Down under Australia

Down Under Australia Holiday

Down Under Australia Holiday by Sylvaine Djafarian

If you’ve dreamed of traveling down under to Australia for a holiday, but baulked at the distances and time zones to cross from your native Europe or America, perhaps your time in China is the perfect opportunity to go.

After each business trip in Australia, my husband kept telling us how beautiful this country was, and how friendly Aussies were. So, knowing that this might be our last year in Shanghai, and that from Europe, the trip would be much more complicated and expensive, we decided to spend the whole Christmas holidays there.

We had a few wishes: diving and snorkeling, beaches and nature, with two children aged five and seven, who are not used to long hikesand Australia fulfilled them all!

To the Apple Isle

Echidna Down Under AustraliaOur first taste of Tasmania, Australia’s southern island state, was an evening stroll around the harbor and enjoying delicious grilled meat. The next morning, we picked up our rental car in the city center, and drove to Port Arthur. Driving (on the left!) is a very convenient way to visit Tasmania, either with a car or campervan.

We were all eager to meet the local star, the Tasmanian devil, so our first stop was at the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park, between Hobart and Port Arthur. After seeing a female and her young having lunch, we understood why the Warner Bros Looney Tunes animated cartoons portrayed this marsupial as Taz, a carnivore with a great appetite! We also learnt that the Tasmanian devil is now an endangered species, because of a very contagious dis-ease, its illegally introduced predator the red fox, and road accidents.

Tasmania Devil Down Under AustraliaWe then spent an afternoon in Port Arthur, an open air museum and UNESCO world heritage site, which used to be a penal colony in the 19th century. History is vividly rendered through exhibitions, stories about the British and Irish convicts and their hard lives, and inspired guides offering tours of the remaining buildings. Some convicts were as young as nine, something that made our children thoughtful

From the South-East we drove to the West Coast, through impressive National Parks preserving the Tasmanian Wilderness Area. We traveled on the West Coast Wilderness Railway, a restoration of an original steam train carrying copper from Queens-town mines to the port at Strahan, and stopping at the stations along the line, we discovered the rainforest, the Huon pines, and even panned for goldwith no success!

Our favorite activity was the Bonnet Island Experience: cruising on a small boat to a tiny island just before dusk, listening to stories about the island and its lighthouse before enjoying a plate of delicious local cheese on the boat, and going back to the island at night to see its inhabitants, about 40 Little Penguins, returning to their burrows to feed their hungry and noisy chicks.

On the day long road trip crossing Tasmania from West to East, we took several short walks in the Cradle Mountain National Park, and saw echidnas and pademelons , the kangaroo’s smaller cousin. The countryside offers a great variety of landscapes, beautiful mountains and colorful vegetation.

We ended our Tasmanian trip in Bicheno, where we spent a day in Freycinet National Park, enjoying turquoise waters, white sand beaches and pink granites rocks. The best part for our kids was stroking a friendly kangaroo .in the parking lot! He was busy eating the apple a visitor gave him, despite all the do not feed the animals signs. My husband also joined the diving center for a dive among beautiful weedy sea dragons (marine fish related to the seahorse).

Tasmania is often skipped by travelers who prefer to concentrate on Australia’s mainland, but for us it was a wonderful oasis of nature, amazing animals, varied landscapes within relatively short driving range, and very friendly people.

Heron Island Down Under Australia

To the Tropics

From Australia’s most southern point, we flew north, to the coral cay of Heron Island near the Tropic of Capricorn, in Queensland. The island is about 800m long and 300m at its widest. Its eastern half is part of a National Park. Discovered in 1843, it wasn’t inhabited until the early 20th century when a turtle cannery was established. It is now shared by a resort, a reef research station, and tens of thousands of birds during the breeding season, from October to April.

Don’t expect a 5-star luxury resort, be careful of the Noddy terns droppings over your heads, and bring your ear plugs for the night, but if you love nature, diving and snorkeling, this is a great place for a few days. We took reef walks, searching in the shallows for starfish, sea cucumber, small sharks, shells, and a wide array of corals.

The forest walks revealed where the ghoulish screams at night came from: the Wedge-tailed Shearwaters feeding their chicks after a day of fishing. There is also a great Junior Ranger Club for kids over seven years which our daughter loved. She had fun, and learnt everything about the sea, its inhabitants, its dangers, and why we need to protect our environment.

Unfortunately, the weather was not the best. The trip between Gladstone and the island was a nightmare, the sea was rough, and we were all sick. Poor visibility and strong currents only allowed limited diving and snorkeling, however, from the beach, we saw stingrays, a school of young reef sharks, and parrot fish. We also were lucky to see sea turtles nesting during walks at dusk, and even once at 11am, which was quite unusual, but allowed us to take photos. Last but not least, our children still talk about the arrival of Santa Claus on a boat !

