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.

 

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

Stretching your family holiday dollar further

It seems we are being informed on almost a daily basis that more & more Australians are losing their jobs as companies cut their budgets. In the meantime, costs continue to rise and families have to tighten their belts.

So, can the average Australian family still afford a holiday? I would like to think so. And in saying this, I want people to think outside the square about what they consider to be a holiday.

A holiday can be anything from free camping through to a 5-star resort experience. It can be one night away, through to weeks or months exploring Australia or experiencing life in another country.

No matter what type of holiday your budget buys, it is about spending quality time together as a family outside the home environment. Getting away from the humdrum of daily life can help us focus on each other and bond again.

So, these are my 10 money-saving tips to help you start planning a holiday or weekend away.

1.    Sign up to newsletters

By signing up to airline & other travel e-newsletters, you can get alerts about up-coming sales and last-minute deals.

Last year, I found myself organising a spur-of-the-moment New Zealand holiday after I received an email alert about cheap airfares and purchased them on the spur of the moment after I got an email alert.

Experiencing the sites (and smells) near Rotura, on New Zealand's North Island.

Experiencing the sites (and smells) near Rotorua, on New Zealand’s North Island.

Many airline deals are for flights months in advance, which also means you can purchase the tickets – then spend more time to save up for accommodation.

Then, last winter (off season), we had a weekend away after I saw last minute rates for accommodation in a popular Victorian seaside resort. For $174 a night, we got a 2-bedroom cabin for four of us, including a buffet breakfast.

This beachside location is booked up in summer, but not as popular in the depths of a cold Victorian winter, when less people want to stay, so deals are offered. Which leads me to my next tip.

2.    Travel off-season

Once your children are at school, you are tied into taking your holidays when everyone else does – and you will pay top price for the privilege!

You will find some really good prices outside the peak holiday seasons. Sure if might not be as warm, but it will be less crowded and you might be able to have a longer stay than if you were paying peak-rate prices.

Holiday off-season - it's cheaper and you can have the whole beach to yourself.

Holiday off-season – it’s cheaper and you can have the whole beach to yourself.

This is especially so in popular holiday destinations, which have with an abundance of accommodation for peak periods, but will offer some amazing rates as they struggle to fill rooms during the off-season.

3.    Stay close to the popular tourist town

So, you want to see all the attractions of the popular tourist town, but find all the accommodation overpriced? Can you stay in a less-popular town close-by? You might find it will save you money.

You may well find some towns cheaper than others in a region, while larger towns and cities can have varying prices depending on where they are located (eg, staying in suburbs rather than the city centre).

4.    Take a city break

If you live close to a major city or regional town, why not become a tourist for the weekend?

I live less than an hour from Melbourne’s CBD, where I have also worked for many years. But travelling in for a weekend and staying the night is a whole other experience.

Discover your home town.

Discover your home town – in this case, Melbourne.

Leave the car at home & catch public transport to save money and discover the local parks and gardens or just wander through the streets. Some cities also provide free public transport for visitors, such as the City Loop tram in Melbourne.

If possible, try to find a package including breakfast. Finding accommodation with a kitchenette can make it even cheaper.

5.    Self-cater

Self-catering is one of the best ways to save money on a holiday.

There is no doubt that eating out as a family can cost a fortune – especially if you are eating 3 meals a day. Often it is these extra costs that can really blow out the budget.

Staying in an apartment or a hotel room with a kitchenette so you do not need to go out for meals all the time will save you heaps.

Self-catering saves money - and saves you from dragging tired children into a cafe or restaurant.

Self-catering saves money – and saves you from dragging tired children into a cafe or restaurant.

To make it extra special, consider allowing for treats – for you and the children. Maybe a pack of Magnum ice-creams in the freezer. My children are allowed to eat Coco Pops when we are on holiday instead of their healthy Weetbix. I will sometimes sneak a bowl of it in too!

6.    Deal direct

In creating my website, I wanted to list properties only and leave all the bookings and negotiations to you, the customer.

That is because many booking websites charge booking fees and/or take commission for bookings made via their websites (even if these fees are hidden in the overall price). This can result in you paying more and/or the property owner receiving less.

In most instances, the days of finding cheaper accommodation on booking websites are gone and the accommodation provider’s own website will provide you with the best deals.

Have a look at what you like, then ring and talk to the owners/managers direct. Ask them what specials they have or what the best rate is they can give you.

