Rather than making a bee line straight to the zoo, turn a gruelling drive into a relaxing road trip. Stop in at some of New South Wales’ most unique regional towns on your way to Dubbo. To make things easy, we’ve mapped out a few of the best routes.
Sydney to Dubbo via Parkes
Total drive time: 6.5 hours
Highlights: Three Sisters, Bathurst’s Mount Panorama, The Dish
Sydney to Katoomba – 1-2 hours (depending on where you’re starting)
See the city disappear in the rear-view mirror as you head for the Blue Mountains. Your very first stop will be one of the most well-known landmarks in Australia. The Three Sisters provide an awesome photo-op and a good excuse to stop for coffee before you really get stuck into your road trip.
Katoomba to Bathurst – 1.5 hours
Join the Great Western Highway and watch as the mountains level out and the landscape becomes flat, dominated by cattle stations and open fields.
As you reach Bathurst, head straight for Mount Panorama and drive around the famous Bathurst 1000 track. Relax speed demons, speed limits do apply. If cars are your thing, check out the National Motor Racing Museum to see a few real-life race cars and learn about the history of the Bathurst 1000.
You’ll find plenty of places to grab lunch in Bathurst. Annie’s Ice-Cream Parlour is a great spot to grab something sweet before you hit the road again. Or pick up essentials and grab a snack at Country Fruit on George Street.
If you’re planning on spending a night in Bathurst (we’d recommend it to make the most of the area), we stayed at the NRMA Bathurst Panorama Holiday Park. It’s right next door to the Big Gold Panner, so you can tick off a Big Thing while you’re there. The ensuite powered sites for motorhomes are brand new and spotlessly clean and the kids will love the playground, pool, mini golf course and jumping pillow!
Bathurst to Orange – 1 hour
The next stretch is pretty cruisey and shouldn’t take more than an hour. A nice stop and stretch your legs is the lake in Vittoria. On a calm day, the towering pine trees reflect on the water like a mirror and make for a great photo.
If you didn’t’ stay in Bathurst, once you’ve made it to Orange, you’ll probably be ready to call it a day. There’s plenty of motel accommodation in Orange but it’s worth checking out the private cottages and cabins a bit further out of town. Here are a few on Visitnsw.com.
If you’re travelling with a caravan or motorhome. we stayed at the Colour City Caravan Park in Orange. It’s conveniently located and has a peaceful outlook over the Orange Showground.
Orange to Parkes – 1 hour
Grab some breakky from Racine Bakery as you say goodbye to Orange en route to Parkes.
Fans of Round the Twist will instantly recognise Parkes’ main attraction, the Dish. A lesser known event that brings thousands of visitors to Parkes every year is the annual Elvis Festival. But don’t worry if you miss the big event in January, the King’s Castle Elvis Exhibit should quench your thirst for all things Rock-n-Roll.
Onnies café in the CBD has a killer lunch menu and the café at The Dish is pretty well known for its milkshakes.
Wandering the Public Art Trail is a great way to walk off your lunch before jumping back in the car for the final stretch to Dubbo.
Parkes to Dubbo – 1.5 hours
You’re on the home stretch. Watch the Dish get smaller and smaller as you head north to Dubbo. You might need a quick toilet stop in Peak Hill or Tomingley but a few games of i-spy should have you at your final destination. Now you’ve got all afternoon to get acquainted with this charming regional town.
Our top picks of things to do in Dubbo with kids are Taronga Western Plains Zoo, the Royal Flying Doctor Service museum, and Old Dubbo Gaol. If you’re looking for beautiful parklands to relax and play outside, the Shoyoen Japanese Garden is well worth a visit.
Sydney to Dubbo via Mudgee
Total drive time: 6.5 hours
Highlights: Mount Victoria, Mudgee wineries, Goonoo Forest
Sydney to Mount Victoria – 1.5-2 hours
Kids, snacks and car packed? You’re ready to hit the road. Head west toward the Blue Mountains, winding in and out of historic towns along A32. Take a quick snap at the Three Sisters before getting back on the road en route to Mount Victoria. Head to the Sunset Rock Lookout for an awesome view of the Blue Mountains.
Mount Victoria to Lithgow – 30 minutes
Watch the scenery go by as you continue towards Lithgow, famous among families for its Zig Zag railway. Unfortunately, the train is not currently operational but it is due to re-open this year! Check the website for updates.
After a bite to eat in town, you should be recharged to conquer the next stretch of your road trip.
Lithgow to Mudgee – 1.5 hours
B55 is lined with paddocks as far as the eye can see. This is the longest straight drive of the journey so be sure to stay focused. A few road trip games will keep your mind sharp. Check out this story on how to survive long car trips with kids. After a while, paddocks will be replaced with grapevines and you’ll know you’re not far away.
Mudgee is a world-famous wine-growing region and the perfect mid-way point on a road trip to Dubbo. Toast to your good driving with a bottle of Mudgee’s finest (or just the house wine. It’s all pretty darn good). Click here for a list of our favourite family-friendly wineries in Mudgee.
