The Kids Storm Through Melbourne

To see, sense and explore with children can be an arduous task.  They can become overwhelmed and easily frustrated with museums and attractions at any age.  Melbourne is extremely accessible and welcomes children.  In turn, my kids have welcomed the city into their vernacular.

The Melbourne Museum: a lot of everything

This place has it all.  Aside from the fabulous regular exhibits of dinosaurs, animals, planets, Melbourne and Aboriginal history, it has a large children’s area.  There are reading areas, coloring tables, mini-exhibits, building blocks of all sorts, puzzles and an outdoor area for running around.  I was thoroughly impressed.  That says a lot because I’m not easily impressed by museums. 

Australian Centre of the Moving Image (ACMI): sensory overload

My 4 year old, Claire, and I stumbled into ACMI’s entrance looking for a break from the sun.  We were ushered into a dark exhibit filled with tv screens, mirrors and flashing lights. 

Where do we begin?  Wii Mario Cart on a big screen?  Awesome.  I quickly taught Claire how to “drive” the controller (after I figured it out a few minutes earlier.)  Moments later she drove herself over the finish line.  There we were, dueling Wii Mario Cart, me and my 4 year old, in the basement of Federation Square.

The exhibits were a lot to handle for Claire.  She became frustrated more than once, scared twice, and overwhelmed the entire time.  However, she can’t wait to visit Uncle Johnny and drive princess toadstool to the checkered flag… or escape a hot day in the CBD again.

Scienceworks: hands on

Need activity?  Go to Scienceworks.  While the under 8 area included a construction zone, diner/cafe, mini Melbourne made of legos, and tv weather station, the main area contained exhibits geared toward older visitors but work for any age.  A large outdoor space provided picnic tables and 2 playgrounds.  It was perfect for my kids’ standard brown bag lunch. 

We raced each other on a mini track, snowboarded down a virtual ski slope, threw the footy, interacted with moving dinosaurs (although slightly scary at first) and built a brick wall with the help of pulleys and wheelbarrows.  My kids loved it.

Werribee Open Range Zoo: safari and more

The third zoo in Victoria Zoo’s triple threat, after the Melbourne Zoo and Healesville Sanctuary, is a typical zoo experience combined with a bus safari.  The gorillas were a bit far, the lions lazy (as usual), but the bus ride felt as if we could have been in Africa.

I noticed the details.  I noticed the stylized signage and continued safari theme within the zoo.  We also couldn’t help but notice the children’s activities between exhibits.  From mini obstacle courses through the bush, to a dance party stage and water play fountains with realistically placed exit holes, extra care was taken for children’s enjoyment. 

The best part about our outings is that the above activities were mostly free for children with minimal entrance for adults.  Melbourne children’s guides are available at tourist information centers with further discounts and ideas.  With so many options, what’s not to like?  I recommend going slowly with repeat visits.

The kids have taken Melbourne by storm.  A storm where many unhappy moments are outshined by the brightest ones, learning to see, sense and explore.

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The Castle

“A man’s home is his castle.”

We rented the movie Australia with Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman (I love myself some Baz Luhrmann – just ask my Moulin Rouge watch group back home) and despite being disappointed, learned a bit about the country’s past (American schools simply ignore the majority of Australian history) but we were in search of a classic, something you would have watched in high school and reminisced about with friends.  Great comedies are cult classics.  The Castle is Australia’s version.

With great lines, humorous family and a younger Eric Bana the movie was a pleasant surprise.  I had never heard of The Castle before, even though it was released in the States (unlike Muriel’s Wedding, which is another comedic Aussie film widely viewed in the US).  We are certain there are more out there.

Enjoy the laughs.  “This one’s going straight to the pool room.”

Posted in American Expat in Australia | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Loving the Livability

If you haven’t already heard, Melbourne was recently named the “Most Livable City in the World” by The Economist.  While there have been arguments against this title, including lack of “urban density” and transit options, I reside in the affirmative camp. 

Here are my 5 reasons (in no particular order) why Melbourne is truly a most livable city for our family.

