Seattle to Vancouver by Train

A train has to be one of my favourite modes of travel. Perhaps not battling for breathing space on the tube, but relaxing in comfort on a long distance train is hard to beat in my book.

 Travelling across an international border by train takes things to a higher level. It’s quite a few years since I went inter-railing across Europe, when there were still border crossings to navigate, but I still vividly recall the mixture of excitement and apprehension at reaching a far-flung border patrol in Eastern Europe at the dead of night.

And so I booked us onto Train 510, leaving Seattle King Street Station for Vancouver, at 7.45am on a bright Tuesday morning in July.

Four tickets cost us $126, which I thought seemed pretty reasonable, especially as it meant we didn’t need to spend another few hours waiting in airports.

There was, however, a pretty strange system to board the train. Rather than being allocated seats in advance, so that you can simply walk onto the train at 7.45am, we had to arrive at the station an hour before departure to check-in our luggage and receive a seat allocation. This was straight-forward enough to do, but it meant waking the kids slightly before their natural rising time, which is always a risk before a long journey.

Our wait in Seattle station was livened up by a very talkative Kiwi, who was making his way home to Vancouver Island. We chatted about New Zealand, which we hadn’t long departed, and inevitably drifted onto the subject of Rugby, which you are almost bound to do whenever meeting a true Kiwi. I couldn’t help but feel a tad envious of somebody lucky enough to have a New Zealand passport and a Canadian visa.

We boarded the Amtrak service and left Seattle on time, camera at the ready to capture the passing scenery as we journeyed north to the Canadian border. In between taking the kids on journeys to the buffet car, I spent most of the journey trying to master taking photos while moving at high-speed.

Seattle to Vancouver train

Seattle to Vancouver train

I just about managed to get a picture of a golden eagle, perched on the shore, but you might need to look quite hard to see it.

Golden eagle on the beach

Otherwise the journey was one long masterpiece, and it was only a shame that we couldn’t have spent longer exploring this stretch of coastline.

Seattle to Vancouver train

Seattle to Vancouver trainSeattle to Vancouver train

Border control was at Vancouver station, which caused a slight delay getting off the train, but it still felt incredible to be walking onto Canadian soil at just after lunchtime, having spent the morning in America.

Summer in Seattle

I’m not sure why you’d want your dinner to be chucked through the air, but a large crowd was baying for more fish flinging. We’d arrived at Pike’s Place Market and stumbled upon the fish counter. Huge specimens of fresh fish were in the process of being hurled, from the front of stage fish monger, to some brave men working behind the counter, who were being required to receive the weighty and very slippery-looking catch.

Pike Place Fish Market

Pike’s Place is the home of Starbucks, but we didn’t feel the need to pay homage to a chain of coffee shops, so instead we stayed and watched the fish throwing. We had to battle to get out of the crowd once our time was up, and the rest of Pike’s Place was seething with people browsing stalls of fruit, vegetables, flowers and assorted homemade objects.

Pike Place Market

Fresh cherries in Seattle

The view from the back of the market was worth the trip alone, with distant snow topped mountains framing a glorious view of Puget Sound.

We’d stopped for breakfast in the welcoming sounding Crumpet Shop. The crumpets were homemade and extremely tasty, but there was an almost overwhelming array of potential toppings to navigate. The kids played it safe with raspberry jam. I couldn’t decide and was feeling adventurous, so I opted for a savoury option of green tomatoes, with a helping of maple butter for pudding. This was more food than I needed for breakfast, but I felt like throwing caution to the wind.

The Crumpet Shop, Seattle

Fully sustained for the day ahead, we spent the morning exploring the stalls of Pike Place and then headed out to Space Needle. We got way laid for several hours in the Children’s Museum, which was stacked full of opportunities for the kids to explore and pretend play.

Space Needle, Seattle

The Chihuly glass exhibition was incredible to look at, but the edge was taken off it by worrying about whether the kids were about to touch / break one of the very expensive looking sculptures.

Chihuly Glass Exhibition, Seattle

With the crumpets walked off, we headed for the best pizza in town at Serious Pie. One of the major benefits of having children is that we don’t usually need to reserve a table for dinner. Eating bang on 5pm every day tends to ensure that we beat dinner rush hour.

Serious Pie was seemingly so popular, however, that a queue was forming as they were opening up. We were seated at a shared table, which caused an initial flurry of confused looks. Any apprehension that we might need to speak with strangers over dinner was soon overcome. Surely one of the best things about coming to America is how friendly everybody seems, and we were soon swapping holiday stories and life plans with a totally unknown family from California that just happened to be sharing our dinner table.

We went back to Serious Pie for dinner on our second day in Seattle and sat next to the same family again. I don’t think they were stalking us, but the pizza was very good and our second night felt like a family reunion.

