things to do in sydney

Escape to the Hawkesbury River for a brilliant day on the water!

Our family recently enjoyed a winter mini-break in Sydney. We had visited Sydney several times before and explored most of the highlights. This time our highlight was a day on the Hawkesbury River kayaking. It was a pleasure to get active and enjoy the great outdoors so close to Sydney!

 

Hawkesbury River

Parsley Bay

The Hawkesbury River:

Is an easy 1-hour train journey from the city, and the tranquil hamlet of Brooklyn is the gateway.  Brooklyn is a good place to grab a coffee and consider your options for how to explore the river. The Hawkesbury River is a breath of fresh air that flows past riverside towns into bays and inlets between the Ku-ring-gai Chase and Brisbane Water National parks. The Hawkesbury River is navigable for over 100 kilometres. You could cruise and explore these waters for weeks and still not discover it all! Spend a day hiking, boating, kayaking or enjoy an overnight anchorage in a hired boat or a waterfront B&B and wake up to the call of Kookaburras, Whip Birds, Sea Eagles and the lapping of the tides.

Here are some of the key things to do:

Kayak:

An easy and fun way to explore! You can hire either a single or double canoe, and paddle for a half or full day, or overnight and camp in the National parks. We did a 20-minute paddle to Dangar Island, had lunch at the Bowling Club, then paddled another 20 minutes to an inlet at the base of Tank Creek. Did a 1 hour bushwalk to the cascades & waterfalls with an incredible natural infinity pool that looks directly over the stunning Hawkesbury. We then returned to Brooklyn after an amazing day on the kayaks.

Hawkesbury River   

Hawkesbury River

Tank Creek Infinity Pool

   

Dangar Island:

Has a regular ferry service. No cars on the island, so it is very peaceful! Wheelbarrows are the main mode of transport for moving shopping from the jetty to home. The Dangar Island Bowling Club is the local watering hole and the place to have a meal during the weekend. Bradley’s Beach is on the southeast side of the island and is an excellent swimming beach on high tide. At low tide, the beach becomes the perfect place for the kids to play in ‘river mud’.

The Riverboat Postman:

Enjoy a historic 3-hour postman boat run on the Hawkesbury. This daily service delivers mail and other essentials whilst you soak up the magnificent scenery of the Hawkesbury.

Houseboat Hire:

A great way to explore at your leisure in the comfort of your own houseboat. Swim at secluded beaches, fish or just relax with a good book. Minimum 2-night hire outside of peak periods.

Hawkesbury River

Take a day out of your Sydney visit to enjoy a kayak on the magnificent Hawkesbury River. It is off the beaten path, easy to access, and really is a stunning excursion that does deliver on a great outdoor experience! Ask us to include the Hawkesbury in your Australia holiday itinerary…

Lake Tekapo

A guide to Lake Tekapo South Island, New Zealand

Thinking of a New Zealand road trip? It is definitely the best way to see New Zealand. You have the freedom to take your time, stop and explore, and enjoy the magnificent views from every turn. Make sure to include picturesque Lake Tekapo on your road trip. It ticks all the boxes for views, and is on the main highway halfway between Christchurch and Queenstown on the South Island.

Lake Tekapo:

The Lake itself is a gorgeous turquoise colour, and is framed by a cluster of New Zealand’s highest peaks which provide a beautiful backdrop with amazing views. Lake Tekapo is close to Aoraki/Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand. The village itself is also a UNESCO dark sky reserve, so it is the perfect spot for some stargazing.  This is a fantastic location with plenty of eye candy for every budding photographer. There is plenty to do!

Here are some of the things to do in or around Lake Tekapo:

Flight:

Take a 50-minute spectacular scenic flight which covers the most amazing views of Mount Cook & the Southern Alps, Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers, Lakes, remote sheep stations etc. Breathtaking scenery from your own window seat!

Lake Tekapo

Stargazing:

Cowans Observatory offers a nightly astronomy session which will introduce you to the various highlights of the Southern night sky. Great for families. Tour duration 80 minutes and minimum child age is 5 years.

Tekapo Springs:

Tekapo Springs is all about family fun! It is based in a stunning setting at Mt John in Lake Tekapo. Think of a relaxing soak in the pools, an indulgent treatment at the day spa, fun on the ice skating rink or an adrenaline filled ride down the tubing park!

Lake Tekapo

Hooker Valley Mount Cook National Park

Scenic Drive Lake Tekapo-Lake Pukaki-Mount Cook:

This drive has impressive scenery. Set out for a leisurely 1:15 hour drive along the length of Lake Pukaki. The turquoise lake is surrounded by the peaks of the Southern Alps and ends at Mount Cook Village. Plenty to do!  

