Margaret River and Pemberton: Family Australia Trip Part 3

Finally, finally, finally I am getting around to posting about our time in Margaret River and Pemberton — hands-down the best part of our trip to western Australia.

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There is so much for everyone in the Margaret River Valley

Margaret River Valley

After our spectacularly fun day at Busselton Jetty, we piled back into our Holden wagon and headed 50km to the Margaret River Valley.  Ahh, Margaret River . . . my favorite part of Western Australia (and I should know, it was my third time visiting)! From the wine, to the caving, canoeing, camping, abseiling, surfing, and much more, this place is most definitely off the hook.  If you are an adventurous traveler who loves the outdoors, Margaret River is for you.  If you are a wine aficionado who enjoys beautiful vineyard settings, Margaret River for you.  If you are a beach bum who loves a great surf (as well as a Great White or two), Margaret River is for you.  Honestly — this place has something for everyone.  I would go back again, and again, and again.  You get the point.

Our digs, Bussells Bushland Cottages, in Margaret River were perfect.  P-E-R-F-E-C-T. The cottages happened to be everything we were looking for – cozy, kid-friendly, and privately situated in the bush, yet still only a five minute drive to the township.  Every morning and late afternoon we went on a bush walk around the property.  Every time we went out, we encountered kangaroos in their natural habitat, as well as beautiful birds (there was a feeder in front of our cottage that the kids could fill with seed every day).  Every evening, we built a fire and read our night time stories in the living room together.

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Kangaroo-spotting out the back door of our cottage

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Why, hello there

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So many beautiful birds in this part of the world! This feeder was right in front of our cottage.

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Fires by night in our cozy bushland cottage

And during the days? Wow. We did a lot.  Here are some of the things we did — all of which we recommend:

1. Visited local wineries and breweries.  Our favorite? Cheeky Monkey Brewery.  They had a fantastic, shaded playground just adjacent to the brewery and indoor/outdoor restaurant.  The kids played, ate, played again, and all the while we sampled the libations.  This place is first class for families. If you stay at Bussells Cottages, by the way, they will give you a list of wineries and breweries in Margaret River upon check-in.  The list denotes which wineries and breweries are kid-friendly.  Super useful.

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Excellent playground at Cheeky Monkey Brewery (other great pics can be found at Kids Around Perth)

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Kate enjoying her first vegemite sandwich!

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Super-healthy kid fare at the brewery

2. Went caving.  So many GREAT caves in the area (Lake Cave, Jewel Cave, Ngilgi Cave, to name a few).  When I traveled to the area years ago, I abseiled into caverns and crawled my way through some tight spaces.  It was phenomenal.  With young kids, that’s not doable.  What is doable, however, is a visit to Caveworks, a visitors center that allows kids to learn about caves and try their skills at crawling through an artificial cave.  Logan and Kate spent over an hour walking and crawling through the artificial cave and looking at the eye-catching photos of caves around the world.  The visitors center is attached to a real cave (Mammouth Cave) and you can go out on the deck and take a look down into the cave, getting a sense for just how spectacular the caves really are. If your children are old enough (I’d say they’d need to be at least 5-6 years old), you can venture on down for a real caving experience.

3. Lunched at the beach (Yallingup Beach, to be exact).  Stunning, to say the least.

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Yallingup

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Oh, just another drive along the coast of western Australia

4. More than satisfied our sweet tooth at the Margaret River Chocolate Factory.  I think the photos say enough.

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You know they enjoyed it when the clothes have to be removed . . .

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Chocolate fondue – check. Chocolate-covered fork in hair – check.

5. Fed kangaroos, llamas, and more at Sunflowers Animal Farm.  Do not miss this.  This was a huge highlight for the kids.  In fact, we went twice!  Sunflowers also offers a farm stay.

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Feeding crazy-haired llamas at Sunflowers Animal Farm

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Little lambs . . . so sweet

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In the bunny pit

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This is why we came to Australia. So cool.

6. Meandered into Margaret River Township for dinner and a trip to the local candy store.

7. Went on many bush walks in the area, spotted marron (crawfish), and played on local playgrounds.

Alas, we only had three wonderful, fun-filled days in the Margaret River valley.  So much to do, but so little time!  If we had been able to extend our time, we also would have visited the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse in Augusta, ventured into the Yalingup Maze, the Yallingup Shearing Shed, and given the Wonky Windmill Farm and Eco Park a go.

Pemberton

With Margaret River (sadly) behind us, we headed to Pemberton — the last stop on our  journey.  Total distance is about 140 kms and takes about two hours.

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Doing our farm stay duty by feeding the donkeys!

