Whales, wine and a whole lot for families to discover

As the boat’s captain declared he had spotted our first whale, we intently stared across the water to try and see what he was. It was evident none of us had.

“Come on! It’s that dark whaley-looking whale over there,” he quipped.

Suddenly, there were gasps as we saw the dark back appear above the waterline, followed by the graceful flow of the tail as she disappeared under the water again.

It was the start of our evening whale watching tour off the beautiful Western Australian town of Dunsborough. We were to see a number of cruising female humpbacks and their young calves, as well as the playful antics of a young calf alongside its mum and a breaching display by another adult.

It was not the best trip of the season (putting it in the context of 2013 being one of the best seasons in years), but it was still an exciting sight for those of us on board.

For the uninitiated, whale-watching, which stretches roughly from June – December, is an unexpected delight of this region, better known for its food and wine.

Land-based whale-watching at Sugarloaf Rock.

Indeed, when I visited there was great promotion for the upcoming Gourmet Escape, which this year featured the UK’s very own Rick Stein and Heston Blumenthal.

Big names for a small town – when it comes to food and wine, the world knows Margaret River bats above its weight. But, as I discovered, it is only part of the story.

Do not for a minute think this South-West region is just for couples, intent of eating, drinking, relaxing and romancing.  With its array of scenery and activities, just a short drive from Perth (about 3 hours), this is a great place for families to visit and explore.

  1. The whales

Humpback and southern right whales are the most common species seen in this area, although the rare giant blue whale is also a visitor. The best way to get up and personal is to go on an organised whale watching tour. Ours provided life jackets for young children – a nice touch that certainly made the parents on our trip feel more secure.

Seeing a whale up close & personal is an amazing experience.

Seeing a whale up close & personal is an amazing experience.

Boat tours leave from Dunsborough and Busselton and there are also a number of land-based viewing areas you can try your luck at for no cost at all.

  1. The Busselton jetty.

At 1.8km in length, you won’t miss the Busselton Jetty – the longest timber-piled jetty in the Southern Hemisphere. Built in 1865 and servicing mainly the agriculture and timber industries until it ceased functioning as an official port in 1973, the jetty is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in the region.

Enjoy a family tour of the Busselton jetty.

Enjoy a family tour of the Busselton jetty.

Children love riding the train to the end of the jetty, where you can descend 8 metres to the ocean floor to view the sub-tropical corals and fish that call the jetty structure home. There are more than 300 marine species living below the jetty.

A family pass to the underwater observatory includes a return train journey, 40 minute guided tour and jetty day pass.

  1. Food, wine & beer

Of course, you cannot visit this area without trying some of the local food and wine, not to mention a locally crafted beer. Your hardest decision will be choosing where to stop.

With families in mind, the Geographe Bay Tourism Association has compiled a pamphlet that details the wineries and breweries with child friendly features – a perfect accompaniment to your day’s tastings. Pick one up at the local tourist information office.

Lovely scenery and great food for all the family at The Deck Marina Bar & Restaurant.

Lovely scenery and great food for all the family at The Deck Marina Bar & Restaurant.

3 Oceans, Cheeky Monkey Brewery, Wills Domain, Eagle Bay Brewery and Woody Nook are just a few that will keep your children occupied. Many places offer meals too.

Other places that will put a smile on your child’s face include Simmo’s Ice Cream, Miller’s Ice Creamery, The Margaret River Chocolate Factory and Old Cheddar Cheese Company

  1. Bunbury dolphins

I have loved dolphins since I was a child, rushing home from school in time to watch Flipper. But your children can see them for real at Dolphin Discovery Centre in Bunbury.

Here dolphins come into the shallows in-front of the centre, with early morning the most common time.  You can also learn more about these beautiful creatures in the centre, which includes a 360 degree ‘Digital Dolphinarium’ where you can experience a dolphin’s world.