Down Under Australia

To the City

Sydney is a capital city that epitomizes Australia’s relaxing lifestyle. Our hotel, over-looking Hyde Park, was the perfect starting point to explore Darling Harbour, the beautiful Botanic Gardens, the Opera House
(where we attended the musical Children Show Hairy Maclary and Friends booked 2 months before), and visit Taronga Zoo by ferry from Circular Quay.

We did not suffer from the heat on the East Coast nor in Sydney, apparently weather was cooler than usual, with Australia still waiting for the summer to begin.

The highlight of our stay in Sydney was New Year’s Eve overlooking the harbor. After discovering that we could not access the main harbor area of Circular Quay, we walked to the Observatory Gardens, the perfect place to enjoy the Family Fireworks at 9pm. An unforgettable show, both in the sky, and also on the streets, with a mix of tourists in shorts and T-shirts, and locals in evening dresses and high heels.

Three weeks were not enough. We will have to go back for Melbourne, the outback, Uluru, more beautiful beaches, and all the other amazing places Australia offers.

Useful Tips:

  • Tasmania: Best season (December to March) usually has daytime temperatures ranging around 20-22 degrees Celsius. Early December, it was colder, pack some warm clothes.
  • Heron Island: best season (October to April) has daytime temperatures ranging around 28-30 degrees Celsius, and no jellyfish in the sea during Christmas time. Note that all boat trips are only for adults and kids older than 8.
  • If you are planning to spend New Year’s Eve in Sydney book well in advance.
  • Food and accommodation in Australia are expensive, so try to book family rooms with cooking
    facilities to avoid always going to restaurants.
  • Contact Australia Expat Travel for local knowledge and good information. www.ausxpattravel.com.au; [email protected]
Melbourne attractions

Australia: Visit Melbourne

Visit Melbourne by Vicki Baensch

Melbourne, the capital of Victoria, has regularly been voted one of the world’s most liveable cities. It is a city of 4.1 million people and is renowned for its sense of style and elegance. It boasts glamorous festivals, Australia’s best shopping, a lively passion for music, eating and drinking, and a flourishing interest in the arts. Melbourne is the place with something for everyone!

Shopping in Melbourne

Shopping:

Get your retail therapy fix in chic fashion stores at the Melbourne Central complex or the bustling Queen Victoria Market. There are numerous grand arcades filled with boutique stores and unique quirky shops in the laneways – you will find Melbourne is a shopper’s paradise. Discover boutiques and more in Melbourne’s hidden laneways or visit Chadstone which is a mecca for luxury and indoor shopping.

Dining:

The Melbourne weather is conducive to hanging out in cafes or trendy bars, and enjoying a romantic dinner in one of Melbourne’s many restaurants. Discover alleys leading to opulent bars, exclusive restaurants hiding behind non-descript doors and cafes/clubs in Melbourne’s laneways.

Entertainment:

Melbourne is famous for catching a game at one of the big stadiums – typically Australian Rules Football/Cricket at the M.C.G or the Australian Open Tennis at Rod Laver Arena. Take time to shop and play at the Crown Casino complex or enjoy a walk in the Botanic Gardens. Visit a museum or see a theatre show.

Short Drives:

If that’s not enough, it also offers easy access to areas such as the Yarra Valley- wine, Phillip Island – penguins and the coastal scenery of the famous Great Ocean Road. All of these areas offer magnificent countryside and many nature based experiences to be enjoyed by all ages. Australia’s unique animals are heavily featured also! This is where you can see koalas, watch penguins in their hundreds waddle up the beach of an evening, learn to surf, swim with wild dolphins and seals, walk and be amazed by the wonderful ruggedness of the rock stacks and blowholes on the Great Ocean Road, hike in the Otways Rainforest and enjoy some magnificent wine from the Yarra Valley. Victoria is a small state and all these places are an easy 1-3 hour’s drive out of Melbourne.

Phillip Island 12 Apostles Great Ocean Road

Allow at least 2-3 nights for the city and consider an extra few nights to get out of the city. Melbourne and Victoria are definitely a must-see for any visit to Australia as the area delivers iconic and unique Australian experiences that make for an unforgettable holiday!

 

Facts:

  • Melbourne weather can vary dramatically in a day. You can expect average daytime temperatures ranging from 14 degrees in winter to 28 degrees Celsius in summer. Perfect weather for all activities.
  • Air China, Air Asia, China Eastern and China Southern are the international airlines that fly direct. Direct flight time is approx. 12 hours. Plenty more airlines fly into Melbourne via their own transit hub.
  • Melbourne is +2 hours ahead of Shanghai time.

