Posts Tagged ‘Victoria’

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.

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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.

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.

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.