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.

Our Favourite Kiwi Experiences – Auckland to Coromandel

I have wanted to travel to New Zealand for as long as I can remember. I think it started when somebody once told me that it was a bit like home in the 1950’s.

I can’t remember whether this comment was said positively, but to me it sounded great.

I have often felt that I may have been born in the wrong era. An opportunity to travel back in time sounded like an excellent prospect.

After nearly eighteen months of planning our round the world trip, we finally arrived in Auckland, with a week to explore the city and the Coromandel.

Auckland Harbour Ferry

We’re not generally a seafaring family.

So, when I first suggested we catch a boat from Auckland across to Devonport, there wasn’t much enthusiasm.

However, given that the total duration of the ferry in question is only 12 minutes, I persisted. We finally managed to get everybody on by the second day of our trip and got some lovely views back to the city.

Round the world with my family in Auckland harbour

The sight of some huge cruise ships in Auckland harbour even got us thinking about one day taking a cruise. Baby steps are probably best though, as Anja was feeling slightly queasy on the return journey when we started travelling backwards.

Round the world with my family on Auckland ferry

Devonport

The destination of our harbour ferry was the seaside village of Devonport. There are views back to the Auckland city skyline, but this place feels like a million miles away from any urban bustle.

After some initial scepticism about reaching Devonport across open water, we all had a great time.

The harbour beach was ideal territory. Driftwood and shells to collect for imaginary play, soft sand to roll around in, and some low waves to jump whenever ships sailed by.

Family-Travel-Blog-DevonportBeach2Family-Travel-Blog-DevonportBeach - CopyFamily-Travel-Blog-Devonport

It was also good to see the local kids out practicing their cricket. Given half a chance I could watch a game of cricket, but instead I was put on lifeguard duties to make sure the kids didn’t wade too far out into the shipping lanes.

Devonport is also home to the New Zealand Royal Navy. I couldn’t get the kids to muster enough enthusiasm to visit the Navy Museum, but they did enjoy spotting the sailors walking around in their uniforms.

Wynyard Quarter

A similar concept to Cardiff Bay, but with better weather and more expensive looking yachts.

The Wynyard quarter was developed during the run up to the 2011 Rugby World Cup, transforming this industrial corner of Auckland harbour into a more people friendly space.

Remnants of industrial heritage still remain, including some pretty large storage tanks, but the area has now been filled with restaurants and bars.

It’s hard to beat having a nice cold beer at lunchtime, looking out across shimmering blue water at ships sailing off into the distance. Given half a chance I could happily have stayed all day, but this time I was put onto ferry watch, as the kids decided we should investigate the goings on with a local car ferry that was disembarking next to us.

Silo Park, at the far end of Wynyard quarter, also provided some amusement for the kids while they tried to get to grips with their jet lag.

Pasifika Festival

Through no good planning on my part, but pure good fortune, we happened to be staying in Auckland on the weekend of an annual Pacific Island themed festival.

At Western Springs park, there was a riot of singing and dancing in full swing by the time we arrived.

A variety of Pacific Islands had taken over different corners of the park to showcase their talents. We only managed to get around a few islands. Each area was too good and we ran out of daylight and stamina.

We found the Maori stage first, and got amazingly lucky to witness a full-on haka within 24 hours of landing in NZ. We then toured around the Cook Islands and Hawaii, with the kids totally absorbed by the costumes and dancing.

The only disappointment from our first day in Auckland was that I’d somehow managed to exhaust our camera of battery power. I got a few snaps on my phone, but it’s not the same. I’ve hopefully learned my lesson.

Hot Water Beach – Coromandel

A tourist classic, well on the beaten path, but still a highlight of our time on the Coromandel Peninsula.

Round the world with my family on Hot Water Beach, Coromandel

The hot water in question is easily accessible on the beach, but you do need to arrive two hours either side of low tide. You simply dig yourself a small, paddling pool sized hole and you’re done.

You can even rent shovels from the beach side cafe, if like us you’re travelling light and without garden tools.

The water temperature ranges from lukewarm to boiling hot, so a little trial and error was necessary to get a pool at comfortable lounging temperature.

Round the world with my family on Hot Water Beach, Coromandel

The waves looked ideal for surfing, but not so great for swimming. The lifeguards were very active, continually diving out to rescue tourists who’d decided to cool off in the sea, despite warnings about rip tides.

Pauanui

Our home for three days, Pauanui was covered in forest until the 1970’s. It was then developed as a holiday home retreat, with just a few locals standing guard during off-season.

The location is incredible, on the east coast of the Coromandel, with Mt Pauanui towering over a 2-mile long pacific beach.

We had nearly the whole place to ourselves, apart from some local kids running a surf competition one afternoon.

