Aussie family’s French adventure on a road less travelled

Trying to decide on a family holiday that older children will enjoy too can be hard. In this special guest post, Philippa Shelley-Jones, creator of the family tourism app Kid Tracks, tells us about her family cycling trip in Provence.

In early April this year, my family of 5  (husband David, my 18 and 12 year old daughters and 14 year old son), took off on our 8 day family cycling trip, Provence Backroads, run by UTracks, a division of World Expeditions, but without all the frills.

Philippa Shelley-Jones and her family on their Provence Backroads adventure.

Philippa Shelley-Jones and her family on their Provence Backroads cycling adventure.

As we were meeting up with my 18 year old who was (and still is) working in a UK school on a gap year, doing something active outside of the UK for a week seemed like a great way to reconnect before visiting where she was working.

This tour was in the ‘introductory’ category which meant we were travelling an average of about 25km or so a day. It was self-guided, which is what appealed to us. However, it allowed us to cycle in comfort.

For an upfront, all inclusive fee, we were provided with everything we needed, except lunch and drinks. This included:

  • sturdy, geared bikes with panniers, repair kits plus optional helmets.
  • a set of detailed maps for each leg of the journey
  • accommodation in family-run, 2-3 star hotels (The French rating system is different, so I would put them as 3-4 star Aussie)
  • breakfast and a three course dinner either at the hotel or nearby
  • our bags transported for us each day.

Overall, it was well organised and we only had the tiniest, occasional issues relating to directions. But we always managed to work it out without too much trouble.

The hotels (with the exception of one which let the side down a bit) were fabulous and run by the friendliest people. The meals were fantastic – we ate some beautiful French food, including WAY too many croissants, pastries and baguettes.

So many gorgeous cafes to choose from - but at least the cycling made up for it.

So many gorgeous cafes to choose from – but at least the cycling made up for it.

Our trip started at a village just outside Avignon, travelling through to Tarascon, Arles, Les Baux-de-Provence and St Remy-de-Provence. Les Baux-de-Provence was definitely the favourite – just gorgeous.

We always ended up with enough time to have a decent look around our destination, either when we got there or the next morning before we set off.

The riding itself was mainly on smaller roads and lanes, including on the original Roman road Via Aurelia, which was pretty cool. Sometimes we were on busy roads, but not for very long and the French drivers were always very considerate – we were like the Von Trapp family in our long line!

Enjoying time together as a family in rural France - magnifique.

Enjoying time together as a family in rural France – magnifique.

Mostly it was not challenging in terms of slope, but getting up to Les Baux-de-Provence – wow! It was straight up! We knew it was coming, as we’d been warned and the map showed the gradient, but let’s just say there was a lot of walking the bikes up despite lots of valiant effort not to give in!

The next day to St Remy-de-Provence was no picnic either – we could see on the map that it was over Les Alpilles but we were not prepared for the steep hills that day! My 18 year old daughter was the only one who did both steep hills that day without stopping. I had my gears set to the easiest and so my legs were pumping at a million miles an hour but I think at one point I might actually have been going backwards!

There were lots of ooohhh and aaahhhh moments as you can imagine. Lots of fields of almond and apricot trees, olives and grapes. Villas and gorgeous villages galore. Castles and abbeys to visit. Pastries to eat…..and pastries to eat….and did I say, pastries to eat?

This holiday provided us with a wonderful family bonding experience. What was great was that everyone in the family could enjoy it on the same level. We laughed a lot and were together all day doing something we could all get something out of.

Philippa said their biking adventure helped their family reconnect.

Philippa said their biking adventure helped their family reconnect.

Not having to worry about our bags, accommodation and meals (except for lunch which was more often than not, you guessed it – pastries) was a real bonus. As was not having a hire car and needing to drive on the wrong side of the road.

It was really relaxing for me in particular, as the family’s driver, shopper, cook, planner, etc, not having to worry about anything the entire time other than reading the map and guiding us (and maybe which pastry to choose for lunch).

I think it was all good value too. About $1,600 per person over 12 (half price for our 12 year old) for pretty much everything – including the pastries and wine.

All in all I would highly recommend it to any family with older children looking to reconnect, but without wanting the fuss of organising accommodation, hire cars, and food preparation.

Kid Tracks is an app developed by Philippa to help children have an interactive experience at many major attractions, currently in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Hobart. As well as learning about where they are visiting, they can gain points and win prizes.