Pemberton was the perfect final stop on our trip.  It is slower and quieter than Margaret River, but the bush is perhaps even more spectacular. There area offers a multitude of bush walks of varying distances and difficulty.  We did a 3km hike with Logan (three at the time) and Kate (18 months at the time).  Logan managed the hike on his own, while Kate rode in the Deuter Kid Comfort II.  The karri tree forests are really something special and shouldn’t be missed.  Another classic activity in the area is taking a tram ride deep into the forest.  Logan and Walter did this one afternoon and loved it.

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All aboard! Pemberton Tramway takes you deep into the karri tree forest

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Forest gazing

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Marron-spotting

We chose to do a farm stay in Pemberton at Pump Hill Farm Cottages.  It was right up Logan’s alley — riding on a tractor-pulled hay wagon each morning to feed horses, cows, donkeys, chickens, ducks — what more could a little boy ask for?  The playground at the farm stay was fantastic as well.  Our cottage was located in front of the playground — so we grilled dinner while the kids played.  It was a welcomed mix of entertainment for the kids and relaxation for the parents. If you make it to Pemberton and you are traveling with young kids who love animals, Pump Hill is the place.

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Quaint farm stay cottage — just across from a great playground for the kids

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Beautiful horses just across from our cottage

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Getting properly dirty at the playground (see our cottage in the background?)

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Feeding donkeys in our pajamas — one of the perks of a farm stay!

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Someone is happy about this tractor-pulled hay wagon ride!

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Pure joy.

After two nights in Pemberton, we headed back to Perth in one day (with a stop in Bunbury for lunch).  The drive was fairly easy, but we were all fairly sad to be leaving our best vacation to date.  Western Australia.  What a magical place.

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Perth, Fremantle, Balingup, Bunbury, and Busselton: Family Australia Trip – Part 2

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!

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It’s hard to beat Thai Airways on the child-friendliness factor

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)?

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Immaculate rental car + Logan in pajamas

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):

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Map courtesy of Big Brook Cottages

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.

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A yummy dinner of grilled lamb on our back porch at 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.

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Fish n’ chips for dinner at Cicerello’s

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!

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Beautiful sky

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The water was chilly . . . brrrr!

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Dogs of all shapes and sizes!

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Logan being a wonderful big brother

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!

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Enjoying time on the beach-side playground

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.

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Kate trying her hand at the LED wall

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Awesome plasma globe! 

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?

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A beautiful afternoon for Kings Park

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Clowning around in the bushland

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.

Bunbury

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).

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Inspecting fossils at the Dolphin Discovery Center

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Another awesome playground in the form of a pirate ship (at the Dolphin Discovery Center)

Balingup

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.

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And we are now in the country!

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Feeding the horses at Balingup Heights

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Cuddling with guinea pigs

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Feeding chooks

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Kate exploring the woods with our rental car and cabin in the background

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Cozy log fires became a nightly ritual from Balingup-Pemberton

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.

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The Greenbushes Pool and Boardwalk — getting in touch with nature

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A beautiful natural swimming hole

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.

Busselton

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.

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Another day, another beach playground in western Australia

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Climbing – look at that blue sky!

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Beach-side

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You can swim, but the water is chilly . . .

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Kate on the jetty train

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On our way down the 1.8km jetty

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.

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The jetty train – oh yeah!

Okay – and that is it for tonight, folks.  More to come on Margaret River and Pemberton in the next post.  Enjoy!

A Family Vacation to Western Australia – in Three Parts

If ever we’ve made a great decision about family travel, it was our decision to spend 11 days in western Australia this October.  Aside from its utterly phenomenal natural beauty and spectacular wonders (caves, beaches, vineyards), it was exactly what we needed after a year of domestic-only travel in Thailand.  The kids ADORED it.  To the point that Logan asks me almost every third night at bedtime if we can go back, stay there “forever and ever and ever.”  The children were exposed to so many new things, and we’ve all made wonderful memories as a result.  I hope many families follow in our footsteps (it just so happened we got the idea from family friends who had done the same trip in July), because it truly was a wonderful experience.  In case you need more coaxing than the above, below, in my opinion, are the best reasons to visit (especially if you are coming from a big Asian city):

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Beginning our Australian adventure in King’s Park, Perth

1.  Green space, green space – everywhere:  Oh my goodness the GREEN SPACE!  Logan and Katelyn spent the entire 11 days (aside from the time on the plane) running around parks, playgrounds, farms, forests, vineyards, and beaches.  They exhausted themselves physically.  As a result, they ate like beasts (we could not get dinner on the table fast enough!) and slept like angels every night.  They loved it.  It was wonderful to see them so physically active.

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Running through King’s Park in the center of Perth on a beautiful afternoon

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Enjoying the popular dog beaches!

