Down Under Australia Holiday by Sylvaine Djafarian
If you’ve dreamed of traveling down under to Australia for a holiday, but baulked at the distances and time zones to cross from your native Europe or America, perhaps your time in China is the perfect opportunity to go.
After each business trip in Australia, my husband kept telling us how beautiful this country was, and how friendly Aussies were. So, knowing that this might be our last year in Shanghai, and that from Europe, the trip would be much more complicated and expensive, we decided to spend the whole Christmas holidays there.
We had a few wishes: diving and snorkeling, beaches and nature, with two children aged five and seven, who are not used to long hikesand Australia fulfilled them all!
To the Apple Isle
Our first taste of Tasmania, Australia’s southern island state, was an evening stroll around the harbor and enjoying delicious grilled meat. The next morning, we picked up our rental car in the city center, and drove to Port Arthur. Driving (on the left!) is a very convenient way to visit Tasmania, either with a car or campervan.
We were all eager to meet the local star, the Tasmanian devil, so our first stop was at the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park, between Hobart and Port Arthur. After seeing a female and her young having lunch, we understood why the Warner Bros Looney Tunes animated cartoons portrayed this marsupial as Taz, a carnivore with a great appetite! We also learnt that the Tasmanian devil is now an endangered species, because of a very contagious dis-ease, its illegally introduced predator the red fox, and road accidents.
We then spent an afternoon in Port Arthur, an open air museum and UNESCO world heritage site, which used to be a penal colony in the 19th century. History is vividly rendered through exhibitions, stories about the British and Irish convicts and their hard lives, and inspired guides offering tours of the remaining buildings. Some convicts were as young as nine, something that made our children thoughtful
From the South-East we drove to the West Coast, through impressive National Parks preserving the Tasmanian Wilderness Area. We traveled on the West Coast Wilderness Railway, a restoration of an original steam train carrying copper from Queens-town mines to the port at Strahan, and stopping at the stations along the line, we discovered the rainforest, the Huon pines, and even panned for goldwith no success!
Our favorite activity was the Bonnet Island Experience: cruising on a small boat to a tiny island just before dusk, listening to stories about the island and its lighthouse before enjoying a plate of delicious local cheese on the boat, and going back to the island at night to see its inhabitants, about 40 Little Penguins, returning to their burrows to feed their hungry and noisy chicks.
On the day long road trip crossing Tasmania from West to East, we took several short walks in the Cradle Mountain National Park, and saw echidnas and pademelons , the kangaroo’s smaller cousin. The countryside offers a great variety of landscapes, beautiful mountains and colorful vegetation.
We ended our Tasmanian trip in Bicheno, where we spent a day in Freycinet National Park, enjoying turquoise waters, white sand beaches and pink granites rocks. The best part for our kids was stroking a friendly kangaroo .in the parking lot! He was busy eating the apple a visitor gave him, despite all the do not feed the animals signs. My husband also joined the diving center for a dive among beautiful weedy sea dragons (marine fish related to the seahorse).
Tasmania is often skipped by travelers who prefer to concentrate on Australia’s mainland, but for us it was a wonderful oasis of nature, amazing animals, varied landscapes within relatively short driving range, and very friendly people.
To the Tropics
From Australia’s most southern point, we flew north, to the coral cay of Heron Island near the Tropic of Capricorn, in Queensland. The island is about 800m long and 300m at its widest. Its eastern half is part of a National Park. Discovered in 1843, it wasn’t inhabited until the early 20th century when a turtle cannery was established. It is now shared by a resort, a reef research station, and tens of thousands of birds during the breeding season, from October to April.
Don’t expect a 5-star luxury resort, be careful of the Noddy terns droppings over your heads, and bring your ear plugs for the night, but if you love nature, diving and snorkeling, this is a great place for a few days. We took reef walks, searching in the shallows for starfish, sea cucumber, small sharks, shells, and a wide array of corals.
The forest walks revealed where the ghoulish screams at night came from: the Wedge-tailed Shearwaters feeding their chicks after a day of fishing. There is also a great Junior Ranger Club for kids over seven years which our daughter loved. She had fun, and learnt everything about the sea, its inhabitants, its dangers, and why we need to protect our environment.
Unfortunately, the weather was not the best. The trip between Gladstone and the island was a nightmare, the sea was rough, and we were all sick. Poor visibility and strong currents only allowed limited diving and snorkeling, however, from the beach, we saw stingrays, a school of young reef sharks, and parrot fish. We also were lucky to see sea turtles nesting during walks at dusk, and even once at 11am, which was quite unusual, but allowed us to take photos. Last but not least, our children still talk about the arrival of Santa Claus on a boat !
To the City
Sydney is a capital city of New South Wales & it epitomizes Australia’s relaxing lifestyle. Our hotel, over-looking Hyde Park, was the perfect starting point to explore Darling Harbour, the beautiful Botanic Gardens, the Opera House
(where we attended the musical Children Show Hairy Maclary and Friends booked 2 months before), and visit Taronga Zoo by ferry from Circular Quay.
We did not suffer from the heat on the East Coast nor in Sydney, apparently weather was cooler than usual, with Australia still waiting for the summer to begin.
The highlight of our stay in Sydney was New Year’s Eve overlooking the harbor. After discovering that we could not access the main harbor area of Circular Quay, we walked to the Observatory Gardens, the perfect place to enjoy the Family Fireworks at 9pm. An unforgettable show, both in the sky, and also on the streets, with a mix of tourists in shorts and T-shirts, and locals in evening dresses and high heels.
Three weeks were not enough. We will have to go back for Melbourne, the outback, Uluru, more beautiful beaches, and all the other amazing places Australia offers.
- Tasmania: Best season (December to March) usually has daytime temperatures ranging around 20-22 degrees Celsius. Early December, it was colder, pack some warm clothes.
- Heron Island: best season (October to April) has daytime temperatures ranging around 28-30 degrees Celsius, and no jellyfish in the sea during Christmas time. Note that all boat trips are only for adults and kids older than 8.
- If you are planning to spend New Year’s Eve in Sydney book well in advance.
- Food and accommodation in Australia are expensive, so try to book family rooms with cooking
facilities to avoid always going to restaurants.
- Contact Australia Expat Travel for local knowledge and good information.