5.  The Inner Suburbs

These are not really suburbs, but outlying city neighborhoods.  It is the perfect blend of city and suburb life.  You can live in a house, have a small garden, take bike rides with the kids,  enjoy neighborhood shops and restaurants, feel miles away from a large city and have but a 10 minute drive downtown.  You can’t beat that unless you want to get away from it all…

4.  The Surrounds

Yes, get away from it all by traveling an hour south to the Mornington Penninsula.  We recently rented a sports car, had a fabulous winery lunch, took a dip in the hot springs and returned home in time to put the kids to bed.  OR…

Travel an hour northeast to the Yarra Valley.  We recently visited Healesville Sanctuary (again) for our Aussie animal fix, had yet another fabulous winery lunch, ran through art installations with winery dogs, and again, we were home in time to make a quick dinner.  OR…

Travel a couple of hours north toward spa country or the Grampians for even more outdoor adventures and wild Aussie animals.  It goes on and on.

Mt. Martha

3.  Relaxed Atmosphere

There’s a no frills, happy-go-lucky feeling about Melbourne that I enjoy.  (Of course, you can opt for the fancier side of Melbourne.)  This feeling makes it different from my experience with Sydney.  Sydney is gorgeous with lots to offer but during my visit I felt I needed to take extra time to look the part of mum with the most.   

Perhaps I feel this way about Melbourne because of our neighborhood or the people I’ve met, but there’s simply a relaxed, comfortable air about the place. 

2. The Under 12s

With 5 playgrounds within walking distance of our home (countless others a short drive away), library, playgroup center, toy library, state of the art sports center, nicer cafes and restaurants with play areas and children’s menus, museums with fabulous children’s centers, multiple wildlife options and children’s programs during holiday periods Melbourne is my favorite city for my children.  They agree and noted that I forgot to mention the beach.

Melbourne Museum

 1. Everything Else

Have I mentioned the services?  Great restaurants, markets, shopping, museums, arts, sports and outdoor activities are yours to choose and enjoy.

Sure, groceries, restaurants, home goods, gas and real estate (and just about everything else) are expensive, waitlists for schools are common and it’s necessary to obey the speed limits but the resources and surrounding environments are right at your fingertips, just waiting to be explored.

Of course I miss home but you can make Melbourne your own.  We have and we are loving it.

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Cup Day

Our first Tuesday in November, Melbourne Cup Day, (and State of Victoria public holiday) was spent at home organizing Halloween candy and watching the “race that stops a nation.” 

We saw many champagne flutes and fascinators fluttering about the marquees.  Then the horses appeared.  3 minutes later it was over.  Americain, our obvious choice, came in fourth despite being the favorite… and the winner?  He won by a nose or rather, a nostril.

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Halloween Rising

Halloween is alive and well in Melbourne. 

Its popularity is growing fast.  Apparently it’s growing so fast that those unable to purchase their own Halloween decorations would go so far as to steal their neighbor’s decorations.  Our skeleton went missing late last week and my daughter was devastated.  We made “MISSING” signs in hopes of its return (and teach my daughter a plan of action) but I knew too well that it was gone forever.

I purchased large pumpkins, fake cobwebs and pumpkin pails at our local grocery store and other Halloween paraphernalia at costume or Fancy dress shops.  However, the holiday is still a novelty.  One man pointed at my cart and loudly cried, “What in the world is that???”

Me, “It’s a pumpkin.”

Loud man, “Is it real???”

Me, “Yes.”

Loud man, “Did you buy it here???”

Me, “Yes.”

Loud man, “Where???”

Me, “With the fruits and vegetables, duh.”

The American Women’s Auxiliary, a charitable organization associated with the Royal Children’s Hospital, has an annual “Trunk or Treat” event.  Without definitive trick-or-treat plans, we booked tickets.  It was a lot of fun and my kids were more than excited.  Instead of going house to house we went trunk to trunk, or boot to boot.  Not only did we meet other Americans but lots of Australians joined in on the fun.