Mudgee to Dunedoo – 1 hour 15 minutes
Sleep in or get amongst the grapes this morning. The kids will love picking their own cherries at Roth Family Orchard. After you’ve stocked up un delicious local produce, it’s time to hit the road again. Heading north, you’ll pass through a few small country towns but if the little stomachs in the back start to rumble, see if they can hold on until Dunedoo. There’s a great bakery called ‘Chad’s’ and a nice park to sit and relax in.
Dunedoo to Dubbo – 1 hour 15 minutes
Just 100km lies between you and your final destination. This should only take an hour or so but it’s worth making a pit stop along the way and spending some time exploring Goonoo Forest. It’s a state conservation area so be sure to tread carefully and take all your rubbish with you. Don’t forget to wipe the mud off your shoes before jumping back in the car for the final stretch into Dubbo.
Read More: Best animal encounters in NSW
Newcastle to Dubbo via Muswellbrook
Total drive time: 6 hours 15 minutes
Highlights: Hunter Valley Wine Region, the Sacred Tree, Goulburn River National Park
Newcastle to Pokolbin – 1 hour
Your first day of driving is pretty cruisy so take your time packing the car this morning. You’ll want to time it so you reach the wine region around lunch time. Elbourne, First Creek and Ivanhoe Wine are just a few of the kid-friendly wineries in the Hunter Valley region. Enjoy a splash of something from the Cellar Door at lunch before heading north.
For our recommendations of family-friendly wineries in the Hunter Valley, have a read of Top 9 family-friendly Hunter Valley wineries.
Pokolbin to Muswellbrook – 1 hour
Make a pit stop in Singleton here to replenish your snack levels and continue on to Muswellbrook. There’s plenty of hotel & motel accommodation available in Muswellbrook but it’s always a good idea to call in advance to be sure there’s vacancy.
Before the sun goes down, have a play at Simpson park and check out the Sacred Tree. It’s an important piece of Indigenous heritage in the Upper Hunter region.
Muswellbrook to Turill – 2 hours
A slightly longer drive ahead of you today, you’ll want to have a hearty breakfast to fuel you for the day. It’s worth grabbing some lunch supplies from the supermarket before you wave goodbye to Muswellbrook. After an hour and a half, you’ll exit B84 and follow the signs to Turill. This is where Goulburn River National Park begins to unfold. Enjoy a picnic lunch surrounded by nature before clambering back into the car for the next driving stretch.
Turill to Dunedoo – 1 hour
Another hour’s drive and you’ll pass through Dunedoo. Take this opportunity to use the loo and check out a few local shops. But don’t linger too long, you can almost see Dubbo on the horizon.
Dunedoo to Dubbo – 1 hour 15 minutes
The last stretch should take just over an hour. For most of your drive, you’ll follow Goonoo Forest, a Zone 3 Conservation Area. It’s a good excuse to test the kids’ knowledge of Australian wildlife by seeing how many native animals they can name. Before long, you’ll reach the outskirts of Dubbo and feel your eyes becoming weary. But stay up if you can, the night sky puts on a quite a show out in the country.
Canberra to Dubbo via Parkes
Total drive time: 5.5 hours
Highlights: Fruit picking in Young, Lake Forbes, The Dish
Canberra to Young – 2 hours
Leaving Australia’s Capital in a cloud of dust, your road trip begins as you head north towards Young. To break up the journey, Yass is a good place to stop for toilets (and coffee). Continue along M31 until it splits off, follow the B81 and then take a few smaller country roads towards Young. You’ll probably need a GPS for this part.
Once you arrive in Young, you’ll find plenty of fun family activities such as fruit picking at one of the many orchards in the area, wandering through Lamb Flat Chinese Tribute Garden and especially checking out the goodies at Poppa’s Fudge and Jam Factory. After a full afternoon of activities, you might want to stay the night and prepare for the big drive day tomorrow.
Read More: Young Cherry Festival: A family guide
Young to Forbes – 1.5 hours
An easy drive this morning, you’ll cover 115km before reaching the town of Forbes. A picnic morning tea at Lake Forbes will hit the spot. History buffs might enjoy taking a peek in the Forbes Historical Museum.
Forbes to Parkes – 30 minutes
Jump back in the car for a half-hour drive to Parkes. You’ll know when you’re getting close when you spot the huge CSIRO telescope on the horizon. Enjoy lunch at the café under ‘The Dish’ and make sure to take some photos, recreating scenes from Round the Twist. This may be more fun for the adults than the kids, as that TV classic may have been before their time.
Parkes to Dubbo – 1.5 hours
Jump on A39 and follow the signs to Dubbo. You’ll pass a few small country towns on the way if you need to make a toilet stop but before you know if, you’ll have Dub-Vegas in clear sight.
Once you’ve ticked the zoo off, here are some other fun things to do around Dubbo and the Western Plains.
Janeece Keller is the founder and editor of Family Travel. She mostly travels with her husband and two young kids. She has a large blended family that lives in Australia and Europe. She has visited 52 countries and lived on 3 continents. From camping to luxury resorts Janeece tries to make sure her family has diverse holiday experiences each year. She is an avid hiker and ocean swimmer who loves good food, margaritas and heading off the beaten path.