We recklessly decided to tackle Mt Pauanui one morning. A climb of 400 metres didn’t sound too much and the kids were feeling energetic.

I’m not entirely sure how far we got, but after an hour of climbing an increasingly steep and narrow path, we decided to turn back. The prospect of having to carry the kids downhill was playing on my mind. I think we got pretty high and the views were still amazing.

Round the world with my family at Pauanui

We were more sensible after our mountaineering expedition, and enjoyed some time on the beach. Kiera was born to swim and she’s now getting confident swimming into waves much bigger than I like. She wants to try surfing now, so we’ll be on the lookout for some lessons when we’re next on the coast.

Next Time

We’re heading inland, towards Rotorua and Lake Taupo, staying for a week on a dairy farm in the Waikite Valley. It’s then onto Wellington to explore the capital, before we say goodbye to the North Island and head south.

Round the World with My Family: We’re Off (sort of)

We’re Off

After many months of planning and lots of last minute packing, it feels strange to finally be on our way. We have decided to take a year away to travel round the world as a family, but at the moment the prospect of taking a whole year away hasn’t quite sunk in.

We kicked off our journey with a relatively short trip to see my parents in Devon. We managed to squeeze in a trip to the Donkey Sanctuary at Sidmouth, along with a couple of cakes from Nanny & Granddad’s bakery, before catching a train up to London.

Family Travel Blog - Donkey Sanctuary

This was the first real test of our packing, with all of our stuff needing to be squeezed into travel mode so that we could actually get onto the train without leaving a trail of clothes and soft toys.

A slightly stressful morning revealed that we had in fact packed marginally more than originally intended. This was a foreseen risk, but we’d planned a few gentle weeks at the beginning of our trip to iron out any teething issues. At least that’s how I’m seeing things, whereas I think the rest of my family think I’m simply being ludicrous in demanding that we fit everything for a year into a couple of medium suitcases.

London to Lanzarote

Due to finishing work slightly earlier than expected, we decided to spend a few days sight seeing in London followed by a week doing nothing on the beach in Lanzarote. We will then be making our way out to New Zealand during March, stopping off in Rome, Dubai and Kuala Lumpur on the way.

We are mainly using AirBnB accommodation for our trip, which is so far working out very well. We stayed in a perfectly located flat in central London, just a couple of tube stops from the Science Museum, and our place in Lanzarote was fine as soon as the kids spied the shared pool.

Family Travel Blog Lanzarote

Medical Storytime

However, as you know, life is never entirely straight forward. Our youngest daughter has developed a problem with one of her fingers, which has begun locking into place and not budging. She’s had “clicky fingers” in the past, but they’ve usually resolved themselves pretty quickly.

So, alongside having some fun, we’ve also been on a mini-tour of English hospitals, in a bid to find somebody who might be able to help. We started with a visit to our local hospital, who suggested doing nothing. Whilst beautifully simple, this option had a fairly major drawback, in that it didn’t actually help in any way whatsoever.

And so, with her finger still locked after six days, we decided to try the delights of Torbay hospital. The doctor we saw was very kind, but the only remedy he could offer was to straighten her finger using brute force, with some laughing gas to help numb the pain. The laughing gas was great and my daughter left with a straight finger.

Two days later and the finger locked again while we were in London. We decided to spend another few hours in St Thomas’ hospital to see if they had any more advanced solutions. We left after six hours, with input from several doctors, but all we really had to show for this was a temporarily straightened out finger and lots of sticking tape.

We are now following our daughter around with various bits of splint and extra sticking tape trying to avoid a repeat injury, while she tears around the swimming pool laughing. It’s good that she’s coping so well.

I am not coping quite so well, as all our well laid travel plans for the first couple of months on the road start to look a bit shaky before we’ve really got going. I was smugly confident a few weeks ago that all of my planning would help us ease into the travelling lifestyle, at which point we could become a bit more carefree on the advanced booking front. However, it now seems that we should have been more carefree from the start, and avoided the complication of having to consider how we fit medical treatment around our itinerary.

Before heading further afield, we decided to make a quick pit-stop back in Bristol to see a hand specialist, who I was hoping would tell us to stop worrying and that everything would sort itself out.

We’re Back Again…

This brings us fully up to date, as we arrived back into Bristol yesterday and saw our latest doctor today. He has recommended that Lexi will need surgery on her hands to properly fix the problem with her funny finger. This wasn’t what we necessarily wanted to hear, but at least we now have a clear diagnosis and course of treatment. Our next challenge is to see if we can get the surgery completed quickly while we’re back home, or organise for the procedure to take place when we reach New Zealand.

Next Time

I am hoping that our next update will be less medically focused and written while we are sat somewhere in either Dubai or Kuala Lumpur.