Other Attractions:

Walking Tracks through the Mackenzie Basin and explore the Church of the Good Shepherd.

Lake Tekapo is a great stop for 2 nights, and is only a quick trip from either Christchurch or Queenstown. It really is a beautiful region that does deliver the alpine experience in pristine surrounds. Include Lake Tekapo on your bucket list. Ask us to book & plan your trip to ensure your New Zealand Holiday is your best ever!

the Yarra Valley

Why the Yarra Valley should be on your must visit list!

Working out where to travel in Australia is tough…. as there are so many diverse and superb choices… but consider adding the Yarra Valley to your must visit list!

When thinking and planning your first big trip to Australia it is important to get that perfect mix of destinations. Seek out what is special and iconic about Australia. Try to get that mix of outback, beach, city & country (weather and time permitting of course). That way you get a bit of everything and get a real feel of Australia.

The Yarra Valley ticks the “country” box. And my what a beautiful bit of country it is!

the Yarra Valley

Tarrawarra Estate

The Yarra Valley:

is a world-class wine region, and only 60 minutes from Melbourne. The valley has crisp clean air and spectacular views of the valley to the Dandenong Ranges beyond. This is a natural location with plenty to do, or you can simply relax and enjoy the gourmet food and wines of the region. But it does deliver so much more!  Be inspired with the natural beauty of the towering Eucalypt forests which are great for walking off all the food and wine. This is where you can stay in a country cottage in a natural bush setting with plenty of native animals around at dusk when you are enjoying a glass of wine on your balcony.  Spend a day at the Healesville Sanctuary and get up close and personal with our Aussie native animals… your children will love it whether they are 2 or 21!

Here are some of the things to do in the Yarra Valley…

Healesville Sanctuary:

Meet your favourite Australian animals. The Sanctuary features unique experiences with Australian wildlife amongst the sights, sounds and scents of the stunning bushland surrounds. Do not miss the Health Centre where they treat the sick/injured or orphaned wildlife. The Koala Forest is another must do and finally the spectacular Birds of Prey show which runs twice a day.

 the Yarra Valley

Kangaroos at Healesville Sanctuary

Wineries/Gourmet Food:

The Valley is home to over 80 cellar doors, sumptuous fine-dining restaurants and artisan producers of magnificent cheeses, elegant chocolates and an ale/cider trail. Go knock yourself out and attempt to try them all!

the Yarra Valley

the Yarra Valley

Yarra Valley Dairy, Photography by Roberto Seba

National Parks:

Set out for a leisurely walk past tall trees, clear creeks and fern-fringed waterfalls at either Kinglake National Park or Yarra Ranges National Park.

Golf:

The Yarra Valley delivers spectacular scenery and a relaxing region to enjoy your golf. There are many courses to choose from such as the Eastern Golf Club, Yering Meadows Golf Club, The Gardiners Run & the Yarra Valley Country Club.  

Other Attractions:

Take a breathtaking early morning hot air balloon ride over the valley, visit and wander the meandering Alowyn Gardens, make sure to visit Coombe which is a garden, restaurant and gallery or go further afield and enjoy a Steam Train ride through the Dandenong Ranges on Puffing Billy.

the Yarra Valley

Vineyard in the Yarra Valley

The Yarra Valley is a great stop for 2-3 nights, and only a quick trip from Melbourne city. It really is a beautiful region that does deliver that country feel in pristine surrounds. Make sure to ask us about the Yarra Valley. We are happy to help with your planning to make sure your Australia Holiday is your best ever!

Great Barrier Reef

An Aussie’s guide to the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef…

The Great Barrier Reef stretches for over 2,000 kilometres off the eastern coast of Australia. It consists of 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands. It is the world’s largest coral reef. Packed with amazing beauty and recognised as a World Heritage Site, it is also one of the seven Natural Wonders of the World. It is big, a definite must-see and confusing for anyone planning to visit!

This is an Aussie’s guide to the Great Barrier Reef. It is a local’s lowdown with short, helpful information on where to go, what to do and when to visit …

So where to go & what to do?

Hmm, this is tough! You may have heard of some gorgeous coastal towns such as Port Douglas or Palm Cove. Or the town of 1770…. plus, other places like Cairns, Hamilton Island, Heron Island or Airlie Beach.

These are all fantastic launch pads to dive in and explore the magnificent Great Barrier Reef. But essentially you can break it down into mainland towns versus Islands. Let me explain….

