The evolution of family travel

Right at this very moment, families are holidaying. They’ve been hiking in the high country at Mt Hotham, cooking damper around a campfire in the Red Centre and swimming with dolphins at Ningaloo Reef.

Not much has changed from when we were kids, right? I mean, we still take the same holidays as we did when we were little. Or do we? Do you ever reminisce about the holidays you took with your family, when you were a child? For me, we rarely left Australia. Our school holidays centred around a little shack, right across the road from Lake Mulwala, New South Wales. It had belonged to my great-grandparents but became the family holiday house, ironically referred to as the ‘Hilton Mulwala’.

Do rein in any sort of grandiose imagery friends, as this was no 5-star holiday. There was limited hot water due to a recalcitrant hot water service. I’ll never forget hearing that loud bang, the cascade of expletives and seeing my dad’s singed eyebrows and eyelashes after a particularly testy relighting of the pilot episode. This place seemed to me an enigma. It oozed a kind of menacing and dusty charm and I absolutely loved it! We all did. We loved the sloping floorboards, uncomfortable bunk beds and the rather lopsided veranda where we could watch the sun dip and strum our guitars to ‘This Ole House’ and ‘Home Amongst the Gumtrees’.

Every summer when school finished for the year it was on! A chaotic cavalcade from the Mornington Peninsula to Mulwala. Packed picnic and thermos for the rest area stops, 5 people squashed into the family Ford Falcon station wagon, packed to the hilt, windows down for air circulation (no air con!) and a constant shower of slobber from our gregarious labrador whose main mission in life seemed to be to feel the wind in his floppy, golden ears.

Canine capers aside, it was almost rite of passage stuff, and for me a test of stealth and endurance because, at any moment, I could receive an elbow in the ribcage for crossing over ‘the line’ – an invisible boundary that separated mine and my big brother’s seat. There was limited entertainment for this 4 hours if-we-were-lucky road trip, apart from games of Eye Spy, holding our breath when we drove past a cemetery and listening to the latest ‘Summer of’ album, on rotation, on my Walkman.

There were also no fancy dinners out, it was a treat to get hot chicken and chips from the local milkbar, iced lemonades to drink in the cool confines of the pub next door’s (how convenient) beer garden and the occasional 20 cent piece to play space invaders.

All sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? These days, digital disruption has certainly changed the way we travel. We by-pass the travel agent and check out destinations and deals online. We read customer reviews of this hotel or that resort or we book an Airbnb. We peruse photos and videos on travel blogs and Instagram. We download the latest location guide apps and book an Uber from our smartphone. We develop a preconceived idea about what the place is going to be like, we organise, we make detailed itineraries.

My son and I recently returned from a trip to the USA. I had neck pillows, noise cancelling headphones, activities for the plane, hand sanitiser, wipes. I checked the seating maps multiple times, the entertainment, the LA airport map, connecting flight info, read articles on how to score an upgrade to business class and even feared a terrorist attack. My desire for control was causing an internal ruckus and I’ve come to the realisation that it doesn’t have to be so complicated! So, from here on in, I will do my best to commit to the Dalai Lama’s philosophy: ‘If you can control it, don’t worry. If you can’t control it, don’t worry.’

Remember that family cooking damper around the campfire in the Red Centre? Soon after, they retreated to their glamping tent. They hit up Netflix, with the free Wi-Fi, cranked up the air-conditioner, posted selfies to a multitude of social media channels, checked the weather forecast online for the next day, and FaceTimed the relative who was looking after the family dog.

The way we ‘holiday’ has certainly evolved, as have our expectations, but what I can never see changing is the desire to travel, and not only that, to travel with our favourite people – our families.

Note: This article was commissioned by BIG4 Holiday Parks – September 2018.

5 experiences for kids that parents will love too!

When I was 6 years old, my parents took my siblings and I to New Zealand. It was my first big trip and I recall feeling very grown up because we were required to write a travel journal.

I remember feeling intimidated by the size of the Qantas ‘jumbo’ jet, excited by the novelty of aeroplane food, and worryingly asthmatic due to the constant haze of cigarette smoke (what were they thinking?). These were my first impressions, felt with so much emotion and pure wonderment.