Are We Prepared For A Year Away?

It seems to have taken a long while, but we are now officially just three months from the start of our family gap-year.

I have not been great at sharing the last few months with you, mainly because I have spent most of every night scouring the internet for cheap flights and interesting accommodation.

While not at work or planning our trip, I have also been taking an unusually keen interest in the workings of world currency markets. Not that you’d probably want to hear, but ask me about the recent trading pattern of sterling versus any of the major world currencies and I could keep you enthralled for at least a few minutes.

Progress So Far

Despite my minor obsession with exchange rates and playing with flight options on skyscanner, we have made some tangible signs of progress towards taking a family gap-year:

  • Flights – we have opted for a series of one-way flights, rather than a RTW ticket, and have booked ahead just for the first few weeks to get us out to New Zealand. I may add more onward legs over the next few months, but we are keen to keep the trip as flexible as possible.
  • Places to stayAirbnb has proven to be a great help in finding places to stay for a family of four on a budget. We have booked accommodation for our first few weeks on the road so that we can settle into our nomadic lifestyle without having to immediately find a wi-fi connection to search for rooms.
  • Vaccinations – we have all been jabbed, which was a relatively painless experience, although Kiera did take slightly longer to be convinced of the need for needles than the rest of us.
  • Work #1 – Anja’s boss has known about our travel plans for some time. Some might say this is because Anja’s idea of a secret is to only tell two or three people at once. However, this appears to have worked out well on the basis that Anja has been lucky enough to get approval for a sabbatical.
  • Work #2 – I handed in my notice today. I don’t expect to get a sabbatical. I would be very happy at this point to return to my current job, but I’m also excited about the prospect of taking a year away and not knowing what I’ll be doing when I get back. Our mortgage company may be less excited about this prospect, but I’m hoping they don’t read my blog.

Plenty Still To Do

There is still enough to do to keep us occupied before departure day:

  • House – we have spoken to a letting agent about renting out our house while we’re away, but after Christmas we need to get permission from our mortgage company, get the house on the market and find a good tenant.
  • Storage – the likelihood is that we will need to rent out our house unfurnished, so we need to move out all of the things that we are leaving behind and find somewhere suitable for them to stay.
  • Pets – unfortunately we can’t put our pets into storage, but we are very fortunate to have the support of friends to look after our dog while we’re away, and we’ve even found a potential “volunteer” to be the proud new parent of the kids’ guinea pigs.
  • Packing – we have thought through the theory of packing for a year away…I suspect the reality is going to take a few dry runs, and possibly a few interesting conversations about how we all define what is “essential”.
  • Travel Paperwork – less exciting than researching itineraries, but at some point we need to apply for travel visas and get ourselves some travel insurance.
  • Personal Finances – there is probably more to do here than I’d like to think about at the moment, e.g. research best bank cards for withdrawing money overseas, let our regular bank know what we’re doing, sort landlord insurance cover, etc.

And, of course, I still want to do more research on our travel plans and read about the places we’ll be visiting.

All of a sudden three months doesn’t feel very long.

Are we prepared for a year away? Probably not, but I’m confident we’ll get there!

I Love Travel Planning

Do you love travel planning?

I get that it might not be everybody’s cup of tea. Perhaps you prefer to just rock up at the airport and jump on a flight. Wander the streets of a strange town and find a great place to stay. Waltz into a ramshackle old cafe and grab a bite to eat.

Me?

I prefer to spend hours, days, weeks, agonising over the details.

I am going to spend longer planning our family year away than we are actually going to spend travelling.

Why?

Because I can, but also because I love doing it.

We are counting down the weeks now, until our departure next March, so the planning is starting to intensify. The stack of travel books on my coffee table is starting to grow. My reluctance to book anything without having first weighed up all the options…well that never goes away.

Is this healthy?

Probably not if I try to micro manage our entire year away. I am restricting myself to booking the odd week here and there, based on our loose itinerary, rather than attempting to fill 365 days.

We want freedom while we’re travelling. We want to be flexible, to stay somewhere for another week just because we’re having a good time. To run away from somewhere else because: (a) I can’t get a decent cup of coffee; (b) Anja is too cold; (c) the kids are driving us mad because they’ve run out of organic rice cakes.

But, and this is mainly me, I also don’t want to spend 24 hours on a plane to New Zealand, get there, then miss all the good bits and spend a week in wherever is the Kiwi equivalent of Swindon. No offence meant to the lovely residents of this fine Wiltshire town, which currently provides me with gainful employment, but you don’t see too many queues outside the Swindon tourist information kiosk…if indeed anybody has bothered to build one.

I need to get back to Lonely Planet, so that’s enough for now.

If you have any tips for our stay in New Zealand or Tasmania please share.

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