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Revealing the hidden holiday gems of Tassie’s North-West and West Coasts

Based on the number of web hits I get on Family Friendly Accommodation for for family holiday accommodation in Tasmania, this state is becoming a very popular holiday destination for families.

As a Tasmanian by marriage (and having lived there for 4 years, with regular visits since), I am lucky enough to have seen much of the island state, in particular the North-West and West Coasts.

Unfortunately, with the exception of a couple of big name attractions, such as Cradle Mountain and Strahan, many tourists tend to look at this area as the poorer cousin. But that’s just not the case. This region is beautiful and varied in its scenery. There is so much for your family to see and do. And best of all, many of these experiences will cost you little or no money at all.

Tullah

I’ve always been fascinated by this small, almost a ghost town, nestled in majestic mountain scenery. Originally a mining town, it grew in size as home to hydro-electric scheme workers in the 1970s.

A picture perfect day at Tullah, located on the shores of Lake Rosebery.

A picture perfect day at Tullah, located on the shores of Lake Rosebery.

We again visited Tullah in January, staying in a family room in the Tullah Lakeside Lodge – the buildings of which were once the base for many of these workers. The rooms are basic, but the location is not. We were lucky to experience some amazing weather, which allowed for swimming and canoeing.

Setting off in the canoe (Tullah Lakeside Chalet has a small number available for hire or free with some room packages).

Setting off in the canoe (Tullah Lakeside Chalet has a small number available for hire or free with some room packages).

If you time your visit right (which we did not), you can take a 25 minute ride on the Wee Georgie Wood Railway and experience what life was like on the West Coast before the road was opened in the early 1960s (not that long ago really).

The Henty Sand-dunes

Blink and you will miss the turn-off into this hidden wonderland located north of Strahan.

It's hard on the legs, but the scenery at the Henty Sand-dunes is worth it.

It’s hard on the legs, but the scenery at the Henty Sand-dunes is worth it.

Again, the weathers Gods were on our side and we had a picture perfect day to discover this scenic area, which sits between the main road and the rugged coastline.

Toboggans can be hired in Strahan, which will leave your kids full of sand, but loving every minute of it. Ask for details at the tourist information office at Strahan.

How much fun is this? sand tobogganing at the Henty sand-dunes.

How much fun is this? sand tobogganing at the Henty sand-dunes.

Macquarie Heads & Ocean Beach

Make your way out to Macquarie Heads for fishing or just to admire the scenery. If you have a 4WD, you can drive onto the beach (but this also means you have to be aware if you decide to go for a walk with the kids).

Looking back from Macquarie Heads towards Strahan, with Mt Lyell in the background.

Looking back from Macquarie Heads towards Strahan, with Mt Lyell in the background.

If the weather is right, why not take a picnic lunch and watch the sun set across the ocean.

Watching the sun set at Macquarie Heads, at the entrance of Macquarie Harbour.

Watching the sun set at Macquarie Heads, at the entrance of Macquarie Harbour.

Cradle Mountain

You cannot talk about the North-West and West Coast regions without mentioning Cradle Mountain. I love both the natural beauty and history of this place.

Cradle Mountain is spectacular whatever the weather, but encountering a day like this is rare and very special.

Cradle Mountain is spectacular whatever the weather, but being an alpine area with high rainfall, encountering a day like this is rare and very special. This picture was taken in late December 2009.

National park fees apply here. You can pay $24 for a car (up to 8 people) but if you plan to visit a couple of parks, the 8 week holiday pass at $60 might be a more cost-effective option (see Rocky Cape National Park below).

The Dove Lake loop walk is perfect for families with young children (our daughter was aged 5 the last time we did it). Your children will also love exploring the Waldheim Chalet – built by Gustav and Kate Weindorfer as a home and guest chalet in 1912.

The Dove Lake circuit is one that is more than suitable for families. When this photo was taken, my kids were aged 7 & 4.

The Dove Lake circuit is one that is more than suitable for families. When this photo was taken, my kids were aged 7 & 4.

And if you are lucky, you might see a pademelon (small wallaby) or two.

Fossil Bluff

This place is a hidden treasure. You will find Fossil Bluff in Wynyard – making your way through a fairly modern housing estate to a formation of sandstone cliffs that are more than 275 million years old.

Looking across the beach at Fossil Bluff towards Table Cape.

Looking across the beach at Fossil Bluff towards Table Cape.