The centre also runs a dolphin eco cruise to allow you to see local bottlenose dolphins in Koombana Bay. A ‘swim with the dolphins’ tour is also offered.

6.        Cape Naturaliste

The Cape Naturalist lighthouse marks the start of the Cape to Cape Track (to Cape Leeuwin, further south).

Your children will love exploring the lighthouse and hearing about shipwrecks, life as a lighthouse keeper, not to mention the resident ghosts.

Purchase a family ticket for a fully guided tour or buy a combined ticket to visit the nearby Ngilgi Caves.

  1. Caves

A visit to the underworld will be a feature of any family holiday in this area.

Located underneath the limestone ridge that is part of Cape Naturaliste, the Ngilgi Cave is a short drive from Yallingup. Rich in Aboriginal legend (and named after a good spirit, Ngilgi), the cave has beautiful stalactite, stalagmite, helicitite and shawl formations.

Your children will love exploring the many caves found in the Margaret River region.

Your children will love exploring the many caves found in the Margaret River region.

Further south, closer to Augusta, you will find an underground wonderland, with four caves to explore. They include Jewel Cave, home to one of the world’s longest straw stalactites; Lake Cave, with its stunning white formations and reflections; Mammoth Cave, which has 3 show-caves you explore at your own pace.

Between June to December, the more adventurous can visit Moondyne Cave. Not being partial to dark, small spaces, I went on this guided tour with some trepidation.  The first to open up to tourism (with historic graffiti to prove it), it was closed to the public for many years, only re-opening in 2012.

There are only basic walkways and hand-holds and no lighting – you carry your own light on your helmet. But this makes for a unique, ‘soft adventure’ experience – with only one small tunnel that requires you to get on your hands and knees and crawl through. See package prices.

7.        The beaches

The beauty of this area, particularly for families, is the diversity of experiences you can have in such a small area. And the beaches are no exception.

From the tranquil calm waters of Busselton and Dunsborough, through to the pure beauty of Bunker Bay, and the surf breaks of Yallingup and Prevelly (where Margaret River meets the sea), you will find a beach perfect for you and your children.

Bunker Bay is one of the gorgeous beaches in the area, many of them toddler friendly.

Bunker Bay is one of the gorgeous beaches in the area, many of them toddler friendly.

Between Busselton and Dunsborough, you will find a number of family friendly accommodation options right on the water, including Siesta Park and Cape View Apartments.

Whether it is water-based or land-based (bike paths and scenic walking trails) activities you are after, you will soon realise the beaches here are pretty damn perfect.

8.  Farm stays

This region also has a growing reputation for farm experiences and farm stays.

For a day trip, visit Country Life Farm or Wonky Windmill Farm and Eco Park to see & feed farm animals, as well as some Australian natives, including kangaroos and emus.

There are also a number of farm accommodation options for those who would like to linger longer with the animals.

9. Kids fun

If food and nature still does not cut it, don’t despair. There are plenty of fun places to visit with your children.

Xscape at the Cape is a fun park just outside Dunsborough. With 10 trampolines, mini golf just some of the activities on offer – and a brand new water play park due to open this Australian summer – this is just the place to wear out your children.

For those who want to ‘lose’ their children for a short amount of time – or do what we do and set up mum vs dad teams and get competitive – choose from the timber maze at Yallingup or the beautiful hedge maze at Amaze’n Margaret River.

10. Surfing and paddle boarding

Older children might want to try their hand at surfing or paddle boarding.

There are plenty of options to get you out on the water, including hiring a kayak to explore the bays and inland river systems or even hire a small power boat – who knows you might be able to catch your own dinner.

The Yallingup Surf School offers a one hour ‘micro-grom’ session for under 10s .The Margaret River Surf School also offers group and private lessons, as well as stand up paddle boarding. Stand up paddle boarding lessons are offered through Stand Up Paddle Surfing.

Stay: Visit Family Friendly Accommodation for some great accommodation options, including Siesta Park Holiday Resort and Forte Cape View.

