After visiting Dubbo’s expansive Western Plains Zoo over a decade ago, I’d always been eager to return – even more so in recent years with my affliction for photography. And so with my new telephoto 70-300mm lens now in hand, Dad and I decided to make our way out west and try our luck at capturing some of the animals – a new challenge for us given our history in landscape and portrait photography.
With the start of spring still fresh in the air (below the Moss Vale tulips in full bloom), we decided to make the most of the six plus hour journey, and take the scenic route to Dubbo, via Yass and Cowra. We’d seen an abundance of vivid canola field photos around Cowra, and eagerly took the country roads in search for the golden fields. We needn’t have look hard, with intense green and gold paddocks checkered all across the landscape. On one field in particular, just outside of Canowindra, a solitary tree was perched overlooking the canola, just begging to be photographed.
The zoo itself is so large that there’s a road looping around the exhibits, and so you just take your regular car through. Out the left window a giraffe, out the right, zebras. It’s so big in fact, that the standard entry pass includes a bonus free day, just so you have the time to see all of the displays.
We began our zoo safari with an early morning walk behind the scenes. We were guided through the exhibits by a volunteer who led us along trainer access tracks. Although fenced pens limited photographic opportunities, we still were treated with a unique look at the inner workings of the zoo and how the trainers handle the animals, best accommodating their natural habitats in Australia’s Western Plains.
Following the early start, we called back into town for our daily intake of caffeine, with the Village Bakery Café was our outlet of choice. Fun fact, when I was eight I won a giant 5kg chocolate Easter bunny there - that indeed was a good day. The coffee was strong and the bacon on the bacon and egg roll was aplenty, just the way we like it.
Refreshed and recharged, we ventured back into the zoo for a second time. Our first port of call were the cheeky meerkats who were mischievously crawling around, and on, a willing guest, posing perfectly for the many cameras. The meerkats were followed by the Black Rhino, Zebra and a Giraffe Tower (that’s a group of giraffes, FYI) who were wrapping their seemingly never-ending tongues around a morning feed of carrots.
The zoo circuit then snaked around past the Hippo, Elephant and Cheetah exhibits, the last of which were being fed and actively prowling for the next morsel. By midday the Pride of Lions were our next destination, all of which were effortlessly bathing themselves in the sun, barely moving a whisker while the trainer gave his talk.
We then arrived at the day’s highlight, for me, the Sumatran Tiger. We previously payed a visit to the enclosure before seeing the lions, however the tiger was slowly prowling in the distance, moving in and out of the trees and proving difficult to photograph. However a tiger talk was scheduled immediately following the lion’s talk, and so we quickly made our way back, just in time. And for a couple of incredible moments, we were humbled by the the big cat up close, prowling through the water, teeth bared.
We ended the day at the Australian exhibits, including Emus, Quokkas, Dingos and, in particular, the Koalas. We’ve tried to photograph them on a number of occasions, but have always come up short with the (not technically) bears clinging to the high branches away from the prying eyes of photographers. We were fortunate this time, and caught one curious koala actively make its way out to fresh leaves for a lazy afternoon feed.
Rains had been relentless in the surrounding area, with nearby town of Forbes more than 10m under water. And with even more overnight rains, we returned home via the Blue Mountains, hoping to catch some flowing waterfalls. Blackheath was our port of call for lunch where we had a tasty lamb and lentil curry pie by the scenic lookout at Govett's Leap.
The final destination of the roadtrip was the historic town of Leura, and more specifically, the Leura Cascades. Conditions were ripe, with recent rains powering the falls and overcast weather delivering soft even lighting. Dozens of smaller falls welcomed us as we descended down the valley, with the main falls producing the goods to cap off another memorable photography roadtrip.