This was our first experience travelling together as a family and we had to take into consideration that we had to travel with two kids under the age of three, which was why we chose to head to Australia. Melbourne was where we spent the bulk of our stay while we spent a week in and around gorgeous and vibrant Sydney.
There is a continuous debate in relation to which city is better but in all honesty, I couldn’t pick between the two. The Economist Intelligence Unit has rated Melbourne as the world's most liveable city for the seventh year in a row (2017) owing to the city's high rating in the fields of education, entertainment, healthcare, research and development, tourism and sport.
Sydney despite being one of the most expensive cities in the world is ranked 10th in the world in terms of quality of living (2018 Mercer Quality of Living Survey) thereby making it one of the world's most liveable cities.
Travelling with children especially two boys with free spirits aged 37 months and 22 months has its share of obstacles. The near 10-hour direct flight from Colombo to Melbourne was exhausting not to mention the uncomfortable seats on board the aircraft, but once we landed and the kids (and the two of us) were able to stretch their legs we felt much better.
Melbourne is the capital of the state of Victoria and is the second most populous city in the country. When we walked out of Tullamarine Airport, it was the clean, fresh air that swept across our faces that made us instantly feel at home. The most part of our stay was spent in Glen Waverly which meant visits to the local supermarkets, restaurants and fast food outlets while the kids, in particular, had a ball at Jells Park – a public park in Wheelers Hill, a suburb south-east of Melbourne. The old school play area kept them busy for hours and gave us a good break while we never felt the kids were at risk of getting hurt.
The kids also enjoyed their visit to Chesterfield Farm. Located off Ferntree Gully Road in Scoresby, the farm gives you an opportunity to pet and feed animals including chickens, turkey, sheep, deer, goats, camels and wallabies. We were also lucky to see a lamb no more than two hours old – which was a heart-melting experience.
Philip Island is situated about 140 kilometres south-southeast of Melbourne and is home to the famous Philip Island Penguin Parade while the other main attractions include the Koala Conservation Centre, Churchill Island Heritage Farm, Wild Oceans EcoBoat Tours and the Antarctic Journey at the Nobbies.
We got to the centre around 4pm but it was nearly 7pm when we saw the first group of Little Penguins or Fairy Penguins swim out on to the shore. The kids eventually got bored but it was amazing to watch these cute birds swim out and waddle inland to their burrows. This species known scientifically as the Eudyptula Minor is the smallest of penguins and they grow to around 13 inches in height and 17 inches in length. When you walk up back to the centre following the parade you might be lucky enough to see a wallaby or two as the penguins continue their walk home. Visitors aren’t allowed to photograph or video the penguins as it can disturb them and make them go back to the water thereby making them prey.
The bustling city of Melbourne is home to the Yarra River, Flinders Street Railway Station and Federation Square. The busy alleyways and crazy cool vibe of the city will ensure that there is never a dull moment. The 35 - City Circle is a Free Tourist Tram and comes in handy when getting around the city although we took the train and drove to the city on most occasions.
Among the fast food we opted for were (although not native to Australia but to the US) Krispy Kreme doughnuts which the kids couldn’t have enough of while Hungry Jacks (the Australian fast food franchise of Burger King Corporation) has THE most sensational Bacon Deluxe – a must if you love the combination of beef – Australian Beef in particular – and bacon.
We did have one night with friends and wine minus the kids which took us to Miyako. The restaurant dishes out possibly the best Japanese cuisine I have had the pleasure of tasting. Be it fresh sushi and sashimi to succulent Australian Lamb and Wagyu Beef there wasn’t a moment when my taste-buds weren’t satisfied. The charismatic and friendly Teppanyaki Chef ended our dining experience by attempting to flick omelettes into our mouths!
A picturesque and peaceful drive to the Dandenong Ranges was should be on the card while a stop at one of the local Fish and Chips spots is a must.
Sydney is the capital of the state of New South Wales and is the most populous city in Australia. This lively city is home to the world famous Sydney Opera House, the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge and Darling Harbour.
The Darling Harbour Children's Playground is ideal to take your kids to as it is home to water games, climbing ropes, swings, slides and flying foxes which will keep not just teens and in our case, toddlers occupied and entertained for hours.
Lavender Bay is the best point to take in a stunning view of Luna Park, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House, especially towards late evening because the city lights and the waterfront create a moment perfect for a picture postcard. The stunning view is just the entrée because when in Sydney dinner and drinks at the The Oaks is bound to make your evening memorable. The Oaks is one of Sydney's most iconic hotels located in the heart of Neutral Bay. The hotel has been around since 1885 and offers a series of spaces ideal to relax, socialise or dine under their famous fairy-light laden oak tree. We opted for a succulent Sticky Pork Belly with an Asian style salad and mouth watering Pork Schnitzel with Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Almonds, Bacon, Lemon and a Spiced Bulldog Sauce.
A visit to New South Wales must include a drive to the famous Blue Mountains and towards the town of Katoomba to see The Three Sisters – an unusual rock formation located in the north escarpment of the Jamison Valley. The Three Sisters are known as Meehni (922 metres), Wimlah (918 metres) and Gunnedoo (906 metres). Legend has it that the Three Sisters lived in the Jamison Valley, were members of the Katoomba tribe and fell in love with three men from the neighbouring Nepean tribe but their marriage was forbidden by tribal law. The legend states that the brothers were unhappy about the law and therefore used force to capture the three sisters which resulted in a major tribal battle. So the sisters were turned to stone by an elder to protect them but he was killed in the fighting so no one could turn them back.
Taking into considering both cities, something that stood out for us was how most if not all places were child-friendly which makes diaper changing in clean public toilets easy while taking strollers in public transport, lifts and keeping them occupied in restaurants much easier than here in Colombo. Another aspect that really struck us were how the parks were far safer than here (take Weli Park for instance – the waterway around the park area can be a nightmare if you take two adventurous kids there).
Every restaurant, café or fast food outlet we went to was equipped with high chairs for the kids – something Sri Lanka has to seriously look into. This meant most places were family friendly which is such a breath of fresh air because that meant we spent more time together because we could take our boys everywhere we went.
Our visit to Australia was a short one. Just 20 days and travelling with children there are a number of limitations but thanks to the generosity of friends and family who lent us their vehicles, opened their homes to delicious home-made meals of which the two Aussie barbies we had were truly amazing (after all Aussie Beef and Lamb are second to none in my books!)
It was the laid back culture along with our friends that made our stay memorable and made us miss the place once we boarded the flight to head back home.
Pix by: Kanishke Ganewatte