Our brief stay in Seattle coincided with some beautiful summer weather, and on the basis of our experience, Seattle looked like a great place to live. The downtown area was vibrant, with buildings that were old enough to provide some character. The football and baseball stadiums were walkable from downtown, which is surely how it should be.

Steep streets of Seattle

Back To Reality

Around four months into our new life of not working, we’ve made the decision to come back to reality after six months of travelling. This is shorter than the full year we’d originally planned.

Before embarking on a year away, the kids were worried about missing school, missing their friends, and not having enough toys to play with. So far, they have loved most of the places we have visited, and have coped well with the constant changes of scenery and lack of routine.

But having never travelled for such a long period of time, choosing to go away for a year was always a slightly arbitrary aim. Six months now feels right.

This does mean, however, that our original itinerary goes out the window. After Australia, the plan was to spend a couple of months exploring the USA and Canada, followed by some time in Central America and back home via South East Asia.

We already had flights booked from Sydney to Los Angeles, via Hawaii, so we still intend to spend some time on the West Coast, but we’ll then skip back and finish our trip in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka was near the top of my wish list for this journey and I can’t wait to take the kids to see some real life elephants and enjoy curry for breakfast.

A Family Retreat In Huon Valley, Tasmania

I had carelessly booked us onto a Jet Star flight out of Melbourne. This meant we had plenty of time to kill in Melbourne airport. Jet Star’s published timetable of flight departures is a work of pure fiction. Tonight they were only running an hour late, which felt like a mini success.

We landed in Hobart at 11pm, after a perilously low approach over some water that almost had me reaching for my life jacket. As we are instructed at the start of each flight, I was fully ready to save myself first, with the kids entirely oblivious to our impending doom, absorbed on their iPads.

The pilot somehow found tarmac and I dashed out of the bijou terminal building to call our car hire company, convinced that we’d probably missed the last courtesy bus. I got straight through to a lovely lady, who told us to wait inside the terminal building and she’d swing round to pick us up in ten minutes.

Not only did this save us a walk to the bus stop, but it also suggested that we would be able to pick-up our car and I could break some good news to the family. We wouldn’t, after all, need to sleep in the terminal building like proper travellers.

I was warming to Tasmania already.

After a bus journey of five minutes we were dropped off in a barely lit gravel car park and given the keys to our 4×4 (Apex car rentals had a special offer, so I decided to upgrade!).

It was already a late night and the kids were starting to doze off in the car as we drove to our new Airbnb house, around an hour south of Hobart, in the Huon Valley. There was plenty of road kill as we headed out of town, and a couple of live wallabies were grazing in the middle of the road, attempting to become the next victims.

Our new home was around ten minutes outside the logging town of Geevston. It had an almost Japanese feel, with sliding doors and neat storage making the most of what was, essentially, a converted shipping container.

In the pitch black of our arrival, our only concern was locating the keys so that we could all get some sleep. After some searching through my emails, I eventually located the lock box code and we were in. Anja stopped searching for nearby hotels and congratulated me on my excellent planning.

The morning revealed a glorious sunrise over the surrounding hills and a sneaking view of the Huon river valley below us. I was extremely pleased with our little of slice of Tasmanian soil and was starting to google house prices in the area.

Family gap year

Compared to the rest of Australia, Tasmania is relatively poor and land is relatively inexpensive. You can pick up an acre plot with coastal views for less than $100k. The same plot in Perth or Sydney would cost millions.

When my writing career takes off and I can live off the royalties, then a little spot in Tasmania could look very appealing. In the meantime I’m not sure we’d be able to survive off the land alone, so we’ll have to settle for visiting.

Tahune Forest

After spending the previous day travelling, we were ready for some fresh air on our first full day in Tasmania.

Family travel blog

A 30-minute drive along a mud road from Geevston brought us to the Tahune Forest, and the prospect of enjoying some fresh air from a wobbly walkway constructed at dizzying heights off the forest floor.

The Tahune Airwalk loops 600m around the forest, at heights of up to 50m off the ground. This may not sound much, but it looks pretty high when all you’re standing on is some metal mesh with a clear drop below.

Family career break

As usual, the kids ran around the walkway and attempted to give me a heart attack by leaning precariously over low sections of handrail.

The views from up high were magnificent, but I was glad to return to solid ground and tackle one of the loop walks that crossed over a couple of swing bridges on a meandering forest pathway. An information board suggested this walk was an hour long, but the kids were keen to have a good laugh at me on the swing bridges, so off we set.

Family gap year

With various stops to inspect insects and prod mushrooms with sticks, daylight was beginning to recede when we eventually returned to the car park.

Family gap year

There’s something hugely satisfying about spending an afternoon with the kids, just walking and talking and being outdoors.

