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25 August 2023 · Mazda Stories

A Zoom ZOOmfari

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ADVENTURING AROUND DUBBO IN A MAZDA CX-5

There is a moment, just before the giraffe takes the carrot when I hesitate. Should my hand be higher? Should I look up? Are giraffes carnivores and might it eat my finger by mistake? Should I wait for this towering 5.3m high bull giraffe to signal so I don’t get a headbutt from its enormous skull?

And in those few seconds of indecision, Alonge, as he’s known, takes control of the situation (he’s dealt with dithering humans before). His long, freakishly purple tongue unfurls like a thick ribbon, grabs the carrot neatly out of my fingers and munches through it in the most satisfying way, leaning his bone-knobbled, prehistoric-looking head down for another before I’ve even started to breathe again.

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These are the kind of incredible experiences that make up your day when you take a Zoofari stay at the incredible Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, where my family and I have arrived after a long (5.5 hours) but easy journey in a Mazda CX-5 G35 GT.

The aptly named “Zoofari” experience involves staying in a glamping tent right on the savannah, surrounded by wandering giraffes, rhinoceros, zebras, blackbucks (like small gazelles who travel in groups), herds of elands (enormous antelopes) and the odd, very curious ostrich, which strain their long, muscular necks to give a sharp eye to the humans perched on their verandahs, gawking (for that is the only word to describe our dropped jaws) at these incredible scenes.

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We might as well be in Africa,” says my nine-year-old daughter as she picks up the binoculars we found in our glamping tent. The African safari-feel is certainly how this experience was designed, and exactly how we feel upon arrival into our “Zebra” room (all the glamping rooms have animal names and my kids were gleefully clapping that we got Zebra, although the oldest was gunning for Giraffe - her signature tweenager moods were nowhere to be seen on this trip, extinguished by the calmness and fascination of these extraordinary animals). 

The drive from Sydney to Dubbo is epic, and the Mazda CX-5 made neat work of it, hugging the curves like it was born to be driven enthusiastically, overtaking on the open road and giving a smooth, confident, easy-ride feeling to the trip.

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The soft leather seats and steering wheel make such a difference on a long journey. Cool in summer, warm in winter, they add that extra level of luxury you crave when you’re sitting in the car for hours at a time.

Also helpful was the central positioning of the phone charger in the rear centre console, so the girls could charge their devices without asking (read: bothering) us in the front. Although, truth be told, the thing they most love to do on road trips is taking turns at choosing songs to play on Spotify, which is exactly what we did thanks to the CX-5’s Apple Carplay set-up. The sound from the stereo was perfect for a family singalong.

Once we arrived into our Zebra glamping tent and took in the awe of the African-like savannah in front of us, it was time for our close encounters with the animals. Feeding the giraffes was just the first stop. Any overnight booking at the Zoofari lodge gets the VIP treatment and we were given a total of eight close encounters with the animals.

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I found myself standing a metre away from three prowling lionesses, padding on their giant paws, waiting for raw chicken to be tossed over the fence. Their echoing, guttural growls could be heard overnight while we were sleeping, which was strangely soothing, in a way only those on a Zoofari could understand.

We also watched an Asian elephant get its morning bath, said hello to a young black rhino and a white rhino, got a glimpse of a cheetah running for its supper (they can go up to 120km/h but unfortunately for them, there is a strict no hunting rule on the savannah), and watched a hippo being fed numerous whole lettuce, its giant jaws chomping down the leaves while we shook our heads in wonder at their huge tusks and the sheer width of their heads.

A full afternoon of animal sightseeing in the Zoofari bus, painted like a zebra, and covered in “keep all limbs within the vehicle” signs as we drove through the savannah had our children more excited than I’ve seen in years. And not a device in sight!

At night after warming cold hands by the open fire, we were treated to an African banquet with traditional foods you’d find on an actual safari, but cooked by the sweetest, most Australian chef you could find, who came out and explained each dish. A true culinary memory to top off an extraordinary day.

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The morning frost greeted us nice and early, and after another Zoofari tour, we were left to explore the zoo on our own. This meant hopping in the Mazda CX-5 and driving around “the circuit”. It’s a very big zoo. I mean even bigger than you’re imagining.

You can walk (I wouldn’t, this would get tiring, very quickly), you can bike (it sounds like a nice idea but see “tiring” above) or you can drive. We definitely chose the right option because we could go all day and the kids didn’t complain once - no mean feat having started at 7.30am and finished at 4pm. I overhead countless other children complaining to their parents that they were tired through the day, whilst I smugly noted my kids’ boundless energy.

 

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You can park right outside the exhibits you want to see, and stop as you wish. The CX-5 adapts easily from freeway driving to stop-start travel and its smooth driving style makes you feel privileged to be in it. A small turning circle meant we could swing in to catch the tiger being fed at noon (on a full-fur kangaroo). It paced up and down its enclosure waiting for its meal, giving every single human watching the eye - and I do mean the evil eye. You just know the tiger would be bounding over the wall if it had a big enough run up.

We did a lot of pulling in to see exhibits at the last second, and the CX-5 was very accommodating. Large enough to comfortably fit my family of four and feel solid on the freeway, and small enough that it feels agile and nifty when we quickly pull over to feed the herd of Fallow Deer we spotted. (“What do they remind you of?” asks my 11 year old, “Bambi” I replied, “Er, do you know who Bambi is?”)

The Fallow deer end up being in the kids’ top two of all the animals we saw on the trip, beaten only by the giraffe and followed by the rhino, the zebra, the meerkats (gorgeously cute creatures), the lion, the tiger, and the Tasmanian devil who made us laugh more than anything..

But it’s Alonge the giraffe who stole our hearts from the moment he preemptively stole the carrot right out of my hand, and as we drove the Mazda out on the last morning, we stopped to say goodbye to the giraffes as they emerged from their night sheds.

Alonge blinked those enormous, thickly lash-fringed eyes at us one last time before we headed off in the CX-5, into the frosty sunrise, back to Sydney, our boot well packed with memories that will last a lifetime.

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