My New Zealand travel journal, bulging with glued-in postcards and the wonky handwriting of an excitable 6-year-old, detailed travel stories from a snow-capped Mount Cook visit to a fjord boat cruise around the breathtaking Milford Sound. But, in the midst of all these bucket-list worthy adventures, there is one diary entry, one magical memory-making-moment in Queenstown that I wrote about in capital letters: WE PLAYED ELEVATOR TIGGY!

Family holiday in New Zealand 1983
Just a little excited about travel (I’m in the middle).

That defining moment speaks volumes about kids and travel. In all the places that we’ve taken our 9-year-old, both in Australia and overseas, he always surprises me with the things he loves the most. So, keeping that in mind, here are 5 experiences for kids that adults will love too.

Wilsons Promontory National Park

Wilsons Promontory National Park. Well worth the online application, every June, for the summer camping ballot. Surfing, hiking, kayaking, bike riding, wombat spotting, free junior ranger activities, sunrise/sunset beach walks, the activities go on and on. Invest in walkie-talkies so that the kids can take off on their adventures and regale you with tales of their triumphs. Be prepared for constant updates (over and out!) and don’t forget to pack extra batteries. One non-negotiable activity every year is watching a film at the Tidal River Open Air Cinema. Snuggle down in comfy bean bags, don the blankets and have a magical cinematic experience under the Milky Way.

Sailing with kids on Tidal River with Whale Rock in view
Sailing by Whale Rock at Tidal River, Wilsons Prom

Follow the sun on a family road trip

Escape winter and keep thesun company on a family road trip. We’ll never regret doing this last year. Our experience sailing in the Whitsundays was a favourite for all of us. The kids took on the important task of protecting the catamaran from pirates with gusto.

Catamaran capers with the kids
No pirates here

Vivid Sydney

Experience Vivid Sydney, especially the Vivid Taronga Zoo event. Larger than life animal installations are on display in a riot of colours. Take a one-way ride on the cable car and watch the show from above. That was our favourite part, watching Sydney sparkle across the harbour while listening to a cacophony of animal sounds fill the night.

Vivid-at-Taronga-Zoo
Sydney sparkling across the harbour

It’s play time!

A family that plays together stays together. Theme parks such as Movie World and Wet n’ Wild are great fun for everyone. We stayed at the BIG4 Gold Coast Holiday Park which was located close enough to ride our bikes to these amusement meccas. If you want to go further north, I highly recommend the BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort. This place is kid-heaven and boasts an incredible waterpark. Plus, don’t forget about that oh so pleasing tropical Queensland climate.

DSC02430
Barefoot beach adventures are the best!

The Great Barrier Reef

Take a trip to the Great Barrier Reef. My son still raves about his snorkelling experience with Cruise Whitsundays. During the boat ride, out to the reef pontoon, we watched whales breaching and dolphins diving through the wake. A rainbow of colours were on display as we snorkelled with an abundance of marine life. For those who don’t want to get wet, there is an underwater viewing chamber and semi-submersible ride where you learn all about the largest coral reef system in the world.

Snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef
We loved our Great Barrier Reef snorkelling experience

Note: This article was commissioned by BIG4 Holiday Parks August 2018.

 

South West Rocks

South West Rocks, New South Wales, is one of those places that evokes serenity. It caters to the full spectrum of travellers, from young families to grey nomads. Steeped in history and showcasing some of the North Coast’s most beautiful beaches and national parks, this is a detour off the highway you won’t regret.

New South Wales coast, Australia
Beautiful blue hues

There are plenty of camping options in and around the area. We stayed at the Big4 Sunshine Resort, with a mob of friendly kangaroos as neighbours, but soon discovered one of the best camping spots in Australia, Trial Bay Campground. Foreshore camping, it’s just the best, and the sunset view is stunning.

Sunset by the sea in South West Rocks
Who wouldn’t want to camp here right?

Now, let me introduce you to a fascinating feature of South West Rocks – the historic Trial Bay Gaol. Enviably perched upon a hill, within Arakoon National Park, this imposing stone fortress has access to the most stunning ocean and forest views – one can imagine those building developers salivating at the possibilities. Yay, for our national parks’ protection mandate!