I’m not convinced the kids entirely agree…

Family gap year

Mt Wellington

Hobart sits in a gorgeous setting, with Mt Wellington on one side and a natural harbour on the other.

As a job creation scheme in the 1930’s, a winding road was built all the way to the peak of Mt Wellington. At over 1,200 metres above sea level, the top of the mountain is a good 10 degrees cooler than Hobart. I can imagine the summit provides a lovely sanctuary from the summertime heat, but we were there in winter, so it was bloody freezing.

RTW family

The view across Hobart was spectacular, for a few brief moments, before the clouds descended and we were cut-off from civilisation.

RTW family

Anja retreated to the warmth of the car, while the kids decided to do some rock climbing to the tip of the summit. I was put in charge of supervising the rock climbing, which meant I could have a go too while asking the kids to wait for me at the top.

RTW family

Salamanca Market

Salamanca market in Hobart runs every Saturday and we spent several happy hours wandering up and down the rows of stalls.

The surrounding area is a hub for apple growers, so there was a fair proportion of apple stalls, as you might expect. Otherwise, the market contained a fairly standard looking selection of food stalls and crafty objects, with the odd whiff of homemade soap mixed in with the coffee and hot dog aromas.

At one end of the market, a British guy, Jamie Maslin, had set-up stall selling signed copies of his book “The Long Hitch Home”. This was based on his journey from Hobart to London, which he accomplished over several months via hitch hiking. I eagerly snapped up a copy and spent the rest of the week feeling like an inferior traveller every time I jumped in our hire car.

While I was browsing books, the kids were sat enraptured by a street performer, who for some unknown reason was trying to squeeze himself through a tennis racket. Having finished contorting his body in ways that I couldn’t even bring myself to look at, he finished by inserting a sword down his throat. After nearly an hour of extreme busking, the guy did at least collect a decent amount of cash from the surrounding crowd. Whether it was enough cash to warrant a potentially life-threatening injury, I doubt.

RTW family

Port Arthur

Port Arthur is a world heritage site, originally home to thousands of convicts that had re-offended following their original transportation from the UK. It is also the site of the world’s first dedicated boys prison.

I was expecting to find a desolate place, surrounded by shark infested waters and inescapable depths of forest. Natural fortifications to contain hardened career criminals from the rest of humanity.

Instead, Port Arthur was both beautifully tranquil and picturesque in its late Autumn colours. It was hard to picture this scene as a place of imprisonment. It looked the perfect setting for a holiday camp.

Family travel blog

Plus, of course, most of the criminals did not appear to be hardened villains, but desperately poor people who had been transported from the UK for stealing food or poaching.

We spent all day wandering around the various buildings that formed the village of Port Arthur, which wasn’t just a prison, but also a thriving industrial centre and army barracks.

RTW family

The main prison is now in a semi-ruined condition following several bush fires in the late 1800’s, but it was possible to get a sense of the conditions in a separate block that was built to isolate particularly difficult customers. Modelled on London’s Pentonville jail, the new prison kept inmates in perpetual silence, with the guards even going so far as to wear soft slippers to avoid the sound of footsteps on the hard stone floors. Unsurprisingly, the new prison was next door to the insane asylum.

Whale Spotting

A brief aside, but on the road home from Port Arthur we parked the car at a crazy angle on the side of the road. This was a reflex response on my part to seeing a small crowd of people standing at the roadside, peering out into the surrounding water.

A few of the locals tutted at us as they had to pull around to pass our car on a blind bend. No doubt cursing us inconsiderate tourists.

But we didn’t care, because after a few possibilities of seeing whales previously on our travels, we got a sighting of a mother whale with her calf, sheltering in the shallow inlet waters. They were very close to the surface and came up for air a few times. They were several hundred metres from the roadside, but we could see and hear them clearly, even if my pictures don’t quite prove this.

Family career break

 Cockle Creek

Having studied a map of our new surroundings, I was excited to learn that we were within striking distance of the most southerly point in Australia. Or, at least, the most southerly point that you can reach in a car.

After Cockle Creek, the next stop is Antarctica.

Before Cockle Creek, there is miles of bumpy dirt roads.

I was confident that we’d be fine with a touch of off-roading, on the basis that I had the foresight to book a 4×4 and hadn’t bothered to study the hire agreement small print in too much detail.

There wasn’t anything much at Cockle Creek. An empty camper van in the car park was evidence of the last known visitors, but otherwise we had the place to ourselves.

Family gap year

Despite the less than optimal bathing temperatures, we headed to the beach to enjoy the solitude and eat our hastily arranged picnic. French bread and cheese.

The kids managed a brief dip in the icy waters, and then we decided to retreat to the promised warmth of Hastings Thermal Pools. We’d passed a sign for Hastings on the way down and the kids needed de-frosting.

