Part 1: Sydney to Dubbo
This is a part 1 of a 2 part post on our three-night trip from Sydney to Dubbo and then (part 2) onto Coonabarabran. We had Dubbo marked as a travel destination of interest for a few years now. The main attraction was the Taronga Western Plains Zoo that is well regarded by those who have visited it in the past. The trip had till this year been relegated to the back of the queue due to various other travel deals popping up and forcing us to take as a priority. It was only when our schedule of planned travelling cleared up earlier this year, that I began to seriously formulate the trip to this Central West New South Wales destination. It was in that period of research that I remembered another item on my bucket-list of things to do, which was to stargaze in the outback clear skies. Coonabarabran was the town that consistently showed up as the top recommended place to experience the richness and beauty of the NSW night sky. It did also have a persuasive phrase attached to it; “astronomy capital of Australia”.
It was when I searched the location of the town in Google Maps and saw the relative proximity of it to Dubbo (1 hour and 40 minutes) that my travel plans cemented. It was obvious to me that to make the most of the nearly 5 hours drive to Dubbo from Sydney, that it was imperative to make the additional stopover in Coonabarabran and do the proverbial two birds with one stone.
Our holiday began mid-week as we left our place with a car full of luggage and kids, down the Great Western highway through the Blue Mountains National Park. It was a good time to leave Sydney as the forecast predicted coastal showers for the next 4 days. The drive right up to Katooma is a well maintained, two lanes minimum stretch of road. The ascend to the mountainous national park is always a pleasant experience mainly due the mature pines lining the front on many properties and the general lushness of the area. We did encounter thick fog passing through the turn off to the Three Sisters and the road subsequent to Katooma reduced to a single lane with roadworks littering the sides, but we were in high spirits so didn’t mind much.
I heard on the morning news that the Jenolan area where the famous Jenolan Caves are located received snow overnight, so I was really excited at the prospect that somehow we would see some when passing Katooma. But to my bitter disappointment there was no snow, only a smidgen of rain.
Our first stop was Bathurst. After a bathroom break and getting a better insight into the area from the local Information center we decided to have lunch and do a local attraction to break-up the trip and give the boys needed exercise. We settled on the Australian Fossil and Mineral Museum. What sold us was the replica cast model of a T-rex that Levi our 3.5 year old would enjoy.
The museum is quiet small with around four display rooms. Two dedicated to the minerals and gems, another to the Earth’s history, including fossils and the final room was what I guess is for temporal displays. Currently it housed a replica of an ancient croc with lots of facts about the actual discovery of the bones displayed on the surrounding walls. We were told that the croc was soon scheduled to be disassembled and taken to other parts of Australia.
Our toddler enjoyed the many stunning and almost surreal samples of the various minerals that the museum had on display. Many of the specimens reminded us of other objects, mainly food such as moldy bread, cauliflower, nougat, faery-floss etc. I feel that the Earth history part of the museum apart from the T-rex and a few smaller fossil replicas was aimed at slightly older kids. There were definitely many interesting things for adults to see such as early fossilized remnants of life but it would have been difficult to convey how exciting that is to a toddler.
After the museum we continued our drive to Dubbo. The original plan was to see a bit of Orange on the way, but the sleepiness got to the boys and for the sake of keeping them rested we drove through the town.
The roads from the time of entering Bathurst onwards suffered from an abundance of potholes. Some signs even warned us of the uneven roads.
Apart from the challenge of dodging the various holes on the road, the rest of the drive was pleasant and felt short. The views consisted mainly of expansive farmland with many creeks zig-zagging both sides of the road. There must have been some heavy rain days prior because some of the creeks appeared to overflow onto people’s farmland.
We left Sydney later than I hoped for around 9 am. Together with a stop-over for breakfast, the trip to the museum, it all added up to us arriving in Dubbo around 5pm.
We managed to secure a two-night deal at a local place called Macquarie Inn. The large single room was spacious enough for a double bed, a single bed, as well as a couch, a bar table and a little kitchenette. As part of our deal we got coupons to free hot breakfast, which we later found out was almost not required, as the continental breakfast on offer was of exceptional high quality with a large amount of options. We made this place our sleeping quarters for the next two nights.
Today was zoo day, located only a short drive from our motel, Taronga Western Plains zoo occupies a large area of the town and has a three lane entrance as you drive in. The boys were free because of their age, but the cost for two adults neared the $100 mark.
The animal enclosures are very large and spaced out far enough from each other that it is advisable to use some form of transport to get around. We used our car but we did see the option of hiring a safari type of buggy that would have made the experience more exciting. But then we would need two baby seats and the cart costed around $60, so we decided against it.
I would recommend taking a brochure that lists the daily times of when the various animal feeding sessions are scheduled. The zoo keepers not only feed the animals which forces the beasts to get closer for everyone to see them, but they also give a little presentation about history and facts relating to the specific species and individual animal.
The zoo had many of the typical African animals such as hippos, rhinos, lions, elephants (one African and several Indian), zebras, cheetahs, giraffes, and various species of antelopes. I did notice glaring omissions of some animals, specifically the great apes i.e chimps and gorillas, no bears, and even though the map listed tigers I could not see any. Also the otters were nowhere to be found (unless they were underwater) to Levi’s great disappointment.
We skipped the last section of the zoo which was the Australian wildlife, as the boys had exhausted all their energy and were asleep or falling asleep. The admission allows you to return the next day which I would recommend if you want to take it easy and see everything. The zoo is definitely worth the price of admission.
Some highlights that stand out for me were the lemur and gibbon displays. Both were set-up as little archipelagos connected by ropes and branches for the animals to get across. They were separated from people by the water. Mogo zoo has the same set-up.
Always a pleasure to see the gentle giants of the mammal kingdom, the elephants. One interesting fact I learnt from the talk was that the African and Indian elephants are more distantly related to each other than the woolly mammoth is related to one of the species (can’t remember which one).
I also managed to snap some cool birds that day.
After the zoo we went in search of food, it was then that I encountered my first drive-thru bakery called ‘PK’s bakery’. I ended up getting a Mexican pie from them, which was laced with some brutal jalapenos.
After another scrumptious breakfast at the bistro of our Inn, we returned our room key and were ready for the final leg of our journey. Before we left Dubbo we went into town to check out the ‘Old Dubbo Gaol (pronounced jail, not like a soccer goal as I learnt after my wife corrected me). This was a bygone prison that operated from 1847 right up to 1966. The now museum tried to maintain the look and feel of the original conditions of the cells and other prisoner quarters. There were a few prisoner manikins (some that talked) placed in various areas of the prison.
We got to see the pitch-black isolation room with bare stone walls, or the equally uncomfortable cells with wooden boards for beds that housed up to three felons at a time. Some of those rooms gave Levi a fright as the sensor triggered one of the manikins to talk.
The gaol gave a glimpse into the early penal system with actual cases posted on various walls showing the crime/s the people committed and how long they did their time in the prison. Apprently the most despised and hence targeted groups of people were the Irish Catholics, the Aborigines and the Chinese. One wall showed an array of men who were all hanged for murder (some on flaky grounds), all which fell into one of the three categories.
What I found most interesting was the padded room that was used for the deranged people who most probably suffered from mental illness and for which any support network at the time was non-existent.
Definitely a fun place to visit and learn a bit about the old way of life. Levi enjoyed it, so kids of all ages would get some fun out of the experience. Unfortunately, we did not get to be part of the regular tours that are held by actors dressed in the colonial clothing and giving some information about the place.
Part 2 to be continued – Coonabarabran and all things space related.