Taronga Western Plains Zoo
Taronga Western Plains Zoo is located 4 kilometres south of Dubbo NSW. It’s one of the biggest drawcards in central west NSW and is home to hundreds of animals, spread out over 300 hectares of bush and open plains.
The zoo is home to lions, tigers, hippos, gibbons, water buffalo, zebras, giraffes, meerkats, rhinos and cheetahs, as well as Australian marsupials and birds. It’s a top tourist destination for many families and we think it’s a great destination for autism families too.
For those with a strong interest in animals, nature, science and the outdoors, the zoo will more than likely engage their interest. It will also appeal to those interested in transportation too, as visitors are encouraged to drive their cars, hire electric carts or ride bikes along the winding circuit.
From a sensory point of view, it’s also a great destination for autism families. The zoo is spread out along a 6km circuit so you rarely feel crowded by other visitors. If you do happen to feel overwhelmed, there are plenty of spots where you can find quiet space in between attractions.
On our visit, we didn’t encounter any troubling sounds or noises. There’s always the chance of this with animals (and kids!) of course, but we were surprised at how little we were disturbed by random noise. Note, the Savannah Plaza at the entry to the zoo is busier and louder as it features a gift shop, restaurant, toilets and playground.
Image of Savannah Plaza from Taronga Western Plains Zoo site
There’s a lot of visual appeal, but nothing that should overwhelm autistic individuals. Aside from the real animals on show, there are also many model animals scattered around the zoo that provide visual and tactile input. For those scared by the real thing, these are a great alternative too.
We weren’t disturbed by smells on our visit but this is something to keep in mind for those with olfactory sensitivities. Let’s face it, animals can smell and on certain days, particularly in summer, odours could be an issue. This is something to keep in mind for your visit.
We enjoyed our visit to Taronga Western Plains Zoo and genuinely recommend it as a destination for other autism families.
Making the most of your trip
The Taronga Western Plains Zoo website is a great resource when planning your visit. Keep in mind the following points:
- Electric cart hire is for 3 hour periods while bike hire is for the entire day
- You can drive your vehicle through the zoo
- There’s a restaurant at the entrance and a kiosk in the middle of the circuit
- There are also picnic areas available if you want to BYO food
- Your admission ticket permits you to enter the park for two consecutive days
We were able to take in most of the attractions in a 3 hour period via electric cart. A great strategy for planning would be to spend two half days there so you can enjoy the park without overwhelm.
There are significant gaps between animal attractions so you’ll need to prepare your kids for getting in and out of the car/cart multiple times during your visit. Showing them a map of the zoo is a good way to explain this.
If you’re planning on hiring a cart or bike you may need to prepare your kids for the possibility there may not be availability as you cannot pre-book these. Suggest beforehand that exploring the zoo in the comfort of your own car could also be awesome.
Depending on the time of day you visit, certain animals may not be active or on show. If there’s a particular animal of interest to your kids, contact the zoo in advance to find out the best time of day to visit.
It can get quite noisy in the main entrance area and Savannah Plaza. The admission desk, gift shop, restaurant, toilets and playground are in close proximity to each other. Plan to limit your time inside and head out to the adventure playground instead.
You can buy food and drink at the zoo. They even have gluten free options at Bakhati’s Café. However, you can also take along your own snacks or picnic lunch for the day. There’s also a kiosk halfway through the circuit which offers snack food, hot and cold drinks and ice creams for warm days.
We think it would be useful to take a backpack with:
- Sensory travel kit
- Copy of your Travel Timetable
To maintain calm and keep the peace, plan to take a break at the halfway kiosk. You can purchase drinks and snacks but you can also utilise the picnic area for BYO food. It’s an ideal place to rest and recharge.
Remember, your park admission gives you two consecutive days at the zoo. Consider spending two half days there instead of one full day. It also gives you the chance to leave early if you need to and know you’re not missing out or losing money.
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