The thermal pool turned out to look very much like a normal outdoors swimming pool, albeit in a nice woodland setting and surrounded by several potential walking trails. The water was not very warm, at 28 degrees Celsius, but it was warm enough for us.

Next Time

Just a short hop across to Melbourne, for a few days whizzing around on free trams.

Why Can’t We Fly To Melbourne?

After a wonderful week in Adelaide staying with my family, we decided to go on a road trip to Melbourne so that we could drive the Great Ocean Road. I was looking forward to the dramatic scenery, getting out into small town south Australia, stopping frequently for coffee and a wander about. The kids were wondering why we couldn’t just fly to Melbourne.

We set aside four days to drive 1,000km from Adelaide to Melbourne and made our first overnight stop in Mt Gambier, the second largest town in South Australia. This got us 400km along the way to Melbourne, leaving us plenty of time to explore the more scenic sections ahead.

Mt Gambier sits on the slopes of a volcanic hill, with a cobalt blue lake at its peak. The Blue Lake wasn’t living up to its name when we visited, but it was still interesting to see the flooded remnants of a volcanic explosion less than 5,000 years old. The brilliant blue colour is only visible in summertime, and under the cloudier June skies it was closer to grey.

Blue Lake Mt Gambier

Our second night was spent in Port Fairy, which we reached shortly after crossing the state line into Victoria. I was pleased to have driven across an international time zone (+30 minutes between Victoria and South Adelaide). Nobody else seemed too fussed about this achievement, but I stopped the car at the side of the road to mark the occasion.

Family road trip

Port Fairy was well worth a stop. With a whole afternoon to spare we set about wandering up and down the high street to see what food might be on offer. Rebecca’s café served us up a nice bowl of seafood chowder for lunch and by the time we were hungry for dinner Sally Coffin’s had lit the pizza oven. We even managed to squeeze in some crepes for breakfast at the Belfast Man’s place and two trips to the old-fashioned sweet shop.

We could happily have stayed in Port Fairy for much longer, but we’d eaten too much and had a date with the official start of the Great Ocean Road.

From Adelaide, the B100 begins just beyond the town of Warrnambool, marking the start of ocean hugging roads and spectacular scenery.

There is a whale nursery in Warnambool and we’d read about some recent sightings of Great Southern whales with young calves just off the coast. We made our way to the purpose built viewing platform, where a few locals were camped out for the day with their thermos flasks and long lens cameras at the ready.

The sea was choppy and the white waves made it very difficult to tell whether there were any whales breaking the surface or not. We stared out to sea for nearly an hour, entranced by the view but entirely unable to say that we’d seen any whales.

The Grotto made a lovely stop off, just before Port Campbell. The eroded rocks provided a perfect picture frame to the crashing waves.

The Grotto, Victoria

Family road trip along the Great Ocean Road

The Twelve Apostles is a must see on the Great Ocean Road. Unfortunately, everybody else on the road thought so too. Hordes of tour buses lined a large car park on the side of the road, with even greater masses of people lining the pathway to the best vantage points.

Helicopters buzzed overhead, carrying more extravagant tourists on an airborne tour of the coastal sights. I felt like a member of the paparazzi, ducking and diving in a sea of cameras to get a few snaps of the eroded limestone stacks. The view was good, but next time I’d arrive much earlier in the day to glimpse the scenery in a more relaxed atmosphere.

The Twelve Apostles

Family road trip

RTW Family

We spent the next couple of days in the small seaside town of Anglesea, giving the kids some time to recuperate from a couple of days of winding roads. Off season, we managed to land a stay in the Great Ocean Road resort for a very reasonable price. It had an indoor swimming pool, so the kids made sure we got plenty of value for money.

After Anglesea the road passes through the larger resort of Torquay, before starting to emerge into the outer suburbs of Melbourne.

We stopped at the Narana Aboriginal Cultural Centre, just before reaching Geelong. We hadn’t seen too many other opportunities to experience Aboriginal culture on our trip so far, and the kids enjoyed learning about the painting symbols that were dotted around the animal enclosure.

Kiera also got another chance to overcome her fear of emus. This didn’t exactly pan out as hoped, as an initially calm emu started to rampage around chasing a group of wallabies. It was interesting to see how fast the emus can shift, but Kiera didn’t agree, convinced that she was about to be mown over. We beat a hasty retreat the café for some lunch, where Lexi found an opportunity to experiment with her own symbols on a chalkboard in the café.

Family travel blog

We’d reached the end of the Great Ocean Road and were now battling through Melbourne traffic to catch our next flight. Four days seemed a reasonable amount of time for us to explore this stretch of coastline, although with hindsight I would have put another overnight stop in between Port Fairy and Anglesea. This area contained most of the main sights and it would have been nice to spend more time around Cape Otway and Apollo Bay.