According to the Australian Heritage Database, Fossil Bluff “contains an unusually rich combined fossil fauna and flora, including terrestrial and marine vertebrates and a wide range of molluscs, leaf impressions and a pollen flora.”

Go exploring with your children and see the amazing sights at Fossil Bluff.

Go exploring with your children and see the amazing sights at Fossil Bluff.

My children loved discovering this area and were fascinated by the shapes they saw in the rocks and by the many different shaped stone on the beach too. But please, make sure they don’t pick at fossils in the cliff-face.

Boat Harbour

Boat Harbour is a favourite destination in summer – an idyllic white sand bay surrounded by national park and farm land.

But white sand makes for damn cold water and in all my visits, I have only ventured into the water twice (not that kids mind).

Crystal clear waters at Boat Harbour Beach.

Crystal clear waters at Boat Harbour Beach.

The usually calm waters make it perfect for toddlers and in winter, it is a lovely spot for a beach stroll.

Stanley and the Nut

Yet another stand-out natural formation is The Nut at Stanley, a quaint historic town about an hour and 45 minute drive from Devonport.

While your children might not like the thought of walking up to the top of the Nut, there is a chairlift available for most of the year (it is closed from about late June to late August).

The Nut at Stanley - a lovely historic town with plenty to see and do for the whole family.

The Nut at Stanley – a lovely historic town with plenty to see and do for the whole family.

Stanley is also about history and you can stay a night or two in a charming historic building and visit the historic farming property, Highfield House.

For those interested in history and politics, visit the restored 19thC settlers cottage in which Tasmania’s only Prime Minister, Joseph Lyons was born in 1879 (and if you want to take this theme a step further, you can see his family home in Devonport, where he lived with his wife and 12 children)

Aboriginal heritage

Another hidden treasure is Rocky Cape National Park. It is an area that is rich in Aboriginal history, with middens and caves, but also an area of rugged natural beauty. There are a number of walks in the area, including short walks suitable for children.

National Park fees apply (or you can use the 8 week holiday pass (as I detailed in the Cradle Mountain information).

Paper making tour

This is one of the most expensive things to do on this list – at $40 for a family of 4). But it is also a unique one where your children can learn how paper is made using traditional methods.

They will also learn how many different sorts of fibres can be used in the process – including roo poo, which I know your children are bound to find either hilarious or horrifying!

What is great about this tour is that it is also hands-on and your children can make and keep their own sheet of paper.

The tour runs at the Makers Workshop in the Burnie Visitor Information Centre.

Little Penguins

If I had any advice for tourists wanting to see fairy penguins, it is that I believe Tasmania offers a much more exciting, close-up experience than what you can see at Victoria’s famous Phillip Island Penguin Parade (but don’t tell them I said that).

The penguins arrive back on land around dusk from September to March. At Burnie’s Little Penguin Observation Centre at West Park, the Friends of Burnie Penguins have free interpretative tours.

North-West Tasmania is one of the best places to see Little Penguins up close.

North-West Tasmania is one of the best places to see Little Penguins up close.

There is another official viewing area at Lillico Beach near Ulverstone.

But here is my top secret viewing tip. Make your way to Ocean Vista Beach on the western side of Burnie. Here the beach is close to the Bass Strait Highway. Sit quietly in the shadows, and the street lights will provide just enough light to see the penguins as they make their way out of the water.

In nesting season, you may be lucky enough to see babies come out of their burrows, impatiently waiting for their food to arrive. This is a magical experience and if you still really still, they may come quite close to you.

But please, please, please respect these beautiful, timid birds. Do not sit in front of burrows, sit quietly and still.

Stay in one place (penguin footprints in the sand at the back of the beach will give an indication of well-trod routes) and do not walk up and down the beach waiting to see one. You will only annoy people doing the right thing and delay the penguins reaching their young.

The Parks and Wildlife Service has a guide to penguin viewing.

I know I have just touched the surface with what you and your kids can enjoy while visiting Tassie’s North-West and West Coasts

Chances are you will take a Gordon River cruise cruise or hop on the West Coast Wilderness Railway. These are amazing experiences, but they do cost a bit of money.

But what these other places offer is a wide range of cheap and cheerful additions to add to your holiday itinerary that will have you experiencing so much than expected from your Tasmanian holiday.