Great Barrier Reef

Heart Reef. Photo by Mia Glastonbury, Tourism & Events Queensland

Heart Reef. Photo by Mia Glastonbury, Tourism & Events Queensland

Mainland Towns:

Your Great Barrier Reef experience from a mainland town will be a fast catamaran ride out to a pontoon/dive site where you will base yourself for a day or overnight. One way can be up to 1:5 hours. Allow a full day with over 4 hours on the Great Barrier Reef itself.

The main launch spots in Far North Queensland are Cairns and Port Douglas. You can choose operators that take a minimum of 30 or a maximum of 350! The bigger operators have more toys to play with, expect glass bottom boats, helicopter rides, toddler wading pools, semi-submersible tours, underwater observatories, Seawalker helmet diving and the list goes on. The smaller operators offer a completely personal nature experience focused mainly around snorkelling and diving.

I would always recommend the smaller group tours unless some in your group are not keen on snorkelling or diving, then the bigger tours are the way to go as they still offer the Great Barrier Reef experience without being in the water if you don’t want to…

Great Barrier Reef

Groper Fish & admirer

Islands:

Particularly good for young families, the islands on the Great Barrier Reef are a great way to relax and enjoy the reef without all the travel time. Think Hamilton Island, Heron Island, Lady Elliot Island, Hayman Island….the list goes on! You also have the added bonus of kid’s clubs so that both parents can do a spot of diving whilst the children are also having a great time!

When to go?

The Great Barrier Reef is located in the tropics and hence accessible year-round. So, expect warm weather and perfect snorkelling conditions! You do want to avoid rain as that can play havoc with water visibility.

Great Barrier Reef

Opal Reef. Photo from Tourism & Events Queensland

Don’t forget….

There has been lots in the media recently about climate change (and the resulting warmer waters), and how this is having a great impact on our coral reefs around the world…. including the Great Barrier Reef.

It is very important to note that there is minimal coral damage south of Port Douglas, and the very southern section has very little coral lost. So, make sure to visit the areas on the Great Barrier Reef which have very little damage!

Now here’s another hint ….

don’t view your Great Barrier Reef visit in isolation!

The last consideration is definitely about bundling your Great Barrier Reef visit with what else to do in the area. This is where the Far North wins hands down! Not only do you have the Great Barrier Reef but you also have the double whammy of another World Heritage site, the Daintree Rainforest (top three world’s oldest Rainforest).

But that is entirely another story, so in the meantime……

Make sure to ask us the where/when/what is best re the Great Barrier Reef. We are happy to help with your planning to make sure your Australia Holiday is your best ever!

New Zealand

New Zealand: A Feast for the Senses

New Zealand By Paula Taylor

In 2007, my family and I took a vacation to the North lsland of New Zealand. When friends told me the South Island was even more beautiful I couldn’t believe it. Last Christmas, we had the good fortune to verify this for ourselves on our sixteen-day journey of a lifetime.

CHRISTCHURCH

[Note: Since our visit. the tragic earthquake has hit Christchurch and it is difficult to say when reconstruction will be completed. I will still include some highlights and let you determine if they are still possible.]

I felt that two days in Christchurch was plenty -a day in the city and a day driving up the Pacific coast to Kaikoura. Other recommendations for day trips might be to the nearby wine country or the beach. The highlight of our time in Christchurch was a visit to the wonderful botanical gardens. Here, my boys enjoyed climbing the enormous trees (some over 40m tall) and tossing a rugby ball on the manicured lawns, while my husband and I strolled through the amazing rose garden and walking paths.

KAIKOURA

As a day trip from Christchurch, we took a beautiful 2.5 hour drive through wine country and rolling hills to Kaikoura. It is a small but hip village with a main street full of restaurants and shops and a rocky beach (no sand). Here, we did the seal swim encounter, which turned out to be the highlight of my trip in New Zealand. In total, it took about three hours: we donned wetsuits, rode a bus to the beach where we boarded our small boat, and rode for approximately ten minutes (within sight of the beach). We stopped at a rocky outcropping and snorkeled with seals — magnificent. We spotted dozens of seals, both in the water and on dry land. In several instances, we came within a meter of them. The rule was not to touch the seals (it was ok for them to bump into you), nor to do anything that might scare or threaten them. Time in the water was about one hour, which was plenty as the water was very cold. even with full wetsuits. There are also whale watching tours and dolphin/albatross encounters out of Kaikoura a highly recommended day trip.