Next Time

We’ve just booked a flight to Tasmania, to spend a week in the Huon Valley, just south of Hobart. One of my early bosses at work was a guy from Tasmania. Not only was he a good boss and taught me loads, but he was very enthusiastic about his home state. Cheers Mike.

Best Place To See Dolphins In Adelaide

A two-hour river cruise for $8. Something didn’t feel quite right about this. You can only just get a beer for that price. This cruise was also holding out the possibility of us seeing some dolphins. For $8.

There is only one sailing per day on the Port Adelaide Dolphin Express. We arrived at the harbour just in time for the 11.30am departure.

Family Gap Year

We were blessed with a beautiful blue sky and no hint of wind. These were ideal dolphin spotting conditions. At least that’s what the man said who was taking our tickets as we walked down the gangplank.

Family Gap Year

We were poised to jostle for a prime dolphin watching spot at the front of the boat, until we discovered that there was only one other person waiting to challenge us. Nearly all the other passengers had decided to sit inside to be served their lunch. It was $20 for a cruise and lunch, so we’d been ultra-frugal and made our own sandwiches – cheese surprise as normal.

As well as the extra cost, I couldn’t see the point of coming on a dolphin cruise only to sit indoors and eat fish and chips. The cruise was two hours long, so I don’t think anybody would have starved if they’d skipped lunch and enjoyed the view.

Port River snakes its way out to sea, flanked by industrial buildings and grain stores. Container ships were swallowing their cargo whole, fed by enormous steel cranes.

It didn’t look the most promising spot for wild dolphins.

RTW Family

But within fifteen minutes of leaving dock we were flanked by at least three dolphins. They appeared to be racing us, starting out on the right side of the boat, disappearing for a few seconds, before magically reappearing on our left. Or, as the ship’s captain put it, they started on starboard before heading to port. I think that’s what he said anyway.

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We hung precariously over the front edge of the boat to get the best possible view. I told the kids to hang on tightly while I took some photos, safe in the knowledge that they’re both good swimmers.

Family Gap Year

The cruise had already been a success as far as I was concerned, but we continued to spot dolphins for the next couple of hours. Some of the groups kept their distance, with just their fins visible above the water, but others came close, leaping into the air just metres in front of us.

Family Gap Year RTW

It was incredible to see these animals in their natural habitat, powerful enough to easily out pace our leisure cruiser.

At the Port Adelaide maritime museum, we learned about the ongoing risk to these wonderful creatures, posed by river pollution and general human carelessness. Let’s hope that Adelaide remains home to the largest group of city dwelling dolphins in Australia for a long time to come.

RTW Family

In case you’re interested, here are five interesting dolphin facts gleaned from our trip to the maritime museum:

  1. Dolphins descended from four legged land mammals and still have two little bones suspended under their spine. These are all that remains of the pelvis.
  2. Dolphins can’t breathe through their mouths, which allows them to eat under water.
  3. Dolphins have a brain as large and as complex as humans.
  4. Dolphin skin is very sensitive to water pressure. They can feel somebody is trying to touch them even when the hand is 10cm away.
  5. Dolphins can see equally well above and below the surface of water.

Sisters’ Adventures So Far!

Hi, I’m Lexi. I’m 6 years old. I like travelling.

I haven’t liked – Dubai. I didn’t like it because it was too hot. I also didn’t like burritos, which we tried in New Zealand.

I have liked –  Lanzarote. I liked it because it was sunny and had a swimming pool. I also like Australia and Thai food.

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I had to go back to have an operation on my hand and it was quite scary. I had to go on a wheelie bed down to the operating theatre. The doctors got a special tube that had a big spike at the end that went into my veins. Then they put some special medicine into my veins that put me to sleep. When I woke up I had a massive bandage on my hand, which I called stumpy.

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I also really like climbing rocks and we found a beach with loads of rocks and jellyfish.

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Hi, I’m Kiera and I’m 9 years old.

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At the start of the trip I didn’t want to come. I don’t know why, I just didn’t want to. I wanted to stay at home. I also wasn’t sure about changing house or school. We had to leave our dog called Hugo at home. He was a Labrador. Me and my mum and sister didn’t want to leave him, but dad doesn’t like animals as much so it didn’t really bother him too much.

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I haven’t liked – Dubai and Kuala Lumpur because it was too hot and humid. I also haven’t liked driving around for too long because it makes me feel sick. I didn’t like the 12 hour flight to New Zealand, but it was worth it in the end.

I have liked –  New Zealand, Lanzarote and Australia. I also like seeing new things and doing new things. In New Zealand we went to the luge. You went up the top of the mountain and then went down in a go-cart.

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In New Zealand we also stayed on a farm and I loved it! I helped look after cows and I saw how they milked the cows. The baby cows were about 9 months old and the older group were about 2 years old. It was in Waikite Valley and there were thermal pools. Some were really hot and some weren’t too hot.