Where to stay

More information on the West Coast

More information on the North West Coast

 

Food, fun and football – our St Kilda ‘staycation’

As any parent of school-aged children knows, sports commitments, birthday parties and play dates means getting away for the weekend is a lot harder than it once was. That is where a ‘staycation’ comes into its own – having a night away in your home town to refresh and re-charge the batteries.

It really is the ultimate holiday solution for a busy family – Dad can travel to and from work if he can’t get extra time off and family members can arrive and leave and different times, working around social and sporting commitments. It is also a great option for families who want to experience a holiday, but have a limited budget.

Novotel Hotels recently invited Family Friendly Accommodation to learn more about their Family& Novotel promise – which is a perfect option for a family staycation.

Along with 3 other families, we stayed at Novotel St Kilda. As any Melbournian knows, St Kilda is a great family friendly location, with bike paths, playgrounds and great places to eat – not to mention the beach and the iconic Luna Park.

Given it was in the depths of winter, a dip in the water was out of the question, so we all headed to Luna Park. And what a perfect time to visit. Queues were short and the kids (Master 11 & Miss 9) got to go on their favourite rides over and over.

St Kilda beach in winter - too cold to swim, but still beautiful and great for a walk with the kids.

St Kilda beach in winter: too cold to swim, but still beautiful and great for a walk with the kids.

It might be a cold Melbourne winter's day at Luna Park - but that means less queues and more rides.

It might be a cold Melbourne winter’s day at Luna Park – but that means less time in the queue and more time for rides.

I still love the Scenic Railway. Operating since 1912, it still offers enough dips to be thrilling, although it was harder on the back & butt than I remember. It also offers amazing views of the local area.

Luna Park is a free entry, pay for rides amusement park, which means it is easy to pop out for lunch in nearby Ackland Street. We stopped at Zenith Bar & Restaurant, which proved a good choice for both us & the kids, with its kids menu (supplied on a colour-in sheet & pencils). We then headed across to the road was award-winning 7 Apples Gelato. What can I say but yum!

Studying the kids menu at Zenith Bar & Restaurant in St Kilda

Studying the kids menu at Zenith Bar & Restaurant in St Kilda….

 

 

...followed by ice-cream from 7 Apples Gelato. Yum!

…followed by ice-cream from 7 Apples Gelato. Yum!

But back to Novotel. How does it add to the family friendly weekend? Well, considering a child to be up to 16 years of age, as opposed to 12, is a great starting point. That means all children aged under 16 stay free when sharing a room with their parents or even their grandparents.

Plenty of room to spread out and relax in the family suite at Novotel St Kilda.

Plenty of room to spread out and relax in the family suite at Novotel St Kilda.

The family suite at the Novotel St Kilda features two separate beds & Miss 9 quickly chose hers.

The family suite at the Novotel St Kilda features two separate beds for the kids & Miss 9 quickly chose hers.

While many of Novotel’s spacious rooms can sleep 2 adults and 2 children, if you have more children or want to spread out, a second room can be booked for the children at 50% off the best unrestricted rate.

Children can also enjoy a free breakfast when eating with their parents – ours eaten amongst some NSW rugby players and Queensland netballers who had stayed prior to their Sunday games

Little kids are looked after with a welcome gift (such as an activity kit or soft toy) and some Novotel properties also have dedicated play areas for small children.

Kids receive a free toy or novelty pack when they stay as a Novotel guest.

Kids receive a free toy or novelty pack when they stay as a Novotel guest.

And to me, one of the best features is a 5pm late check out on Sundays. That means you can arrive early afternoon on Saturday and not have to leave until 5pm the next day. That means no rushing for 10am check-out.

Unfortunately for us, we had to leave by just before midday so we could get our son to his football match on time. But this again shows the benefit of the staycation – Mr 11 changed into his footy gear after we had wandered through the St Kilda Esplanade Market (right across the road from the hotel) – and just half an hour after checking out we arrived at the oval, earlier than expected.

The fact it was the wrong football ground has nothing to do with Novotel and everything to do with his mum, who is not very good with the fine details. But we got to the right oval before kick-off and his team won. A perfect end to a perfect weekend.

To book your family escape, visit this website to find your closest Novotel. For extra peace of mind, as I always recommend when travelling as a family anyway, I would also personally ring the hotel direct to confirm your family booking, including the late Sunday check-out.

