Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

Travelling with kids: a reminder

16 March 2011

Werribee Open Range ZooWe spent the Labour Day public holiday this year at Werribee Open Range Zoo, an experience which funnily enough reminded me of what it was like travelling in South East Asia with Natasha. I was reminded that what excites me is not always the same as what excites her. Furthermore, I need not to let what I think should excite her distract me from what actually does excite her. I might even learn something.

Werribee Open Range ZooA case in point: while I was excited by the hippos (left), Tash was more excited by the Hippo Play Trail and way more excited by the Hippo Water Play (above). In truth the statue versions with their inviting climbs and tricky fountains were considerably more animated than the real thing. Note the fountains come on once the thermostat hits 23 degrees.

Werribee Open Range ZooWhile I think the Scimitar Oryx are exquisite and amazing, especially given they are endangered and ‘conservation dependant’, Tash found the packaging they came in (below) — from the Monarto Zoo in South Australia — way more interesting. And after ten minutes of crawling in and out of packing crates, I had to concede she had a point. The animal packaging playground at the end of the Pula Reserve Trail is inspired.

Werribee Open Range ZooDifferences aside, both Tash and I were very excited to see four-week old zebra foal Shamwari (below) during our Safari bus tour, while Roo enjoyed getting up close and personal with the giraffe herd.

When we asked Tash about her favourite part of the day, she nominated the icy-pole in the Meerkat Bistro. Sometimes Roo and I wonder why we try so hard…

Werribee Open Range ZooBut all three of us were united in our happiness on the way home to visit the Ðòng Quê restaurant for a late lunch of Hanoi style grilled pork with vermicelli noodles, Vietnamese coleslaw with shrimp and pork, and steamed rice paper with grilled pork and rice crackers. Our favourite eatery in Footscray, Ðòng Quê can be found at 102 Hopkins Street.

The day was a salient reminder to recalibrate expectations when travelling with a child, which is timely, given we are heading back to Thailand in less than a month. We’ll be spending the school holidays on what will be a research trip for me, visiting the parts of Thailand where my next book will be set.

Who knows what delights Tash may open my eyes to.


Nemo found! Time to move on…

27 February 2011

Aquarium 1That Nemo has a lot to answer for. Ever since the 2003 animated film took over the imaginations of children throughout the world, Clown Fish — and to a lesser extent puffer fish — have enjoyed celebrity status at the expense of other, arguably more fascinating marine life. Sure, Clown Fish are cute and some species are immune to the sting of anemones. But they can’t match the sea stars for dexterity, the sea jellies for grace, the sea lions for splendour, the Weedy Sea Dragon for camouflage and the giant cuttlefish for strangeness.

All these creatures and more can be admired up close at the Melbourne Aquarium, where we spent several hours this afternoon. The first exhibit inside the door is the penguin enclosure, where King and Gentoo penguins stand around in huddles on the ice like guests at a winter wedding who’ve stepped outside for a smoke. They are more animated in the water and if you step around to the right side of the tank, chances are you’ll have the view — and the photo opportunities — to yourself.

Aquarium 2Retrace your steps to go through to the Ice Station display and the Weird and Wonderful exhibits featuring the aforementioned lion fish, giant cuttlefish and weedy sea dragons, as well as the gruesome and highly toxic stone fish, moray eels and long-necked turtles. The weedy sea dragons had babies earlier this month and the dear little things, looking like sprigs of seaweed, are worth checking out.

The next area is called From River to Reef and include exhibits where kids (and game adults) can crawl under the tanks and get a close look at freshwater rays, sucker fish and eels through perspex bubbles. There are touchable exhibits, too, of sharks’ egg sacs, sea stars and sponges in the rock pools sections, where a staff member is available to answer questions about the different animals. See for yourself how sea stars grow a new limb when they lose one. There are also large hermit crabs and gorgeous coloured anemones to be seen in the rock pools.

Aquarium 5In the nearby lagoon are barramundi, freshwater sharks and one of my favourite of the creatures we saw today, the Freshwater Sawfish, its long serrated blade of a nose like small chainsaw. It looks bizarre, almost mythical, but is actually quite gentle, a member of the ray family, the saw is used for digging rather than combat.