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That was my most favourite place so far on the trip. We also got to pet the cows after we saw how to milk them. Also in New Zealand we were on a drive and saw a big swing bridge and we all had a go and it was really good fun.

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In Australia we first flew to Perth. In Perth we stayed in some apartments that were really near to Kings Park. Kings park was 900 acres. There were three different parks and we went to two of them. They were really good fun! Next we went to Adelaide and stayed with daddy’s Auntie and Uncle and we went to a big rocking horse.

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We stayed there for a week and went on a Dolphin cruise and saw lots of Dolphins.

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We are now staying in a hotel near Melbourne that has a swimming pool and a trampoline park. After Melbourne we are going to Tasmania.

The Great Southern Road Trip, WA

The Brig Amity brought the first European settlers to Albany in 1836, setting sail from Sydney with 61 men to prevent an expected French settlement in the region.

Lying 400km south of Perth, on the bottom left edge of Australia, Albany is the oldest permanently settled town in Western Australia. An important port for mail ships heading from London to Sydney. At least until the mail was re-routed to Freemantle in order to reduce travelling time to the new WA capital in Perth.

The Great Southern museum was a perfect, free way to spend a few hours with the kids and brush up on our local knowledge. It’s always hard to tell how much they are listening as we walk through any museum, but it can be a pleasant surprise in a few weeks’ time if they suddenly mention something that we’ve learned on our one of our “educational” day trips.

If nothing else, the girls absolutely loved playing teacher in the old-fashioned village school.

Round the world with my family in Albany

RTW Family Albany

There is also a replica of the Brig Amity alongside the museum. It didn’t take long to look around every nook and cranny, twice, as the ships accommodation only stretched to a few cabins for the officers. Our expectations for old ships are set quite high, coming from the home of the SS Great Britain, but the Brig Amity was a workhorse with few frills.

I try to imagine what it might have been like for one of the crew on this journey. The baker brought along to help feed the new settlement, or the bricklayers required to build a town from scratch. It seems like an almost overwhelming task to build a town from scratch, in a region so remote, with hardship almost certain. But the sense of opportunity and adventure must have been exciting enough to get men onto the ship, unless you were a convict and simply had no choice.

National ANZAC Centre

Round the world with my family in Albany, WA

Albany is notable as the launching off point for thousands of ANZAC troops in World War One. The National ANZAC centre is located on a hill overlooking King George Sound, where the troop ships gathered for departure. The scene looks peaceful today, but a hundred years ago this bay was filled with troop ships, ready for departure.

Family travel blog, Western Australia

After taking the kids through the Gallipoli exhibition in Wellington, at Te Papa, I wasn’t sure if the ANZAC centre would hold their attention. We ended up staying the day, following the individual stories of soldiers, officers and nurses, sent thousands of miles from home into unimaginable danger.

The ANZAC centre provides the perfect opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices that were made on our behalf. One in every three soldiers that set sail from Albany never returned home. Of those troops that made it home, most were deeply scarred in some way by their experiences on the front line.

Great Southern Coastline

The coastline around Albany contains some stunning natural scenery, and would be an ideal place to cool off in the summer.

Little Beach at Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve appears like a scene from the movies. The sea was bright turquoise and the sand was so soft that it felt like fresh powdered snow.

Family travel blog in Western Australia

We arrived in late May, and had the luxury of having this place almost to ourselves. The temperature was hovering in the low 20’s celsius, which in my mind is a perfect temperature for sitting on the sand without melting.

Round the world family trip, Australia

Some blue jellyfish had washed up onto the beach at the last high tide, so we tentatively approached the water to see if we’d be able to swim. The water was as clear as a mountain spring and appeared free of poisonous sea creatures. We dived in, or at least we tentatively put one toe in the water and then very slowly edged in, while all the time keeping a sharp eye out for anything that might eat us or sting.

RTW family trip, Western Australia

There are sharks along this stretch of Western Australian coastline, but I kept reassuring the kids that I didn’t think sharks could swim in water that was only half a metre deep. Or at least that if they could, we’d hopefully see them coming in clear water.

Family gap year

The Gap and Natural Bridge at Torndirrup National Park is a sensational viewing point, with a clifftop formed of rocks that used to be joined to Antarctica. We’re talking a few years ago, when Australia was part of the same super continent as Antartica.

Family travel blog

The good people of Australia decided that the natural wonder of this place wasn’t quite enough. So they decided to stick a metal platform into the side of a cliff and suspend it out over a sheer drop to the sea.

Once the kids had tested the platform to make sure it was safe, I ventured on for a few quick photos.