New ZealandTRANZALPINE TRAIN

As it was time to move to the next stop on our tour, we took the morning train from Christchurch to Greymouth. The weather was rainy, so it was not as scenic as expected, but we still enjoyed the beautiful views. The dining car had a good menu, so we had plenty to eat and drink along the way. The four-hour trip was a little long, but enjoyable. Arriving in Greymouth and renting a car took longer than expected – the car rental desks were very slow. We asked about restaurants and were given the option of a couple of restaurants in Greymouth, or driving forty minutes to Hokitika. We chose the latter and discovered Hokitika to be a small artisan town with several nice cafes. Hokitika is known for its hand­blown glass and jade, so we browsed some of the shops before continuing our drive to Franz Josef.

FRANZ JOSEF

After a full day of travel, we arrived at Westwood Lodge, a beautiful B&B. The rooms were very large and nicely appointed. The only complaint was the shower, which was not enclosed, so it was not very warm. After our all our day hikes, a warm bath would have been welcomed. The grounds at Westwood Lodge were stunning, with a view of the glacier from our room. The staff was friendly, the breakfasts were delicious, and it was fun chatting with other guests while we dined in the lodge. The weather didn’t cooperate, so our helicopter ride and hike to the top of the glacier was cancelled. I recommend booking the helicopter tour early in the stay so you can have alternate options for later dates. The cool, wet weather didn’t dampen our spirits, though. We thoroughly enjoyed hiking on the stunningly beautiful trails and were thankful we brought waterproof hiking boots and jackets. Connecting with nature on such a grand scale was the perfect way to spend Christmas day.

The next part of our journey was a drive along the western coast from Franz Josef to Queenstown. The torrential rain hampered our view, so our drive was a little nerve ­racking. It was cool to see the waterfalls spouting from the hillsides (even along the roadways onto the roads!). The wide rivers, which are usually dry except for a narrow stream in the middle, became wild rapids and a force of nature. This drive has the reputation as being one of the most amazing in New Zealand (a good excuse to return one day).

QUEENSTOWN

Our outstanding apartment at The Rees made a very luxurious base for our six-day stay in Queenstown. The apartment, which overlooked the Remarkables Mountains and Lake Wakatipu, was only a 30-minute walk into the town center, so we enjoyed walking on the trail along the lake to go for breakfast each morning. The first two days were rainy, so not many adventure activities were available. On a recommendation from a friend, we ate at Winnies Pizza which offered far more than just pizza and had a great party atmosphere. Due to the rain, we went to the cinema next to Winnies – a good rainy-day activity.

New Zealand

The next day, the rain started to clear, so we took a short trip to nearby Gibbston Winery. We did their short wine cave tour and had an exquisite lunch. We noticed there were shuttle buses advertising winery tours, which would have been a good way to visit the dozen or so wineries in the Gibbston Valley without having to drive. In the afternoon, we went into the town center, played disc golf at the Queenstown Gardens and browsed the shops. We ate dinner at a Japanese restaurant called Minarni, which was delicious. It is very popular, so reservations are recommended.

The weather cleared for the remainder of our stay, so we participated in many more adventure activities such as the Shotover Jetboat ride, one of the most popular tours in Queenstown. There is a shuttle bus for pickup and drop off and the 25-minute boat ride is a thrill a minute – especially the 360 spins. The next day we slowed the pace and did a half-day tour with Dart Stables near the small village of Glenorchy. The beginner level horseback ride took 90-min and covered areas where movie such as the Lord of the Rings, Wolverine, Caspian and Lovely Bones were filmed. Our guide pointed out locations for various scenes which will make it fun to re-watch these movies.

On New Year’s Eve we drove 45-minutes through rolling hills to Cardrona Adventure Park, an adrenaline-filled place perfect for doing “guy stuff.” In retrospect, l would have stayed back in Queenstown and spent the day hiking or shopping while my husband and teenage boys enjoyed the adventure park. At the park we rode monster trucks and did a one-hour quad bike ride through beautiful countryside. My teenage boys said riding the quad bikes was the highlight of their trip to New Zealand, although they said the monster truck ride was not worth the money. We had a lovely discovery as we left the park and stopped at the historic Cardrona Hotel for lunch. The outside of the hotel looks small and not especially inviting, but when we stepped inside, we discovered a huge garden in the back with picnic tables and lovely landscaping. A small band began to play bluegrass music, so we thoroughly enjoyed relaxing in the lovely garden, eating wholesome food, and listening to good music.

Back in Queenstown. we had reservations at Flame Grill for our New Year’s Eve dinner. The restaurant is known for its BBQ ribs and in no time, my boys were elbow-deep in BBQ sauce. At the end of the meal, the pile of rib bones reminded me of something out of a Flinstones cartoon. We strolled along the beachfront in downtown Queenstown, which was set up for a big New Year’s party with two stages for bands. We had dessert at Patagonia, a well-known local ice cream shop which uses only local ingredients – the best tasting ice cream we’ve had in a long time. There was a fireworks show at midnight in downtown Queenstown, but we opted to stay home after our long day.