 

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Sunshine Coast Easter fun – something for everyone

If you are lucky enough to be on the Sunshine Coast this Easter, there are a number of activities planned, with something on offer for the whole family.

The Kenilworth Cheese, Wine and Food Festival is on Easter Saturday April 19 – a free event that provides a great reason for indulging in the produce of the Mary Valley.

Kenilworth Cheese, Wine and Food Festival

Kenilworth Cheese, Wine and Food Festival

This year is the 25th anniversary of cheese making in Kenilworth, and along with cheese and wine tastings all day, there will be special activities for children, including the “Cheester Egg Hunt”.

There will also be a cheese rolling competition, followed by a cooking demonstration by Chef Peter Wolfe of Cedar Creek Farm Bush Foods, who will show how to infuse native bushfood flavours with Asian and European cuisines.There will be a wide variety of food outlets, as well as local wineries showcasing their produce.

On Easter Sunday, Maroochydore will be transformed into a multicultural mecca as part of the Ocean Street World Festival, which will include local Kabi Kabi dancers, Greek folk singers, a Latino rock band and North African drummers – as well as cuisine from all corners of the globe.

Lake Kawana will be another ‘hot spot’ during the Easter break, with the 2014 Australian Dragon Boat Championships. Hundreds of competitors from across the country will take to the lake in teams of twenty to paddle their impressive dragon boats to the finish line.

Australian Dragon Boat Championship

Australian Dragon Boat Championships

And with the Sunshine Coast recently scoring a top 10 place in the Trip Advisor Best Beaches awards (Noosa was voted 9th best in Australia), surf enthusiasts will be able to enjoy the Pa and Ma Bendall Surf Classic, Australia’s second longest running surf competition, which celebrates its 40th anniversary at Caloundra.

The 20th anniversary Pa and Ma Bendall Surf Classic

Other Easter events include the Faraway Easter Endurance Ride in the Mary Valley and Easter in the Garden – an open garden event to be held at the Shambles in Montville. The garden is open on Easter Saturday and Sunday.

And if you are planning to stay, don’t forget to check out the best family friendly accommodation on offer on the Sunshine Coast.

* Information provided by Sunshine Coast Destination Ltd

Experience our colonial past at Tasmania’s Woolmers Estate

Ever since I was young, I have loved visiting historic homes. There is something that hits me when I think about the people who have lived inside the walls across generations – and wonder at the lives they led.

In Australia, despite the beauty and opulence many of these homes display even today, there is no doubt that life would not have been easy – particularly for those young families colonising a new country.

I also think it is important for children to learn about the past and I hope my children will develop a love of history. So, on a recent trip to Tasmania, we made the detour to visit Woolmers Estate.

The beautiful villa at Woolmers Estate

The beautiful Italianate villa at Woolmers Estate

This beautiful colonial pastoral property is not important just for its buildings. It is significant because it was built using assigned convict labour.

I had not realised that most convicts sent to Australia were actually assigned to provide labour to settlers in exchange for food and clothes.

Established around 1817 by Thomas Archer, Woolmers Estate is located just outside Longford in northern Tasmania (about 10 minutes from Launceston Airport).

This building was a water pumping station, powered by draught horses, allowing for water to be pumped from the Macquarie River.

This building was a water pumping station, powered by draught horses, allowing for water to be pumped from the Macquarie River.

Featuring a grand residence and formal gardens, as well as a woolshed, blacksmith’s shop, stables and coach house, it really is a country estate that incredibly remained in the hands of the Archer family until 1994.

In what I personally thought was a fairly sad ending to the story, Thomas Archer VI did not marry and died a childless bachelor in 1994. He left the property to the Archer Historical Foundation and the next year, the site was opened to the public.

Today Woolmers Estate is a World-Heritage listed convict site where you can see, eat and even stay. It is also home to the National Rose Garden.

Woolmers Estate is home to the National Rose Garden.