Family gap year

Greens Pool at Williams Bay is near the small town of Denmark, around 50km from Albany. A wide expanse of golden sand, with a lagoon of crystal clear water formed by a line of massive rocks offshore. This was another great spot to take a dip in the ocean and let the kids enjoy one of their favourite pastimes of clambering over rocks.

Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk was an opportunity to suspend ourselves 40 metres up in the air between some bloody big trees, as the name suggest. The idea of walking in the air is to help preserve the forest floor and to prevent damage to tree roots, but the main benefit has to be the views.

Family gap year

Whaling Heritage

Alongside its wonderful natural scenery, Albany is also blessed to be home to passing groups of whales, visiting the sheltered waters of King George Sound. The whale watching season runs from June to September and cruises run daily from the town harbour. We missed the season by a few weeks, so we’ve added a return visit to our ever growing wish list.

The presence of whales has always been a source of income for the town, but not always in a nice way. As late as 1978, whales were being hunted along this coastline, prized for the oil contained in their blubber.

The Whaling Museum at Frenchman’s Bay provides a disturbing, but very informative tour of the former whaling station. Massive silos stand at the entrance of the whaling station, formerly used to store industrial quantities of whale oil. The oil was used in the manufacture of products including soap and candles.

The stench of whale oil is still faintly detectable, and images of the slaughter in progress and a collection of whale skeletons, vividly captured the horrific nature of what happened here.

Family gap year

This dismal business has now been stopped across most of the world, although Japan, Norway and Iceland do still hunt whales for their meat.

Busselton

On our way back from the Great Southern region to Perth, we called in at the seaside town of Busselton.

We made straight for the longest jetty in the southern hemisphere. How could we not.

RTW Family in Busselton, WA

The jetty is 1.8km long, originally built to handle cargo ships, carrying away the regions vast reserves of timber. The jetty had to be built so far out because Busselton bay slopes very gently out to sea, only reaching a depth of 8m at the very tip of the pier.

After a four-hour drive to reach Busselton from Denmark WA, we were ready to stretch our legs, so set off to walk the mile or so out to sea. A tourist train also runs up and down the jetty, but the walk was invigorating and the kids raced up and down the wooden platform.

The cargo ships stopped arriving here in 1972, which threatened to bring the jetty to the end of its natural life.

But the entrepreneurial people of Busselton built an underwater observatory at the end of the jetty in a bid to raise funds for its ongoing preservation. We took a tour of the underwater observatory, and our guide gave as a very helpful 30-minute introduction to the marine life that exists at different depths beneath the waves.

RTW Family in Busselton, WA

It was fascinating to watch life going on all around us from the calmness of the viewing platforms.

Family round the world trip

We finished our day in Busselton with a lovely meal at the The Goose. I felt bad after seeing so much interesting sea life, but the prawn risotto was simply too tempting and delicious.

Next Time

We have a few days back in Perth and then we’re heading to Adelaide to meet up with my Aussie family.

Family Walkabout in Perth, WA

After “sivun” weeks in New Zealand, we’ve landed in Western Australia for the next leg of our family gap-year.

We are technically heading towards winter, but it doesn’t feel that way. The trees are green, rather than the reds and oranges that had started to appear in New Zealand. We’ve also gone up a few notches on the temperature gauge compared to our last few weeks in a campervan, and it’s a pleasant warming sun rather than scorching hot.

Sprinklers on suburban lawns came as something of a surprise to the kids. They couldn’t work out why the grass was wet if it hadn’t been raining. Parrots were a pleasing sight too, congregating on tin roofs in our suburban road, before screeching off in a blur of colours.

The only hint that winter may be around the corner is the presence of people wearing a lot more clothes than us, plus a few slightly odd looks in our direction while sun bathing. It is slightly disconcerting to see people walking past in puffer jackets and bobble hats, while we’re applying sun screen.

Apart from the unsurprisingly nice weather, my initial impression of Perth was that it seems huge. We haven’t seen so many people in one place since we left London. Most of New Zealand could move in and you’d hardly notice.

The central business district looks sleek and shiny, with money from vast mining operations helping to pay for towering offices of glass and steel. Daily commuters are transported from the sprawling Perth suburbs by a spiral of rail tracks emerging from Perth Central, and they’re wearing sunglasses rather than carrying umbrellas.

Round the world with my family in Perth, WA

A sprinkling of red brick Victorian buildings look a little lost in the centre of town, but it’s nice to see that some heritage has been preserved amidst the rush to build skyward. The redevelopment of Elizabeth Quay is also providing a better link from downtown to the Swan River, and the kids were more than happy to explore the new playground at Elizabeth Quay Island.

Kangaroo Hunting

Fresh off the plane, we drove to Yanchep National Park to spot some kangaroos, as if to prove to ourselves that we really were in Australia.