We hightailed it to the Oceanarium a.k.a Sharks Alive to attend the 2pm Dive Feed. It’s a great spectacle watching the divers get sandwiched against the glass of the 2.2 million litre tank by the giant Smooth Stingrays angling for some fish. The Oceanarium is currently housing a couple of sea turtles until they are fit enough to be released back into the wild, and they were giving the rays a run for their money on the feeding frenzy.

As the divers surfaced, we doubled back to the Coral Atoll exhibit to see the beautiful corals and pretty fish including the Regal Blue Tang (that’d be ‘Dory’ to you Finding Nemo fans) and bright yellow Butterfly Fish. The Coral Atoll also houses a cheeky spotted Eagle Ray that seemed as keen to get a good look at Tash as she was to look at it.

Aquarium 6In the Sea Jellies exhibit, the room is dark and the tanks are UV-lit, adding to the hypnotic effect of watching these graceful creatures in action.

The other place to sit and stare is the Ocean Theatre on the far side of the Oceanarium before the kids play area. I recommend heading their before your kid runs out of steam as it’s the perfect spot to gaze on sharks — including a Scalloped Hammerhead — rays and giant snapper.

The Melbourne Aquarium is not a cheap date at $33.50/adult and $19/child. But there are family discounts and other specials worth looking out for. The free Melbourne guide found in the City Circle tram has a 20% discount coupon, and we got something in the mail recently that entitled us to one free ticket of equal or lesser value, saving us the price of an adult ticket today. It’s worth checking publications that target tourists to see what you can find.

It beats watching re-runs of Finding Nemo.

Minibeasts and Altona

21 January 2011

Minibeasts at Altona LibraryTwo things to rave about today: Andrew Wegener’s Minibeasts show, and the suburb of Altona in Melbourne’s west.

It was thanks to the former that we ended up at the latter. Andrew is a former Melbourne Zoo keeper, author, photographer, community educator and government licensed Commercial Wildlife Demonstrator. His Australian Wildlife Lecturers appears annually at the Altona Library courtesy of the Hobson’s Bay Council. I saw it advertised in the paper, and we headed there today for an amazing ‘hands-on’ learning experience.

Minibeasts at Altona LibraryAndrew brings live snakes, lizards, stick insects, a tortoise and tree frogs, all of which can be handled — under careful supervision — by kids and adults alike. In fact, the adults outnumbered the kids most of the time we were at the library. As you handle the animals, Andrew passes on interesting information about them. I learned that frogs breath and absorb water through their skin, for example, and that some lizards — like the blue-tongue — have live births while others lay eggs. Also very few tortoises can turn themselves over if they are knocked on to their backs/shells, the long-necked tortoise in Andrew’s care being an exception.

There are live spiders in containers and other beasties in tanks, all clearly labelled and accompanied by fact sheets. Here I learned that white-tailed spider bites, while painful, are not life-threatening. Phew!

Minibeasts at Altona LibraryThere are other minibeasts preserved in formaldehyde or behind glass, including a baby shark and a small blue-ringed octopus. The library has an impressive display of stuffed animals and shells, while I think others belonged to Andrew. It was a treat to see the delighted look on my nine-month-old nephew’s face when his hand made contact with possum fur.

Tash was a little disappointed there was no redback handling, also that she wasn’t allowed to kiss the green tree frog and turn him into a prince. But the photos show how much we all enjoyed the experience.

Minibeasts at Altona LibraryAs well as being learned and informative, Andrew is entertaining and patient. He set up photos for us, producing a great record of a wonderful experience. He doesn’t do parties — too much like babysitting — and he warns against dodgy snake wranglers posing as kids entertainers. But he’s available for school incursions and excursions covering a range of wildlife issues, including beach walks and rockpool rambles. Highly recommended.

Kudos to the Hobson’s Bay Council for providing such a wonderful, free school holiday event, and to the Altona Library for being so hospitable. It was great to see a group of older persons and carers enjoying the same experience as the four-, five-, fifteen- and forty-something-year-olds in our party.