Woolmers Estate is home to the National Rose Garden.

We opted to pay a bit extra for the guided homestead tour, which allows you to see inside part of the homestead, including the exquisite dining room. The tour, led by a descendent of another branch of the Archer family, was passionate in his story-telling.

Like the fact the original Thomas Archer, who was a large man, had his bedroom window enlarged before he died so his coffin, which could not have fitted through the narrow doorways, could be easily removed from the room.

Built and extended upon over 6 generations, including the Italianate front added in the 1840s means the main house is full of beautiful furniture and interesting artefacts.

The dining setting features the Archer family crest & leaves one wondering how nerve-wracking washing up must have been for the servants. No hiding a broken dish here.

And this is not just look-at history, as my two children found out when they were allowed to sit on a very strange-looking buffalo horn chair.

With the escorted tour now over, we were free to wander through the out-buildings, including what is believed to be the oldest operating woolshed in Australia.

The woolshed is the oldest operating woolshed in Australia.

The woolshed is the oldest operating woolshed in Australia.

We also enjoyed a scrumptious rustic lunch on site at the Servant’s Kitchen (the kitchen is open from 10am-3pm). Highly recommended.

Today Woolmers Estate is one of 5 convict sites given World Heritage status as part of the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Property. The other properties you can visit are:

Brickendon Estate

Brickendon Estate is just down the road from Woolmers Estate.

Brickendon Estate is just down the road from Woolmers Estate.

Cascades Female Factory

Coal Mines Historic Site

Darlington Probation Station

Darlington Probation Station on Maria Island

Darlington Probation Station on Maria Island

Port Arthur Historic Site

More information on Woolmers Estate, including family friendly accommodation.

Family friendly ghost tour impresses younger visitors

Despite her bravado just a couple of hours before arriving, Miss 8 dug in her heels and refused to enter the cottage to hear of the haunting tales being told within.

“No mummy, no mummy, no mummy,” she said as she clung to my hand, before turning and running along the veranda, back to relative safety outside the property fence, where she could once again be brave.

We were at Port Arthur on one of the new summer attractions – the family friendly ghost tour. Now, don’t let the name fool you. Despite being held in early evening, when the sun continues to light the grounds, you will still hear tales of convict era murder and death – and their related hauntings.

However, for older children, it is a perfect combination of history and horror that will intrigue. In fact, Mr 11 was in his element and almost overwhelmed with excitement and bravery. And for many younger children on our tour, what they were hearing went over their head.

Port Arthur, Australia’s best preserved convict era penal settlement, is about a one and a half hour drive from Hobart. The ghost tour is icing on the cake for this must-visit tourist attraction.

With her soft, dare I say haunting lilt, our guide, Bridie, was the perfect person to lead our tour. She started by asking for volunteer lantern bearers to take up positions in the start, middle and end of the group.

With Mr 11 unable to do this role (over 18 years only), Hubby bravely volunteered and ended up in the middle position – ably assisted by Mr 11. First stop was the iconic church. I won’t give away the tales told, but you WILL start expecting to hear or see something.

portarthurchurch

The church at Port Arthur – beautiful by day, hauntingly beautiful at night.

Next was the parsonage (the third most haunted building in Australia), where the front female lantern bearer refused to enter the house by herself to check that all was okay for us to follow. So, hubby & Mr 11 volunteered to do the honours and went in ahead.

“When I opened the door, I had a sense of dread and nervousness. I did not want to go in there by myself, ” Hubby said.

“It was hair-raising – I couldn’t look at the house because of the stories they’d said about seeing ghosts in the window,” Mr 11 added.

Miss 8 (right) and her cousin were too scared to enter the parsonage.

Miss 8 (right) and her cousin were too scared to enter the parsonage.

Staying outside with Miss 8 and her cousin, who got caught up in Miss 8’s fears, I am once again blown away by the beauty and majesty of a site that has seen so much violence and heart-ache.

