There’s A Bear In This Photo If You Look Hard Enough

Vancouver

Sea to Sky. Vancouver to Whistler. Anja and I have been here before, back in the days before children arrived on the scene, but we were so pleased to back. Vancouver is a lovely city, that seems to contain everything you might want, in a setting that’s pretty hard to beat.

On the Pacific west coast of Canada, you can take a swim in the morning and be on the slopes of Whistler in the afternoon. We didn’t feel the need to test out this common refrain of Vancouver tourist brochures, but hopefully it gives you a sense of the possibilities.

We’d managed to land a stay in a new Airbnb location in West Vancouver, in a ridiculously expensive looking location, with views back across the harbour to Stanley Park. Ok, we were staying in the basement, but our house for the week was enough to have me frantically searching property sites to assess the feasibility of extending our stay permanently.

Our Airbnb host had a brummie accent, which took me slightly by surprise. We were a long way from Birmingham, in every sense. It was nice to have a chat about home, but after five hours on the train from Seattle, it was time to stretch our legs in Stanley Park.

Sprawling across 1,000 acres, we didn’t quite have time to see all of Stanley Park, but we managed to burn off some steam and made the first novelty wildlife sighting of our stay in Canada. It wasn’t the bear that we were looking for, yet, but a wild raccoon was a nice start and it gave the kids (and me) a reasonable fright when it scurried across the path ahead of us.

Raccoon in Stanley Park, Vancouver

We spent the next few days pottering around Vancouver, but mostly we kept coming back to Stanley Park. It was warm enough on our second day to brave the open air lido, but otherwise we were content walking in the woods and keeping our eyes peeled for bears.

RTW family in Stanley Park, Vancouver

Once the kids had concluded that we weren’t going to spot any bears in downtown Vancouver, it was time to hit Granville Island, with the promise of some shopping (for Kiera), a Children’s museum (for Lexi), and a micro-brewery (mainly me).

Rather than taking the direct and boring option of driving to Granville Island, we decided to make the most of Vancouver’s public transport. A ferry across Vancouver Harbour, followed by a few stops on the metro, and then a 10 minute water taxi ride. We arrived later than if we’d taken the car, but now free to explore without any arguments over car parking spaces.

RTW family in Vancouver

Perhaps inevitably we spend the majority of the day at the Children’s museum, which was really a collection of toy shops, video games and an indoor soft-play. But the real attraction of Granville Island is the incredible collection of food stalls in the covered market, which kept us well stocked up on calories while we took turns waiting for Lexi to emerge from the ball pool.

Bear Spotting

On our last visit to Canada, Anja and I spent two weeks failing to spot any bears. This time we were determined to at least get a glimpse of a real life, wild bear. So we packed the car for a short drive up the Pacific Coast highway to Squamish, which was to be our base for the next few days.

Shannon Falls was worth a pit stop and allowed the kids to practice their Bear Grylls survival skills by pretending to hunt salmon in the ice cold river.

Kids playing at Shannon Falls, Canada

There wasn’t much to distract us in Squamish, but it was half the price of staying in Whistler, which was our real destination. On our very first drive into Whistler, when we weren’t expecting to see anything apart from other cars, Anja suddenly screamed in my ear “BEAR!”.

All along the road into Whistler are signs saying not to park along the road to spot wildlife, so I took the only sensible course of action and performed an emergency stop and turned the car around to find our bear. After searching for a safe verge to park, we scrambled out of the car, at this point hoping the bear hadn’t decided to come down the valley to meet us personally.

My photos don’t do any justice to the five minutes of excitement that followed. An enormous brown bear was lolloping across the valley, no more than 200 metres from where we were now standing, paying us no attention whatsoever as it calmly ambled around looking for food.

Bear in the woods

A few more cars joined us on the side of the road, which is exactly what must drive the locals crazy. So as the bear started to disappear from view, we carried on to Whistler, now content that we didn’t need to spend the next few days frantically searching the undergrowth for signs of bear poo.

Perhaps the adrenaline had impaired our judgement, because we then decided to hire some mountain bikes to explore the miles of mountain wilderness that surrounds Whistler. The last time that we all went for a bike ride was at least a year previously, along the much less mountainous and much better tarmacked Bristol to Bath cycle path.

