How Dubbo's Great Big Adventure Pass is bringing new visitors to town and bolstering an already healthy culture of tourism around the region.
Dubbo, now a growing diverse city of more than 50,000 people it's hard to miss the spectacle it offers as a destination for inland adventures.
Just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and everyone became cocooned as travel restrictions were imposed, the Dubbo Regional Council's economic development and marketing team unveiled a major tourism drawcard, the Great Big Adventure Pass.
Despite the lockdowns in 2020, Dubbo welcomes 200 tourists and day-trippers every week who discovered what the Pass actually offers them.
For starters, the Pass to some of the region's amazing offerings is currently averaging 250 visitors a week, bringing in around 1.5 million visitors annually to the open wide red earth roads of the Dubbo-Orana region.
"Dubbo is pretty impressive I think this council has done well turning it into a tourist place," Sydneysider visitor Aaron told the Daily Liberal.
"It's an oldie [of a town] but wasn't boring."
Aaron is driving his family members on a road trip to Dubbo and we caught up with them at the entrance to Wellington Caves on Mitchell Highway last week.
They were captivated by the iron sculptures of a cow and other creatures adorning the entrance to the limestone caves estimated to be 400 million years old.
As a memento of their recent trip, they posed for photographs at the huge Wellington Caves sign at the entrance.
"Dubbo is a lot bigger now and more of a city feel," Felipe, the other member of Aaron's family, said.
Felipe last visited Dubbo 27 years ago.
"I came here on my way to Nyngan and we stayed for a week. The zoo at the time was a lot less looked after, a bit rundown but now it's a lot different.
"I've met a lot of families who live here. I guess it's a good place to move in.
"It's been fun, we've been amazed to see so many caravans on the road though."
The family rented a two-bedroom self-contained apartment at the Cattleman's Country Motor Inn on Whylandra Street.
Over four days, Felipe and Aaron said the family explored the 300-hectare Taronga Western Plain Zoo, the limestone formation at Wellington Caves, Western Plains Cultural Centre, saw art exhibitions, walked around Dubbo Regional Botanic Gardens, the Dubbo Gaol and enjoyed fish and chips, burgers and pizza at cafes and restaurants around the city.
They're coming back in spring to explore more of the city after discovering the Great Big Adventure Pass, a single ticket that lets an individual or group entry to four places to discover while in Dubbo such as the rare wildlife species at the zoo, the mysterious formation of the dripping stalactites at the caves, the sense of history at the old jail, and latest attraction at the iconic museum of the Royal Flying Doctor Service near the airport.
Dubbo regional economic development manager Josie Howard said Dubbo has evolved over time into a tourism city and a popular destination for families who are regularly trekking inland to the west of the mountains.
"Our research showed the people who stayed here for five days or more had better experience discovering our city than those who stayed just for two nights," Ms Howard said.
"When they get here, they realised there's so much to see and do you can't cram to see them all in two days. You go to the zoo in the morning and go for nice lunch and then head out to the adventure parks. They get a more leisurely relaxing holiday."
Recently, Dubbo mayor Mathew Dickerson, zoo director Steve Hinks, John Larkin of RFDS, caves team leader Michelle Tonkin and gaol team leader Julie Webster met with tourism operators and media at Darling Harbour to invite them to discover Dubbo through the Pass.
"It seems Australians have fallen back in love with travelling regionally, and what equally great to see is their increased advocacy after their visit," Mr Hinks said.
"Over the last few years, we've revolutionised the experience for our guests and opened more than $50 million worth of leading visitors' experiences.
"This includes the Waterhole Café, African Pride Lands and The Gateway to Africa which means guests can connect with the animals, but also other great facilities like interactive water play for the kids and fantastic food and beverage options.
"This coming summer we will open our brand new Wildlife Hospital, while construction has also begun on Australia's largest Platypus Conservation and Research Centre that will give guests a unique glimpse at some iconic Australian wildlife when completed in mid-2023.
"And of course, with the arrival of three adorable African Lion cubs who will soon debut to the public, there's never been a better time to visit."
Anytime you're ready to make the trek to Dubbo and find out for yourself why those who've been here have experienced something unforgettable, the Great Big Adventure Pass is your starting point.
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