On this tour, we learn about the hard lives that not only convicts lived, but those who serviced them (and their families) – and how those hardships may have led to the many hauntings experienced on site.

portarthurwalking

Walking through Port Arthur on the family friendly ghost tour

Next at the junior medical officer’s house, we learn about the playful child ghosts and the sad woman who searches for her stillborn child, who she was not buried with because the baby had not been. Such brutal times they were.

We then walk down to the basement, where we hear a haunting tale that also turns out to be one of the funniest stories of the night.

Our last stop is the model, or separate, prison. This place is the most oppressive of the tour. Here convicts were imprisoned in total silence and never referred to by name. Many went crazy.

It is a fitting place to end the tour, as we make our way back past the imposing penitentiary ruin to the visitor’s centre where more people wait to take part in the later ghost tours, that will take place in darkness.

The family friendly ghost tour runs at 7.30pm until 26 January.  And in true convict-era family friendly fashion (thank-you Port Arthur Management), a family ticket ($65) consists of 2 adults and up to 6 children aged under 17 years.

P.S Miss 8 was not scarred by her experiences on the ghost tour. However, she did sleep with me that night. Not that she needs much of an excuse to want to do that anyway!

Learn more about the family friendly ghost tour and other summer activities and make a booking.

If you are planning to stay the night, check out family friendly accommodation or Port Arthur Accommodation.

Break your journey and experience family fun in Dubai

It’s that time of year again when Australian travellers are spoilt for choice with a wide range of 2014 earlybird airfares now on offer to Europe. But for families, choosing the right airline to travel such a long distance is almost as important as the holiday itself.

As any parent knows, flying with children can present some challenges, especially when travelling for almost 24 hours straight. So why not break the journey?

Dubai offers the perfect stopover for you and the kids to pause and recharge before continuing your journey. Emirates offers flights to Dubai and beyond daily from five Australian cities, with flights touching down at the Emirates hub, a purpose-built facility created to transform your travel experience with faster boarding and great facilities on both sides of your journey.

emirates

Dubai is an ideal family destination. Think endless sunshine, azure water, fine beaches, super-sized shopping malls and out of this world attractions and you’ll get an idea of what the city is all about. It’s one of those destinations your kids will not be able to get enough of.

Family-friendly accommodation in Dubai

dubai

As you’d expect, there are numerous five star resorts and hotels in Dubai – but there are still plenty that won’t break the budget.

If your stay in Dubai is long enough to need somewhere to rest your head, but short enough to make you wonder whether it’s worth finding a hotel, then you should try the Dubai International Hotel. Located at the airport, you can be off your plane and checked in before you know it. The contemporary, clean and comfortable hotel is a great place to lay your head for a nap between flights and it’s completely hassle free. You can also hop on a quick city tour to check out the main sights before you need to board your next flight.

If, however, you have a few more days to spare, it’s worth finding a place to stay that is central, so you can make the most of the city attractions. You may find the flexibility of a serviced apartment suits your needs the best as they offer great value for money. You get more space than a hotel room and you can cater for yourselves from the local supermarket if you’re on a budget, or eat out at different places if you fancy experiencing what Dubai has to offer.

Pearl Marine Hotel Apartments are located about thirty minutes from the airport and offers great views of the waterfront. Close to plenty of restaurants and shops, it’s an ideal spot to choose as your base. With options of studio apartments through to three bedrooms it can cater for larger families without the costs of purchasing multiple hotel rooms. It has a pool and WiFi, so you still get the sort of facilities you’d expect from a hotel, just with more freedom.

The Ascot Hotel Apartment is another apartment option. Located in central Dubai close to the main attractions, the serviced accommodation is both affordable and convenient. There’s a café on site and you can order room service, which is great if you want to relax after a long journey.

If you’d prefer to stay in a hotel, the Premier Inn Dubai Silicon Oasis is a trusted brand that offers affordable accommodation. It offers a free shuttle to the beach and shopping malls, and has a rooftop pool so you can kick back and relax between theme park visits.

