It’s just over a week since we returned home from our 18-day family holiday to Australia and Malaysia. It was our first long-haul trip as a family and an opportunity to introduce the kids to two sets of extended family.
Here’s a quick overview of the Down Under leg of our trip in 50 photos (and a few words).
It started on a Wednesday evening at Heathrow. Three excited, happy kids, raring to go. Two slightly nervous parents, wary at the prospect of a 13-hour flight to Kuala Lumpur immediately followed by a 5½-hour jaunt to Perth.
26 hours and one unscheduled landing in Penang later, we rolled up at our rental house in Rockingham, near Perth – at 4am local time.
Rockingham is a small coastal city about 50km south of Perth. It’s blessed with two long, golden beaches and perfect waters for windsurfing and kitesurfing.
Our house was just five minutes’ walk from the beach and a further five from a town centre of beach-front restaurants, fish-and-chip shops and ice cream parlours. The kids regularly built elaborate sand structures on the beach, while every morning I would take a long stroll up and down the boardwalk. It was a far cry from a British winter!
By virtue of its isolated island nature, Australia is home to many species of animals and plants that cannot be found in the wild anywhere else in the world.
From the fairy penguins of Penguin Island (top left) to koalas (top right), kangaroos (middle left), quokkas (middle right), kookaburras (bottom left) and possums (middle centre), Australia is the only place you will see many of these animals in their natural habitat.
The kids lapped it all up. Ever adventurous, Kara needed little encouragement to handle a python. That’s just how she rolls.
According to Bill Bryson, Perth is the most remote large city on Earth. It is 2,100km away from Adelaide, its closest neighbour of one million or more inhabitants. (Actually, Bryson appears to be mistaken. Auckland is slightly further away from Sydney.)
Perth’s population is a whisker over two million. Its urban sprawl extends for dozens of kilometres from a surprisingly compact city centre. The highlight is Kings Park, an expanse of greenery overlooking the central business district. It is a magnet for lunchtime runners and tourists who come for the city views, botanic garden, war memorial and to stroll along the ‘honour avenues’. These are home to hundreds of eucalyptus trees, each of which represents a soldier who fell in the two World Wars.
I’m not sure I could live in Perth – too small, too remote – but I love it as a place to visit.
Penguin Island – home to a colony of fairy penguins – is just a short ferry ride from Rockingham. Rottnest Island – a somewhat longer 30-minute cruise from Fremantle – has an indigenous population of quokkas, small marsupials which were originally mistaken for giant rats. (The island takes its name from the Dutch word Rattennest – ‘rat nest’.)
In addition to their wildlife, both islands are home to some magnificent beaches. We spent a day on each.
The ferry to and from Rottnest was particularly memorable. You know you’re in for a rough ride when the crew come round handing out sick bags. I’ve been on less violent rollercoasters.
Head south on the suburban railway line from Perth and the final stop is Mandurah. Western Australia’s second-largest city has a population of barely 80,000 – about half the size of Oxford.
A network of canals is home to both a Millionaires’ Row-style development of waterside homes. In and around here dolphins can be regularly seen swimming. We took a cruise out into the harbour and canals and were lucky enough to see two separate groups of dolphins up close.
Fremantle is a major shipping port with a long maritime tradition, a thriving arts scene and its ‘Cappuccino Strip’ of cafes and coffee shops. It’s also home to a range of Victorian and Edwardian heritage buildings, many with elaborate and ornate façades.
It’s a lovely little place, albeit one that is becoming a little shabby as Perth’s other suburban towns continue to expand and modernise. A shame. For a city of just 27,000 inhabitants – the same as Thatcham – it has a distinctive character with a bohemian vibe unlike any other.
A big part of our trip was to visit family. Heather’s dad’s and stepmother’s families mostly live in the same area, so the kids got to meet huge swathes of extended family.
I loved how much they embraced meeting all these new people for the first time. I don’t think they had realised quite how big a family they are a part of. It was something they loved, though, and found to be a source of comfort.
When we asked the kids what their favourite part of coming to Australia was, they all said “the beach” first, followed by “meeting our family”. I can’t begin to express how much that pleased us both.
A few random photos and observations to finish. It was fantastic to see how quickly the kids adapted to living the Australian lifestyle. Afternoons on the beach building sand cities and avoiding jellyfish. Enjoying having a 50-metre swimming pool on the doorstep. (The UK has barely 40 such pools. Australia, which has a third of the UK’s population, has 600-plus 50-metre pools.)
And everywhere you go in Western Australia, there is a stunning golden beach, clear blue water and spectacular coastal views. You can understand why Aussies are generally so healthy and easygoing. In surroundings like this, how could you not be?
And so, 12 days later, we found ourselves at Perth Airport waiting for a 2am flight to Malaysia. The kids, understandably, weren’t quite as energetic as they had been at Heathrow!
They were sad to leave their new-found family but excited by the prospect of the next leg of their adventure. But that’s a story for a whole other set of photos …