Melbourne–Phillip Island

For this trip, we decided to omit driving along the famed Ocean Road as we were not sure if the children would enjoy the long ride to see the ocean scenes/rock formations.

Instead, we included a 2 night stay at Phillip Island which is about 2 hours drive from Melbourne city. Turned out to be a good choice except that it was raining for both evenings. We had a spacious, cosy stay at an apartment booked on Airbnb (waterfront @ Waves). It faced the sea and has an outdoor playground right in front. There are shops nearby within walking distance though we used the car mostly since we rented one.

What’s on the island? The first place we went to was the Visitor Centre in the centre of the town. It is useful to pick up brochures and check estimated time for the daily penguin parade. The volunteers/staff in these Visitor Centres are mostly very helpful and gave good advice on places to check out and shared other useful tips.

Another tip to share: It is difficult to find free wifi on the island. But the kind folks at the visitor centre directed us to the nearby public library where we asked for free access to check out our plans for the next leg. The library has a little corner for children and even some toys. We were the only (Asian) tourists in the small library and the librarians were getting ready for a reading session for the locals. Honestly, we didn’t felt too “welcomed” and thus left quickly after thanking them for the use for free wifi. Maybe on a better day or if your kids were not too rowdy (like mine), they might be more friendly.

We picked 2 key activities for the 2 days in Phillip Island:

1) Panny’s Chocolate Factory

Though it is a touristy place, the kids enjoyed this place. What’s there not to like about chocolate anyway?! 😀 It is about 30 mins drive from where we stayed. At the entrance, there is a little souvenir shop which sold different varieties of chocolates. We didn’t buy any as prices were really expensive. There are definitely far better chocolates sold in Melbourne city. But the “factory” tour is interesting enough. Some educational stuff on how chocolate is made and there are interactive displays too.

There are some displays of chocolate figurines and models of places complete with music and interactive parts (such as opening and closing of doors). It is more interesting for the adults than the children as they wished they can bite off some pieces instead. 😛

There are some amusement type of games which proved to be more fun for the adults than the children as there were too young to score anything. In the end, yours truly played at every game and yes, won all! (multiple tries though!). You can redeem for some free chocolates on the way out of the factory for winning some of these tokens.

This little mechanized penguin picks up chocolate pennies and dispense them to you. How cute! And how yummy! haaa..

You can “squirl” anything on this machine as it churns out chocolate sauce! Wait at the end of this machine for a taste of your creation! Yumz!

It is a decent place to visit if you have young children. The whole tour didn’t take too long; we finished in 1.5  hour, leaving you time to explore other parts of the island or head back to the hotel for a quick nap (which Eizac was still taking then).

More details on Panny’s website here: https://www.phillipislandchocolatefactory.com.au/

2) Penguin Parade

We had wanted to head out to see the penguins on the first night but there was a threat of heavy rain and so we spent the evening exploring the town and shopping at Coles (as usual!).

On the second evening, it was drizzling a little but we travelled so far to see the penguins and just couldn’t stay in the hotel anymore. It was still freezing cold in Sep, so we bundled up well before heading out. There is an estimated time for the penguins to arrive everyday. Do check the website or with your hotel/visitor centre for the daily timing.

Thankfully the drizzle stopped in time when we arrive at the Penguin centre.  They have a strict policy of no photo-taking after you step onto the boardwalk towards the stands to wait for the penguins, so we didn’t take any photos of the little penguins hobbling across the sand and into the various little burrows built specially for them. We have to keep really quiet during the moments the penguins arrived so they won’t be afraid to cross over. Thereafter the crowd disperse quickly as everyone started walking back to the boardwalk to catch a glimpse of the little penguins waddling to their burrows.

Travel tip: If you are going during cold weathers, do remember to pack some hot water/drinks and snacks for the children. We even cooked some porridge for Eizac in a thermal flask so he can be quiet while we waited. We purposely didn’t go in too early as we were afraid Eizac might start kicking up a fuss for waiting too long. Thankfully he was happy with the porridge. 😛

I found the entry prices a little on the higher end (AUD$24.50 per adult and AUD$12.25 per child). There are family packages available as well. Is it a worthwhile trip to see the penguins? Well, yes, if you haven’t seen any in your life and if your child is really into animals. But no, if you are not into such fleeting moments. It was dark by the time the penguins arrived and all we saw were small little dots. The boardwalk is helpful to see more of the little creatures but that’s about all this penguin trip entailed. Unless of course, you want to pay more for the ranger guide and to sit even nearer to the penguins (though I don’t think that is necessary for young children).

More details on their website: http://www.penguins.org.au/

Some of the many other activities we didn’t get to experience in Philip Island:

Koala Conservation Centre (We visited koala at Moonlit Sanctuary instead)

Churchill Island (We almost went for this but read that it is too commercialised and opt to visit another farm in Melbourne)

Nobbies – We wanted to do this, but bad weather forbid so.

Fishing, boating, cycling, walking and more.

This is the last installation of our family’s Melbourne holiday in Sep 2014. Some of the places we visited but I didn’t blog about. Not that they are not good places but I didn’t have the time to. :

Melbourne Museum – suitable for young to old. The little ones can play at the children corners while the older ones will enjoy the various exhibits.

