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

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!