 

 

 

There’s plenty of family fun on the Sunshine Coast

It may not be as glitzy as its southern counterpart, but the Sunshine Coast is a great family holiday destination. There’s heaps to keep the family entertained – starting with miles of beautiful beaches, all of which have a character of their own, that are yours to explore. So, rain or shine, what can you do and see on your Sunshine Coast holiday?

1. The beaches

The beauty of the Sunshine Coast is that there are a variety of beaches in a relatively short distance and whether you have toddlers who paddle in the water’s edge or need waves for a surfing teenager, you will find a beach to suit. If you are looking at staying a while, why not even spread your visit over a couple of different locations.

One of the best resources I like to use is the Surf Lifesaving Australia website, Beach Safe. Just type in the beach name for a range of useful photos and information.

 

There are so many beaches on the Sunshine Coast that you will be sure to find one to suit your family perfectly.

There are so many beaches on the Sunshine Coast that you will be sure to find one to suit your family perfectly.

Patrolled beaches on the Sunshine Coast include: Kings Beach, Golden Beach, Bulcock Beach, Dicky Beach, Kawana, Mooloolaba, Alexandra Headland, Maroochydore, Marcoola, Coolum, Peregian Beach, Sunshine Beach, Noosa Heads and Rainbow Beach.

Sunshine Coast Tourism recommends Kings Beach, Bulcock Beach, Golden Beach, Cotton Tree, Mooloolaba Beach, Mooloolaba Spit and Noosa Main Beach as some of the best for children.

A number of surf schools also offer lessons for beginner surfers, including children.

Surf lessons are one of the activities your children can enjoy on the Sunshine Coast.

Surf lessons are one of the activities your children can enjoy on the Sunshine Coast.

2Enjoy a surf club dinner

As a Victorian, I love having a meal at a Queensland surf club. Where else can you get a decent meal for a decent price, often with the most amazing views – and in a location where you can easily walk-off some over-indulgence right outside the door.

Enjoy a meal at Sunshine Beach,  Dicky Beach (Caloundra), CoolumMooloolabaMarcoola, MaroochydoreAlexandra Headland, NoosaKawana and Caloundra. These places are always full of families, so you will feel at home.

3. Australia Zoo

Still known as the Home of the Crocodile Hunter, Australia Zoo continues to thrive after the tragic death of Steve Irwin in 2006. A visit to the zoo will fill your day. You can self-drive or if you don’t have your own car, the Australia Zoo website details a number of ways to get to the site, including tour bus & public transport.

Get up close and personal with the animals at Australia Zoo.

Get up close and personal with the animals at Australia Zoo.

As well as the many animals to see, there are daily shows, including the Australia Zoo Wildlife Warriors adventure in the Crocoseum.  There are too many animal experiences to detail here, but if you plan to do something extra, such as an animal encounters  or the Zoo Keeper for a Day experience, it would be worthwhile pre-booking (Note: both of these involve extra cost).

All the information can be found on the Australia Zoo website, on which you can plan and print out your own itinerary. Also check out special school holiday activities.

3. Explore on foot or by boat

The Noosa Headland walk is one of the most well-known, with the coastal track to Dolphin Point wheelchair & stroller accessible. However, there are many other walking trails throughout the region.

For those wanting to get to know one of the many waterways, there are many options.

A cruise is a great way to appreciate the Pumicestone Passage.

A cruise is a great way to appreciate the Pumicestone Passage.

The Noosa Ferry Cruise Company operates a daily ferry cruise service between the historic riverside town of Tewantin into the heart of Noosa Heads. A number of organised cruise tours and boat hire companies also operate on the coast, allowing you to discover the majestic waterways of the Noosa River, Maroochy River and Mooloolaba River & canals and the Pumicestone Passage at Caloundra.

4. Whale-watching

Hervey Bay further up the coast is one of Australia’s most renowned whale watching hotspots, but you can still see these majestic creatures from the Sunshine Coast.

Whale One tours operate from Mooloolaba, while some of the Harvey Bay-based operators will pick you up from the Sunshine Coast for a day trip. If you want to self-drive to Hervey Bay, it is about a 2 hour drive from Noosa.

As there are definitely more options from Hervey Bay – and this is where the whales are heading for mating and calving, why not organise to spend a night or 2 here as an extension of your Sunshine Coast holiday?

5. Playgrounds

With a climate that encourages outdoor lifestyle, there are plenty of playgrounds for your kids to burn up some holiday energy.

Playgrounds on the Sunshine Coast can be traditional ones - or fun water play parks. Great for cooling off.