Collingwood Children Farm – worth a visit if you don’t want to travel too far from the city. You will see pigs, horse, cows and goats. But my boys only enjoyed the free tractor ride.

Abbotsford Convent – located just next to Collingwood Children Farm. Small grounds but there happened to be some band playing music at the grass patch on the timing we went. The kids enjoyed rolling on the grass!

The rest of our Melbourne travelogue:

Flight to Melbourne, accommodations and how to survive travelling with young children

St Kilda, Melbourne city, Puffing Billy, Queen Victoria Market, South Melbourne Market

Melbourne – Phillip Island (Penguins and Panny’s Amazing World of Chocolate)

Travel to Melbourne – Moonlit Sanctuary (The Mornington Peninsula)

Melbourne with kids (Part 1)

I am suffering from travel withdrawal syndrome (if there is such a term for it). You know… it’s like you don’t feel like going back to your regular life and work. In short, I need another holiday to recover from the first.

It’s been almost a month since we came back from Melbourne – the kids’ first overseas trip; our first official overseas family trip. Probably I was the only one worrying myself out with thousands and one things to pack; to plan; to ponder. Perhaps, being the mother, I hypothesize too much about every situation that can happen overseas. Like most mommies, I almost packed the whole house into the suitcases before the hubby stopped me!

This Sept trip came about because Xi En had a thematic study earlier on air-travel, planes, pilots, stewardesses, countries and all that. He came home asking if we can fly in first class. I told him we cannot afford that. He asked how about business class; I said that’s still too expensive. Last try, he asked: “Mom; since first and business class are so expensive, we can fly in economy class where there are lots of people and seats are very small, ok?” (complete with a pleading puppy look). That kind of made us sound so pathetic (pre-school teachers; FYI – errmm… please try to manage our little ones’ expectations ya?) But that got me thinking he’s probably ready to have a look at the world and learn stuff out of the books. I had a chat with Kim and after a quick check on the luring promo-rates airfares, we decided: Yes – we can somehow afford to grant our young boy an economy class plane ride! hahahaa..

Australia was an easy choice as it’s known to be more kids-friendly and a place where we haven’t explored as much. And the flight hours of 7-7.5hours is still manageable in my dictionary for young children. Melbourne because I liked that part of Australia and it’s more “traditional” with trams and all. Xi En loves trains; trams and buses. Without revealing to him that we were planning a trip; we saw his drawing during the Parents-Teachers-Meeting. It’s telepathy huh? 🙂

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Kim and I were somewhat seasoned travellers in our individual and couple-lives. But with kids; it’s a whole new ball game altogether (so we’ve learnt).

Just to share a little on how we “survived” this inaugural family trip.

1) Choose an airline which you are familiar with

We both agreed that it has to be Singapore Airlines while the kids are still young. It’s the only one I am familiar and comfortable with. With good promo-rates, it’s still “A great way to fly”. 🙂

SQ didn’t failed us except one annoying episode. On the leg to Melbourne; we board at 9pm; were served 2 rounds of drinks with nuts at 930pm to 10pm. Dinner was served at 10pm (YES; 10PM!!); complete with ice-cream/coffee tea/wines and all. Clearance of trays and lights out around midnight as it was a full load flight. And when all the kids were trying to doze off; the lights came out again around 2am and continental breakfast was served before landing around 4+am.

The SQ I know loves to give it’s best to passengers; the best value; the best service. But seriously whoever planned this route and the meal services have to reconsider it’s inconvenience to tired passengers. Yes, you can use “do-not-disturb” stickers and all. But with little ones; that doesn’t kind of work when the whole load of passengers are stirred for meal service.

Still I have to applaud SQ for it’s  Krisworld (kept Xi En occupied for hours!); ever-so-well-trained cabin crew; attention to details (kids loved the lunch boxes which came along with the kids’ meals we ordered ahead of the flight) and scheduled on-time arrivals/departures.

2) Pray for the best but be prepared for the worse

It sounds a little “faithless” to say the above. But travelling to a foreign country (with young kids further) always put me in high alert mode. Medicine is my must-pack for all trips. I pray I won’t need to use them; but I packed them so I can sleep at night. Basic medicine such as Paracetamol, Ibuprofen, Charcoal pills, medicated oil, flu and cough syrups, creams are under my essential list. And for Xi En, I packed a Salbutamol inhaler too. Going to Melbourne at the tail-end of winter; I just have to be more than careful that they won’t catch a cold.

I am so glad that the boys did well on this trip except some minor hiccups. We nearly went to go to a doctor when we landed as Eizac came down with a red eye and sticky discharge just before we boarded the plane. We were almost certain that he has an infected eye; but it miraculously cleared up after a day!