Family fun in Dubai

Dubai could easily entertain your family for a fortnight – there’s so much to see and do, no matter how old your children.

You can learn about the country’s history, tradition and nature on a cultural tour or a desert adventure (where older kids will love sand-boarding).

sandboarding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are also many man-made attractions to experience:

Aquadventure – this enormous water park has 42 fun-filled rides. Brave the near vertical slides that catapult you into shark-infested lagoons, experience your first uphill water rollercoaster, ride the 1m high rapids on the tidal river that runs through the park, chill out on the beach or play in the splash park with your little ones.

aquadventure

Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo – this 10-million litre tank is the largest suspended aquarium in the world and home to thousands of aquatic animals. There’s a 48m walk-through tunnel providing amazing views under the tank. Visitors can take a glass-bottomed boat ride or try a cage snorkelling experience. For the adventurous members of your family, there’s even a shark dive.

SEGA Republic – this giant indoor theme park contains 14 adrenaline-fuelled rides and over 170 of the latest amusement, video and arcade games including motion simulators, classic games and competitive tests of skill. This place will have the kids entertained for hours.

Ski Dubai – an indoor ski slope is probably not what you expected to find in the desert city, but Ski Dubai has created perfect conditions to hit the slopes. Whether you want to take lessons or brush up your skills, a day here will be a hit with the whole family. Throw snowballs, try your hand at snowboarding and indulge in big mugs of hot chocolate. When you’ve finished, take off the woolly hats and thick coats and step out into the beautiful sunshine.

skidubai

Wild Wadi Water Park – located next to the stunning Burj Al Arab, Wild Wadi offers 30 rides and attractions for all ages. With huge pools, wave machines, sun decks, slides, rides and surf simulators, you certainly won’t get bored.

Find about these places and more and start planning your Emirates flights and Dubai stop-over now.

Beyond Bali – an Australian family’s adventures in Java

I love travelling with my family, but I am not a highly adventurous traveller. Luckily for us, my mate, Michael Birt, is. Last year he took his family beyond Bali – in this special guest post he tells us all about it –

There’s so much more to Indonesia than Bali, yet many Australians go there year after year and forego the opportunity to travel more widely in this diverse and interesting country that’s close to Australia and easy to get around.

It’s a way to escape Bintang singlets and pushy souvenir sellers and revisit some of the adventure of your backpacking days.The best part is you can get there easily as part of a Bali holiday or without going to Bali at all.

The land content of our five days in Java for five people –mum, dad and kids aged 9. 11 and 13 – gave us change out of $1000. Buses run from Bali to Java and even join Indonesia’s rail network, but time was against us so we took a 55 minute Garuda flight to Surabaya in a very new 737.

Several airlines fly from Denpasar to Surabaya where we were met by our guide Salim and driver Mat from Bromo Tour, one of many companies that take people to the active volcano, Mt Bromo.

Michael's family with their Mt Bromo guide

Michael’s family with their Mt Bromo guide

About two hours from Surabaya, Mt Bromo is a 2329m high volcano which last erupted in 2011. Places to stay on the mountain range from basic backpacker and home stay accommodation to three star hotels.

We took two rooms at the Cemara Indah Hotel which is right on the crater rim and from where you look down to the Sand Sea where small tornadoes of volcanic sand spin across the moonscape.

For the sunrise tour you leave your accommodation around 3.30am and drive up a steep road as far as the jeeps can go. You then walk or ride a horse up the next stage and there’s a short, sharp climb to the viewing point where you can watch Mata Hari – eye of the day – rise in the east and illuminate several volcanos emerging out of the darkness.

Mr Bromo - an active volcano that last erupted in 2011.

Mr Bromo – an active volcano that last erupted in 2011.