I asked mums about Halloween plans.  Most had no plans nor any intentions of plans but those that did seemed somewhat secretive, as if Halloween was an unacceptable cult holiday.  But I nosed around and found a couple of streets that participated in last year’s Halloween celebration.  However, a few days before Halloween a note arrived in our post box asking for participants in a neighborhood trick or treat.  Done.  My kids would have a proper Australian Halloween.

Hooray for Marsupials and Monotremes!

We bumped into other children and mums from my daughter’s kindergarten, other American expats and plenty of clueless home owners giving out unwrapped candy.  In her American accent, Claire would loudly state, “Mom, we can’t eat this one either!  It’s unwrapped!  Will you wrap it so I can eat it later?” 

Home owners stated that they began celebrating Halloween 3 years ago and it keeps getting “bigga’.”  Watch out America, Halloween is rising in Australia.

Posted in American Expat in Australia, Children, Holidays, Melbourne | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

The Queen in Melbourne

The Royal Standard of Australia

My daughter, Claire, “Mommy?”

Me, “Yes?”

Claire, “Are we going to see the Queen?”

Me, “Well, uh… ok, sure.  Let’s go see the queen.”

Claire, “I need my tiara.  Will the Queen wear a crown?”

Me, “No, the queen will probably wear a pretty hat of sorts.”

Claire, “Oh, that’s OK.  She doesn’t have to wear it all the time if she doesn’t want to… or something like that.”

10 minutes later, and very last-minute, with sandwiches packed we headed downtown to Federation Square to see the Queen.  She is recognized as Queen of Australia, a Commonwealth Realm.  The Queen and Prince Philip are visiting Australia (Canberra, Melbourne and Perth) and it is rumored to be her last visit.

We passed waiting police officers, barricades and signs along St. Kilda Road.  What have I gotten myself into this time?  We found our secret parking area wide open as usual (hey, a secret’s a secret) and walked across the bridge to Federation Square.

After passing security on our way into the square it becomes apparent that my plan on visiting the Australian Centre of the Moving Image with the kids before seeing the Queen has been foiled.  It’s 10:30, 2 hours before she is scheduled to arrive, and there are already too many people and too few ways across the red carpeted square and into the museum.

We find a spot behind the barricades and stop.  I have no idea what to do.  Do I make my kids wait 2 hours, right here in the sun to see a passing glimpse of the Queen?  Do I abandon the plan and simply visit the museum?  By the time we would have exited the museum there would be little place left to see her and we would be trapped.

So we waited.  We interacted with the many other children.  And waited.  Licked lollies.  And waited.  Ate sandwiches.  And waited.  I couldn’t believe I was doing this.

I will report that the Aussies are just as pushy as Americans when it comes to getting the best seat in the house.  After getting squished and pushed, a woman asked another woman in front of me to ask the security detail if, “they could move the children with flowers to our side on the carpet so I can see the Queen’s face.”  Nice.  However, we mums joined forces and offered each other various supplies the other lacked.

After 2 hours in the hot sun we saw the Queen and Prince Philip and waved our Aussie flags.  My kids did it.  Again, they surprised me and I surprised myself by deciding to wait.  Once we saw her, Claire was more energized and excited.  “Pink hat!  Just for me!”  It was a fun experience and I have a story to tell but I’m not sure I’d do it again.

Prince Philip returns my neighbor’s flag

However, my daughter was also disappointed because we, meaning I, forgot flowers.  I just can’t win these days.  Keep Calm.  Carry On.
Posted in Children, City - CBD, Melbourne | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Kangaroo Island, SA: Our Exhale

Just off the southern coast of Adelaide lives Kangaroo Island.  The island brings unique Australian environments to one small island.  We experienced a simple life all its own.

We saw the wildlife.

It’s an island sheltered from mainland intruder species like rabbits and foxes.  It’s an island home to the only pure species of Ligurian honeybee in the world and its own species of kangaroo and wallaby.  Island wildlife is numerous and thriving.

Large numbers of pelicans, kangaroos, possums, wallabies, koalas, echidnas, goannas, dolphins and fairy penguins inhabit the surrounds.  We also encountered a black tiger snake, 4 times as venomous as the mainland one.  Below, an echidna spotted beside our beach house in Vivonne Bay.

