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.

Family Reunion in Adelaide

As well as receiving five members of the Keating family via Freemantle Prison, Australia is also home to some family that voluntarily chose to leave the cold and wet behind and instead embrace deadly spiders and scorching heat.

A generation of £10 poms settled in South Australia in the 1950’s and 60’s, including my aunt and her husband. We hadn’t seen each other in over twenty years, but there was instant recognition in the Adelaide airport arrivals hall. I think my eyebrows might have been a giveaway.

It was dark when we arrived and we couldn’t see much of Adelaide, but the cool June evening made it feel like being back at home. In some ways we were, being welcomed in and given a comfortable bed for the week.

Adelaide Hills

We were staying in a northern suburb of Adelaide, perfectly positioned for a drive around the surrounding hills.

The Whispering Wall was built in 1902, curving 140 metres across the face of the Barossa reservoir. I won’t go into the science of sound waves, because I can’t, but if you stand at one end of the wall then you can hear perfectly somebody else whispering at the other end. I think this might be where the name comes from.

Family gap year

We tried various combinations of the family at different ends of the wall, just to make sure it was still working. We tried whispering more quietly each time, and every time we were amazed at the clarity of the sound travelling along the wall.

Not content with seeing a big wall, the kids were now keen to climb a big horse. Luckily, we knew where to find one. The Toy Factory at Gumeracha will kindly let you climb to the top of their giant rocking horse in exchange for $2 dollars. This seemed fair enough and the kids scampered to the top.

Family gap year

The people running the giant horse attraction aren’t daft though, and so they’ve set up a café on site, which made a very reasonable lunch stop. Kiera paid a quick visit to the animal enclosure, but beat a hasty retreat when she saw some emus approaching. I can’t say I blame her. Emus don’t appear very trustworthy to me either.

Aside from giant horses, the Adelaide hills were beautiful. We weren’t that far from the strip malls that seem to line every highway around town, but it felt like we’d stepped back into a more pleasant era. Rolling green hills, fields of brown sheep and gum trees.

We passed through several small villages that looked as though they’d be a good place to while away a few quiet years. Williamstown looked a perfect spot for sitting on a veranda, escaping the summer heat, enjoying a nice cup of tea. Or maybe I’m just getting old.

This corner of South Australia was once home to many immigrants from Germany. Most of the Germanic town names were wiped from the map during World War One, but Hahndorf is an exception. A small slice of Prussia in the middle of South Australia.

We had Sunday lunch at the Hanhdorf Inn, mostly because I was fancying sausages and mash, with a touch of sauerkraut and mustard thrown in for good measure. We got slightly lost in the Sunday crowds and the service was a bit slow, but I didn’t mind waiting with my pint of beer, surrounded by wood paneling and mounted deer heads.

Being in Hahndorf, surrounded by sights from Europe, somehow made me feel slightly closer to home for a few hours. It was a real culture shock to leave town and suddenly emerge back into Australia.

St Kilda Adventure Playground

No family trip would be complete without finding the best local playground. We have developed a sixth sense on this trip, but set off with relatively low expectations down a dead-end road to a playground in St Kilda, just north of Port Adelaide.

The facilities at St Kilda were overwhelming and the kids didn’t know where to start. This place must have cost a lot of money to build, yet the location was unusual, being a long way from the nearest residential areas, and it was practically empty every day we visited. I suspect there are crowds in the summer, setting up barbecues in the shade, but at the start of winter it was fairly desolate.

Family gap year

The kids don’t really seem to care whether somewhere is busy or not, and St Kilda nudged into their top four playgrounds of the trip so far – the others being in Christchurch (Margaret Mahy), Wellington (Avalon Park), and Perth (Kings Park).

I’m planning to write a book when we get home with full details of all the best parks and playgrounds visited in New Zealand and Australia – please drop me an e-mail if you’d like to reserve a copy in advance (!).

Best Curry in Australia

I may be proved wrong on this one, but we topped off our visit to Adelaide with what must surely be the best Indian restaurant in Australia.

The kids were starving by 5.20pm, so we patiently waited in the street for the doors of Jasmine to open up at 5.30pm. I told the kids it would be worth the wait. This was based on the fact that Jasmine was the best Indian restaurant in Adelaide according to our good old friend, Trip Advisor.

The head chef was a sprightly 84 years-old according to the restaurants website, so I had high hopes for some good home cooking. The menu was short, with around ten dishes to choose from. In my experience this is an excellent sign, a restaurant knowing what it wants to cook, and focusing on quality rather than quantity.

Jasmine was a treat for us and a definite step up from cheese sandwiches. The food was stunning and we were clearly keeping good company. The restaurant’s display cabinet showed at least a dozen autographed cricket bats from touring teams that have passed through. We had the England team of Graham Gooch and Michael Atherton, a touring West Indies side, plus quite a few visits from the Indian cricket team themselves.

Next Time

We’re leaving the safety of our family home in Adelaide before we start to put down permanent roots, and heading for a drive along the Great Ocean Road to Melbourne. I keep hearing that it’s only an eight-hour drive, but we’ll stretch it across a few days given that we’re not in any hurry.

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.

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