Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Melbourne City Highlights: Of Trams, Markets and A Bit of Everything Else

This travel post is written by Vera who blogs at Life is in the Small Things. She travelled to Melbourne and spent 2 weeks exploring the city and its surrounding regions in Victoria, Australia with her petite travellers Noey (5 years) and Mei (3 years) in September 2014. This holiday is suitable for families who love the vibe and convenience of a city holiday with a little nature thrown in.

Singaporeans have a love affair with Australia, and Melbourne is without doubt one of our favourite cities. I can’t say I’m surprised. Consistently voted one of the most livable cities in the world, Melbourne is casual but chic, with a vibrant arts and music scene, and plenty of markets, eccentric cafes, cobbled laneways, quirky shops, great restaurants, and interesting festivals and events to explore.

Our trip last year was the first time I’d been back in Melbourne in a while — certainly the first time with kids — and I must say I really liked it. The city centre was a good size and easy to navigate, and if you needed to get out for a bit, escape was close at hand, with the Yarra Valley, Phillip Island and the Great Ocean Road all about 1-2 hours drive away.

We spent some time during our holiday exploring Melbourne and its surrounds. I shared about our excursion to the Great Ocean Road in my previous post. In this post, I’m going to talk a bit about what we did and enjoyed in Melbourne city and its inner city suburbs. Here is what was a hit with my kids:

1. Riding the Trams

One of the first things you are sure to notice upon arriving in Melbourne is its iconic tram network. Criss-crossing the city, Melbourne’s trams are a major form of public transport… and a huge magnet to vehicle-loving kids like my son! A ride on the City Circle Tram is a great introduction to the city and the best part is that it’s free! On-route, an audio commentary provides details of the major city landmarks as you travel past them. Grab a seat near the front and you can watch the driver at work turning the gears and levers. My kids certainly loved this!




2. Exploring the Melbourne Museum

We only had time for one museum and I picked the Melbourne Museum upon my Godfather’s recommendation. We really enjoyed it and my only regret was that I had only budgeted a couple of hours for us to explore. The walk there was half the fun as we wound through beautiful Carlton Gardens. The little miss happily posed for photographs and they both took turns to pick up random sticks and terrorise the resident ducks.


The Melbourne Museum is a natural and cultural history museum exploring life in Victoria. It features seven main galleries and a children’s gallery spread over three floors, but we really only had time to explore one these and spent almost all our time in the Science and Life Gallery. It was hard not to walk in with the Dinosaur Walk right at its entrance!


We spent a good deal of time wandering seamlessly through the different exhibition spaces in the Science and Life Gallery. The children were fascinated by the dinosaur skeletons and I appreciated the many interactive panels around for them to learn about more about these creatures. Most of the skeletons on display are composed of casts from molds of real dinosaur bones but there are also some examples of real dinosaur fossils, like a Hadrosaur tail under the glass on the ramp, appearing as it did when it was found, complete with skin impressions.


The other exhibition space that we really enjoyed was Wild, where we encountered ceiling-to-floor, wall-to-wall display, showcasing the wonderful diversity of mammals, birds and reptiles from around the world. As you can see, it is also a great space in which to take a break!


There was more than enough to see and do to keep the kids occupied for a couple of hours and then some. I had hoped to also cover the Children’s Gallery, specifically the 1, 2, 3, Grow exhibition, which has been specially designed for 3 to 8 year olds, but unfortunately ran out of time. It was already 5pm and the museum was closing. I did regret it a little when I saw the interesting play areas outside the gallery and my kids did have a good time messing around in the little book corner while we waited for their Papa to arrive. It’ll definitely be somewhere we will check out the next time we are back in Melbourne!


3. Shopping at Queen Victoria Market

Shopping isn’t usually that popular with the kids, so they were only enticed to come along with the promise of fish & chips thereafter. But we all ended up having an interesting time walking around Queen Victoria Market (QVM). It helps that QVM is huge so there’s certainly something for everyone! A Melbourne institution for more than a century, the market offers a range of fresh produce like fruit and vegetables to meat and seafood, and delicatessen foods, as well as a non-food section selling everything from clothing to toys, homewares and arts and crafts. There were the souvenir stalls of course, but plenty of other things too.

We headed for the food section first, mainly for me to ooh and aah over all the delectable food I have to pay double the price for in Singapore, and also for us to buy something for the kids to munch on to keep them busy. We got a bag of mini mandarins that they wolfed down. In between, my daughter gravitated towards the clothing (Frozen dresses!) while my son managed to find a cheap pair of binoculars at only A$5 that he was really pleased about. They also stumbled upon a little play area and spent some time messing around, giving me some extra time to shop.

We had lunch at the market — the promised fish & chips from Funk Fish — and it was as satisfying as we hoped. I also couldn’t resist getting myself a half-dozen oysters from the market nearby since they were only A$1 a piece! And before leaving, I made sure to grab a cup of good Melbourne coffee from Padre Coffee for myself!