Minibeasts at Altona LibraryAltona Library is located a convenient two blocks from Altona Station on the corner of Sargood and Queen Streets. Another block south on Sargood Street is the RJ Logan Reserve, a shady park with a kids playground, which overlooks Altona Beach. Alongside the park on Pier Street is the Altona Pines Takeaway, which sells seriously good fish and chips. The nearby Pier Cafe next door has good coffee. In terms of urban planning, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Our band of four little kids, one teen and two hot mamas enjoyed fish and chips at a table in the shade right by the playground with a view of the beach. The air was filled with dragon flies and the Morton Bay Fig Tree begged the kids to come back again when they were big enough to climb it.

We’ll be back.

Full set of pics here.

Tim Burton, The Exhibition

28 June 2010

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.

Phillip Island

1 April 2010

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

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

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

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.

Warrnambool in winter

15 July 2009

Whale watching 5A winter weekend in Warrnambool might seem a strange choice for tropical heat lovers like us, considering the Antarctic winds that buffer this booming town in Victoria’s southwest. But on Tash’s advice, we packed raincoats, gloves and boots and braved the elements for a weekend away.

The tourist brochures say Warrnambool is 3 hr and 15 min drive from Melbourne, but with a 3-and-a-half-year-old in tow and a partner with a penchant for op shops, our trip took closer to 5 hours.

At our first stop we enjoyed excellent coffee and cakes at the Winchelsea Larder; I was only sorry we weren’t there at lunchtime for what looked like a great Ploughman’s Platter (AUD$12.90), plus kid’s menu version ($5.30); a genuinely kid-friendly venue with fabulous food and produce.

We lingered longer in Colac, first at the adventure playground situated on the edge of the lovely Botanic Gardens overlooking Lake Colac (follow the signs from the highway down Queen St and turn right into Fyans St; the playground is opposite the caravan park). The park has everything from a wheelchair-accessible swing to an old-school roundabout and half-dome climbing frame. Our personal favourite was the boat on a spring overlooking the lake, which fitted all three of us.

Colac playground 4

We had lunch at the Botanic Cafe, situated at the opposite end of Fyans St from the playground, also overlooking Lake Colac. Kid-friendly, good value and picturesque location.

Then it was on to Warrnambool, where we stayed with our friends Tam and Bill in a house overlooking the Hopkins River. It was raining when we arrived but as soon as it cleared, we headed to nearby Logan’s Beach for some whale watching. We got lucky: the mother and calf hanging out in the area showed their heads and tails, and at least one of them was blowing while we watched. It turned out to be the one and only time we saw whales in three visits to the viewing platform. Then again, Tash was more entertained playing with Tam’s “binnochios” (binnoculars) than she was by the distant whales.

Tower Hill 1Sunday, on Bill’s advice, we headed for Tower Hill Reserve, a lush wildlife sanctuary inside a dormant volcano that collapsed in on itself some 30,000 years ago. We parked by the Visitor Centre and within moments we were getting up close and personal with a couple friendly emus, and spied four koalas in nearby trees. We also saw black swans by the lake and a kangaroo in the wetlands area.

Tower Hill has a fascinating history. Despite being declared Victoria’s first national park in 1892, the area had been virtually clear-felled by the 1930s. Restoration work begun in the 1960s, based on a detailed painting of the Tower Hill in 1855 by Victorian artist Eugene Von Guerard. As the In The Artist’s Footsteps website notes, “It is the classic example of where a painting, by a realist artist, at a time when photography was in its infancy, can be a very valuable conservation resource.” These days the conservation efforts are so effective that koalas have to be periodically relocated from the area to prevent them from taking over.

Tower Hill 3From Tower Hill we drove to Port Fairy and would have meandered longer around this pretty town except that the port area was closed off for a bicycle race. We opted instead for lunch at Time & Tide, as recommended by Tam, a cafe with gorgeous sea views and even more gorgeous cakes. My smoked salmon fritta was truly delectable and the coffee good, too. No kids menu but they were able to rustle up a kid-friendly dish or two ($4.50), and Tash’s hot chocolate came out with a smiley face sketched in chocolate syrup. The gallery setting means it’s better suited to immobile babies than active toddlers. The turn off to Time & Tide is after the Catholic church and just before the water tower; follow the signs down the unsealed road to the beach.