After freewheeling downhill for almost half an hour, the thought occurred that at some stage we’d probably need to retrace our bike tracks in an uphill direction. Several hours later still, we staggered back into Whistler, looking like members of some long lost mountain tribe.

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We spent a couple of days exploring Whistler and its surrounding maze of cycle paths. The kids loved taking fun of us on the bikes and spending money on the raft of adventurous amusements on offer. I enjoyed the views and the ready availability of coffee shops and pubs. Anja was just pleased we’d finally managed to spot a bear.

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RTW family in Whistler

Family travel blog in Whistler

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Next Time

It’s been quite a while since my last update, and we are now safely tucked up at home in the UK, digging ourselves out of snow drifts following some unusually cold weather. However, in the distorted time that represents how long it is taking me to complete the blog of our trip, we are now heading into some distinctively warmer weather with a visit to Hong Kong and Singapore, followed by our final stop in Sri Lanka.

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.

Aloha

Crossing the Pacific from Australia to the USA, it would have seemed a shame not to drop into Hawaii for a spot of beach time.

I’d booked our flight to Hawaii before we left the UK, because you need an exit flight confirmed in order to enter Australia. I don’t understand this rule, since if you were determined to hide in the outback then I’m pretty sure you could simply cancel your flight or not turn up at the airport.

It was a ten-hour flight from Sydney to Honolulu, although we managed to arrive before we took off, courtesy of crossing the international date line.

After landing in Honolulu, we were quickly submerged in tropical trees as we headed to the quieter east coast of O’ahu. It quickly became apparent that we were driving around the remnants of a giant volcano, now carpeted with a green baize of foliage.

Despite the rising temperatures and a local time of 10am, we were all ready for instant sleep by the time we arrived in our new home, in the small village of Ka’a’awa.

I had big plans to visit Pearl Harbour one day, but we spent most of the week luxuriating on the beach and enjoying the novelty of genuinely warm sea water. The kids couldn’t quite believe the sea could reach the same temperature as their bath. Even Anja managed to dip her toes into the water, having avoided any contact with the sea since our first couple of weeks in New Zealand.

Family travel blog

RTW family travel blog

RTW family travel blog

The east coast of O’ahu seemed relatively undeveloped, with none of the high-rise hotels of Honolulu and few visible tourists. Most of our days on the beach were spent with locals, enjoying a long weekend camping by the shore. Entire extended families appeared to have decamped for the weekend, setting up miniature villages on all available patches of grass.

Once the long weekend had passed, we had our pick of the best spots on any of the local beaches.

Family travel blog

Sunset beach on the north-east coast was our personal favourite. Travel brochure quality golden sand, some nice gentle waves for the kids to ride, and a small reef within ten metres of the shore for some leisurely snorkeling.

Family travel blog

RTW family travel blog

I did eventually manage to drag the kids off the beach for just long enough to pay a brief visit to Pearl Harbour, but only on our last day as were heading back to Honolulu airport and they didn’t have much choice but to join me.

I was pleased that we at least paid our respects, and the kids were in stitches because I tried to enter the active naval base through a military check-point. My UK driving licence was not sufficient to gain entry to the military base, so we had to settle for the tourist car park, which had less stringent entry criteria.

RTW family travel blog

A site of such historic importance no doubt warranted a more extensive visit than we managed, but with a plane to catch we only managed a whistle-stop tour.

Finally, I need to make a special mention for Uncle Bobo’s. When we first arrived in Ka’a’awa the food options appeared limited to a 7-11 store attached to the local petrol station. Whilst I am sure that 7-11 offers an excellent range of food in case of emergencies, the thought of a weeks’ worth of spam sushi wasn’t that appealing. Fortunately, in stepped a small barbeque joint called Uncle Bobos’. I got the sense that the restaurant had almost got too popular for its heavily over-worked owners, but we couldn’t get enough.

Next Time

Heading for the US of A and then Canada, that is assuming we’re allowed in and haven’t been caught in one of Mr Trump’s latest security initiatives. We’re visiting Seattle and then catching a train to Vancouver.

I am also currently in the midst of revising our travel plans. We have decided to head home after six months rather than our original plan of travelling for a year. Logically we should head east across the USA or Canada to complete a neat circle of the globe. However, we’ve decided instead to spend some time in Asia, so I’m scrambling to find the cheapest and least painful way of getting from Vancouver to London, via Asia.