In all seriousness, this is a place of contrasts; of beauty and tragedy. Back in the day (it opened in 1886), it was built to house prisoners who were forced to build the breakwater just out the front. The breakwater project was a calamity in terms of dodgy engineering, seasonal storms and financial pressures. The ambitious project was shelved after more than a decade of work.

During WWII, the gaol was reinstated as an internment camp for ‘enemy aliens’. It must have seemed so cruel to be locked away inside a stone fortress while outside a picture perfect postcard beckoned.

A window to nature

Today, there’s no roof, no stone floors and many of the walls are indelibly marked by the elements of time. On the day that we visited, the beaming sun followed its arc around Trial Bay Gaol – lighting up the corners where even the darkest shadows lingered.

You will soon discover that this tourist mecca is home to loads of wild kangaroos (seriously, you’d think they owned the place) and is proudly preserved by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and a team of dedicated volunteers.

So, that’s my little story about our sojourn to South West Rocks. A detour well worth worth taking and a place we plan to revisit.

My sunshine and rainbows child

 

 

Byron and beyond

Before we hit Byron Bay, for a much anticipated holiday with my parents to celebrate their 46th wedding anniversary, we spent 3 nights on the Gold Coast. This was a strategic decision on our part when ‘selling’ the idea of travelling for 2 months to our son.

Child  in a blue kombi

Yes, you guessed it. Theme parks! You see, the Gold Coast doesn’t just glitter for the glamorous, it also boasts a boisterous array of kid-heaven-stuff.

But before that fun stuff happened, the repetitious but rather necessary assembling of our home on the road had to take place. The drudgery of this procedure was lightened considerably by the fact that we were staying in the beautiful surrounds of the Big 4 Gold Coast Holiday Park.

Camping with a mob of kangaroos

Heated resort-style swimming pool with licensed cafe, tick. Huge camp kitchen with all the mod cons AND an aquarium, tick. Having so much fun that you have no time to take photos, tick!

So our 3 nights were a lot of fun. We spent a day at Movie World and another at Wet n Wild. It wasn’t a peak period but it was still surprisingly busy. An afternoon riding our bikes around and then lazing by the pool was very welcome after the colourful chaos of the theme parks.

During the ‘pack up, take down, move on’ scenario of our final morning, we had a spring in our step. We were heading to Byron to stay at the most delicious holiday home hidden under a canopy of vibrant, tropical foliage, surrounded by a bedazzling, heated swimming pool.

Fireside at Byron Bay Retreat

I celebrated New Year’s 1999-2000 in Byron. It was a very different town back then. It’s still beautiful, bold and full of energy but now there is so much traffic! We had camped in a friend’s backyard right in town. That little beach shack is long gone, replaced with boutique accommodation for its perpetual influx of visitors.

Whale watching at Cape Byron Lighthouse

This time around, my family and I enjoyed Wategos Beach, did the Cape Byron lighthouse walk, hit the town one night (thanks for babysitting mum and dad), caught up with old friends, swam everyday, played some serious table tennis and chilled out in front of the open fire at night.

Cape Byron Lighthouse, New South Wales

I’ve never known a town to truly embrace its motto as much as Byron Bay does. So next time you visit remember to Cheer Up, Slow Down, Chill Out

Till next time Byron!

 

 

Queensland’s Capricorn Coast

After our adventurous sailing trip around the Whitsunday Islands, it was time to turn south. Homeward bound – well, with a few planned stops along the way of course.

To break up an arduous drive to Yeppoon, we plonked ourselves at the surprisingly fabulous Potter’s Oceanside Motel. This place, and its manager/owner, is seriously cool. He was very accommodating, giving us extra room to park our camper trailer and even driving Cam to the supermarket to get supplies. Sometimes it’s just the little things, a laundry to wash your clothes, airconditioning, a balcony to watch the sun setting over Mackay, and a story-telling ex-publican playing ‘host with the most’.

The rugged Australian outback

Kinka Beach, slightly south of Yeppoon was our next destination. We camped right near the Causeway and spent 3 days exploring Yeppoon, Kinka Beach and Emu Park. The weather was so beautiful and the view across the ocean to the Keppel Islands, just stunning. I’ve been to Great Keppel Island twice, so we avoided it this time, but if you ever get the chance to visit you won’t be disappointed. There are so many hiking tracks and you can find yourself on a deserted beach with not a soul in sight.