 

Recommended Restaurants:

Izakaya Den, Cutler & Co Dining Room & Bar, Mamasita, Attica, Circa, The Prince Hotel, Spice Temple, Dandelion, Café Di Stasio St Kilda, Lau’s Family Kitchen St Kilda, Rockpool Bar & Grill, Flower Drum, Jacques Reymond, Ladro, Golden Fields St Kilda, Chin Chin CBD, Newmarket Hotel St Kilda, Vue De Monde CBD

 

Major Events:

Melbourne hosts some major events year round. Some of the best include:

  • January – Australian Open Tennis
  • March – Australian Motor Grand Prix
  • March – Melbourne Food & Wine Festival
  • April – Melbourne International Comedy Festival
  • August – Melbourne International Film Festival
  • October-November – Spring Racing Carnival
  • December Historic Boxing Day Test Cricket Match

 

Recommended Activities/Tours: This is a short selection. There is so much you can do!

Take a walk through the beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens and enjoy any number of their tours including Aboriginal Cultural Experience or Heritage Walk www.rbg.vic.gov.au/rbg_melbourne

Watch the Orang-utans face-to-face at the amazing Melbourne Zoo – www.zoo.org.au/melbourne/

Go diving with the sharks at Melbourne Aquarium – www.melbourneaquarium.com.au/

Enjoy a fun day out with family at the Melbourne Museum and IMAX theatre www.melbourne.museum.vic.gov.au/; www.imaxmelbourne.com.au/#

Do the Gallery circuit including NGV International, Ian Potter Centre, State Library, The Australian Centre for contemporary art, Heide Museum of modern art www.visitvictoria.com/Activities-and-attractions/Art-theatre-and-culture/Art-galleries.aspx

 

Shopping/Food:

Enjoy all the foodie delights & shopping at the Queen Victoria Markets (closed Monday & Wednesday): www.qvm.com.au/

Tramcar Restaurant: Enjoy a superb 3-5 course meal aboard a luxury tramcar whilst it travels the streets of Melbourne. A unique dining experience! From $70 per person: www.tramrestaurant.com.au/

Join a walking a shopping trip which will help you find all those fantastic places: www.hiddensecretstours.com/

Stroll along the Yarra River and dine at one of the many restaurants at Southgate then stroll to the Crown Entertainment complex home to shops, cinemas and the Crown Casino www.celebratesouthgate.com.au/

Visit Chadstone Shopping Centre which is home to 530 stores including the most significant collection of luxury brands under one roof boasting Australia’s first dedicated luxury precinct: www.chadstoneshopping.com.au

 

Great Ocean Road:

Great Ocean Road Day Tours: Enjoy a full day tour with the aboriginal centre, twelve apostles and enjoy the beach: www.gowest.com.au/

Drive the 250km stretch of road hugging the coast with amazing views: www.greatoceanrd.org.au/

Visit the Twelve Apostles the giant rock stacks rising from the Southern Ocean. View at sunset & you may see penguins as well! Can also book helicopter flights to fly around these majestic rock stacks: www.12apostleshelicopters.com.au/

Zip lining & tree-top walk at the Otway Fly in the Otways near Great Ocean Road is not to be missed: www.otwayfly.com/

Learn to Surf near Bells Beach, which is part of the World Surfing Championships every Easter. Plenty of surf schools abound in this area: www.gorideawave.com.au/

Swim with wild dolphins & seals at Queenscliff: www.dolphinswims.com.au/

The small hamlet of Kennett River on the Great Ocean Road is one of the best places in Australia to see koalas in the wild. Turn into Grey River Road, off the Great Ocean Road, and between one and two kilometres along the road you will be guaranteed to spot koalas in the gum trees.

You can also do the Great Ocean Walk, a 91km walk which begins in Apollo Bay and ends at the Twelve Apostles. www.greatoceanwalk.com.au

 

Phillip Island (2 hours south/east of Melbourne): Great for nature & wildlife lovers!

Phillip Island Day Tours: Enjoy a full day with wildlife, wineries and ending with the famous Penguin Parade: www.gowest.com.au/phillip-island-day-tour.html

Must not miss is the nightly Penguin Parade: www.penguins.org.au/

Experience wild koalas in their natural habitat: www.penguins.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=15&Itemid=41&mytabsmenu=3

Step back in time… meet the farm animals, relax in the cafe, enjoy the water views, and stroll amongst heritage buildings and lovely gardens: www.penguins.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=13&Itemid=39&mytabsmenu=4