NSW Nationals Member for Dubbo Dugald Saunders has officially opened Taronga Western Plains Zoo’s newest precinct: the Waterhole.

The Waterhole precinct, a $10.2 million project jointly funded by the NSW Nationals in Government and Taronga, features an open style café with integrated animal exhibits.

Guests can enjoy a meal or relax with a coffee whilst watching meerkats forage, and kids can explore a fun play area.

The Waterhole, which was built by local firm David Payne Constructions, is situated at the halfway point of the zoo circuit overlooking a number of herd species including blackbuck and zebra. It has revitalised part of the zoo that was first developed at its opening in 1977, including a small kiosk that served guests for decades.

Mr Saunders said the Waterhole precinct will add to the unique visitor experience provided at the zoo

“Taronga Western Plains Zoo is the number one tourist attraction in regional NSW, and the Waterhole precinct takes the visitor experience to a whole new level,” Mr Saunders said.

“As we come out the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic we want people to come and visit our region, and what better reason than to see the new Waterhole precinct at the zoo as well as the wide range of animals on exhibit.”

Taronga Conservation Society Australia director and chief executive Cameron Kerr said the new facility will also continue the zoo’s commitment to education and the environment, and will complement the Lion Pride Lands and Wild Herds precincts opened in recent years

“This new precinct and the water play area will allow us to help communicate the importance of healthy waterways and encourage guests to make changes at home that will ultimately benefit the local environment,” Mr Kerr said.

“Visitors to Taronga Western Plains Zoo will definitely notice the changes and be inspired by the stories of conservation and wildlife that each new precinct shares.

“We are really proud of this new precinct and we are sure it will be a popular space for families to relax and take a break throughout the day whilst exploring the zoo.”

The new Waterhole precinct is set to be a highlight for guests in the upcoming July school holidays, with the zoo already experiencing a high volume of enquiries for this period, a positive sign for tourism in regional NSW and the road to recovery from one of the most severe droughts on record and the impacts of COVID-19.