As the sun sets the moon rises over Great Keppel Island

Yeppoon itself is a gorgeous town to visit and it offers a unique water park right on the foreshore called the Keppel Kracken.

Yepoon foreshore

A notable mention of our time here was the Centenary of ANZAC Memorial Walk in Emu Park. It takes in enviable views of the beautiful Southern Great Barrier Reef and the Keppel Islands. The artwork pictured is strategically designed to blend in with the horizon so that it looks similar to the morning of the Gallipoli landing.

ANZAC memorial at Emu Park

For those of us whose relatives have served, it is a moving tribute and a sobering lesson in world war history.

My suggestions for any time spent here would be:

  • Ride your bikes around the area, especially Kinka Beach, it’s so flat and the scenery and fresh air is awesome.
  • Go to Great Keppel Island for a day trip or even for a night. The ferries leave from Rosslyn Bay daily.
  • Treat yourself to some ‘straight off the boat’ seafood! The seafood co-op in Rosslyn Bay is the best ever!

So, once again it was time to pack up our tiny home on the road – me leaving behind another hose connection on the tap in the caravan park – and set our sights on the glitz and glamour of the Gold Coast.

A beginner’s guide to sailing the Whitsundays…with kids

You’ve all seen the advertisements right? Calm, azure waters, sun drenched sails billowing in the breeze. Ah, the allure of sailing the Whitsundays. Wouldn’t it be relaxing. Stop. Right. There.

Welcome to Whitehaven Beach, where the wind is a fierce 25 knots, the waves are smashing against the catamaran, the kids are taking it in turns to vomit over the side and the toilet macerator has broken down. Yep this stuff can happen. There can be a mixed bag of weather conditions, including strong south easterly winds in winter, so be prepared to be unprepared!

To give some background to this tidal tale, we thought it would be a fabulous idea to hire a catamaran and barefoot sail around the Whitsundays. No biggy! We have a boat – no sails though – and Cam sailed when he was a teenager – does windsurfing count?

Sailing in the Whitsundays on a catamaran

It wasn’t until we were at Abell Point Marina, boarding Ruby Sunday that I realised that I really had no idea what I was doing and neither did our intrepid crew which consisted of 3 adults and 2 kids. Our dear friend Amanda, who was supposed to be sailing with us, was suffering from a serious case of 8 month pregnancy-itis and had to stay in port, for most of the time, at Airlie Beach.

After spending our first night on the boat in the marina, we had half a day of training. There was a lot to learn but, amazingly, Mike (our instructor) was happy to leave Ruby Sunday in our (somewhat sweaty) hands. Cam, Ant and I all looked nervously at each other as we powered out across the Whitsunday Passage.

All crews need a grounding force, a capable commodore that will take the lead, Captain Cam was our saviour. His only worry was berthing the cat at the Hamilton Island marina while dodging multi-million dollar vessels, but of course he sailed through the challenge (pun intended). It was happy days for him there on in.

Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays Queensland

Now, it is true that I’ve been known to add a touch of drama to my tales, but that could be because I’m a worrier. Just like my mum and her mum before her. It goes down the line. I think we could safely say we’ve mastered the craft of anxiety riddled thoughts. So imagine, my precarious predicament during our second night at sea when we were moored in Tongue Bay. I woke up to pelting rain, howling winds and what felt like the spin cycle of a washing machine. Yep, we were spinning. Round she goes.

I had always thought I could live on a boat and master the art of sailing the seas, but a salty dog I am not! That storm, which apparently was considered minor, and that everyone else slept through, nearly broke me but the good news is, I got over it and ended up absolutely loving the adventure.

Nara Inlet

This adventure was like an organisational team building exercise on steroids. There was a lot to do and it took a team to do it. We had morning and afternoon radio calls with Mike to track our position, get weather updates and plan our itinerary. There were navigational charts to decipher, tidal times to monitor, sails to tame and everything else that it takes to sail a catamaran.

Our intrepid crewThe beautiful thing about the adventure is the fact that the kids were so cruisey. Their biggest concern was finding the best coral to snorkel around, so they clearly had an inflated sense of confidence in our abilities. They would laugh and scream while lying down on the trampoline mats while the water splashed onto them, dress up as pirates and defend our boat from invisible foes and stare in wonder at the amazing marine life we were sharing the water with.