Goodbye Australia

It seemed somehow fitting to end our tour of Australia in Sydney. In the city that you might assume was the capital, if you hadn’t paid too much attention in geography class.

The site of the first British colony in Australia, only 230 years ago. Selected due to its extremely accommodating natural harbour, which now provides Sydney with miles of expensive river front properties and a perfect setting for its two most iconic buildings.

RTW family travel

The opera house may be the most familiar building in Sydney, but for me, the harbour bridge dominates the scene. Built in the 1920’s to provide a road and rail link between Sydney’s central business district and its northern suburbs, the bridge has become an iconic landmark. You know you’re in Sydney when you spy the towering arched framework, which forces itself into view around almost every corner.

RTW family in Sydney

A visit to the Rocks museum, tucked away in a small stone warehouse down a maze of side streets, offered a glimpse into the effort that went into building the bridge. A black and white video was playing on loop, showing the extreme disregard for health and safety that prevailed in 1923.

Thousands of working class men were offered lucrative employment opportunities when construction started. But the money on offer was partly danger money, with a days’ work involving heavy manual labour on partially built steel girders, hanging hundreds of feet over the river below. Not the place to be if it should get a little wet, or windy, or both.

16 workers died during the building process and it seems surprising that the figure wasn’t even higher given the conditions.

Family travel blog

Manly

We were staying in Manly, around ten miles down river from the city centre. Manly harbour is the site where Captain Arthur Philip received a spearing from one of Sydney’s original inhabitants. It’s now a trendy commuter suburb, where one bed flats cost eye watering amounts and you’re not short of options for a morning coffee or afternoon gelato.

RTW family travel blog

To blend in with the locals, we decided to arrive in style by catching the commuter ferry from Sydney harbour. After an effortless train journey from the airport that directly connects to the harbour terminal, we set sail under warm blue skies. There can’t be many better daily commutes and it sure beats my usual run up the M4.

We made this same ferry journey twice a day, every day we were here. It was worth leaving the house just to stand at the front of the boat, enjoying a cooling breeze and watching Sydney’s incredible coastline unfold.

RTW family travel blog

Sydney Aquarium

Lexi loves an aquarium and we had high hopes for Sydney’s offering. After a journey involving two ferries, we pulled into Darling harbour and stood in line to be unburdened of some cash.

We learned that Octopus have eight hearts and blue blood, and that Dugongs are distant relatives of elephants and require feeding every ten minutes. That may seem excessive, but to be fair they only eat lettuce all day, which must get a bit boring.

RTW family in Australia

After several hours underwater, exploring everything from sharks to starfish, we eventually had to surface for some lunch.

Luna Park Take Two

Set almost directly beneath the harbour bridge, it hadn’t taken the kids very long to discover that Sydney was home to another Luna Park. We’d spent the whole day in St Kilda’s Luna Park during our stay in Melbourne, so it seemed unlikely that we’d escape another visit.

Luna Park is an old fashioned amusement park, but with modern day prices. We got good value out of our day in St Kilda, because the park was relatively quiet and the kids were able to go on most of the rides together, without having to muster up a brave adult to accompany them.

The park in Sydney had a different combination of rides, and Lexi was too small to go on anything exciting without a responsible parent in tow. This was unfortunate, because it meant I also had to go on some rides to keep Kiera company.

The kids did love the indoor play area, which contained a variety of wooden slides and some genuinely antique looking games.

Both kids seem to have inherited my competitive streak, so they particularly relished the opportunity to nudge some smaller kids down a spinning wheel contraption, to claim the title of last child standing.

Goodbye Australia

We arrived on 9th May and left on 3rd July, with our eight weeks spent touring around a fair-sized portion of the country.

Western Australia already feels like a slightly distant memory, but we won’t forget our first kangaroo spotting expedition, or the many hours we spent in Kings Park and Hilarys Harbour.

It was great to spend some time with my family in Adelaide. Hopefully next time will beat the previous 25-year gap.

As hoped, we all enjoyed the slightly cooler climate of Tasmania, with its laid back friendly atmosphere and the charming cobbled streets of Hobart.

Melbourne and Sydney were both cities where I could imagine spending more time in the future, with so many possibilities we only scratched the surface with a few days in each place.