4. Eating Viet Food

One thing I always have in Australia is… Viet food! I love my pho and never fail to get my fix when I’m down under. There is just something about that soup combined with tender juicy Australian beef that is simply delicious! The suburb of Richmond is well-known for having some of the best pho in the state, but when in the city, Pho Bo Ga Mekong Vietnam on Swanson Street right in the middle of town is definitely a crowd favourite. We went all full of anticipation, and we were not disappointed. It was delish! Flavourful soup, tender beef, thin silky noodles. I guess the celebrity-covered walls don't lie. Definitely one of the more satisfying meals on our trip, and it wasn’t expensive either. I wish we had enough time on the trip for us to go back again!


5. Meeting Animals at Collingwood Children’s Farm


You wouldn’t normally expect to meet animals in the city, but that is exactly what Collingwood Children’s Farm offers. Located just 5km and a short 10-15 min drive from the city centre, this farm serves the aim of providing country experiences to city folk. Visitors are welcome to milk the cow at 10am and 4pm daily, and at other times to simply wander around to get close to the animals, including going into the paddocks with the sheep and goats, or simply enjoy the green space on the property near the banks of the Yarra River. My kids had a field day trying to get near the animals — and there are many! And while it was scary at first to get in the paddock with the sheep and goats, it proved to be a highlight to feed them hay.


If you visit on Family Day, which happens every first Saturday of the month, there’ll also be pony rides, tractor rides, guinea pigs to cuddle, so if you can schedule it, I think that is probably the best weekend to visit with young kids.

Every second Saturday of the month on the other hand, the farm hosts a Farmer’s Market from 8am to 1pm. I love farmer’s markets with their lovely fresh produce so I made it a point to visit on the particular morning. An added bonus of going on the morning of the farmer’s market is that entry to the market AND the farm is only A$2/adult (kids enter for free), and you are free to stay the whole day after the market ends! This is a real bargain, considering the regular entry price is A$9/adult and A$5/child! I thought the farmer’s market was a lot of fun too, with lots to check out and sample. We had breakfast there too, which we all enjoyed. (Yes, the popsicles certainly worked a treat!)


In short, we love Melbourne! The city offered a good mix of things to do, easy access to other interesting sights around Victoria. We hope to share with you some more of our favourite moments in and around Melbourne in subsequent posts.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Explore the Great Outdoors in Kakadu in the Northern Territory, Australia

This travel post is written by Jasmine who blogs at Scissors Paper Stone. She travelled to the Northern Territory in Australia with her husband and her petite travellers, K (5 years) and J (8 years) in June 2014. 

This holiday is suitable for families who enjoy bonding over road trips, outdoor adventures and a break from the hustle and bustle of city life.

When planning a trip to Australia, families often head straight to the cities such as Melbourne and Sydney but if you are looking for an Australian holiday experience like no other, you will want to visit the Northern Territory (NT).

To get there, fly into Darwin which is the capital city of the Northern Territory (NT). Less than 5 hours away from Singapore, it is the ideal destination to explore natural rock formations, spot green tree ants and get up close and personal with reptiles of every kind. 

We had planned a 7 day itinerary that enabled us to spend some time in Darwin over the weekend before we made a road trip to Kakadu where we stayed 3 nights. After which, we returned to Darwin before heading home to Singapore. To plan your trip, you can download maps of kakadu here.

This was to be my second trip to Darwin and Kakadu and you can find out more about my first trip in my travel scrapbook postIn this post, I will focus on our time in Kakadu as well as tips for anyone considering a self-drive holiday there.


If you are planning to visit Kakadu, do note that there are areas where your phone may not have any network connection. So do take extra precautions. 

1. Head out with a full tank of fuel. There are a few pump stations along the way where you can top up your tank if you so need, but it is best to be prepared before you set off.
2. Ensure that you have sufficient water for everyone. You can never have too much water. Freezing the water into ice is a great way of keeping the water cold as it will melt during the long drive there. 
3. Bring sunblock and apply if necessary - the sun can be scorching.
4. Bring a shawl or a shade to drape over the window so as to block out the sun if needed.
5. Remember to bring along sunglasses for the kids.   
6. I like to bring a sweet treat such as Jelly Belly candy for dull moments.
7. Audio stories are great for long car rides so you might want to download a couple before you set on your trip.
8. Bring a couple of snacks just in case hunger strikes.
9. Download the maps that you will need onto your phone so that even if you don't have any connection to the phone networks, the GPS chip in your phone will display your location. This will enable you to track how far you are from your destination.
10. Plan to drive in the daytime as many roads will not have street lamps. Also, be careful of life stock or wildlife that tend to wander onto the roads at night.
11. Satellite phones are available for hire and will come in handy in the case of an emergency where your cell phones may have no connectivity.
12. Road trains (up to 53.5m in length) frequently travel on these roads so take extra care when overtaking them. 


Using a map and a GPS, the journey to Kakadu was relatively smooth and an easy drive. Driving from Darwin to Kakadu takes approximately 3 hours. so we stopped midway for lunch at the Corroboree Park Tavern.