No pirates here

Here is my list of ‘must do’ things while sailing the Whitsundays:

  • Go to Nara Inlet and visit the Ngaro Cultural site.
  • Hire a stinger suit for piece of mind AND go snorkelling.
  • Keep your eyes peeled for whales, turtles, fish and bird life.
  • Berth for a night at the Hamilton Island marina. It was around $120 and is a good mid-point break where you can use all of the resort’s facilities, stock up on supplies, have a hot shower and do your laundry. Also, hire a golf buggy and whip around the place like a character out of Fantasy Island.
  • Watch the sunrises and sunsets.
  • When you actually get those sails up for the first time, play Rod Stewart’s ‘Sailing’ on the stereo.

 

The sails are up and we are actually sailing the catamaran

I guess the obvious question is would I do it again? That is a resounding yes! This is bucket list stuff people and is so transformational in terms of personal growth. So if you do get a chance, go for it!

Note: This article was commissioned by BIG4 Holiday Parks and appeared in Kidspot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fraser Island by 4WD

When I was in my 20s, I was lucky enough to visit Fraser Island. For those of you that don’t know about Fraser, it’s a World Heritage area and is the earth’s largest sand island. Interestingly, its Indigenous names – K’gari or Gari – which means ‘beautiful place’ have recently been ‘made official’ by the Government.

Sunrise across the sea

During that late spring trip (in my 20s), I spent 3 days on a 4WD bus tour with 15 other travellers. It was a beautiful and busy adventure with dingo and brumby encounters, sizzling sand dune hikes and cooling fresh water swims. Lake Wabby was a curious highlight as there were little fish that nibbled on your skin.

This time around, we decided to hire our own 4WD and tour the island. It was a completely different experience. We used Hervey Bay as our base and organised to pick up the car on the island. Catching the earliest ferry over to Fraser was fascinating as many of the island’s workers were doing the crossing too.

The beauty of leaving so early in the morning and going to Fraser in the winter months is LESS PEOPLE. It was so quiet and peaceful – like the whole island was just waking up itself. We bounced up and down over hills and gullies as the sun rose higher than those towering eucalypts.

Eucalytus trees

Fraser Island isn’t just beaches and lakes. There is a diverse array of flora that grows here. Above is the Eucalyptus haemastoma, known as the scribbly gum, it’s an Australian eucalyptus that looks like it has scribbles written all over it.

There’s a lot to explore on Fraser. Once we got to Seventy-mile beach – yes a beach highway – we drove as far as permitted, all the way to Champagne Springs. Just around the corner is Indian Head, where the views are breathtaking.

Fraser Island coastline

You can’t miss the Maheno Shipwreck – literally – it’s right on the (sand) highway.  The Maheno ocean liner is Fraser Island’s most photographed long term resident. What is left is a shell of its former engineering mastery, its opulence and its saving grace as a WWI hospital rescue ship.

Taj searched for ghosts that are said to haunt the Maheno, but he found none. He was caught up in the former majesty of the ship, and its history. It’s my second visit (after 17 years) and my feelings remain the same – who wouldn’t want to run aground and rest in this piece of paradise.

The Maheno on Fraser Island

We gazed up the coloured sands of The Pinnacles and followed the crystal clear waters of Eli Creek which weaves its way down to the ocean. I didn’t brave the cold waters of Lake McKenzie this time around but instead watched the rippling waters that were a deeper blue than the sky above.

We had to pull over as a plane came in to land on the beach, saw very experienced drivers get bogged and marvelled at how a sand island can sustain such life. But it does and it’s extraordinary.

Lake McKenzie on Fraser Island, Australia

I still loved the trip in my 20s but this one was so special because it was just the 3 of us and we didn’t have to follow an itinerary. If you do one day find yourself stranded on a desert island, this ‘beautiful place’ is where you’d want to be.

 

Yamba and Wooloweya

So we came to be at a place that offered an embracing calm. Wooloweya, just a 5 minute drive out of Yamba (Northern NSW), is a watery land full of lush national park forests, glistening inland lakes and pounding ocean surf.

