Alright, as promised in my previous post, here are the details of our family vacation to western Australia. Which, if you’re looking for a vacation in the region with the kids — is an excellent option. And, if like me, you are too lazy to do all the leg-work to plan the vacation, it is all planned out for you here!
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
From Bangkok, we caught a direct flight to Perth on Thai Airways: TG481, departing Bangkok at 7:50am, arriving Perth at 3:35pm (Perth is one hour behind Bangkok). In case you’re wondering how accommodating Thai Airways is for children . . . wonder no more. The airline and the flight crew are wonderful with little ones! We were given priority check-in, lots of stickers and sticker books on-board, child-friendly food when the kids decided they weren’t keen on the adult meals, and the biggest bonus? When they weren’t serving, the staff played with the kids for a majority of the flight. Major win for us!
We spent eleven days and ten days in southwest Australia. It was the perfect amount of time — just enough to explore the things we wanted to see without completely wearing out the kids. The return flight (TG 484) departs Perth at 9:10am and arrives Bangkok at 3:05pm.
Once we landed at Perth International Airport, we grabbed our bags and headed straight to the Hertz rental car counter and picked up our full-size car, which turned out to be a brand new wagon (Holden SV6) – great for family travel. Here’s a picture of our rental car (I’d told you I’d spare you no details, right)?
The Yellow Brick Road
So, if you decide to go the western Australia family vacation route, you can choose from an endless number of places to stay and explore in 10 days. Our biggest priority was driving down the coast and spending time in Margaret River (known for its great wines and natural wonders) and Pemberton (known for its spectacular hikes among the Karri tree forests), building in some beach time and farm stays along the way. Taking into account our priorities, here was our itinerary and routing:
Day 1: Arrive Perth, overnight Fremantle
Day 2: Explore Perth and Fremantle, overnight Fremantle
Day 3: Drive from Fremantle to Bunbury, explore Bunbury, head on to Balingup, overnight Balingup
Day 4: Explore Balingup and surrounds, overnight Balingup
Day 5: Drive from Balingup to Busselton, explore Busselton Jetty, head on to Margaret River, overnight Margaret River
Day 6: Explore Margaret River and surrounds, overnight Margaret River
Day 7: Explore Margaret River and surrounds, overnight Margaret River
Day 8: Drive from Margaret River to Pemberton, overnight Pemberton
Day 9: Explore Pemberton, overnight Pemberton
Day 10: Drive from Pemberton to Bunbury, lunch and play in Bunbury, drive on to Perth, overnight Perth
Day 11: Depart Perth for Bangkok
The drive map looked something like this (with Balingup situated between Nannup and Bridgetown):
I should note that since we have young ones (and no built-in car entertainment system), we did not drive more than two hours/day, expect for the final afternoon when we returned to Perth. If your children are older and perhaps more patient, you could make it even farther south to places like Albany (known for whale sightings).
Perth and Fremantle
We opted to spend our first two nights at a beautiful, quaint beach cottage in Fremantle. It was perfect; truly perfect. It was spacious (three bedrooms), had an outdoor area and grill, a washer and dryer, free wifi, and was in a nice neighborhood that is only a 5-minute walk from the beach. The owner was wonderful to work with and very flexible. Here is the link to the cottage via stayz.com.au: Mole End Cottage.
When we weren’t grilling out at Mole End Cottage, we ate at Cicerello’s Landing – a fun, laid-back fish n’ chips joint just a 10-minute drive from our cottage. The seagulls almost got away with our dinner while Walter and the kids were feeding the fish and I was taking pictures, but we managed to salvage it with a sprint.
Our day-time excursions in Perth and Fremantle included the following:
1. Lots of play time on Fremantle’s South Beach (a 5-minute walk or 2-minute drive from our cottage). We opted for the dog-friendly part of the beach, as Kate and Logan LOVE dogs. They had a blast!
After our frolics on the beach, we dried off, dressed warmly, and headed to the pirate ship-themed playground at the beach entrance and had some yummy yogurt and fresh berries at the adjacent seaside snack shop. I’m telling you, awesome playgrounds are everywhere in western Australia!
2. A visit to SciTech – a children’s interactive science discovery center – in Perth.
SciTech is a wonderfully interactive and fun science museum for kids. With everything from giant hands-on Rube Goldberg demonstrations to a baby chick incubator, this place had it all. Such a great learning experience for the kids.
3. A couple of hours running free in Perth’s Kings Park and Botanic Garden.
And who visits Perth without spending time at the city’s most iconic, beautiful, and spacious park?
There are so many things to do with young children in Perth. If your children are older, another great adventure is to hop aboard a ferry to Rottnest Island and spend some time snorkelling, swimming, fishing or just riding bikes.
On our way from Fremantle to Balingup, we stopped by Bunbury for lunch and play time at the Dolphin Discovery Center. While we only toured the Center, you can take a Dolphin Eco Cruise and/or try your luck at being present when the wild dolphins appear in the Center’s “interaction zone” (which can happen any time of day, but seems to happen more often than not in the morning around 9-10am). Bunbury is a charming sea-side town and was a perfect way for us to break up our day’s drive. Per the usual, you can find great beach-side playgrounds for the kids, as well as some excellent lunch spots (we recommend Nicola’s for their good food and great kid’s menu).
After some time at the beach in Fremantle and Bunbury, we chose to go inland. We stayed in a “hilltop forest cottage” at Balingup Heights. Our main intent was for the kids to be able to interact with animals, as well as enjoy some time in the woods. Balingup Heights has both — as well as excellent hosts, spectacular views, and cozy accommodations. At Balingup Heights, you can join owner/host Brian every morning to feed the sheep, horses, guinea pigs, and chickens (or “chooks” in Aussie speak) – such a great activity for the little ones. Every evening we settled into our cottage with a wonderful fire and admired the myriad of stars from our deck.
Although Balingup is not your typical tourist stop (if you’re an international visitor to western Australia), we really enjoyed our time at Balingup Heights. We spent the days exploring not only Balingup, but Greenbushes and Bridgetown, which are close by and offer some cool outdoor activities. Take, for example, our afternoon at Greenbushes Pool – a natural water hole. We spent hours splashing in the (cold) water, meeting locals, playing on the playground (of course there was a playground!), and walking along the nature trail. A very fun and relaxed afternoon activity.
Another farm stay in the region (the Ferguson Valley to be exact) that I would recommend is Ferguson Farmstay. They offer tractor rides, fishing, animal feeding, and a bunch of additional activities for the little ones. Book early, though . . . we started a bit late and were not able to get accommodations.
After a couple of days in the countryside, we jetted back to the beach and hit up Busselton Jetty – the “longest timber-piled jetty in the southern hemisphere.” We found this was an excellent place for the kids. We spent loads of play time on the beach and at the beach playground (of course) and noshed on fish n’chips, indulged in Simmo’s ice cream, and rode the famous jetty train. A very cool afternoon — especially if you are in route to/from Margaret River.
A quick note on the train: if you intend to do this, make buying the tickets your first priority as you arrive. The train books up quickly and goes about every hour and a half. You can have lunch and play while you wait.
Okay – and that is it for tonight, folks. More to come on Margaret River and Pemberton in the next post. Enjoy!