For our final full day in Queenstown, we took the Skyline Gondola to the mountaintop overlooking Queenstown – the view of the town and the enormous Lake Wakatipu was stunning. We chose to do the street luge, which was our third time to do it (the other locations were in Rotorua and Singapore). This was our favorite of the three. Although we only spent three hours here, it is definitely possible to spend the whole day (and of lot of money) doing other activities such as bungy jumping, paragliding, and mountain biking. We ate dinner at a local favorite sandwich shop called Jimmy Barr’s, which is another good place if you have a big appetite.

New Zealand

TE ANAU/MILFORD SOUND

Just when we thought it was impossible to match the beauty we had seen so far on our trip we drove to Fiordland and Milford Sound. The small town of Te Anau, while not particularly exciting, is basically the ”base camp” for activities in Milford Sound (it is the closest city with decent accommodations and dining). One activity that can be done from Te Anau is a visit to the glow worm caves. Real Journeys offers trip that includes a 30-minute boat ride across Lake Te Anau to the caves. The tour of the cave takes another 30 minutes and includes a wonderful cave hike and a pitch-black ride on a small boat to see the glow worms. As I sat in silence and total darkness, staring up at the small dots of light from the glow worms, I imagined I was in deep space. It was a very serene experience.

It takes about two hours (one way) to drive f om Te Anau to Milford Sound – something to consider when planning activities. Fortunately, it was only a one-hour drive to many of the hiking trails outside of Milford Sound. We did a 3-hour hike on the Key Summit trail, which was well ­marked and stunning in its scenery. The next day, we woke before sunrise to drive into Milford Sound for a kayak trip. Getting into all the gear and receiving instructions took quite some time, but it was worth it to be on the calm morning water and glimpse such astounding sights as Mitre Peak and Stirling Falls. We had the treat of getting up close to the Bowman Waterfall ( 150111 high) as well as paddling to within five meters of a seal sunning herself on the rocky shore. On our final day at Milford Sound, we started on a more advanced 4-hour hike, but the water in the creeks was too high and we had to turn around. We “settled” for a nature hike around Gunn Lake, a lush, moss-covered forest trail with ancient trees.

As we drove every day from Te Anau to Milford Sound, I wondered if it would have been better to stay in Queenstown and spend the money to take the short helicopter flights to Milford Sound. Some friends did the overnight stay on a cruise boat in Milford Sound and they had a wonderful time. That might be another option to avoid having to drive so much each day going back and forth. No matter how you plan your trip to the South Island, Milford Sound is not to be missed. For us, it was the icing on the cake and the perfect way to finish our idyllic vacation.

As I described to friends upon my return to Shanghai, experiencing such clean air and seeing the vibrant colors was like living in High Definition. My son described it like when you clean your eyeglasses and you realize you can see everything so much better! This rejuvenating vacation was a feast for all of my senses … and my soul.

RESTAURANT RECOMMENDATIONS

FRANZ JOSEF

  • Blue Ice (only 12 tables – make reservations)
  • Breezes

QUEENSTOWN

  • Winnie’s Pizza
  • Manami (Japanese)
  • Flame Grill
  • Vudu Cafe (breakfast and lunch)
  • Fergburger (famous hamburger joint)
  • Jimmy Barr’s (sandwiches)
  • Patagonia (ice cream)

WHEN TO BOOK

September and October are the best times 10 book a Christmas trip to New- Zealand since it is peak tourist season. My trip was arranged with the help of Vicki Baensch at Australia Expat Travel. Visit the website

Paula Taylor is the former editor of the Courier magazine. She repatriated in June and is now breathing the clean air and enjoying the blue skies of Texas.

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

Palm Cove

Australia: Palm Cove Escape

Palm Cove BeachPalm Cove is one of our all-time favourite family holiday destinations. It is in tropical North Queensland, just north of Cairns, and is a beachside haven with a charming village atmosphere. White sandy beaches lined with glorious coconut palms and the year round warm ocean make Palm Cove one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Palm Cove also boasts plenty of award winning restaurants & day spas to enjoy. The town packs a lot in for a holiday as it is lucky to be in a location which has a double whammy close proximity to the Great Barrier Reef as well as the Daintree Rainforest. It really is a perfect holiday destination where you can do as much or as little as you please.