Playgrounds on the Sunshine Coast can be traditional ones – or fun water play parks. Great for cooling off.

Use the Sunshine Coast’s Facilities and Recreation Directory to search for playgrounds, bike paths and more. You can also find some information on some of the best parks on local website, Sunny Coast Kids.

6. Mary-Cairncross Scenic Reserve

The Sunshine Coast is not just about the beach – it is also about a spectacular rainforest hinterland. One of the great places to experience it is the Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve, a 55 hectare piece of subtropical rainforest, overlooking the Glass House Mountains.

Discover beautiful sub-tropical rainforest and Mary Cairncross Reserve.

Discover beautiful sub-tropical rainforest and Mary Cairncross Reserve.

With more than 2km of walking tracks, boardwalks and viewing platforms, it will enable your family to enjoy the surrounds in a relaxing environment. There is also a café, picnic area, gass bbqs, children’s playground.

The reserve is located in the beautiful hinterland township of Maleny, a historical town well-known for its arts and crafts and also, where you will also find Maleny Dairies.

7. Maleny Dairies

Maleny Dairies is a family owned dairy producing a range of milk products, including yoghurt.  Farm tours are available Monday – Saturday and there is a kiosk where you can buy some yummy milky drinks. The tour will give your kids a great overview of how milk gets from the cow to the bottle or carton in the fridge.

8. Strawberries & seafood

Experiencing local foods is one of the great things about holidaying – and the Sunshine Coast won’t let you down. One of the best meals I had when I visited last year was eating prawns fresh off the trawler at Mooloolaba. They had been cooked – I just took them back to my apartment, peeled and ate. Yum.

Visit local markets to eat and drink the very best of what the Sunshine Coast has to offer.

Visit local markets to eat and drink the very best of what the Sunshine Coast has to offer.

The Big Pineapple now holds a market Saturday morning  The market is best known for its huge variety of fresh and local produce. Virtually 50% of the area is dedicated to the sale of fresh produce, including fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, chicken, seafood and delicatessen products.

Also check out this great website which includes heaps of information about experiencing local produce in the Sunshine Coast region, including cooking schools and markets.

Also, don’t forget to ask the owner or manager where you are staying – more often than not, they can provide great tips on where to eat to help make the most of your holiday experience.

9. The Ginger Factory

On the face of it, your kids mightn’t get excited when you tell them you are going to a ginger factory, but this attraction is a family favourite and is a particularly great rainy day option.

Located between Nambour and Eumundi, entry to the grounds of The Ginger Factory is free, although there are tours that you can pay to take part in. These include:

  • the Ginger train (an historic cane train that takes you on a tour through the gardens)
  • Overboard (a meandering boat adventure ride with a gingerbread man theme)
  • Super Bee (the secrets of bee hives); and
  • the Ginger story (see how ginger is grown, harvested and made into products).

Visit the Ginger Factory website for more details.

10. Underwater World Sea Life Mooloolaba

So, you can gaze out at sea, but to really understand what is going on underneath you need to check out Underwater World Sea Life on Mooloolaba Wharf. Completely undercover, this is another perfect option for a rainy day (but also should be on your itinerary even if the weather remains good).

Underwater World has 16 themed zones to visit, including the Jellyfish Kingdom, Seahorse Sanctuary, Tidal Touch Pools, Seal Island, Shark Shipwreck, Turtle Temple and more. There are feed and talks scheduled throughout the day. And if your children are up to it, they can join the Ocean Ranger program during school holidays (booking required as places are limited).

Adventurous families can also sleep under the sea and see what the creatures get up to at night. For more details, check out the website (and save if you book on-line).

11. Sunshine Castle

Where to go when it rains, but to a castle – Sunshine Castle to be precise – another wet day option for little knights and princesses. Sunshine Castle was actually built in the 1970s and is a Norman style Castle, with medieval additions, complete with moat, turrets, towers and drawbridge.

Today it is filled with medieval displays and other exhibitions you can discover on a self-walk tour. Children can take part in a treasure hunt, and can choose a treat from the King’s treasure when their quest is complete.

Included on site is a Lord of the Rings display and a toy and doll museum. Special school holiday activities are also on offer. A local re-enactment group has a sword fighting training and display on the front lawn of the Castle on the first and third Saturdays of the month, from 10am-midday.

Sunshine Castle is located at Bli Bli.