Australian sea lions and New Zealand fur seals laze about the beaches and rocky coastlines, protected from sharks by outlying reefs.

My daughter loves herself a platypus.  I can’t put my finger on why yet.  These extremely shy and elusive creatures live on Kangaroo Island and a bush walk from the Flinders Chase National Park takes you to their waterholes.  I was feeling lucky since we’ve had such good luck spotting wild Aussie animals (and since my husband was unable to take phone calls or check email.)

Me to visitor center representative, “When was the last time a person saw a platypus?

Representative, “About 3 months ago.”

Me, “So our chances are pretty slim?”

Representative, “Uh, yeah,” (slightly laughing and holding up her thumb and forefinger ever so closely, indicating our odds)

Crap.  Silencing the kids with lollies we walked about 45 minutes and looked… and looked, and waited… and waited.  Nothing.  My extremely disappointed daughter took light in the fact that they were good hiders but that we would look elsewhere.  (Anyone know of a good spot to find a platypus???)  Keep your eyes peeled for a 3 1/2 foot tall platypus walking the streets come Halloween.

We saw nature’s work.

Flinders Chase National Park is a remote place and home to gorgeous coastlines.

Admiral’s Arch

Remarkable Rocks, shaped by coastal wind and water erosion

Bunker Hill lookout, trees the color of purplish grey and regrowth due to bushfires

We questioned our safety.

Please notice the lack of barriers or fences in these pictures.  Gorgeous?  Yes.  Safe?  Not so much.

We ate.

Kangaroo Island is known for yabbies and marron or rock lobster and crayfish.  We splurged on a gourmet lunch at Andermel Marron and tasted local wine.

Honey ice cream and chocolate covered honeycomb were treats at Clifford’s Honey Farm

We sampled more local wines purchased at our only general store.  This was also our gas station.  Petrol for $7.50 USD per gallon.

Kangaroo Island was a true getaway, an example of the continent of Australia and its wildlife.  It felt like a real vacation, a release from the busy drumming of city life.  A dolphin swimming off the coast seemed to wish us a goodbye as we boarded our return ferry.   Sometimes you need to sit back, take a deep breath and exhale.

Woo-hoo!  You made it to the end of my extremely long post.  Sometimes it becomes difficult to edit when you’ve had such a memorable experience.  Thanks for sticking with me.

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Kangaroo Island, SA: Our arrival

I have been at a crossroad as to how I should tell our story of Kangaroo Island.  Should I emphasize our days long journey?  Should I center around the wildlife?  the little connection to the outside world? the beach house? the kids? the pictures?  Perhaps I’ll try in parts.  It is an amazing place.  In the end I can only hope to inspire others’ visits.

Part I: Our Arrival

Kangaroo Island (KI), off the coast of Adelaide in South Australia is a world away.  Pockets of cell phone reception in 2 small towns and a majority of dirt roads make up the island.  There was no tv or internet connection at our Vivonne Bay beach house, just lots and lots and lots of puzzles.

Getting to this world away was half the battle, er, puzzle.

  1. We (my kids and I) endured a flight cancellation and 6 hour delay in the Melbourne airport.  We had but a 1 hour flight.  One word: agony.  Four more words:  God bless Mary Poppins.
  2. We rescheduled our KI ferry reservation 3 times.
  3. Upon arrival in Adelaide, my husband greeted us while on the phone (argh.)
  4. The kids barely fit into their Hertz rental car seats.
  5. We drove an hour and a half south to Cape Jervis to catch our ferry.  You could see the steam emanating from my ears the entire way.
  6. The ferry appeared and the steam subsided.  The kids clambered aboard and began spinning on swivel chairs.  The steam reappeared. 
  7. After a latte and the undulating waves on the 45 minute ferry ride, I was calm.  We arrived in Penneshaw.
  8. The sun sets.  Light was needed to find our rental house over an hour drive away.  Without it, we blindly continued on. 
  9. 15 minutes passes, wallabies in and around the road.  We hit the brakes and use the brights.  Explaining roadkill to a 4 year old is torture.  Committing roadkill could have a lasting effect on development.  (More on this later.)
  10. Later, possums run into the road.  We hit the brakes and slow down.
  11. Next, a huge kangaroo appears in the middle of the road and simply steps aside.  We hit the brakes, swerve to miss him and slow down further.
  12. After using our directions consisting of visual reference points and dirt roads we arrive at our beach house.  It is now 9pm, 17 hours after leaving our Melbourne home.  Sigh.