I’d also like to take on another long distance Australian drive at some point, but on a more leisurely timetable than our RV relocation deal allowed.

But the kids have started to speak with an Australian twang and have memorised the timings of their favourite programmes on the ABC kids network, so it’s time to move on before we need to apply for a residency visa.

RTW family adventure

Next Time

We’re heading across the Pacific, with a stop off in the sunny island of Oahu, Hawaii. I can’t imagine we’ll often be passing by Hawaii, so it seemed an opportunity not to be missed. I’m hoping to visit Pearl Harbour, but I think the family may have other ideas in mind, possibly involving sun tan lotion and some inflatables.   

What Is The Largest Living Thing On Earth?

Not long after dropping back our RV in Cairns, we were enjoying a pizza at a lovely Italian restaurant in Trinity Beach, our new home for the week.

Trinity Beach was a good location for a family break, within 15 minutes drive of Cairns and on the road up to Port Douglas.

Snorkeling On The Great Barrier Reef

We planned on doing not much this week. Except of course we couldn’t come this far and not go out to the barrier reef.

On the drive up to Cairns, we passed roadside signs with trivia questions. I believe these were designed to combat driver fatigue. This is how I learned that the Great Barrier Reef is the largest living thing on earth, at least according to whoever installs signs for the Queensland roads department. I trust them.

A friend had recommended going on a tour with Quicksilver, from Port Douglas, which included a boat ride to the outer reef plus the option of doing some snorkeling.

The boat trip from Port Douglas took 90 minutes. At the outer reef we were landed onto a fixed pontoon large enough for several hundred people, marooned out at sea for at least the next few hours until our boat ride back.

Both kids are now stronger swimmers than me, plus I don’t like putting my face into water. Something about not wanting to drown. So, I opted to see the reef via an underwater semi-sub.

I was expecting to see a glorious display of colour on the reef, but most of the coral was grey, with just the odd patch of brilliant blue. There appeared to be a healthy population of fish living on the reef, and I was lucky enough to spot a few green sea turtles grazing on the seabed.

As I wouldn’t get my face wet, Anja got the honour of taking the kids snorkelling. First they had to change into some very fetching, full body lycra suits.

RTW Family

Family travel blog

Kiera is a very confident swimmer, but there were some big fish in the water and we were miles out to sea, so it took a little time to get enough confidence to enjoy the experience. Needless to say, after several hours in the water she didn’t want to get out.

Family travel blog

Family travel blog

Lexi was braver than me and at least got in the water, but she wasn’t quite ready to go out swimming with the fish.

RTW family

I’m not a marine biologist, but I understand that rising sea temperatures are bleaching the coral, which is why the reef had lost its colour and didn’t look particularly healthy. Perhaps the presence of several hundred tourists each day, arriving for lunch and swimming in the sea, also isn’t conducive to a naturally pristine environment.

After a few hours on the pontoon, we were whisked back to dry land, ready for a beer and some food along the Port Douglas waterfront.

Crocodile Cruise

Despite our visit to Australia Zoo the previous week, we decided to visit some more crocodiles while we were in their natural habitat. Hartley’s place is an interesting combination of zoo and farm, with live crocodiles mixing with crocodile sausages.

None of us really fancied sampling the sausages. The real highlight was going out into a crocodile infested lake on a tiny boat, where another crazy aussie dangled raw chicken off a makeshift fishing pole made from bamboo.

RTW family in Cairns

We were told that this method of feeding helps to keep the crocodiles active, but it seemed designed to antagonise the poor creatures. Either way, it worked wonderfully. The boat was nearly swallowed whole during the ensuing feeding frenzy and we all took one step back as the largest crocodile attempted to join us in the boat.

RTW family

Waterplay

We were still acclimatising to life in the tropics, so most days for us needed to include an element of cooling off in water.

Given the combination of crocodiles and jellyfish, plus the lack of a natural beach in Cairns, the best and most definitely safest spot to cool off is along the Cairns esplanade. There is a man-made pool, constructed on the sea front, using filtered sea water. There is even a small artificial beach for sand castles.

RTW family in Cairns

After enjoying some wonderful natural sights in Queensland, the kids felt that we hadn’t seen enough colourful plastic, so we also headed for a day of water sliding at Sugarworld. It was the school holidays, but the place was nearly deserted. This was perfect for our two. No queuing.

