Fun with the family in Sydney: New South Wales, The Blue Mountains, and the Central Coast
As Sydney prepared for her 2000 Olympic Games debut, our family traveled Down Under for a month-long visit. Despite the mild winter weather, my 4-year-old daughter, mother-in-law and I explored as much of New South Wales as possible while my husband spent his time assisting in the preparation for The Game’s broadcast operation. The many attractions we enjoyed then remain for the next wave of family visitors to see together. Here’s an update of what’s happening in Australia’s gateway to the world.
With our “Sydney for Kids” (sold locally) and “Sydney Eyewitness Travel Guide” books in hand, we set out for our Aussie adventure. As the world would soon witness, Sydney is a vibrant city with beautiful surrounding landscapes and wonderfully friendly people.
Start at the Opera
We began our exploration with the city of Sydney, her wonderful sites and magnificent harbor. First stop, the impressive Opera House (+61 2 9250 7777). We skipped the hour-long tour with Anna, but enjoyed climbing the many stairs, reading the unique history and even sneaking a peak inside one of the auditoriums as a matinee show exited. If you want to see a live production, there’s a multitude of performances to choose from (operas, plays, music, etc.) with several children’s programs taking place throughout the year.
Right next to the Opera House is the Royal Botanic Gardens. We picked up a picnic lunch and spent a beautiful afternoon overlooking the expansive harbor and taking in the park’s well marked gardens and duck ponds (that also hold piranhas that sneak in from the harbor.) There is even a small trolley car that will take you around the park, plenty of clean rest rooms and lots of space to run!
Family Day Trips from Downtown Sydney
We took several other trips into the city from our suburban rental home using every means of public transportation including the trains, buses and ferries. Each one is simple and easy to navigate and provides a nice variety to keep kids interested in the journey. Children under age 4 ride for free.
Darling Harbour is always a favorite spot in Sydney with its IMAX theater, cool playground, Maritime Museum, Aquarium, Chinese Gardens, Aboriginal Art and Cultural Education Center, Wildlife World, Powerhouse Museum, trolley ride, People Mover, paddleboats, restaurants and shopping! There is something for everyone here.
We also visited the Rocks area, which sits underneath the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge and across from the Opera House. As the first area settled in Sydney, the Rocks has been gentrified. It is now a top tourist spot with a wonderful weekend crafts market, free puppet theater and lots of places to eat.
We all laughed through a ride on the Aussie Duck (+61 2 9251 6101), an amphibious bus that tours the city and then goes straight into Sydney Harbor! With duck quackers in mouth, we were a silly sight! Anna even had a chance to sit up front with the driver for part of the journey, a special treat just for the little ones on board.
The Centrepoint Tower, once the tallest building in town, is another landmark that is not to be missed. A wild, yet educational multi-media experience can be viewed first and then the elevator climbs 76 floors to the most enchanting 360 degree view of Sydney. There are two revolving restaurants near the top for savoring the surroundings. Within a short walk of the tower is the Australian Museum (+61 2 9320 6000) with its many hands-on exhibits that Anna found very enticing. There is a special play area for toddlers, an interesting Aboriginal Australia section and Australian bird exhibition. The birdlife in Australia is so amazing! Staff is on hand around the museum to answer questions and offer interesting details.
We found our trip to the Taronga Zoo (+61 2 9969 2777) less than impressive, although the views, both from the ferry as we crossed the harbor from Circular Quay, and from the cable car ride to the top of the zoo, were worth the trip.
A visit via the ferry to Manly, a seaside town where the harbor meets the ocean, made for a nice and relaxing afternoon. We took a beautiful walk along the Pacific Ocean coastline and enjoyed a nice lunch by the beach.
Touring New South Wales
After exhausting many of Sydney’s sites, we were ready to expand our horizons to other parts of New South Wales. Driving on the left side of the road and along Sydney’s village-like streets does take some practice and patience, but is well worth the flexibility needed when traveling with kids. We had the freedom to go, where we wanted, at our own pace.