 2. Playgrounds:  There are playgrounds – good, safe, creative playgrounds – literally on every corner.  On beaches, at breweries, at farm stays, in every town center – you can’t miss them.  We would almost always couple a lunch or an activity with play time on a playground afterwards.  And these playgrounds?  They are designed in the form of things like pirate ships, they are well-maintained, they have toddler swings, they are safe even for little ones, and there are lots of kids enjoying them, so plenty of chances for parents and children to interact.  Seriously, it was a novelty for us how fast time went by after the kids spent two hours playing at a playground after lunch or some time at the farm.

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Enjoying time at a beach playground at Busselton Jetty

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This was the coolest swing ever! It could go so high!

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Just one example of an awesome playground at a brewery/winery

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Getting properly dirty at a playground in Pemberton

3. Animals:  Logan (now 3.5 years old) and Katleyn (now 1.5 years old) have always loved animals.  In Thailand, we try to teach them a safe balance between liking animals, but being wary of soi dogs, cats, and monitor lizards.  But in Australia, there is wonderful wildlife everywhere!  At three of the four locations where we stayed, the children interacted with animals constantly.  Two of these locations were farm stays with chickens (or “chooks” in Australian speak, as we learned), horses, sheep, donkeys, ducks, dogs, alpacas, emus — you name it.  The third location was in the Margaret River Valley where wild kangaroos spent time right outside of our cabin.  There were plenty of bush walks that we could go on throughout the day to see more!  We had a bird feeder (and provided bird seed) on our front porch that the children could fill up and watch beautiful birds come by.  Finally, we went to a Dolphin Discovery Center to see some aquatic life and an Animal Farm where you could see and feed all kinds of animals (think kangaroos, pigs, bunnies, chicks, etc.)  It was really cool.

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Want to feed an alpaca with a funky haircut? You got it.

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When in Australia . . .

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Bunnies!

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Feeding the horses at our Balingup Farm Stay

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Feeding donkeys in Pemberton

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Enjoying the animals at our farm stay in Pemberton

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Kangaroo-spotting out back of our cabin in Margaret River

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Feeding chooks

4. Activities:  We had a nice full eleven days, but even this wasn’t enough time to do everything western Australia has to offer!  We introduced the kids to the beautiful beaches (they especially loved the dog-friendly ones), spectacular caves, nature walks in Karri tree forests, the Busselton Jetty (and its train).  Oh, there is so much to do!

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Searching for marron on a nature walk in Pemberton

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Nothing beats a trip to the Margaret River Chocolate Factory!

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Clowning around on the Busselton Jetty Train

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Discovering how wind works at the jetty

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Exploring a local swimming hole near Balingup

5. Ease of cabin rentals/farm stays for larger families:  Every location we rented was a home or a cabin with two or three bedrooms.  Most of the cabins had bunk beds (you have four children?  no problem!) and they all had living and dining areas, real wood fireplaces (this was a true highlight every night for us – chopping wood and lighting the fire), and great Aussie grills.  So much better than renting two hotel rooms!  The place is set up for family travel, I’m telling you.

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Farm stay cottage in Pemberton

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Starting our evening fire in Margaret River

6. “Short”, direct flight from Bangkok:  This summer we opted out of the insufferable 24-hour journey back to the U.S. and instead opted for the 6.5 hour direct flight to Perth on Thai Airways.  Great flight times (you leave around 8am and arrive around 3pm) and the icing on the cake?  There is only a one hour time change!  You – and the kids – won’t even notice the time difference = no time wasted!

Okay, so I have whetted your interest yet?  In my next two posts, I’ll share our itinerary (details of the flight, car rental, locations we visited, places we stayed, and activities we did).  Are you thinking about it?  Don’t think too much, just do!  It is a really wonderful way to spend a family vacation.  I don’t think we’ve ever seen our children happier than they were running free in western Australia.  Pure joy!

Traveling with Kids: A Completely Different Option from the 20+ Hour Journey

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Reading time in the Braunohler home

Do all good parenting rules go out the window during 20+ hours of flight?  Yes, they do.  Should you, as a parent, feel bad about that?  No, you shouldn’t. Bribe ’em, give ’em their favorite snacks, allow technology to entertain, use the aisles for sprint practice . . . here is a piece I wrote almost a year ago that will give you some ideas on how to cope with a long journey – Enduring 20 Plus Hours of Air Travel with a Toddler (Oh Yes, and a Baby)

That being said, we are opting to take our family on vacation to western Australia this year instead of the States.  Somewhere along the way, I realized that a 6.5 hour flight was probably more tolerable than 20+ hours of flight, and that a 1 hour time change would be much more manageable than a 12-hour one.  Go figure.  Farm stays, child-friendly vineyards, a beautiful drive along the ocean, wonderful hikes, dolphin sanctuaries, wombat, wallaby, and kangaroo-spotting . . . why have we not done this before?  We’ll let you know how it goes when we get back.  What are you doing this year for fall break?