Family travel blog

Family travel blog

Pokies

Pokies are an Australian phenomenon, with signs for the addictive gambling machines lining most high streets. They hadn’t featured highly on our family itinerary, but we’d lined up a visit to a sports bar to watch the British & Irish Lions take on the All Blacks, so I had to check them out at least once.

Trinity Beach sports bar had all bases covered. There was a family restaurant and bar, a sports bar and a pokies room. I learned that pokies are basically the same as slot machines, so I can’t quite understand why they’re such a big deal over here. You might as well take all of the money in your wallet and set it on fire.

After some negotiation with the Australian sports obsessed Australian bar staff, we managed to secure one television screen in the family bar to watch the Lions. A small group of fellow fans and a couple of kiwis gathered around us. There was no sound, we were just on pictures, but that was good enough to see the Lions triumph and tie the series at one game apiece.

Next Time

We have a few days in Sydney to wrap up our Australian adventure, before a week in the sun on Oahu island, Hawaii.   

72 Hours in Melbourne With Kids

Melbourne is a culturally vibrant city. Some might even say it’s the cultural capital of Australia. There are lots of really nice, fancy looking restaurants, and plenty of interesting looking architecture.

RTW family in Melbourne

But when you’re travelling with two kids, not much trumps a fun fair, and Melbourne can deliver on this front too.

Luna Park, St Kilda

Luna Park in St Kilda is over one hundred years old, but I suspect they’ve upgraded a few of the rides more recently.

RTW Family in Melbourne

You can enter Luna Park for free, but that wouldn’t be much fun because they won’t let you go on any of the rides unless you pay. So then you have a dilemma. Pay $10 for single ride tickets and set a strict limit on how much fun can be had. Or spend $40 and get unlimited rides for the kids, all day.

I couldn’t face a whole day shelling out fresh $10 notes for individual rides, and I was hoping we could get value for money from an unlimited ticket, which the kids unsurprisingly agreed with.

The dodgems is about my limit for adrenaline, so if the kids wanted to go fast then they would need to find some self-sufficiency.

RTW family in Melbourne

Or rope their mum in.

Family gap year in Melbourne

Luna Park had just the right sort of rides for our two kids, at ages six and nine. It might be too tame if you have older kids or are adrenaline junkies. I also liked the rather old fashioned surroundings, which kept me entertained while the kids queued.

Melbourne Zoo

We were clearly feeling benevolent during our time in Melbourne, because having exhausted our appetite for getting dizzy, we decided to treat the kids again with some time at the zoo.

Subconsciously, I may have been softening them up for a week sitting in a campervan, but more on that next time.

Melbourne Zoo had more than enough to keep us entertained for the day, and we didn’t manage to cover half of it.

Lexi was very fond of the giraffes.

RTW family in Melbourne

I preferred the elephants. Hopefully we’ll get the chance to see their cousins in the wild very shortly.

RTW family in Melbourne

Free Trams

We managed to accomplish multiple loops of Melbourne city centre, not to mention our trips to Luna Park and the Zoo, all via the miracle of Melbourne’s tram system.

RTW family in Melbourne

Firstly, the trams are free within the city centre. Absolutely free. What a brilliant and generous idea.

If you want to travel outside the city you need to buy a ticket, but there’s something novel about jumping onto a clean, quiet tram, and bypassing all of the city’s traffic.

Really every large city should have a tram system. It’s much more civilised than going underground every time you want to move about, and you still get to see everything going on, rather than being buried in a tunnel.

The only downside I could see, and this may be an issue, is that because of the predominance of tram lines, Melbourne has developed a very odd system for controlling car turnings. If you want to turn right in your car, rather than sitting in the middle of the road waiting for a gap, you need to pull off to the left and wait there. Otherwise you’d be squashed by a tram. They seem to have got the hang of this in Melbourne, but I suspect it would cause multiple pile-ups if you suddenly launched this concept anywhere else.

Next Time

We’re off to Cairns, but not by taking the sensible option of hopping on a plane for 3 hours. Oh no, that would be too easy and miss out all the good bits in between. Instead, I’ve found a bargain and got ourselves a campervan relocation deal. Let’s see how that works out.

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.

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