Back to the jeeps and into the caldera and the climb of Mt Bromo. Before driving across the 8km-wide Sand Sea wrap your camera in a sarong as the grit and ash will get in to it. You can walk or ride a horse part of the way to the foot of the 210 steps up the side of Mount Bromo.

Walking the rim of Mt Bromo

Walking the rim of Mt Bromo

It’s still only about 6am and the air is thick with the smell of sulphur, but your trusty sarong again comes into its own, this time as an air filter. It’s steep, but worth the effort, however if you get asthma it might be worth carrying a puffer.

Once at the top the crowd spreads out along the rim and it’s still not even 7am, but you’re up and ready for breakfast…it’s been a big day!

Back in Surabaya the Dutch-colonial Majapahit Hotel could be no different to the accommodation on Mt Bromo. For us, used to camping, motels and fibro holiday houses, there was quite a lot of ‘How good is this?!’ when we got to our room.

The hotel has manicured gardens, a day spa and a beautiful pool and while you are in a major city, the sound of the outside world rarely encroaches. Because of time constraints we only stayed one night which is a great shame. It would not be hard to stay a week and just relax.

The next leg was across Java by train to Yogyakarta. Surabaya railway station is a short taxi ride from the Majapahit and while there are some English-speaking ticket sellers keep your Indonesian phrase book handy.

birt4The excellent Man in Seat 61 website is the world railway traveller’s friend and it’s a great source of information when you’re in unfamiliar territory. I bought our tickets at the station the afternoon before we travelled, but you can also buy them online.

We took the very comfortable 7.30am train for the three-hour journey across central Java to Indonesia’s second biggest city, Yogyakarta where we found a taxi for the half-hour drive to the World Heritage Borobudur temple.

We stayed two nights at the Sariswati Hotel which has a lovely pool, gardens and restaurant. Surprisingly it was very quiet as most tourists bus in from Yogyakarta.

While unfortunate for the hoteliers, a side-benefit for those who do stay is that once the ‘out of towners’ leave you can wander the streets of this quiet town.

Borobudur is a Buddhist temple and was built in the ninth century. Rediscovered in ruins in the early 19th century Borobudur is open for pre-dawn viewing, however later in the day, though hot, is not so busy.

Borobudur - a Buddhist temple built in the 9th century and re-discovered in the 19th century.

Borobudur – a Buddhist temple built in the 9th century and re-discovered in the 19th century.

Each level of the temple is covered in engravings showing the difficulties of the earthly life, but as you go around and up towards statues of the Buddha, you are heading toward nirvana, the supreme state of consciousness.

We had a late afternoon flight back to Bali so had time to visit the Hindu Prambinan temple back in Yogyakarta. Only a short drive from the airport it’s set in an enormous park filled with shady trees which would be a popular local attraction and a nice place to ‘blob out’ on a travelling rest day.

The Prambinan Hindu temple in Yogyakarta.

The Prambinan Hindu temple in Yogyakarta.

Each temple is dedicated to a particular god and many still have an image of him/her inside.

Our trip to Java took five days but it could have been done more quickly or more slowly. We really only scratched the surface, but it gave the kids an insight into a new culture and the knowledge that you could have a good time without resorts and fun parks.

We saw few western tourists in Java and it was a nice change from the annoying aspects of Bali. People were always friendly and while our Indonesian was minimal there was always someone who spoke sufficiently good English who would help.

As a family we learned to get on while on the move and it brought as closer together. It was a shame we only had five days…

Spotlight on our nation’s capital

As the dust settles on our most recent Federal election (no political comment offered or requested), Canberra is currently shining in all it’s glory for the annual spring Floriade. This year, the colourful event is celebrating the capital’s 100th birthday. It is just one of many reasons to take your family to discover our nation’s capital.

I think of CanCanberra is awash with colour during Floriade.berra as an educational experience for families – but one that is both interesting and fun. And in a bonus for those on a budget, there are a number of places that offer free entry. The only problem you will have is that with so many places to visit, you will have to work out which activities appeal more.