Our family of 5 have been lucky enough to holiday regularly in Palm Cove for 10 years now and so we have pretty much done most activities and there are plenty of them! When the children were younger we favoured relaxing on the beach, visiting the Cairns Tropical Zoo to feed the kangaroos and cuddle a koala, catching the Skyrail to Kuranda for the day, visiting the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, relaxing on an eco-adventure tubing down Behana Gorge and enjoying Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park to learn how to throw a boomerang.

Cairns Zoo, Palm Cove and Rainforest Tubing

Two of our children are now teenagers which means different types of activities appeal. more action based adrenalin-pumping adventures are now in demand! Recent conquests are water-skiing/wakeboarding/kneeboarding at Cable Ski Park (a huge favourite), Jet ski hire at the Palm Cove beach, bungy jumping, horse-riding for the day, jungle-surfing, swimming at Mossman Gorge and a full day trip trekking & white-water rafting through the rainforest.

Daintree Rainforest near Palm Cove

But the two big World Heritage drawcards to this area the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest – amaze all ages and we continue to explore both on numerous visits. The magic of the Great Barrier Reef is in the variety of soft & hard corals, fish species, the Manta Rays and of course, the Green Turtles. Snorkelling in the warm, clear waters of the colourful Great Barrier Reef is an unforgettable experience not to be missed. Similarly, the Daintree Rainforest is a wonderful treat exploring the world’s oldest rainforest and discovering plenty of plants, animals & reptiles along the way. Crocodile spotting along the Daintree River is fun, especially when the kids find a Logodile instead of a Crocodile!

Great Barrier Reef

Tropical North Queensland and Palm Cove are definetly a must-see for any visit to Australia as the area delivers iconic and unique Australian experiences that make for an unforgettable holiday!

Facts:

  • Best season (April to October) has daytime temperatures ranging around 26- 30 degrees Celsius. Perfect weather for all activities.
  • Palm Cove is a 30 minute drive from Cairns & 45 minutes to Port Douglas. Palm Cove is well placed for all activities/destinations.
  • Recommended Activities/Tours: This is a short selection. There is so much you can do in this area!

 

Animals:

http://www.australianbutterflies.com/

http://www.crocodileadventures.com/

 

Nature & Adventure:

http://www.mossmangorge.com/

http://www.skyrail.com.au/

http://www.aussiedrifterz.net/

http://www.tourismpalmcove.com/beach-fun-co/

http://www.cableskicairns.com.au/

http://cairns.ajhackett.com/

http://www.cairnshorseriding.com.au/

http://www.foamingfury.com.au/

http://www.junglesurfing.com.au/

 

Culture:

http://www.tjapukai.com.au/

 

Great Barrier Reef:

http://wavelength.com.au/

http://www.passions.com.au/

http://www.reefmagiccruises.com/

 

Daintree Tours:

http://www.tropicaltours.com.au/

http://www.billytea.com.au/

 

Northern Territory

Australia: Top End Northern Territory Adventure

There is no doubt that the top end of Northern Territory delivers a fantastically special & unique Australia holiday. The beauty of this area is the joy of exploring World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park as well as both Litchfield & Nitmiluk National Parks – all within a 3 hour circuit drive of each other and Darwin. Easy driving and magnificent nature-based activities to enjoy for the whole family!

So with that in mind our family of 5 began our Top End adventure by collecting our hire vehicle in Darwin and driving 120km south to our first stop Litchfield National Park. Litchfield National Park comprises 1500 sq kms of largely untouched landscape. It is a favourite to view monsoonal rainforest, the perennial spring-fed streams and waterfalls, magnetic termite mounds, the weathered sandstone outcrops, as well as historic ruins.

Litchfield National Park Northern Territory

Our family enjoyed exploring many of the walks and swimming holes such as Buley Rockholes, Wangi Falls & Walker Creek. For respite at the end of the day’s walks, we made our base at Batchelor Butterfly Farm & Tropical Retreat in the township of Batchelor (only 20 minutes from the park) and what a wonderful surprise that was! Our daughter was enthralled with all the butterflies, my sons loved the swimming pool and the adults enjoyed the restaurant and very good quality meals. The accommodation was basic but clean & comfortable and the visit to Litchfield was a delight for everyone!

Litchfield National Park Northern Territory

After 2 days exploring Batchelor/Litchfield National Park we then headed 240km south-east to Katherine. It’s a drive through the Northern Territory’s stunning and lush northern tropics, steeped in nature, aboriginal culture and outback pioneering history. There are many stops and points of interest enroute. Katherine is very much an outback town, and does not have alot of endearing qualities about the town itself. However, the region boasts the not-to-be missed Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park.

