Thanks to the success of Taronga Western Plains Zoo, for many of us Dubbo conjures up memories of seeing exotic zoo animals, surrounded by moats and not in cages. Next year  the Western Plains Zoo celebrates its 40th birthday, and its significant pulling power contributes to the 500,000 overnight visitors who stayed in Dubbo in the past year. Located in the geographical heart of NSW, this regional centre has a lot going on.

One of seven NSW regional cities that launched a co-operative in 2010 called Evocities, to promote life and economic growth in the bush, Dubbo lies at the intersection of the Mitchell, Newell and Golden Highways by the side of the Macquarie River. Explorer John Oxley first passed through the area in 1818; unfortunately  for Oxley, the city’s jacaranda trees weren’t yet in evidence,  but today Dubbo’s purple heart is worth seeing in late spring.

With a population of 37,000, Dubbo services the needs of up to 130,000 people from inland NSW. It is experiencing growth in the mining, education, health and agriculture sectors. Alister Dyson-Holland and Cristina Gómez, who opened Press café in Bultje Street nearly two years ago, sum up the sentiments of many younger residents: “House prices are affordable. You can get  a house in Dubbo for $300,000 and, if we decide to start a family one day, we’ll be able to afford the space for kids to run around.”

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Food and wine

. This fine-dining restaurant was opened in May by returning Dubbo local Natalie Myers and her South African-born chef husband Brad. Veldt means ‘field’ in Afrikaans and the menu features fresh local produce. The Black Angus beef cheeks are worth sampling.

It was only a matter of time before the  hipsters reached Dubbo. Try this trendy bolthole’s burgers or the peri-peri chicken toastie.

Named after the heritage building  it’s housed in — the former offices of The Land newspaper — the owners of this café roast  their own coffee beans.

The hit list

Situated on 300 hectares of a former army camp, this was the first open-range zoo in Australia. Coo over the zoo’s first Asian elephant calf, Sabai, meet a meerkat, feed a black rhino, or try the Savannah Safari. Families can glamp at Billabong Camp, bunk down in the Savannah Cabins or go upmarket at Zoofari Lodge. Open daily, including Christmas Day, from 9am–4pm.

. A striking building houses the Dubbo Regional Museum and Dubbo Regional Gallery. The gallery benefitted from the Armati Bequest, a generous donation from a former owner of local newspaper The Daily Liberal in affection for the town he grew up in. Open daily 10am–4pm.

 The last prisoner left in 1966, but this heritage-listed building remains in the town’s main street. Guided tours reveal dark moments of history; you can also do night tours for a spooky thrill.

. The oldest slab house in Australia, this relic of the 1840s features remarkably sophisticated interior details. There are tearooms and a gift shop. Open 11am–3pm, Tuesday–Saturday.

. After studying, local  girl Irissa Knight returned to Dubbo  to pursue her ambitions in floristry.

. Spaces include the Sensory Gardens, the Biodiversity Garden, the Oasis Valley and Shoyoen, a gift from Dubbo’s sister city, Minokamo.

Travel to and from

Dubbo is a five-hour drive from Sydney, four-and-a-half hours from Newcastle  and Canberra, and nine hours by car from Melbourne and Brisbane. Plus, there are  180 flights per week to Brisbane, Broken Hill, Cobar, Melbourne, Newcastle and Sydney,  which means more than 200,000 passengers passed through Dubbo Regional airport last year. The flight from Sydney takes less than an hour. Buses and trains also depart from Sydney regularly.

Property

Matt Hansen at Redden and Hansen Real Estate says the property market in Dubbo is booming. “The mean house price is $340,000. That will buy you a good quality three- or four-bedroom home in town. The acreage lifestyle section of the market is very active, too; a very simple home on 10 hectares [25 acres] is around the mid-three hundred thousands.” While an increasing number  of young people are returning, or moving to Dubbo, “we’d like to see more,” says Matt.  “If only people could realise what you can get for your money in a regional centre like Dubbo: for what you pay for a one-bedroom bedsit  in Sydney, you can have a beautiful house  on 1200 square metres.”