Fight the zombies at Thunderbird Park

Zombies are in the news again, with the new Syfy series, Z Nation. And now, Thunderbird Park in Queensland Gold Coast hinterland is giving you the chance to save the world from a zombie apocalypse with Battlefield Undead.

You can star in a real live action packed zombie outbreak computer-style game in the great outdoors and top it off with a special spooky dinner menu and a night in the rainforest.

Heroes can stay with friends and family in a contemporary room or a private two bedroom lodge. Book the Thunderbird Park Halloween Package any Saturday night in October and pay from $389 for a fun packed weekend.

zombies

The package includes Saturday night accommodation for two adults (double or twin share), a two hour Laser Skirmish zombie session for two, plus a two-course Spooky Dinner for two in the onsite Rainforest Restaurant and a big barbecue breakfast with the birds on Sunday morning.

You can bring the kids along too for an extra $119 per child. This includes accommodation, breakfast, dinner and a laser skirmish game.

If you are visiting for the day, players aged 10 years plus can play a two hour Zombie Domination and Zombie Survival session from 2pm each Saturday from October 4 to November 1. Pay the standard session price of $39 per player or prepay and save $10.

Teens and adults can get really scary and play the dusk to dark session on Saturday November 1 from 5-7pm. This one-off event is open only to players who have taken part in at least one previous game. Places are limited, so don’t delay.

The night time session is a terrifying series of three 12 minute games. All bookings for this special session must be prepaid. Escape alive, get the highest Zombie kill, celebrate with dinner and spend the night recovering in the rainforest.

Visit Thunderbird Park or phone 5545 1468 for information and bookings.

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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.

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.

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

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.

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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)

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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