Round the world with my family

The kangaroos were happily grazing in an open patch of grass, visible before we’d even managed to get out of our car. They appeared entirely oblivious to our presence, at least up until the point when Lexi started doing her kangaroo impersonation.

We were pleased to see some genuine Aussie wildlife and I was pleased that my research had paid off. For a $12 entry fee and a one-hour drive to Yanchep we felt like true bushmen.

After a few days in Perth, it soon became apparent that kangaroos were around every corner. By early evening, hordes of bouncy marsupials would emerge on practically every available patch of grass. We’ve sadly got to the stage where we’re not even looking for them anymore, they’re just there, where we’d usually expect to see some cows or sheep.

That first sighting at Yanchep was still special though, even if we didn’t really need to make a special visit to see them. The best thing for me was simply the look on the kids’ faces as the kangaroos started hopping towards them.

Kings Park

We were staying in an Airbnb apartment this week, in Subiaco, within easy walking distance of Kings Park. In case you’re wondering, I think it’s pronounced “sue-be-ako”, but it took me nearly all week to work this out.

Kings Park is one-thousand acres of greenery, bang in the middle of Perth. The largest inner city park in the World. Three kids’ play areas. A café. Parrots flying around where there ought to have been pigeons. Probably some snakes in the undergrowth too, but we didn’t see any despite walking around all walk with a big stick.

Kiera has watched too many episodes of Bear Grylls, including 3 new episodes on the plane over. So our approach to all potentially hazardous situations is guided by what Bear would do. In the case of potential snakes, therefore, we go armed with a stick and a couple of small rocks. This is to allow us to stun the animal, before chopping of its head and grilling it for dinner. Thinking it through, we don’t normally carry a machete around with us, so we’d have to remove the head with a sharpened rock. We never got close to seeing any snakes, but better to be safe than sorry.

Kings Park was too large to explore in one day, or even one week, but our daily visits inevitably centered around one or other of the playgrounds. These have been thoughtfully crafted from natural materials found within the park, which I’m sure the kids appreciated.

Hillarys Harbour

Perth is blessed with miles of stunning coastline and even the winter weather was proving nice enough for us to warrant some beach time.

We were guided towards Hillarys Harbour as a safe place for the kids to go swimming. The harbour was indeed perfect for a family day out. There was a playground on the beach, the water was shallow and sheltered, and there was a generally pleasing buzz of seaside activities.

The water looked lovely and we splashed around in the shallows on quite a few occasions. We would have gone further except I kept seeing jellyfish. They were absolutely tiny and nearly entirely see through. They looked very harmless, but my knowledge of jellyfish varieties is non-existent, so I had visions of ruining our trip with a deadly sting.

We’re still taking baby steps getting to grips with being in a country where there are animals that are trying to hurt you.

Keating Family Tour of Freemantle Prison

Round the world with my family

The last hanging took place in 1964, but the doors only closed on Freemantle Prison in 1991, after 136 years of housing criminals. (Took me a little while to work that out on my fingers, after a few months away from my day job, so hope you found it useful).

John Keating arrived in Freemantle on 20th August 1853. Sentenced in Limerick to 15 years for stealing a cow. In 1853 there was no prison yet in Freemantle. The convicts first job was to build their new home, on a hill overlooking the harbour.

The first section of cell block was opened in 1855, allowing prisoners to be transferred from their temporary warehouse accommodation, and then fully opened in 1859.

Convict transportation from the UK continued until 1868, with around 9,500 men deported in total, which happened to include five members of the Keating family according to Freemantle prison records, mostly from Ireland.

We arrived in Freemantle under slightly more favourable conditions. The Qantas flight from Christchurch was very civilised and we were not sleeping in a warehouse. We chose to visit the prison to get a sense of what life would have been like for some of the earliest travelers to this shore.

As you’d probably have guessed, it wasn’t pretty. The original cells were barely big enough to swing a hammock, measuring just 7 feet by 4 feet. The men were effectively stacked in concrete cages, four stories high.

Round the world with my family in WA

Inmates were let out, but only so that their labour could be used to help with public infrastructure works. This practice continued until 1911, and was the reason that the original settlers in Western Australia had lobbied the UK Government to send convicts.

The regime was harsh and discipline was brutal. Solitary confinement was used for periods of up to 90 days, with inmates locked in cells with no light and walls thick enough to stop sound.

Freemantle Prison is now a world heritage site and a potential wedding venue, should you be so inclined to tie the know in the prison chapel. I was glad to escape after an hour. The kids were keen to embark on another tour, recounting escape stories, but we promised to come back another day.

Round the world with my family in Freemantle

Next Time

After a week of city life, it’s time to get back to the country. We’re planning a mini road trip to the bottom edge of Western Australia, starting with a few days in Albany. This is “mini” by Australian road trip standards because Albany is only 280 miles from Perth, so it’s practically the next town over.

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