The next morning we wake up to this, beautiful Vivonne Bay.  The only noise we hear is the waves crashing on the sand.

We’ve made it.  A relaxing second cup of coffee and extra pajama time were in order.  Puzzle anyone?

Interested in reading more about Kangaroo Island?  More to come.

Posted in Airplane travel, Beach, Children, Kangaroo Island, Travel, Travel with children, Wildlife | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Australia, a postcard

My parents recently returned to New Jersey from their Australian experience. Here is a brief picture postcard of their stay in Melbourne and side trips to the Great Ocean Road and Tasmania. 

We celebrated milestone birthdays and witnessed many firsts, including first skips, first fireworks (purchased in the grocery store next to the milk), first words, first meat pies, first alpha male standoffs with Aussie wildlife and first down unda’ adventures.

Faces from home are welcome things for an expat.  It’s nice to see that some things never change.

They can now say, “we have Family In Oz.”

Posted in American Expat in Australia, Tasmania, The Great Ocean Road, Travel, Wildlife | 4 Comments

Wild and Woolly Tasmania

Tasmania is a place I knew so little about.  I knew I wanted to visit the island and I knew my parents agreed.  (James Boag’s beer advertisements could only do so much to paint a picture of Tasmania.)  So off we went to learn more and explore the unexpected.

Tassie (Tasmania) is wild. 

It’s a big place and travel times were more than I anticipated.  However, the drives couldn’t be more scenic. 

We saw Tasmanian Devils at Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary.  Since a facial cancer has wiped out almost 90% of the wild population of devils (the cancer is highly contagious since the devils’ DNA is so similar), visiting a wildlife sanctuary may be your only chance to spot one.  The current 30 year environmental plan is to breed the animals in captivity, allowing the cancer to wipe out the wild population entirely and then re-release the animals.  Interesting?  I thought so.  Find out more here.

We explored Freycinet National Park and traversed rocky cliffs during an unexpectedly tough hike (especially with a 2 year old strapped to my back) to beautiful Wineglass Bay.  Wallabies and bush-tailed possums abound.

We consumed our fair share of local oysters, scallops and seafood.  (And just missed a pair of orcas in Bicheno.)

We visited Port Arthur, a historical site with a spooky prison past. 

Tassie is woolly.

Around every turn and over every hill we saw sheep.  White sheep, black sheep, merino sheep, big sheep, small sheep, baby sheep, sleeping sheep, running sheep.  Thousands of grass munching sheep. 

So many sheep lead to so many questions.  How much wool does one sheep produce?  How long do they allow the sheep to graze in one field before herding them to another?  How dirty do they allow a sheep’s wool to become?  Does shearing the sheep harm it in any way?  Can my mom, a knitter, get a sheep and cut her wool expenses? 

Australia produces about 30% of the world’s wool.  Interesting?  Again, I thought so.  We learned more by visiting the Tasmanian Wool Centre in Ross, a quaint, historic town in the middle of Tasmania.

Wild and woolly Tassie was unexpected but became oddly familiar with recognizable small towns, gorgeous Aussie coastlines, kookaburras perched on wires and friendly neighbors willing to share an anecdote of their familiar home, Tasmania.

We stayed: Freycinet Lodge, Freycinet National Park

We ate: Sea Life Centre, Bicheno

Speaking of advertisements, I am aware that ads are appearing at the end of my posts.  They are from WordPress and I apologize if they are confusing.  It is not part of my content.  WordPress states, “someone has to keep the lights on.”

Posted in Beach, Food and Wine, Tasmania, Travel, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments