue and a timber deck with vineyard and Macquarie River views. 

SEE ALSO: 6 Best Things to Do in Dubbo