1. Corroboree Park Tavern

There are many taverns that you can stop at along the way for the necessary toilet break. We chose to stop at the Corroboree Park Tavern where the kids were delighted to make friends with two huge asian water buffalos named Jack and Jill. Apparently asian water buffalos were hunted from 1885-1980 to reduce their numbers and the damage that they caused. The only natural predator that feeds on them is the large saltwater crocodile.

My son also spotted an Emu who seemed happy to pose in pictures with the kids. It was a great place to stretch their feet and fill up our tummies.

2. Mamukala Wetlands

Just before reaching our lodge, we decided to stop at the Mamukala Wetlands. That's what we love about self-drive holidays, having the freedom to stop whenever we want. It was a short walk to the viewing point and a great place to spot various birds in their natural habitat so I do recommend a quick stop if you have time.

3. Gagudju Cooinda Lodge

Soon, we had reached our home for our time at Gagudja Cooinda Lodge. The lodge is made out of a number of chalets and we chose a family room which had 1 queen sized bed and 2 single beds which was perfect for our family of 4. There was an adjoining toilet and a kettle and fridge as well. 

There is a caravan park located there too for those who might prefer the caravan experience. To cool off, we brought the kids for a dip in the pool when we first arrived. It was very cold and we spotted some bugs in the pool much to the delight of my boys. 

When we got back to the room, the kids were about to shower when they caught sight of a frog in the bathroom. Needless to say, there were many screams which made our stay all the more exciting. In the morning, the frog was gone but the kids will remember the frog in the shower for a while yet. 

Most of our meals were enjoyed at the Barra Bistro but we brought along cup noodles too which the kids slurped up happily. There is also a small convenience store where you can purchase amenities but I would advise you to stock up in Darwin so you have all that you need. 

The reason we chose this lodge is because it is closeby to the jetty where the Yellow Water Cruise sets off from. You should also make time to visit the Warradjan Cultural Centre which is located just 2km from the lodge. Learn all about aboriginal culture and the stories that were passed from generation to generation as they cared for their land.

4. Yellow Water Cruise

If I were to name the top reason for heading out to Kakadu, the Yellow Water Cruise would likely be it. It is a ideal way to be introduced to the birdlife while floating in the quiet waters. Kakadu is in fact, home to a third of Australian's bird species.

Despite the early start, we chose the sunrise cruise because the views are truly stunning. It can be chilly in the morning so do remember to pack a light jacket and long pants for the kids. To help the kids spot the birds, I had brought along kid binoculars that I had purchased from the Singapore Science Centre. These were very handy and kept them busy and entertained.

Before heading out on the cruise, you might want to download the free kakadu bird app which will help your kids familiarise themselves with the different birds even before you get there. You can listen to bird calls and read about their unique features. 

The ride lasted around 2 hours but my kids managed to stay engaged throughout. If your kids are younger, you might want to bring along some drawing or reading materials to keep them quiet during the cruise which will hopefully make your experience and those around you, more pleasant.

5. Ubirr

On our second day, we had planned to visit Ubirr where we could tour the aboriginal art and also catch the sun setting on Ubirr. There is an entry fee for persons over the age of 16 and we purchased the tickets at one of the information centres while driving in but you can also purchase it online or at the places listed here.

Given the rocky path, I wasn't sure if the kids would be able to climb up to the top of Ubirr but they surprised me by fearlessly traipsing up the uneven rocks. Younger kids might need a little help but it the climb isn't too steep.

Once we were at the top, we found a nice quiet spot and sat down to a simple picnic of grapes and cheese & crackers as we waited for the sun to set. Having been there once, I thought it might be a scenic spot for a lesson in dot painting so I brought some materials and the kids happily dotted away as we watched the sun slowly descending into the horizon.

6. Pubs

Soon it was time to make the drive back to Darwin. During the drive back, we stopped at a different tavern  where we met Fred the 1.6m freshwater crocodile. There were interesting facts on the signs around the enclosure and we found out that the temperature at which crocodile eggs are kept will determine the sex of the baby croc. If the eggs were stored at 31.6 degrees celsius, it would be a male and if it was hotter or colder than that, the baby crocodile would be a female.

7. Window on the Wetlands

On our journey to Kakadu, we had missed the entrance to the Window on the Wetlands visitor centre so we decided to stop in on our return trip and I am glad we did. Entry is free and is open from 8.00am to 5.30pm. The facility is air-conditioned and is a great place to introduce kids to termite mounds, wildlife and it provides excellent views of the floodplains.

As a family, this was a really special bonding trip, we played card games in the evening and sang songs during the long car ride. When in Kakadu, we had limited internet connection so our kids had our full attention. It was only a few days but it was a good chance to unplug and connect with the people that matter to us. Cos I guess, that's the whole point of travelling with the kids, isn't it?

We had also toyed with the idea of renting a caravan for that leg of the trip but due to our unfamiliarity with caravans and the terrain, we decided to rent a car instead. Perhaps when the kids are older, we will head back for a different kind of adventure. If you have rented a caravan in NT, I would love to hear about your experience. Otherwise, if you have any questions about holidaying in Kakadu or Darwin, feel free to leave me a question and I will do my best to help.

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