12. Aussie World

Aussie World is located inland from Caloundra, on the Bruce Highway. While not on the same level as the Gold Coast theme parks, there are enough rides to cater for all ages, with the admission price giving you unlimited rides (family tickets available. Discounts available for on-line purchase).

Experience family fun at Aussie World - also home to the Ettamogah Pub.

Experience family fun at Aussie World – also home to the Ettamogah Pub.

Aussie World is also home to the quirky Ettamogah Pub, where you can enjoy a pub meal.

13. Top Shots Fun Park

Who doesn’t like a family game of mini-golf? Top Shots Fun Park has two mini-golf courses for your family to navigate. Other attractions include blaster boats, vertical trampolining and an inflatable slide and cannonball blaster (both of which only operate on weekends and school holidays).

Top Shots Fun Park is located in Maroochydore.

For a look at some of these attractions, check out Sunshine Coast Tourism’s  Attraction trail video. Need to know where to stay? Check out some great family friendly properties along the Coast.

* Images provided by Sunshine Coast Destination Limited.

June update

This is my first update since January. So much has been happening since then and I have focussed most of time making a number of changes to improve your experience of using Family Friendly Accommodation.

Website enhancements

All basic listings now show maximum room or property capacity, as well as some basic information, to help you determine if you want to click through to learn more.

Many basic listings now click through to Hotels Combined, rather than the property’s own website. I have introduced this measure as part of an affiliate marketing program, as I do not receive any income from basic listings.

However, my Premium Partners do pay an annual fee for their listing and I can assure you, all of them are great family friendly properties. Improvements to these listings include a new Bookings button and Specials tab. I do not take commission for Premium Partner bookings, so if you do book a property, please tell them you found them via Family Friendly Accommodation.

Our current premium partners can be found on the Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast, Tropical North, South-West WA, Perth, South Coast NSWVictorian Goldfields and Phuket.

New premium partner

We were excited to welcome our latest Premium Property on-board – Siesta Park Holiday Resort, located between Busselton and Dunsborough on the beautiful Geographe Bay.

Kids love the adventure playground at Siesta Park.

Siesta Park will take you back to those great, laid-back family holidays of the past, where children can ride their bikes & play in the adventure playground.

And if you need any incentive to visit this beautiful area, read my blog post on what families can do here on holidays. It truly is a beautiful part of the world.

Other changes

  • A new home-page banner will link you to a page with information and click-through banners to a range of holiday support information, including restaurants and take-away, travel insurance and tours. Again, this is known as ‘affiliate’ marketing and I do make a small commission on any bookings. However, I will only promote reputable companies on this page.
  • The website is now mobile friendly. This means if you use it on a tablet or smart phone, you will see a slightly different version, which I hope you find is easier to use. Please let me know if you believe there are any issues with this, as with any new technical change, there can sometimes be hiccups.
  • I have now included a page to house links to articles I have written on other websites, with topics including stress-free holidays with extended family & 10 tips for planning a cheap holiday.

School holidays

Can you believe we are nearly half way through the school year? If you have not yet booked holiday accommodation for the June/July holidays, there are still some deals available.

The lovely Endless Summer at Coolum Beach has some great deals available, including stay 3 nights (pay for 2), stay 5 nights (pay for 3) and stay 7 nights (pay for 5). You could be you staying in a 2-bedroom apartment for 5 nights for under $600 (rates vary depending on date & availability).

Tathra Beach Family Park’s Frankie J Holden is currently appearing on our screens in Channel 7’s A Place to Call Home. The park is offering Roy’s Rates until 31 July – stay 4, pay for 2. Tathra Beach is located on the NSW South Coast, close to Merimbula and not far from Bega, where you can visit the cheese factory.

My blog

I have changed the name of my blog, Family Gathering, to Family Holiday Planner as I feel this best reflects what the blog offers – for example, if you are planning to travel to Tasmania, learn about our visit to the beautiful Woolmers Estate.

Woolmers Estate - your family can discover our pastoral and convict heritage.

Finally happy travelling these holidays and please remember us if you stay somewhere you want to recommend to other families.

 

 

 

 

 

My January update

Where to start?

Combine school holidays with travelling interstate to visit relatives (check out my review of the Port Arthur family friendly ghost tour), working 3 days a week and a Melbourne heatwave – well, it’s been a bit hard to achieve much over the past month or so. I am sure many of you were in the same boat.