Some apartment complexes are managed on behalf of different apartment owners. You might be able to negotiate a good rate depending on the apartment’s location in the complex & its furnishings. There is no harm in asking

7.    Stay in older-style motels & houses.

This leads me to my next point. Generally, the less modern the property, the less you will pay. So, another option is to stay in older style motels. Yes, the decor may not have the latest, ultra-modern look, but most are still comfortable and clean.

You can also try older style holiday houses or apartments through real estate agents or holiday house websites – again, older houses with more dated decor can sometimes be available at quite cheap rates.

8.    Share accommodation

If you are looking at holiday houses, have you considered sharing with friends or relatives?

This can be particularly money-saving in summer, peak-periods. In January, we stayed for a couple of nights with friends in a lovely town-house, sharing the costs for the two nights we were there.

Sharing accommodation with family & friends can get you bigger bang for your accommodation buck.

Sharing accommodation with family & friends can get you bigger bang for your accommodation buck.

In recommending this option, I also suggest you read my tips on travelling with extended family and friends as living with others, even for a short-period of time, can have its challenges.

9.    Travel auction sites

There are a proliferation of websites with daily deals. While I have never used them and am not personally recommending them, friends have successfully booked accommodation through sites, such as Scoopon.

Just be aware of the conditions so you do not get caught with cheap accommodation – but only a very expensive way of getting to it.

Another option which my parents are almost addicted to is travel auctions. Again, this will be of best value if you can travel out of peak seasons, as some have block-out dates over holidays. These properties are usually 3-star rated and you can score some cheap deals by bidding what you are prepared to pay for your stay.

10.  Camping

Many Australian families love camping. There are many state and national parks that offer free and cheap camping experiences around Australia. All you need (at the very least) is a tent. Although you can buy accessories galore to make it more comfortable.

There is also a growing trend towards glamping. This can offer a cost-effective solution for basic comfort at a great price. See these static tents at Tathra Beach Family Park are a great example.

Glamping it up at Tathra Beach Family Park in NSW.

Glamping it up at Tathra Beach Family Park in NSW.

If some of these tips have got you thinking, why not create a family holiday fund and set a holiday goal? Even if you can only get away for a couple of nights and can’t travel far, your family will appreciate it.

And in the meantime, enter every holiday competition you see. Remember, someone has to win. Maybe one day it will be you.

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.

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.

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.

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

November Update

Regional tourism

I was lucky enough to speak at and attend the Australian Regional Tourism Network (ARTN) Convention, held in Western Australia’s beautiful Margaret River region.

This is just one pic from the area, taken at beautiful Bunker Bay.

2013-10-22 14.08.58

If I came away with one resounding message from the convention – maybe more so from general conversation rather than official speakers – it is that regional tourism in Australia is hurting.

I know many people complain that it is too expensive to holiday at home – and don’t get me wrong, people should travel overseas to experience cultures different to our own – but maybe we also need to put a bit more effort into getting out and experiencing our own backyard.

The fact is Australia will never compete on price against countries in Asia and the Pacific, where the people bringing your food, cleaning your rooms and massaging your back are paid a pittance to do so.

But with pretty cheap airfares and relatively short air travel times – not to mention the fact you can eat, drink and travel in relative safety – I think Australia is a perfect place to holiday when your children are young.

I like to compare discovering new places in Australia to buying a favourite piece of clothing in a different colour. It is different enough to be exciting, but familiar enough to feel comfortable with.

So, when you are considering your next holiday, or a weekend away, if you are not set on travelling overseas, think about discovering somewhere new in Australia. You might surprise yourself at what you can experience. And don’t forget to check out our great accommodation too.

More about the ARTN conference

The ARTN is a member-based association and the national peak body representing regional tourism. The conference covered a range of topics. I spoke about social media and blogging.

As someone quite new to the ‘tourism’ industry, as well as a consumer, it provided me with an informative insight into the industry.

But as I listened and watched some promotional advertising, it also left me wondering about how well we target the family holiday market in Australia.

Maybe some more promotion like this wonderful piece from Tourism South Australia, might entice more families to consider a local holiday, rather than escape to Bali or Fiji. What do you think?

For property owners in NSW

Following the recent bushfires in NSW, the Tourism Industry Council of NSW, together with the International Centre for Responsible Tourism, is running a special seminar on bushfire preparedness and tourism for senior tourism professionals and tourism operators.

It is being held this Thursday, 28 November, in Sydney. Learn more.

Latest reviews

We have received a number of new reviews this month, including accommodation in Port Stephens (NSW) Maryborough (Victoria), Launceston and Sheffield (Tasmania). Check them out.

Until next month – happy Christmas shopping and holiday planning.