The Enchanted Party

20 December 2010 by

The Enchanted Party.

No prizes for guessing where we’ll be in the second week of January 2011…

European Masters

5 October 2010 by

Euro Masters 2There’s nothing like a deadline to galvanise me into action. The European Masters: Städel Museum 19th-20th Century has been on exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria since June. But took the prospect of it closing this Sunday for me to decide I wanted to see it — that and an ad Tash and I saw in Saturday’s paper Paul Meyerheim’s The jealous lioness, a glorious image of a female circus performer with a parrot on one shoulder, reaching through the bars of a cage to grasp the mane of a lion while the lioness snarls and and extends her claws. That was enough to make Tash and I want to see the whole exhibition.

The jealous lioness is transformed into a magnetic jigsaw puzzle in Das Puzzle Haus, a play space featuring works from the exhibition, which Tash loved. If I have any complaints it’s that the puzzle house should have been placed at the end rather than outside the entrance as the actual exhibition paled by comparison for Natasha. In fact, the position of the Puzzle House in the main foyer of the gallery means access is free.

Euro Masters 5Once inside the exhibition itself ($23/adult, kids under 5 free), there is a trail for kids called Städel Kids: Alphabet labels where children identify alphabet wall labels dispersed through the exhibition and circle the letters on a piece of paper. This proved too much for Natasha, whose letter recognition doesn’t extend much beyond her own name. But the questions attached to the alphabet labels were a great way to engage her in the art works.

The works of Der Blaue Reiter artists Franz Marc and August Macke were amongst those Natasha liked best — Dog lying in the snow and Walter’s toys respectively — and these were also images transformed into jigsaws in the Puzzle House. Funnily enough, I was a big fan of The Blue Rider school in my own youth: I copied a detail from a Macke painting in a year 11 art class and kept it for years, I liked the image and colours so much.

Tash also liked the works featuring children — of which there are many — and ballerinas, notably the wonderful Orchestra musicians by Edgar Degas.

Euro Masters 1After the exhibition, we headed to the sculpture garden for a picnic lunch and to give Tash the chance to climb on some art (gotta love that). Plus a visit to the National Gallery of Victoria wouldn’t be complete without lying on the floor of the Great Hall to gaze at the stained-glass ceiling. It would be like passing through the entrance without putting your hand on the Water Wall — just not done.

When I asked Tash about her favourite thing at the gallery today, she said ‘The fairy puzzle’, a reference to a block jigsaw based on the painting Elf dance in a grove of alders by Moritz von Schwind. ‘And,’ she added, ‘the lion, the dog and the toys.’ Again, these were all works from the exhibition transformed into different kinds of puzzles in Daz puzzle haus.

It’s a brilliant way to get kids involved in studying art and if I can get my act together, I plan to purchase or make some artwork puzzles of my own for Tash.

The European Masters exhibition is open from 10am until 9pm from tomorrow until Friday, until midnight on Saturday and until 6pm this Sunday 10 October. In addition to the free Puzzle House and the alphabet trail for kids, there are still a couple of special kids art activities this weekend.

Learning to ‘boggan

9 August 2010 by

Lake Mountain 5A couple of months ago, Tash started hounding us to take her to the snow. I blame the Disney princesses for putting such notions into her head (the Disney princesses have a lot to answer for in my opinion). It certainly wasn’t my idea. I’m the type who likes to holiday somewhere warmer than home, which explains why I’ve never visited New Zealand. The idea of snow play left me, well, cold.

I conferred with the parents of one of Tash’s closest friends, who it turns out was also lobbying hard for a snow trip. Perhaps they hatched the idea at the kindergarten they both attend. Whatever the case, we decided collectively to take the kids to the snow.

Lake Mountain 22Next we had to figure out where, when, and for how long. Friends recommended staying at an alpine resort so warm baths and a change of clothes were close at hand for the kids. But the costs were prohibitive. An alternative was to stay in a nearby town and make trips to and from the snowfields. But the most affordable options required hours of driving. And what if the kids liked the idea of snow better than the reality? There was a strong possibility they’d be into it for half an hour, then complain they were cold and wet and wanted to go home.