Nitmiluk is home to the spectacular Katherine Gorge, a series of 13 sandstone gorges carved over a billion years by the Katherine River. The impressive gorge walls and white sandy beaches can be explored on foot, by canoe or on a cruise and are stunning from the air on a scenic helicopter flight. Aboriginal culture is strong in the area and there are many Aboriginal rock art sites dotted throughout the Park. Nitmiluk National Park has plenty of adventure activities! It is a haven for nature lovers, with its rugged landscapes, dramatic waterfalls and lush gorges providing an abundance of flora and fauna.

NTBLOG3 Katherine Gorge Northern Territory NTBLOG1

Canoe trips along Katherine Gorge are a must-do activity. Unfortunetly for our family we were unable to enjoy canoeing due to the National Parks survey for crocodiles in the area Better to be safe than sorry! However, we managed to enjoy Katherine Gorge in many other ways: the 3 gorge cruise, swimming in a picturesque waterfall and bush walking along the many trails throughout the park. The park rangers & tour guides provided interesting information on the area and Nitmiluk has a simply stunning landscape and plenty of adventure activities to enjoy.

Katherine Gorge Northern Territory

Our next stop was World Heritage Listed Kakadu National Park, a 240km drive north of Katherine. Definitely the highlight of our trip, Kakadu is the jewel in the crown for the Northern Territory. Covering nearly 20,000 square kilometres of exceptional natural beauty and unique biodiversity, Kakadu is one of very few places World Heritage listed for both its cultural and its natural values. Kakadu is a living cultural landscape. Generations of the Bininj/Mungguy Aboriginal people have lived on and cared for this country for tens of thousands of years. Kakadu National Park is a timeless place – a landscape of exceptional beauty, great biodiversity and a wide variety of of landforms, habitats and wildlife. Kakadu is home to 68 mammals, more than 120 reptiles, 26 frogs, more than 2,000 plants and over 10,000 species of insects.

Gunlom Falls Kakadu Northern Territory

Our first adventure in Kakadu was a 2km walk to Gunlom Falls. We were lucky enough to swim and enjoy the clear natural plunge pool area and waterfall. This was followed by many notable stops as we explored the park: Night wildlife safari spotlighting for the wildlife in a Billabong, a one hour scenic flight over Kakadu & Arnhem Land, Ubirr & Nourlangie regions walking and admiring Aboriginal rock art sites, swimming in Jim Jim Falls plunge pool and visiting Jabiru Township the centre of Kakadu. At all of these points of interest park rangers were available and provided informative talks about the art and culture/stories several times per day. Well worth listening!

Kakadu views Northern Territory Kakadu Northern Territory

But perhaps the most amazing of all the regions in Kakadu is the Yellow Waters Wetlands. This is an area that will deliver the WOW factor with plenty of wildlife action! In fact just before we arrived a crocodile had been caught eating a shark unfortunetly for the shark he was in the wrong area and beaten by one of the world’s oldest predators! We took a sunset cruise around the wetlands and loved the wildlife action and awesome scenery.

Yellow Waters Billabong, Northern Territory

We enjoyed 3 days in Kakadu, and could have easily stayed for a few more. There is so much to do! Apparently most people who visit Kakadu make the mistake of only visiting Kakadu for a day trip with a 6 hour return journey to Darwin built in! That does not allow time to visit many sites, and really soak up the atmosphere of the awe-inspiring land that is Kakadu. To our family, Kakadu National Park was more than just a beautiful landscape. We left with a greater understanding of the Aboriginal connection to the land. Our land has a big story. Sometimes we tell a little bit at a time. Come and hear our stories, see our land. A little bit might stay in your hearts….

Our Top End Northern Territory Adventure was nearing completion as we left Kakadu and headed west back to Darwin (300km) for a few days relaxation before heading home. Darwin proved a good place to relax and rejuvenate, visit some museums, do some shopping and enjoy the atmosphere of the famous night markets.

A holiday adventure of a lifetime to remember!

 

Facts:

  • Winter season (May to September) is traditionally the most popular time to visit. The daytime temperatures range around 30 degrees Celsius and the nights are cool. Perfect weather for all activities.
  • All roads travelled are bitumen and fully sealed. So short distances, and easy driving. This drive is also a good one for motorhome vehicles as an alternative to car/accommodation.

Darwin Beach View, Northern Territory

Northern Territory

An Australian Outback Adventure The Kimberley’s & Broome

The Kimberley region of north Western Australia is one of those true frontiers a place to be revered for the majestic country and adventure it beholds.