 

WHAT TO DO

National Museum of Australia: As well as learning about Australian history, including our rich indigenous heritage, there are hands on experiences for younger visitors. There are guided tours (fee) but general admission is free, making it a great place to visit for those on a budget.

Australian War Memorial: Learn about our military involvement in conflicts throughout the ages. The Discovery Zone, which is the memorial’s educational space for school groups, is also open to the public from 12.30-1.30pm on weekdays and on weekends and school holidays. Admission is free and free guided tours are also available.

Visit the Australian War Memorial.

Parliament House: Visit the home of Australian democracy. Free guided tours are available and when Parliament is sitting, more politically enthusiastic families can sit in on question time.

CSIRO Discovery Centre: The CSIRO Discovery Centre offers an interactive journey through CSIRO and Australian science history. Science is presented in an entertaining way to demystify it, and educate people of all ages about the world of research and innovation. Only $20 for family of up to 5.

Questacon: The National Science and Technology Centre makes science fun. See the spectactular science show, In addition to exhibitions, including awesome earth and mini Q, especially for pre-schoolers. special events run throughout the year. And if visiting before 11 November, check out the exhibition, Do sea monsters really exist?

The whole family will love visiting Questacon

Australian Institute of Sport: Go behind the scenes at Australia’s premier elite sporting precinct. You might catch some of Australia’s top athletes in training, and because every tour is guided by an elite athlete, you’ll get to ask plenty of questions.

National Dinosaur Museum: The National Dinosaur Museum was started in 1993 and has grown from a small collection to the largest permanent display of dinosaur and other prehistoric fossil material in Australia. With 23 complete skeletons, and over 300 displays of individual fossils, the museum continues to grow.

National Zoo and Aquarium: If your children love animals, check out the National Zoo and Aquarium. The zoo offers a number of animal encounters (fee and bookings required) as well as a ‘Zoocation’ school holiday program. The aquarium is being renovated and will have major construction works throughout September (2013)

Cockington Green Gardens: A fascinating display of miniature buildings set within beautifully landscaped gardens. Cockington Green Gardens first opened in 1979. The park is constantly growing, with work currently underway on Canberra House, the first building constructed in the Australian Houses Project.

The Great Outdoors: Canberra is not just about being indoors. In addition to Lake Burley Griffin and its surrounding parklands, you can also visit the Australian National Botanic Gardens, see aboriginal rock at in the Namadgi National Park, spot rare rock wallabies at Tidbinbilla Sanctuary and visit the national arboretum  with its nature themed pod playground.

The Pod Playground at the National Arboretum.

LOCAL EVENTS:

September/October: Floriade

October: Canberra Nara Candle Festival

March: Canberra Balloon Spectacular

Where to stay: See Family Friendly Accommodation

More information: Visit CanberraEvents ACT

School holiday fun at Novotel Creswick

If you are looking for somewhere to spend a night or more in country Victoria these school holidays,  Novotel Forest Resort Creswick is a great place to consider.

Having stayed there myself, I can vouch for the comfortable rooms and great resort facilities. But these school holidays, the resort is launching a brand new Kids program.

Novotel Forest Resort CreswickBetween September 21 and October 6, the whole family can find some great activities to do at the resort.

Kids can choose from 3 Junior Master Classes:
* Pizza Making
* Cupcake Decorating
* Arts & Crafts

The Junior Master Classes will run every day and will last approximately 60 minutes. Each session is $15 per person and needs to be booked in advance; bookings can be made via emailing kids@forestresort.com.au or calling 03 5345 9600.

Other activities that will take place at the resort include movies and for the adults, Cocktails@Candlebark.

This is all in addition to the resort facilities which include a heated outdoor pool, tennis & table tennis, mountain bikes, a day spa (perfect for Mum), the NovoZone (air hockey, pool table, arcade games) and golf and putt-putt on the Terrace.

More information: Novotel Creswick school holiday program