If you’re looking for something fun to do to break the journey between Sydney and the Southern Highlands, we have the perfect suggestion – a trip to the Bargo Dingo Sanctuary where dingo cuddling is the order of the day.
It’s not a long drive to Mittagong in the Southern Highlands from Sydney, about 90 minutes, but, looking to see if there was anything fun to do to break the journey on oure recent trip there saw me combing a map. I was actually looking for cute, old towns to stop at, and the name Bargo sounded like it might fit the bill.
Instead, zooming in revealed the words Dingo Sanctuary and realised a different type of cute was on offer.
The next thing you know we were heading off down the motorway just 60 minutes outside of Sydney to play with Australia’s wildest doggos.
What a Welcome
You’ll soon realise that you’re in the right place when you arrive in the dusty car park outside of the Bargo Dingo Sanctuary near Sydney.
Within a few seconds of you getting out your car, the super sensitive noses of the residents will have sniffed out that there’s strangers nearby.
The greeting starts with a wuff – then a single howl. Then another one. And then everyone joins in for a sing. As the volunteer who gave us our tour told us, ‘we hear the howls, then we hear the bell ring.’
Now, if you didn’t grow up in Australia, like me, dingoes are best known for just one thing – erm, not being the best childminders – and so, I admit I wasn’t sure what I was letting myself in for as we creaked open the huge gate to the property.
Immediately, we see a sandy coloured dingo prowling around their enclosure, ears up, tail alert, checking out who is coming in.
The howling has stopped but they definitely know we’re here – and I’m wondering whether this cuddling thing is really the best plan.
Cuddle Mode Activated
And then I meet Nooka – and, one lick of my face later, I lapse immediately into ‘who da good boy, you da good boy, yes you are’ dog voice mode!
The daft doggy grin on his face and the fact that every stroke brings out piles of fluff makes me totally forget that this is a wild animal, not your normal house dog.
There’s ear scritches, belly rubs, all of the dingo kisses, I’m covered in white fluff and I couldn’t be happier!
Okay, so at one point he becomes fixated on something in the bushes and has no interest in me whatsoever, but let’s just ignore that!
Why Are The Dingoes in the Sanctuary?
Everyone has their own story, but a lot of them are there because they’re part of a dying breed.
Nooka, for example, was found wandering around town in Logan Queensland and ended up in the local pound. The staff got his blood tested and found out that he was pure dingo and he ended up at the sanctuary.
Purebred dingoes are becoming incredibly rare as they often cross bred with dogs. It’s estimated that 96 per cent of most wild dingo populations are now part dingo, part dog – and so to find a pure dingo just wandering the street was very special.
One of the main aims of the sanctuary therefore is breeding pure dingoes to try and preserve the species. if all goes well, there should be puppies each year during puppy season.
That’s between April and August if you want to try and time your visit for maximum cuteness.
At the moment there are 32 dingoes at the sanctuary, each one with their own name, story and distinct personality – and you learn about them all on the short tour of the sanctuary.
It’s not a swish establishment – don’t expect snack bars and dancing dingo displays (apparently you can’t teach them tricks) although you can buy dingo-themed souvenirs but, we loved learning about these clever pups.
In fact, clever might be an understatement.
A Lucky Escape
As I write this in December 2021, the sanctuary had just reopened after repairing most of the damage they sustained from the bushfires that swept through the property in 2019.
The fires showed how clever dingoes really are.
Because the animals pair up together – but don’t necessarily get on with the other pairs – when it was clear they were going to have to evacuate the sanctuary, they couldn’t just bundle all the dogs into cars – they had to get out Noah’s Ark style, two by two.
They rescued as many as they could, but not every pair got out before the fire came through.
When they went back to the sanctuary, they weren’t sure what they would find – but, the dingoes were all still alive.
Their natural instincts kicked in and they started digging holes to hide in – the fire swept over the top leaving just one set of scorched paws for the vets to tend to.
It’s just one of the things you’re told on your short tour of the sanctuary that convinces you that, while dingoes might look like dogs, they’re a lot more clever than your average house pet.
And that’s one reason why some of the animals here have come from people’s homes – dingoes make Houdini look like an amateur when it comes to escaping and trying to keep one in your house is not always going to go well!
Others have come from other zoos where they didn’t fit in, a few like Nooka were found roaming towns, but due to the rarity of their bloodline have been taken in to try and preserve the species.
Apparently, they rarely bark – so we were super lucky as we got at least two woofs on our visit. Only a few of them also wag their tail and again, we got a wag from one of the girl dingoes.
Not all of the dingoes come out for encounters – only the ones that like to meet people get to wander outside.
How Much is it To Visit Bargo Dingo Sanctuary?
The tour costs $10 per person and meeting the dingo costs just an extra $10 on top (I’d have happily paid more for my dingo cuddles!) and bookings are essential as you have to be shown round the sanctuary by one of the volunteers that work there.
I would definitely recommend upgrading to the encounter.
If you happen to fall hard for your cuddly dingo of choice, then you can also sponsor them by the month or year. It’s not cheap to feed the residents or keep them healthy.
One older dingo limps out of her house to say hello and we find she’s recovering from a hip operation after getting a bit too adventurous with her playing!
It’s obvious that the staff have put all the cash they receive into the animals. The dingoes have large sturdy, plant-filled enclosures with logs to jump on and shelters to rest in.
The staff meanwhile are working from a tarpaulin-covered hut at the back of the property after their original HQ was taken by the fire – and the new one hasn’t been approved yet by council.
Note though that the dingo sanctuary don’t take cards. Bring cash, or pay by Paypal when you book your visit.
How Long Will You Spend There?
It doesn’t take long to visit – we arrived at 10.30 and were back on the road to Mittagong at about 11.45 – but it is the perfect place to stop between Sydney and the Southern Highlands, or, if you need to stretch your legs on the drive from Canberra to Sydney (see our post on Marulan for another good option here).
How to Book Your Visit
I say again, bookings are essential so, head to the sanctuary website to make your booking.
So, there you have it, our quick review of our trip to Bargo Dingo Sanctuary.
If you liked this, and you have a thing for Australian animals, you might always want to check out our trip to Sleepy Burrows Wombat Sanctuary (which is about two hours away from Bargo)
Or, see what happened when we tried to take a selfie with a quokka on Rottnest Island near Perth.