So it was with this in mind our family of five began our Kimberley adventure in Kununurra, the gateway to the East Kimberley. Aptly named ‘meeting of big waters’, the picturesque township of Kununurra is located on the banks of Lake Kununurra and the Ord River. Kununurra is a hub of local industry for agriculture, mining and a host of great holiday experiences. You can take a four-wheel drive tour, join a lake and river cruise or charter a flight over some of the most spectacular landforms in the world. Visit the largest open cut diamond mine on the planet (Argyle Diamond Mine), explore wilderness parks like the world heritage listed Purnululu National Park (Bungle Bungles), canoe down the Ord River, hire a houseboat or try abseiling. www.kununurratourism.com

Kununurra the Kimberley

We collected our trusty four-wheel drive rental, grabbed some provisions at the supermarket and headed for Broome 1000km to the west. Our first stop which is 100km out of town is El Questro Wilderness Park. This park is one million acres in size, and is truly a uniquely Australian holiday experience. It is definitely one of my all-time favourite places to visit and enjoy. We made our base for 4 nights at the Emma Gorge Resort in safari-style tented cabins (very much glamping as each tent has its own ensuite, and deck to relax at dusk and enjoy the sounds of the bush!). We particularly enjoyed the sounds of the birds and animals at sunrise, as well as the magnificent meals in the restaurant. Of particular note are the many gorges you can hike to and swim in the pristine waters, the Chamberlain Gorge Cruise, Horseriding & barramundi fishing, as well as listening to the stories/songs of the Jackeroos in the evening at the El Questro Station around a camp fire.

El Questro the Kimberley

With much anticipation we left El Questro and headed west along the famous Gibb River Road. The Gibb River Road offers people the unique opportunity to experience the real outback Australian lifestyle – explore life on the cattle stations, learn about the rich aboriginal and pastoral history of Australia’s Great North West, visit aboriginal communities, and meet the true, genuine characters of the Australian bush. We headed to a cattle station 300km west of El Questro called Mount Elizabeth Station. This was an overnight stop with many surprises. The station cook rustled up a lovely dinner for all the staff & visitors, and early morning provided a great walk around the station watching the daily rituals of the working station, with plenty of kangaroo watching too! Mount Elizabeth Station provided us with one of the best swimming gorges of the entire trip with soft sand included!

Mornington Camp the Kimberley

We then headed deep into the heart of the Gibb River Road. Plenty of stops enroute to enjoy a quick dip in a gorge take plenty of photos and admire Aboriginal art. We met a cyclist who was traversing the entire length of the road from Cape York to Broome all 2500km of it. Very enthusiastic and fit!

Rock Art the Kimberley

Our next stop was the amazing Mornington Wilderness Camp, a wildlife Sanctuary. Mornington Sanctuary covers more than 3,000 km2 of spectacular gorges and tropical savannah dominated by the Fitzroy River and King Leopold Ranges. It is a naturalist’s paradise, providing refuge for over 200 species of birds and a diverse range of other wildlife. All proceeds from the Wilderness Camp are dedicated to the conservation of wildlife in the Kimberley. Unfortunetly we only stayed 2 full days, you could easily enjoy 3 nights/4 days in the Sanctuary. Again the accommodation was superb safari style luxury tents, and accompanied by another wonderful restaurant with delicious food. Our highlight here was canoeing in Dimond Gorge. It is a spectacular gorge, and we enjoyed meandering along in the canoes, swimming on the way and exploring at all opportunities. Such awe inspiring isolation at nature’s best.

The Kimberley

Our Gibb River Road/Kimberley adventure was nearing completion as we headed due west to our final destination Broome. Home to the famous Cable Beach, and with lots to see and do, it was the ideal place to finish our Kimberley adventure. We spent 7 nights here relaxing and enjoying some chill-out family time: We rode camels along Cable Beach and experienced the magnificent sunset, caught a light plane up to the Aboriginal managed camp at Cape Leveque, visited many art galleries/cafes, shopped for pearls in Chinatown, we enjoyed an outdoor movie in deck chairs at the cinema and spent plenty of time relaxing at the beach. www.broomevisitorcentre.com.au

A holiday adventure of a lifetime to remember!

 

Facts:

  • Winter season (May to October) is traditionally the most popular time to visit. The daytime temperatures range around 30 degrees Celsius and the nights are cool. Perfect weather for all activities.
  • The Gibb River Road extends for approx. 900km from Broome to Kununurra. It is in a wilderness location and driving in this area should not be taken lightly. An alternative would be to catch a domestic flight from Broome to Kununurra (flight time 1:20 mins) and experience the surrounds at both ends. This will still deliver the outback experience with less risks for overseas travellers.

Boab Tree the Kimberley