Aussie farm life awaited us at Mowbray Park Holiday Farm (+61 2 4680 9243) in Picton. This non-working “holiday” farm, located only an hour south of the city, provides guests with hardy meals and comfortable accommodations. Guests have a chance to feed a variety of farm animals, milk cows, ride horses and ponies as well as learn how to make billy tea and damper (tea and biscuits) over a campfire. Boomerang-throwing and bush walks are also offered.
After two days of hard work on the farm, we drove down to the quaint town of Bowral in the Southern Highlands for some rest and relaxation. We stayed at the lovely Grand Mecure Hotel (+61 2 4861 4833) that had an award-winning garden (watch out for swooping magpies), indoor pool with slide for Anna to play in and a gym with child care for adult exercise needs. We enjoyed the ride back to Sydney via the town of Robertson (where the movie “Babe” was filmed) despite a very crazy and curvy road as we descended through beautiful forests from the Highlands to the coast.
Touring the Central Coast
Our second road trip took us to the Central Coast, within a few hours reach of Sydney. Our first stop was the Waratah Animal Park, located on the northern outskirts of town, where we fed kangaroos, emus and pet koalas. This tired, but friendly, park also has a small petting zoo and playground. We then ventured by car over the beautiful Hawksberry River to the town of Terrigal where every afternoon up to 100 pelicans stop by for a feeding. This tourist attraction includes an informative presentation about these quirky birds.
We stopped at a magnificent lighthouse on our way to the Rafferty’s Resort (+61 2 4972 5555) on Lake Maquarie. It was a bit cold while we were at the resort, but would be nice in the warmer months! Then we headed on to the pleasant town of Port Stephens. After looking around, we took an informative and fun dolphin cruise (especially fun after seeing the majestic dolphin movie at the IMAX theater.) The small, stylish, boutique-style Peppers Anchorage Hotel (+61 2 4984 2555), located by a lovely marina with beautiful views of the bay, proved to be a good choice, with videos to rent and a nice playground right next door.
Touring the Blue Mountains
We toured the Blue Mountains on our last road trip. Less than two hours west of Sydney lies a majestic mountain range that is named for the perennial blue haze caused by light striking eucalyptus oil particles in the air. At Echo Point, we viewed the Three Sisters monument and recounted the Aboriginal folktale of the witch doctor father who turned his daughters into stone to save them from the monstrous bunyip, a mythical creature said to inhabit waterholes, billabongs, swamps and river bends, with a special taste for women. Anna took great joy in hearing the story over and over and we found great joy in her retelling of the “bunnyhop” tale.
To further appreciate the area’s beauty, we rode the Scenic Skyway aerial tram and took the Scenic Railway to the bottom of the ravine. This steepest train in the world takes you straight down to the bottom where Anna and I took an enjoyable bush walk to a beautiful waterfall. We stayed at the Peppers Fairmont Resort (+61 2 7556 22405) near Leura, a terrific hotel for families with its indoor pool, game room, playground, tennis court, golf course and roaring fire (complete with marshmallows) for cool winter evening. We browsed through the historical town of Leura before returning to Sydney.
Leaving a Friendly Land
We celebrated our last night in Sydney with a special Olympic Festival performance of the Flying Fruit Fly Circus; an acrobatic troupe of talented kids aged 12-18. Their unique style of trapeze, dance and tumbling made for a dramatic ending to a wonderful stay.
We are also glad that, during our trip, we discovered The Wiggles, a fun and energetic children’s singing quartet with several records and videos to their credit – all great souvenirs.
The best part of our travels throughout New South Wales was the friendliness and warmth of the Australians. In the US, you almost expect that there will be customer service issues, but we never once experienced an unpleasant exchange of words and were always treated with respect and care. The Aussie lifestyle is so laid back and relaxed, there is little time for them to be angry, hurried or stressed.
Overall, our trip was a major success. With careful planning, three generations of travelers were able to enjoy each and every aspect of an incredible Australian journey.
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