Animals, art, caves – and it's all in your own backyard

From hot air ballooning adventures in Mudgee to Wellington’s picturesque Lake Burrendong, here are just 10 of the most popular things to see and do in the Central West suitable for a day away or even a weekend escape in this holiday period.

1. Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo

The Taronga Western Plains Zoo features hundreds of animals from all seven continents of the world. Visitors to the zoo can participate in the feeding of the animals, listen to the zookeepers’ fascinating talks on the animals or simply watch the animals in action while walking or cycling around the six kilometres of spacious zoo exhibits. Visitors can also spend the night at the zoo immersed among the animals, staying in generous camping facilities at Billabong Camp, in luxurious self-contained cabins at the Savannah Cabins, or at the glamorous Zoofari Lodge, which offers private tours of the zoo and top-quality cuisine. 

2. Dubbo Regional Theatre and Convention Centre

Located in the heart of the CBD, the Dubbo Regional Theatre and Convention Centre has a 500-seat theatre and 750-seat auditorium which regularly host a diverse array of concerts, trade shows, musicals, exhibitions and much more. The facilities include a refreshment bar and ample parking.

3. Cowra Japanese Garden 

Boasting five hectares of exquisite traditional gardens, the Cowra Japanese Garden is the largest Japanese garden in the southern hemisphere. It was built in recognition of the friendly relationship which developed between Cowra Shire and Japan as a result of the Japanese POW camp which was run in Cowra during World War Two. The garden also features a Cultural Centre, which provides a glimpse of Japanese cultural heritage and the origins of the garden, and a fully licensed cafe serving breakfast and lunch which overlooks the garden. Cowra Japanese Garden is open from 8.30am to 5pm daily. 

4. Wellington Caves Complex

Just a four-minute drive from Wellington, the Wellington Caves Complex offers one-hour guided cave tours from a choice of three fascinating caves: the Cathedral Cave, the Gaden Cave and the Phosphate Mine. The natural features within the caves include the 15-metre tall stalagmite in the Cathedral Cave. Tour times and booking details are available from the Wellington Visitors’ Information Centre.

5. The Dish, Parkes

“The Dish”, the 64-metre wide radio telescope famously used to relay television pictures of the first moon landing in 1969, takes pride of place at the CSIRO Parkes Observatory, 20 kilometres north of Parkes just off the Newell Highway. Entry to the fascinating astronomy and space exhibition alongside The Dish is free, and other attractions on offer at the site include a renowned cafe, picnic facilities and a 3D theatre. The observatory is open seven days a week from 8.30am to 4.15pm, with extended hours during NSW school holiday periods.

6. Balloon Aloft, Mudgee

Balloon Aloft offers hour-long hot-air balloon rides over the beautiful Mudgee region, followed by a champagne breakfast at renowned Mudgee restaurant Blue Wren. The tours are held on the third Saturday of each month. Bookings are essential and can be made on Balloon Aloft’s website. 

7. Lolli Redini, Orange

Rated the best restaurant in Orange on TripAdvisor and the winner of seven consecutive Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide Chef’s Hats, Lolli Redini offers diners a mouthwatering array of French and Italian cuisine made from locally sourced produce and carefully paired with a selection of wines and cocktails. The restaurant, at 48 Sale Street, Orange, is in operation between 6pm and 12am each night. Bookings are strongly encouraged, and can be made through the Lolli Redini website.

8.  Bathurst Regional Art Gallery

Bathurst Regional Art Gallery is one of the most established and celebrated art galleries in NSW. Located on Keppel Street, in the city centre, the gallery holds three fascinating temporary exhibitions at a time, in addition to permanent exhibitions created by local artists and the community, and exhibitions displaying a curation of art from the gallery’s own collection. The gallery also holds school holiday art programs for schoolchildren, and is situated close to Bathurst’s many cafes and restaurants. Entry to the gallery is free. Opening hours are 10am-5pm Tuesday to Saturday and 11am-2pm on Sunday.

9. Old Dubbo Gaol 

The Old Dubbo Gaol is a state heritage-listed set of 19th and 20th century buildings located on Dubbo’s main street. The facility, which operated from 1847 to 1966, has been kept remarkably intact and is open from 9am-4pm daily. Self-guided tours, guided tours, twilight and night-time tours are available. Bookings are required for twilight and night-time tours. Bookings can be made on the Old Dubbo Gaol website.

10. Lake Burrendong, Wellington

With 72 square kilometres of water surrounded by untouched bushland, Lake Burrendong is an ideal escape. On the lake’s shore are two caravan parks with full amenities and self-contained cabins, various picnic areas and a NSW Sport and Recreation Centre. Boating activities, including fishing, are encouraged, and there are a variety of paths around the lake perfect for bushwalking enthusiasts. The site is pet friendly, and is open seven days a week in summer. 

For more things to do and see in the Central West region, visit the Central West NSW Tourism website,