View from the Yamba Hotel

Is it any wonder our friends chose to live here? What a reprieve from the camping life! We were welcomed with open arms and hearts into their home. After the bright lights and big city festivities of Sydney’s Vivid, Wooloweyah’s chilled energy was just beautiful.

Inland lakes at Wooloweyah National Park

It also just so happened that it was Cam’s 40th birthday the following day so celebrations were on the agenda. Think seafood feasts, beach jaunts, laughing children (and adults) and drinks at the Pacific Hotel which takes in beautiful coastal vistas – and a world renown surf break which has seen the likes of many local and international surfing heroes. It is also home to the Yamba Surf Life Saving Club, the second oldest in Australia (founded in 1908).

There is a more sobering story to this place and its people (like many areas in Australia). The Yaegl and Gumbaingirr people who come from this land are said to be some of the last to be ‘discovered’ by the white man. I’m certainly not the authority on all of the details, as I haven’t had a chance to do much research being on the road and all, but I think it’s a story that is worth sharing. If you want to learn more please go to the NSW government website.

Sparkling waters of Wooloweyah's inland lake systems

After we’d experienced just a taste of beautiful Wooloweya, the road was ready to meet us. So we packed up and returned to the highway that goes on and on, and to those dreams of adventure – until the moment we chose to stop again and take it all in – all of it. That’s when we are really travelling.

Sydney salutations

It’s been just over a week since we escaped Melbourne’s winter. Our east coast odyssey began with a stop over in Gundagai. The following afternoon we arrived in sunny Sydney. Luckily we had just missed days of unusually heavy rain.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House during sunset

 

We set up our camper trailer at the Sydney Lakeside Holiday Park for 4 nights. What a beautiful spot. I love the northern beaches and the caravan park is also located on the banks of the Narebeen lakes.

Being in Sydney for the Vivid celebrations was a massive bonus. I can’t begin to describe the creative atmosphere. There were so many installations to immerse yourself in but just not enough time to see it all. We bought opal public transport tickets and caught ferries everywhere. Basically we had to travel from Manly to Circular Quay every day, but it was never a drag. The night ferry home, watching Sydney lit up by Vivid, was so exciting.

 

Taronga zoo during Vivid with Sydney lit up over the harbour

Having an 8 year old with us often dictated the activities we experienced. Taj loved the Sealife Aquarium and the Taronga Zoo. Cam (the big kid) had his heart set on the National Maritime museum, which I actually really enjoyed. If you get there, make sure you walk up the lighthouse. The view is breathtaking.

Giraffe at Sydney's Taronga zoo with the city skyscrapers in the distance

 

On the first day out we really pounded the pavement. We visited the Opera House and walked from Circular Quay through the Rocks and over to Darling Harbour. We finished off a delicious seafood meal at Cockle Bay just as the lights of Vivid commenced. Taj and I watched it all come alive, above the water, in the Ferris wheel.

 

The carousel lit up during Vivid Sydney

On day 2, we meandered through Sydney’s busy streets as office workers dodged and weaved. For once that wasn’t me rushing around on my lunch break in Melbourne! We drank in the view from The Eye tower and stayed until the lights twinkled all around.

Our final day was spent at Taronga zoo where we stayed for the Lights for the Wild attraction which was so mesmerising.

Our time in Sydney was certainly jam packed, was full of new experiences, belly laughs and family adventures. With everything packed up (finally) it was time for our next stop – Yamba, well Wooloweyah to be exact.

Huge shark at Vivid Sydney at Taronga Zoo

So, we’re hitting the road

In early June, we are hitting the road. We’re taking our 8 year old son out of school and taking leave from work for 2 whole months! This is something we always said we would do but as the years flew by with a quickening intensity and an impending holiday to the Whitsundays drew closer, we decided to take the leap.

Ocean sunset at Wilsons Prom National Park

I travelled the Australian east coast in my 20s, after my first trip to Europe. I stayed in backpacker digs and used the bus as my main mode of transportation. This time we will have our much loved, old school Jayco pop-top caravan as our home base with family caravan parks on the agenda.

Young boy jumping for joy at Sorrento back beach

So, freedom from the routine of work, school and home life. The travelling life. To quote the venerable master of imaginative adventures – Dr Seuss – Oh the places we’ll go!