After much research we settled on the modest objective of a day trip to Lake Mountain near Marysville. Of all of Victoria’s snowfields, Lake Mountain is closest to Melbourne at 120 km northeast of the CBD or a little over two hours’ drive for us. We figured August was a good bet in terms of snowfall, though there’s a snowmaking machine to get it through the lean seasons.

Lake Mountain 13The area was badly damaged by the February 2009 Black Saturday bushfires. Given the cold, it should have been impossible to imagine the hillsides on fire. But whiteness of the snow served to intensify the charred and blackened bush. Eighteen months on, the impact of the devastation still takes my breath away.

Marysville was where we chose to stop and hire snow gear. There are at least three hire places on the main road and it’s worth shopping around for deals. We got a ‘Snowman Package’ at Marysville Ski Centre, which provided walking boots, waterproof overpants and a toboggan for $21 per person (adults & children); another place had the same deal for kids at $16. I’d found Tash a perfect parka for $6 and overpants for $3 at Savers in Brunswick, but we forked out for mittens ($12 to buy) and boots ($10 to hire) for her — and thank goodness we did. Entry to the mountain itself is $35 per car (weekend rate, $25 weekdays), best paid by cash using the correct change.

Lake Mountain 21It was sheer luck that the weather was perfect, the sky clear and blue, the mountainsides soft with freshly fallen snow. It also meant Lake Mountain was crowded, the upper carpark already full by the time we arrived at 11 am. A shuttle-bus was ferrying people to the resort, but on the suggestion of a park volunteer, we headed through the gate near the entrance to the lower carpark, turned right and walked a short distance to a small toboggan run.

This turned out to be a good move. The gentle slope was perfect for our four-and-a-half-year-olds and it was possible to walk into the bush only metres from the toboggan run and feel as if we had the place to ourselves. There were a few other families around but not enough to make it feel crowded.

Lake Mountain 26Tash’s friend got cold feet (literally) after an hour, but Tash loved it. To begin with, Andrew and I took turns on the toboggan with her, but after a couple of hours and a few practice sessions on a smaller slope, she was tobogganing on her own. She could get enough of the ‘boggan’. She also made a snow angel, helped build a snowman, had a snowball fight — all the things she’d planned for weeks. The photos capture her pure joy at the experience.

A day at the snow is not cheap. Happily in our case, it was well worth it.

The Lake Mountain Alpine Resort website provides detailed information including daily snow reports and maps. Click here for tourist information on Marysville.

Tim Burton, The Exhibition

28 June 2010 by

Tim Burton 03Although this is a blog devoted to travelling with children, this post begins with a disclaimer: Tim Burton, The Exhibition may not be suitable for your small children. Even our Natasha, who has a dark sense of humour for a four-year-old and often plays games involving monsters, witches and red-back spiders, declared the Tim Burton, The Exhibition was ‘too scary for me’.

All the same, she lasted an hour and a half at the fantastic exhibit put together by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne, finding enough to intrigue and beguile her without being too scary.

In fact, when we asked afterwards about her favourite part of the exhibition, she nominated a clip from The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) in which a skeletal Santa distributes evil toys that terrorise the neighbourhood. She watched the same clip about four times. Go figure.

Tim Burton 01Tash also enjoyed hanging out in the Activity Space, drawing pictures of princesses that turned out eerily like the Corpse Bride. For me seeing some of the public art inspired by the exhibition was almost as good as the exhibition itself.

My undisputed highlight was the six-minute, stop animation film Vincent, which Burton made in 1982 as a tribute to Vincent Price, whom he convinced to narrate the film. Vincent Price’s autograph is on display amidst Burton’s notes and sketches for this wonderful short film.

I also loved what appears on the exhibition map as the ‘Burtonarium’, a carnivalesque tunnel covered in day-glo images of creatures, which leads to a wacky merry-go-round of monsters and electric lights, accompanied by haunting music.

I suspect I’m not alone in planning a big retrospective viewing of Burton’s films as a result of seeing this exhibition. I was reminded of how much I enjoyed Ed Wood, for example, and how long it was since I’d seen Edward Scissorhands. And clearly Tash and I need to see The Nightmare Before Christmas in its entirety.

But there was so much to see, and much as I loved seeing it with Natasha, I plan to go back for a second visit to the exhibition sans child. I want to linger over Burton’s sketches, notes and paintings — not the sort of exhibits to keep a child entertained — and take a longer look at the material Tash found too scary.

If you do go to the show with kids, it pays to buy tickets on-line in advance to avoid the lengthy queues. I also recommend going in a group so you can take turns to stay with the child while they are preoccupied — usually with the film clips — and view the finer details in the show.

It’s a wonderful exhibit, a tribute to Burton’s unique and wild imagination, which also does the best possible thing an art exhibition can do: it calls forth an imaginative response in the viewer.

I suspect all of us will have wild dreams tonight.

Meeting Mali at Melbourne Zoo

7 June 2010 by

Baby Mail is so cute 2Last month Tash and I finally got to meet Mali, Melbourne Zoo‘s newest addition to the herd that calls the Trail of the Elephants home. In fact, according to the Melbourne Zoo website, she is the first elephant born in the zoo’s 147-year history.

The ‘celebelephant’ (celebrity elephant) did not disappoint. She is hairy and cute and playful — full of personality according to the commentary kept up by the keepers.

Apparently elephants are allo-parents, that is, the whole tribe looks after the babies–like the ‘sparents’ (spare parents) Mia Freedman writes about. In this picture, Mali is running around with her grandmother, which was apt, seeing as how that’s what Tash was doing a lot of that same week: my mother was visiting from NSW and came to the zoo with us.

We didn’t have to queue for long at all to see Mali. She is currently on show from 11 am-3 pm.

We’ve been taking Tash to the Melbourne Zoo since she was a toddler and just decided to renew our Friends of the Zoo membership for another year. It pays for itself within a few visits, and given we are only two train stations away, we can afford to go on the spur of the moment, even for a short visit.

Tash and the tortoisesMelbourne Zoo is the country’s oldest. I have a strong memory of visiting as a child, seeing the same giant tortoises, who are now in their seventies. One of the old-style enclosures has been preserved for the record, and I remember, too, watching the desperate pacing of the big cats in those concrete pens. I know zoos are artificial, imperfect and don’t come close to the thrill of seeing wild creatures in their natural element. But each visit renews my sense of awe at the brilliant diversity of life on this planet and impels to do more to contribute to the conservation of that diversity.

We are loving the new marine precinct with its seal viewing ‘cinemas’ and tanks of the less showy but equally gorgeous weedy sea dragons. So what if the kids like playing on the pirate ship more than watching the wildlife: I still get to watch the seals.

Tash always wants to see the zebras, while her cousin Vinnie–under the influence of The Lion King–is currently enamoured by the wild dogs that share the lion enclosure.

We all love the reptile house, which like the marine precinct is great to visit regardless of the weather. My personal favourite exhibit is the bright blue poison frog–though on our most recent visit, we were all captivated by the black-headed pythons that were literally climbing the walls.

Zoo May 8But Tash’s very favourite thing at Melbourne Zoo is the orangutan nest. Every time we visit the complex that houses the quiet orangutans and their noisy neighbours, the siamangs, Tash heads straight for the nest, makes a little bed out of the fabric leaves and curls up for a rest. And being under cover, this exhibit can also be visited at this time of year, too.

As an aside, I read recently that a new study, conducted at Melbourne Zoo, suggests orangutans like looking at us as much as we like looking at them. It certainly seems that way in the photo on the right, taken on a visit to the zoo last May. (Tash chose her outfit on that occasion specially to visit the leopards).

And I’ve just read on the Melbourne Zoo website that the new Sumatran tiger clubs have made their public debut. Looks like we’ll be heading back soon…

Phillip Island

1 April 2010 by

Phillip Island 20Roo and I visited Phillip Island during our first winter together nearly 20 years ago. We returned when Tash was 18 months old, braving the cold to see penguins and koalas, neither of which impressed Tash nearly as much as the magpies. And the rocks.

Last weekend we went back, this time with another family as an experiment to see whether holidays really are easier when you travel with other people who have kids the same age as your own. The verdict? — Absolutely!

The other family were our friends Diana and Alessandro, nearly-four-year-old Silvia and one-year-old Nadia. Di and Ale have relocated to East Timor and the weekend was a chance to catch up with them and allow Tash and Silvia to catch up, too. The girls got along brilliantly, and Di and I concurred that four parents to three kids is about the perfect ratio.

Phillip Island 29Tash and Silvia spent a lot of time at Elizabeth Cove — famous for being one of Victoria’s few north-facing beaches — near where we stayed at Ventnor. They paddled in calm shallows, explored rock-pools, collected and buried shells, built and decorated sandcastles, climbed hills, played fairies, rolled about in the sand and even paused to talk and stare out to sea. For me it was magic simply watching them interact with each other and the landscape.

It was one of the most relaxing weekends I’ve had in a long time and we didn’t do much, despite the island’s many attractions. Di had a hankering to visit the koala reserve, having fond memories of the place as a seven-year-old. I was less enthusiastic as the entrance fees are expensive and Tash had been underwhelmed during our previous visit. But we went along for the ride. To the credit of the folks at the Koala Conservation Centre, they sold us all-female foursome a family ticket, which at $25.75 was the cheapest option.

Phillip Island 16Interestingly, koalas are not native to Phillip Island but were introduced in the late 1800s. The population thrived until the 1980s when loss of habitat, feral animals, traffic and Chlamydophila disease started to take their toll. The association of Phillip Island with koalas was so strong by then that a local ‘Koala Working Group recommended the establishment of a reserve that provided koalas with a protected habitat and visitors with viewing opportunities. Thus the David Forrest Koala Reserve was born.

Things didn’t get off to a great start for us at the reserve when a tour of the first of the boardwalk area yielded only two sleeping koalas — little more than furry bottoms nestled in the eucalyptus.

Phillip Island 14We moved on to the Woodland Walk, where koalas seemed few and far between. The girls were getting restless and Di was keeping a running total — ‘That’s $12.50 per koala so far’ — when all of a sudden we spotted more, one after the other. When I say we, it was really Di who was the Koala Whisperer. She came upon several in the bush that were low enough to the ground for the girls to get a good look; some were awake and one of them actually moved. Tash and I also ventured into a second boardwalk area where a few more koalas were easily visible.

Staff at the centre commented that spotting the koalas is half the fun, and I guess that’s true if your kids aren’t too fractious and you don’t mind knocking about in the undergrowth — nor paying around $3 per koala for the privilege.

Otherwise, you might be better off walking down to the beach Ventnor at sunset or sunrise, where you might see a wallaby, and are almost sure to see rabbits and mutton birds, for free.

Year of the Tiger

14 February 2010 by

Year of the Tiger 06Tash, Roo and I headed into Melbourne’s CBD this morning to celebrate Chinese New Year: the Year of the (Metal) Tiger.

For an agnostic, I’m quite superstitious about Chinese New Year. In 2008, the Year of the Rat, I wore an ox pendant in my earring for the entire year as I read this helped deflect negative Rat vibes for Horse people like myself. It seemed to work: I had a great year.

According to Chinese astrology, the Year of the Tiger is characterised by dramatic change, intensity and travel. This can be exciting for those of us who thrive on change. But as some change can be unwelcome, saddening, even catastrophic, we wanted to get the year off to an auspicious start.

For this reason, we said yes to the ‘money-bags’ we were offered at our favourite yum cha place, the New Kum Den restaurant on Heffernan Lane. The money bags–deep-fried parcels of prawn, pork and corn fastened into bags with strands of spring onion–help to bring wealth in the year ahead.

Year of the Tiger 05We also took care to position ourselves for the Dai Loong Dragon Parade where we could touch the dragon as it passed. This, too, is said to bring good fortune in the year ahead. (Unfortunately, in an inauspicious moment, the camera battery ran out, hence no photos of the Dragon!).

Earlier we had been deafened by firecrackers exploding at the intersection of Russell and Little Bourke Streets. Gangs of musicians and lion dancers traversed the laneways bound by Exhibition, Lonsdale, Swanston and Russell Streets to conduct the rituals believed to augur in a prosperous year. Strands of red firecrackers are let off, adding to the noise of the music to scare away evil spirits. Dancing lions snap at heads of lettuce hanging at the entrances of shop-fronts to bring good luck through the doors.

TT tiger portraitCelebrating New Year in Melbourne’s Chinatown is something I look forward to, and it just seems to get bigger and better. The Children’s Corner in a tent near the intersection of Russell and Lonsdale Streets offered pictures to colour in and small gifts to reward the effort. There was a wonderful array of performances on offer, culminating in a karaoke competition this evening–with “singing lovers” welcomed in a dual celebration of Valentine’s Day.

Of course, we didn’t last that long: our little Rooster had a pressing play date and the Snake and I were tired after a big night out at the inaugural Wheeler Centre event. But that’s another story.

And the photo of the tiger (right) was not taken today in Melbourne’s Chinatown, but in April 2008 at the Tiger Temple in Thailand’s Kanchanaburi province. Whenever I find myself coddling Natasha, I look at this photo and it gives me perspective.

Gong Xi Fa Cai! Happy Chinese New Year. May the change that follows be welcome.

The 6th Asia Pacific Triennial (APT6)

19 January 2010 by

APT6 8Roo and I have managed for the past few years to synchronise visits to his family with the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, a.k.a APT, the flagship international art exhibition of the Queensland Art Gallery and which the spectacular Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) in Brisbane was built to house. The APT never fails to excite and engage us, and the APT6 is no exception. It is also possibly the most child-friendly art exhibition in the world.

We visited the APT6 in December 2009. Whilst I could have stayed all day, it is a measure of how engaging the exhibition is that with both Roo’s septuagenarian mother and nearly-four-year-old Tash in tow, we spent four hours wandering the galleries.

APT6 16The APT has a dedicated kids’ program–Tash is holding the guide in a couple of the photos. There are 17 activities outlined in kids’ apt, of which Natasha’s favourite was The Play House by the Japanese team of YNG, artist Yoshitomo Nara and architectural/design firm graf. Located under the escalators on Level 1 of the GOMA, the play house invites you in to take a seat and add drawings to a range of sketchbooks on topics such as ‘Favourite Place’, ‘My Treasures’, ‘Angry Girl’, ‘Night Time’ and ‘Monsters’. You can also add to a growing collection of small objects by leaving something behind. Tash loved the space and kept returning there throughout our time at the APT6 to add more drawings to the library.

But for the most part, APT6 2Tash was engaged by the APT exhibition as a whole. She was captivated by the Iranian animation, part of a program called The Cypress and the crow: 50 years of Iranian Animation; I joined her to watch The Sparrow and the Boll, exquisite animation designed in textiles. She was also intrigued, as we all were, with PixCell – Elk#2, a work by Japanese artist Kohei Nawa: a stuffed elk, apparently bought on ebay, covered in glass beads in varying sizes (all situated on Level 1).

Tash and Roo spent some time in the media gallery on Level 2 dedicated to the video animations of Hiraki Sawa, 10 short films making up an installation called O and including footage of flying birds silhouetted against the central Australian landscape.

Liminal Air - descend 2007On the same level, Tash and I literally stumbled into Liminal Air – descend 2007, an installation in an enclosed space of white threads suspended from the ceiling and cut into waves so that you ‘disappear’ into the work, the further you move into it. I laughed when I read the official APT6 program description of the work as “creating immersive ‘liminal’ zone offering a profoundly physical experience in which audiences might consider ideas of eternity and the sublime.” Tash and I were less preoccupied with ideas of eternity than we were with playing hide-and-seek in a ‘forest of spaghetti’. And when I was too tired to run after her anymore, I enjoyed sitting back and watching others discover the joy in this piece and the dancing movement created by this engagement.

APT6 5I’ve honed in on work by Japanese artists in this post, but the APT6 boasts excellent work from artists throughout Asia and the Pacific. Other highlights for me:

  • The psychedelic installations of Indian artists Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra that highlight the dreams and costs for Punjabi young people of emigrating to other countries
  • Thai artist Manit Sriwanichpoom’s photographs Waiting for the King 2006
  • Sopheap Pich’s rattan and bamboo sculptures inspired by the memory of travelling across Cambodia with his family in the wake of the Khmer Rouge
  • Australian artist Tracey Moffat’s hilarious montage Other 2009 on the portrayal of ‘the native’ in cinema

APT6 11There are also some wonderful contributions by Chinese artists. Chen Qiulin’s reconstructs a traditional house in Xinsheng Town no. 275-277, that was demolished to make way for urban development related to the Three Gorges Dam project. This is extraordinary both for the insight it provides into the way the poor in China live, as well as a symbol of what can be sacrificed in the name of development. Also worth watching is his video Garden (2007) that follows flower sellers as they traverse new urban developments in the same area.

People holding flowers 2007 by Ji Wenyu and Zhu Weibing is a standout work, deceptively light-hearted at first glance, but a scathing critique of post-Cultural Revolution consumerism in China. The work has been purchased for the QAG collection.

APT6 32Roo commented that much of the Chinese work is bleak and depressing, which is true, but it also indicates a liberalisation in the arts, too: a departure from the triumphalist propaganda of the past, which can still be seen in the works from the Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang, which were commissioned for the APT6. The inclusion of the North Korean works was controversial, and the Australian Foreign Affairs Minister refused to grant visas to allow the artists to visit with their works. Personally, I welcome any chance for insight into this most secretive of countries, and the North Korean works are striking and technically stunning.

There so much more that I haven’t even mentioned – the stunning mirror mosaics of Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, the colossal paintings of Shirana Shahbazi, Subodh Gupta’s metal sculptures… I could go on and on. But not now. I’m too busy monitoring websites for discount airfares so I can get back to Brisbane and visit the APT6 again before it finishes on 5 April 2010. And as I write, Tash has just seconded that idea, saying ‘I want to go back to that white b’sgetti.’

Hyams Beach, NSW

10 January 2010 by

Green Patch 9I visited Hyams Beach for a day in 1980 and all I remembered was white sand and wonderful swimming. Roo, Tash and I spent a week at Hyams Beach over New Year 2010 and memory had served me well. The area goes straight into my top ten kid friendly holiday destinations in Australia with a bullet and here’s why.

1. Swimming: it’s a no-brainer but beach holidays are all about the beach and Hyams Beach has something for everyone. At high tide the waves are great for body surfing and boogie-boarding, wave-jumping and swimming, though smaller children will need to be carried or have their hands held as the current can be strong. At low tide, the swell is gentle enough for smaller kids to manage jumping and paddling unassisted (supervised, naturally). Hyams Beach is not patrolled, populated without being crowded.

Other kid-friendly swimming places for youngsters are Moona Moona Creek between the towns of Huskisson and Vincentia, and Green Patch in Booderee National Park (see below). But we reckon Hyams is the best beach on Jervis Bay.

Rock pool 52. Rock-pools: Tash claimed one rock-pool at Hymas Beach as her ‘bath’. Another was large enough to serve as a paddling pool for a group of kids. The rock-pools are crawling with marine life – fish, crabs, starfish, anemones – waiting to be admired, scooped up into nets, or poked at with a stick. (What is it with boys and sticks? My brother reckons he never had a stick out of his hand until he took up smoking!). My best find was a small, brown octopus that Tash and I watched dart back and forth from under a rock.

Kids are best off wearing waterproof shoes on the rocks and in rock-pools on account of embedded oyster shells that cut like serrated knives.

Blues 33. Snorkeling: Roo spotted a fiddler ray (banjo shark) and a sand shark off the rocks at Hyams Beach. The rocky areas also host a variety of colourful fish – the local Aboriginal (Dhurga) word  for Jervis Bay is Booderee meaning ‘bay of plenty’ or ‘plenty of fish’. I went snorkeling in 1.5 metre water around the Bristol Point rocks at Green Patch and had a great time. There’s reputedly good diving in the area, too.

4. Sand: I’m averse to sand (which poleaxed any teen fantasies I had of being a surfie chick), but in the case of Hyams Beach I make an exception. The sand is famously white – apparently listed in the Guiness Book of Records as the world’s whitest – and provides a blank canvas for the most stunning shades of blue the sky and sea can produce. Plus it’s soft. Like walking on talcum powder.

5. Dolphins: Jervis Bay’s resident pod of dolphins chose New Year’s Day to cruise by us on Hyams Beach – which I’m taking as a good omen. A Vincentia local told me she saw them every morning on her beach walks. Dolphin watching tours by boat can be arranged from Huskisson, but I reckon you’d have to be unlucky not to see them from the shore at least once in the course of a week.

Green Patch 46. Booderee National Park: Owned by the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community and jointly managed with the Commonwealth Government, Booderee National Park is exquisite; we only scratched the surface in terms of its attractions. The park is home to abundant marine life, flora and fauna and the only Aboriginal owned Botanic Gardens in Australia. We enjoyed swimming and snorkeling at Green Patch beach inside the park, which Tash dubbed ‘the forest beach’ on account of the beautiful bush, studded with colourful parrots, that goes right up to the edge of the sand. There’s a kids’ school holiday program, too.

On the one day the weather was less than perfect, we enjoyed the mangrove boardwalk near the Lady Denman Maritime Museum in Huskisson, the highlight watching red-clawed crabs play hide-and-seek in the mud. We followed this with some rock pooling at Shark Net Bay, which was fun, although the number of shark egg purses (like this one) washed up on the beach was a bit of a worry.

Green Patch 3There’s an abundance of bird life in the Jervis Bay area, too. In our immediate neighbourhood we saw rainbow lorikeets, king parrots, yellow-tailed black cockatoos and kookaburras to name a few.

Hyams Beach is on the southwest arc of Jervis Bay, just north of Booderee National Park. It’s a two-day drive from Melbourne, around 2.5-3 hours from Sydney, 4.5-5 hours from Canberra. For accommodation options try Jervis Realty or Hyams Beach Real Estate.

We self-catered, apart from New Year’s Eve when we had dinner at the Vincentia Chinese Restaurant, which deserves an honourable mention for its tasty, reasonably priced food and excellent kid-friendly service.

Bangkok with children – part 3

27 October 2009 by

Siam Centre shrine 3While Thewet is probably the most kid-friendly part of Bangkok, and Banglampu has the best family-friendly budget accommodation, we also had fun staying off Sukumvit Road and exploring the downtown attractions with Tash on our last visit to Bangkok in January 2009.

We stayed at the Federal Hotel in Sukumvit Soi 11, which has been around forever – or at least since the 1960s – where Roo and I had stayed long before Tash came along. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s good value and in a great location. The pool is pleasant, though you’ll want to turn a blind eye to the pink-skinned men breakfasting poolside  on Singha beer from about 10am.

Staying near Sukumvit and surrounds puts you near the Skytrain and Subway, both of which are great for getting around, although be warned that the many stairs make it a hard slog for little legs and pace yourself accordingly.

Snow WhiteThe Siam Skytrain station is the jumping off point for Siam Square, home of our favourite ‘old school’ coffee shop, the New Light; and the Siam Paragon shopping complex, which houses Siam Ocean World in its basement, the largest aquarium in the southern hemisphere. Ocean World is not cheap but, as described here, it’s an entertaining way to spend an afternoon with kids; the food court on the ground floor is good value, too. And there’s usually something kid-friendly going on around Siam Square: in our case it was a Snow White-themed Christmas display (best not to think too hard about it).

Both the Skytrain and Subway will take you to nearby Lumpini Park, which is about as kid-friendly as it gets in downtown Bangkok. The park has several kids play areas side-by-side: as the equipment is modernised, it seems that rather than replace what went before it, a new play area opens up. The park is Bangkok’s largest and a great place for picnics, Tai Chi, outdoor gym, and that rarest of commodities in the Thai capital, peace and quiet – if you’re not accompanied by a small child, that is.

Lumpini duck boat 2We hired a pedal boat shaped like a duck to cruise around the lake for 30 minutes or so. The pedalling was bloody hard work but worth it as the lake is brimming with wildlife. We saw fish, turtles, eels and monitor lizards so large we almost mistook them for crocodiles.

The best food find of our time in this part of Bangkok was the Rosabieng bar and restaurant at 3, Sukumvit Soi 11, just down from where we were staying. Rosabieng is the Thai word for the dining car on a train, and there’s one in the restaurant’s leafy garden, as well as a working model train in the air-conditioned interior. The Thai food is sensational, with an exciting selection of dishes. I could have eaten there every night. Tash was made to feel very welcome – she even managed to crash the birthday party of a group from the wonderful Mrs Balbir’s Indian restaurant one of the nights we were there.

Sukumvit also has the advantage of bookshops and department stores where you can stock up on toys for the plane, train and/or beach. Asia Books has a good selection of English language kids books and colouring books; there’s one at Siam Paragon, another at 221 Sukumvit Rd, just past Soi 15.