However, 2014 will be a year of major change for me. After working in the public sector for the past 14 years, a major restructure has offered up the chance to take a redundancy package.

So, what does this mean for you? It means I have a chance to grow Family Friendly Accommodation into a fully-fledged business.

Until now, I have been trying to build the website in between part-time work and raising two school-aged children. It has not been easy, because I have not been able to be consistent.

So, for me 2014 is a make-or-break year. I will not think about what happens if I am not successful because I will start from the mind-set that I will be successful. I remain passionate about the product and believe it deserves to be in the marketplace.

How you can help me?

Is there anything you particularly like or dislike about the website?

I want the website to be a valuable resource to help you make a more informed choice in family holiday accommodation.

Please let me know, as I am happy to look at making refinements to make the website more user -friendly.

Latest listings

I would also like to welcome 2 new premium partners on board.

The Metro Hotel Perth, is the perfect hotel for small families, of up to 4 people. Spacious rooms, including one bedroom apartments with kitchenettes, make for a comfortable stay. And the location near parklands and the Perth Zoo is great.

Forte Cape View Busselton is located beside beautiful Geographe Bay, south of Perth. I can highly recommend this area to families and with a range of accommodation options and plenty of open space, Forte Cape View is the perfect family friendly place to stay.

Gold Coast Special

Paradise Resort is renowned as the best family friendly resort on the Gold Coast. It is currently offering a special deal which includes accommodation, kids club session and a 3 day World Pass for the family to visit Dreamworld and White Water World. Why not combine a coastal holiday with a few days in the mountains at Cedar Creek Lodges at Thunderbird Park. A perfect family holiday.

Guide dogs and accommodation

The Queensland Government has made amendments to the Guide, Hearing and Assistance Dogs Act to support the rights of people with disability who rely on guide, hearing and assistance dogs to access residential and holiday accommodation.

The changes came into effect in December and provide a right of access to places of accommodation for people with disability who rely on a guide, hearing or assistance dogs. Learn more.

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.

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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.

New App will help get your kids on track these holidays

When I read about a Sydney mum’s new App to help enhance children’s experiences while museums, galleries and local attractions, I was interested to know more.

Just like me, Philippa Shelley Jones, got an idea while on holiday with her children. Visiting Westminster Abbey with her three children, she was impressed with an activity program rewarded them with giant gold chocolate coins.

Five years on, she has launched Kid Tracks, a unique new App to engage children in sight-seeing via mobile devices.

Kid Tracks is an App which offers tailored multiple-choice activity ‘Tracks’ for museums, galleries and local attractions in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.

kidtrack1

Philippa said she developed the app with two things in mind.

“The first was that children, whether we like it or not, are driven by incentive. The second was that, whilst some cultural and historical sites have activities to keep the children occupied, there is nothing linking them all together with some sort of cohesive set of activities.

“Both of these factors become particularly significant in those places some kids might consider ‘boring’, but which their parents want to see, such as historical houses, galleries, and National archives and libraries.

“So Kid Tracks was born – an incentive based children’s activity App which I created and developed to link all historical and cultural landmarks together under the umbrella of an ‘across the board’ approach to sightseeing.”

Children download ‘Tracks’ (.99c each) for each site visited and then use their device on site to answer simple, multiple-choice observational questions.

An example of a question in Old Melbourne Gaol would be: What sort of hood was worn by prisoners held in solitary confinement when outside their cells? (Cell #11)

kidtrack2

A digital ‘pet ‘accompanies them on their way around and responds excitedly with a correct answer and despondently with an incorrect answer. At the end, reward points are awarded (in the form of ‘feet’), which accumulate along a trail with each site visited, ultimately earning them certificates and prizes.

Philippa said various other incentives are offered via the website.

“I am providing some major prizes these school holidays which will be notified via the website and the Kid Tracks Facebook page, things such as Smiggle vouchers, Luna Park passes and iTunes cards.”

The App, which is free to download, currently covers over 50 sites in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney and is being expanded all the time. ‘Tracks’ include attractions like Questacon in Canberra, historical houses like Vaucluse House in Sydney and museums like the National Sports Museum in Melbourne.

“I’ve also included galleries, walks and even on-off events –  such as Sculpture By the Sea, a two week event in Sydney,” Philippa said.

The Kid Tracks App is available now in the App store for iPhone, iPad and iPod. For more information visit www.kidtracks.com.au