Last minute short breaks
The school holidays are approaching (again!). While it’s probably a little late to plan a big trip, it’s not to late to head off for a short break with the kids. Here are some ideas.
BLUE MOUNTAINS, NEW SOUTH WALES
Less than two hours from Sydney but quite simply a world way, the Blue Mountains has long been one of New South Wales’s most popular family holiday destinations. And for Sydneysiders it’s a great spot for a weekend getaway, with plenty of things to entertain the kids. Autumn is the best time of year to travel there, as the leaves on the many deciduous trees start turning gold and red.
There’s plenty of accommodation in B&Bs and heritage guesthouses, plus campsites accessible via the Blue Mountains National Park website.
Marvel at the views of the Three Sisters rock formation and the Jamison Valley at Echo Point. If you’re game climb down the Giant Stairway to the track below the cliffs.
Scenic World is the most popular attraction in the mountains, a combination of incline railway, cablecars and guided boardwalks to help you explore this World Heritage area. The Scenic Railway, the worlds’ steepest incline railway, which was redeveloped in 2013, transports you down to the Jamison Valley floor where you can explore 2.4 km of elevated boardwalk. Return via cable car then switch to the Scenic Skyway and look through the glass floor at the rainforest canopy about 270 metres below. Depending on the age of your kids and their stamina you can create an itinerary that allows you to explore the rainforest, do some easy bushwalking and marvel at spectacular views.
Mt Tomah is a stunning cool climate garden and Australia’s highest botanic garden. There are daily guided tours led by volunteers (usually about 11am daily ). With some planning ahead you could book an Aboriginal Heritage Tour led by an indigenous horticulturalist to learn about plants that were traditionally used by Aboriginal people for food, medicine or tools. There’s also a fabulous restaurant on site where Sean Moran, of Sean’s Panaroma in Bondi, is rattling the pans.
And all things old are new again. The famous Hydro Majestic hotel, an art deco gem at Medlow Bath, has been brought back to life with a multi-million dollar refurbishment, offering high tea in the Wintergarden restaurant overlooking the Megalong Valley. You can stay there in plush guestrooms too.
Melbourne is consistently rated Australia’s most liveable city and it’s a fantastic place to visit with kids. There are plenty of good accommodation deals in hotels and apartments and it’s easy to get around. Who doesn’t love a ride on a tram?
It’s also blessed with glorious gardens and outdoor spaces. Situated on the edge of the Royal Botanic Gardens, the Ian Potter Foundation Children’s Garden, is a magical place for children to discover the world of plants. It’s full of interesting and interactive places to play and explore, including a bamboo forest, a wetland area, a kitchen garden and a tree tower.
One of the things my children adored on a recent visit was the Werribee Open Range Zoo. A new attraction that’s just been introduced is the Gorilla Rangers on Patrol which takes younger children on a guided patrol to help monitor and care for gorillas. If your kids are over 10 you can also book into the Gorilla Behind the Scenes encounter (for a fee) which allows you to get up close and personal with gorillas Motaba, Ganyeka and Yakini. Kids are free on weekends, public holidays and throughout the school holidays.
Located in Bulleen (about 20 minutes from the CBD), Heide Museum of Modern Art was once the home of art patrons John and Sunday Reed and is now a superb small modern art gallery and sculpture garden, with changing exhibitions, a great café and extensive grounds. There’s a fantastic holiday program for kids, activities in past years have included Hip Hop Action Painting.
NOOSA HEADS, QUEENSLAND
There is arguably no easier short family break than Noosa, with super-easy access from Brisbane or from interstate via Sunshine Coast airport.
Walk through the stunning national park to secluded beaches with pristine sand. Book the kids in for a surfing lesson on the Noosa main beach, where they’ll be guaranteed to get up in a single session. Or hire a stand up paddle board and give your core the workout of a lifetime.
Noosa is also blessed with some wonderful restaurants, all of which are family-friendly. Eating dinner at 5pm is perfectly normal there! There’s great shopping in Hastings Street, Noosa Junction and Noosaville, it’s easy to get around (even without a car), particularly pram friendly and the sea never gets especially cold. You can buy fresh local produce from the Noosa Farmers market, which is on every Sunday or head up to the famous Eumundi artisan markets on Saturday and Wednesday mornings
SOUTH COAST, NSW
This gorgeous area of New South Wales is renowned for its pristine, uncrowded beaches and crystal clear bays and lakes. And it’s only a couple of hours from Sydney.
Make a truly scenic excursion of it, driving through the Royal National Park, perhaps stopping for a swim and a morning tea picnic at Wottamolla Beach. Head back onto the main highway before taking the spectacular Grand Pacific Drive from Stanwell Park to Thirroul, via the Sea Cliff Bridge which hangs out over the ocean.
South of Woollongong head to Kiama to view its famous Blowhole which can spout water 20 metres into the air. If the kids have energy, the Kiama Coastal Walk is a 22-kilometre path all the way to Gerringong.
A south Coast highlight (near Kiama) is the Minnamurra Rainforest in Budderoo National Park, a pocket of subtropical and warm temperate rainforest where giant roots creep across the forest floor, thick strangler figs wrap around trees and where you’ll spot elusive lyrebirds, eastern water dragons, swamp wallabies and a host of bird species. There’s a 1.6-km elevated boardwalk from the information centre.
Continuing south, Gerroa is a particularly kid-friendly location with a popular campsite, a surf beach and a protected lagoon, while nearby Berri offers a host of cute cafes. Unless of course you just want fish and chips on the beach.
Because it’s usually full of boring politicians, people often forget that our national capital has so much to offer families on short breaks. The city is full of serviced apartments which make accommodating a family a breeze and a host of new boutique hotels have emerged in recent years.
You can hire bikes to ride around Lake Burley Griffin, or if your kids are over 12 go two-wheel on a Segway (minimum weight 40 kg).
For democracy in action, Parliament House is a must-see. It’s not only a superb blend of impressive architecture, a stunning art collection and beautiful landscaped grounds, but as the people’s house, it’s open to everyone. There are five free guided tours each day, but you can also take a paid tour that explores the work, building, people and stories of Parliament House in more detail.
The National Gallery of Australia is a world-class collection and particularly strong on Australian and Aboriginal art. Its regular major exhibitions include excellent audio guides and dedicated workshop spaces for kids. Right next door is the boutique-sized National Portrait Gallery, which houses images of the people who have shaped our nation.
Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre, is one of Australia’s best museums full of interactive exhibits and hands-on displays. It seeks to make science fun. Budding scientists might also enjoy the CSIRO Discovery Centre on Black Mountain, which offers an interactive journey through CSIRO and Australian science history.
The Australian War Memorial’s mission is to assist Australians to remember, interpret and understand the Australian experience of war and its enduring impact on Australian society, and it succeeds, brilliantly. There are a host of informative, moving and truly engaging exhibitions and displays, including the perennially popular “G for George”, an Avro Lancaster B1 bomber dating from 1942, whose history is recreated in a brilliant sound and light show. In this 100th anniversary year since the Gallipoli landings there are special displays devoted to that important part of our war history.