Rain ruined our plans to build sand castles on the beach out front of the cafe. Instead we drove back to Warrnambool, put on our raincoats and went out to play at the Lake Pertobe Adventure Playground. The playground is a fabulous feat of engineering, built on a former swamp whose “pestiferous exhalations” were the subject of written complaints as early as 1879. (The name ‘Warrnambool’ allegedly derives from a Kuurn Kopan Noot Aboriginal term, meaning ‘two swamps’). Nowadays the park is 20 hectares of lakes, lawn and playgrounds and home to abundant bird life.

Terang playground 2

Having become playground aficionados since the birth of our daughter, I reckon Lake Pertobe is one of our best finds, not least of all because it caters for adults as well as kids: the highlight for all 3 of us were the flying foxes, one for under-12s and another for over-12s. (We were having too much fun to take photos, but there are some here). To find the flying fox station, head right from the main car-park past the maze.

What worked for us over our weekend in Warrnambool was to come equipped for inclement weather, make the most of fine spells to get out and about, and not to be deterred by a shower or two. We had a busy, fun time and I felt we’d only scratched the surface in terms of what the region has to offer.

Also worth noting for the trip back is the castle-like Apex Playground in Terang, which has low doorways hazardous to unsuspecting adults and was a bit slippery in the wet, but is beautifully located overlooking the croquet club and has everything a would-be princess needs to fire her imagination.

Other recommended food stops are the Cobb Loaf Cafe in Camperdown, and Cafe Gravity in Colac (impressive kids’ menu with $7 dishes), both on the main street/highway on the right side heading towards Melbourne.

NAIDOC Day at the Collingwood Children’s Farm

13 July 2009

Tash and I celebrated NAIDOC Day on 9 July 2009 at the Collingwood Children’s Farm in Abbotsford, an event organised by Aboriginal Housing Victoria.

NAIDOC stands for National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee and NAIDOC week is an opportunity to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and the contributions of Indigenous Australians in all walks of life.

Horse kiss for TashThe event was brilliantly organised and included a traditional music and dance session where an Indigenous elder and young dancers invited kids in the audience to learn to dance like emus, kangaroos and eagles. There was also a dance symbolising fishing and the celebration of a good catch. Tash was too shy to join in the dancing but was rapt to witness the didgeridoo played live (she’s only seen it in books and heard it on CD).

My friend Helen alerted me to the NAIDOC Day event and we met up with her and her 2+ year old daughter Iris, sister Genevieve and her 4 kids for the celebration. We participated in a smoking ceremony, where the kids had their faces painted with ochre, followed by a boomerang painting session that all the kids got into.

There were drinks, fresh fruit, cakes, damper and barbequed sausages/vegie burgers in bread–all free, thanks to Aboriginal Housing Victoria and the fabulous volunteers at the Collingwood Children’s Farm.

It was wonderful to be around so many Aboriginal families and kids having fun.

The Farm itself was a great venue, the landscape forming a beautiful backdrop to the ceremonies, and lots of farm animals on hand to entertain the kids afterwards. For Tash the highlight was hand-feeding fresh grass to a white horse; I was rather taken with the 10-day-old black piglets.

Collingwood Children's Farm 1We last took Tash to the Collingwood Children’s Farm when she was just under 18 months old, thinking that because she enjoyed reading about farm animals and emulating their noises, she would enjoy seeing the real thing. In fact, most of the animals–bar the ducks and chickens–scared the hell out of her. This visit was much more successful.

I’d always thought the Children’s Farm, whilst wonderful, a bit expensive to visit at $16 per family; but entry was free on NAIDOC Day and Helen tells me it only costs $2 per adult on Farmers’ Market days, the second Saturday of every month, which is great value.

I forgot the camera, but Helen took some great photos, including the one above of the white horse kissing Tash.

I hope to make NAIDOC Day at the Children’s Farm an annual event – even if it means skiving off work to be there.