As for Xi En, it did seemed that air travel wasn’t too kind to him unfortunately. On both the going and return flights, he threw up his meal (thankfully at the tail end of the flights). Ah ha, a pat on Mommy’s back for packing spare clothes, wet tissues and medicated oil on our carry-on luggage. 😛

3) Travel with family or more

An extra pair of hands and eyes (or more) is always helpful. My mom had always been the kids’ main caregiver; we knew we cannot do without her during travels with the kids. We had to “drag” her along and we are so glad we did! haaa… Probably I am too pampered with help; but I cannot imagine running after 2 active boys while trying to take photos; enjoy the scenery or even just to go to the washroom. That’s why they say being a mom is for life. It doesn’t stop even when your daughter is married with kids. 😛

4) Plan more, do less, enjoy more

Sorry that sounded quite singlish (Singapore English). Basically we did a lot of homework, planned a whole lot so that we can “do less” while enjoying the most out of the trip.

Since I am the one with more time on hand, I researched and narrowed to the places and activities suitable for all. Desperate for time, I simply copied, pasted and printed 2 key things: places of interest/activities and food options. Staying at places with free Wi-fi helped a lot as we planned on the go too. There are a whole lists of helpful apps which you can download to help in your planning. More information on visitmelbourne website. In particular, I found these quite useful:

PTV –  for taking public transport

myMarketsVic – if you enjoy going to markets like my mother and I.

TripAdvisor – popular real visitors reviews’ guide

Melbourne Guide – Melbourne’s official visitor guide. Some online discount vouchers available too.

The ever smarter hubby limited his haphazard-minded wife to only 1 main activity each day while filling small random activities during pockets of lull time. This worked out quite well for us since Eizac is still taking afternoon naps; taking it slower was a great idea.

The whole trip was a 9 days, 10 nights plan. We went from central Melbourne to Philip Islands en-routing at Mornington Peninsula and then back to fringe of city at St Kilda. Purposefully, we omitted The Great Ocean Road after deciding that 7 to 8 hours car road trips aren’t quite up our alley with the kids (just yet).

5) Minimize changes

Knowing my children, they take a day or 2 to adjust to new beds and “a new house”. We do not prefer to have over-excited kids every night and thus to minimize changes, we choose to change accommodation only 3 times; thus averaging 3 nights per location.

After much research, instead of the regular hotels and serviced apartments, we choose to go with the growing popularity of renting others’ houses. Airbnb is a fairly new concept which started a few years to allow the community to rent their extra rooms or houses/apartments to visitors for a short or long stay. I have no affiliation to them whatsoever but they definitely did a good job on their website that it is growing in it’s online presence. The website is nicely done up, user-friendly and everything is transacted online including communication with the hosts.

We picked out 2 places from Airbnb after narrowing search by budget, photos, user’s reviews and communication with hosts – 1 at central Melbourne and the other at St Kilda (fringe of city). It was a breeze to made payment even though there was a slight glitch which Airbnb responded promptly. It’s good that they have an office in Singapore now for easy communication if you face issues. *Tip: Do search online for promo codes before making payments. We chanced upon a DBS card promo which gave us some good discounts!

At central Melbourne, we stayed in a small 2 bedroom apartment with open concept kitchen but location is superb  and within 5 to 10 mins walking distance to Victoria Market, Chinatown, train station, Coles and a food court. The host kindly allowed an early check-in as our flight was early; but the person who was to open the door was late for 20 mins. Thankfully there was a lobby to wait in and not out in the cold. Booking others’ houses do pose such risks that there might not be a reception or concierge to seek help in unforeseeable circumstances. So do minimise the risk with alternative plans in mind when booking through such websites.

The 2nd accommodation we stayed in was at Philip Island which we booked through Stayz – this is also a similar concept to Airbnb but not as user-friendly as the latter. Accommodation at Philip Island was the hardest to decide as many looked dingy, old, remote or too big for us. Finally we picked Waterfront@Waves along The Esplanade. It is located in front of the sea (full sea view!), there is a playground just in front of the apartment (which unfortunately we didn’t get to play as it was raining!) and it is within walking distance to Cowes (the town at Philip Island).

It is a perfect accommodation with a free underground parking lot except a few grouses: No free wifi (I realised only after arriving at the premise). Some of the beds are located in the kitchen and dining area which made it rather unconducive for sleeping unless you don’t intend to cook. We ended up moving 2 mattresses into the living room as futons since the kids are used to sleeping on the floor at home anyway.

The final place we picked was at St Kilda’s neighbourhood near to St Kilda Beach. It was slightly cheaper as it was at the fringe of city and options were more spacious here. This was my favourite stay of the trip with 2 good sized rooms, European king-sized bed, double size bunk bed and a fully equipped kitchen with children cutlery too! The owner also kindly provided a welcome pack with bread, milk, butter, jam, tea and coffee. It is helpful that this host has a child of her own and left some extra diapers (and toys!) for us to use; this came in handy as we ran out of diapers at the last leg of the trip!

There you go; 5 key things which we did to make this trip enjoyable for all. Hope it comes in useful for those who are planning for your inaugural family overseas trips (or to Melbourne) too!

Will be sharing more on the attractions in upcoming posts. Watch this space! 🙂

Updates on the rest of our Melbourne Travelogue:

Flight to Melbourne, accommodations and how to survive travelling with young children

St Kilda, Melbourne city, Puffing Billy, Queen Victoria Market, South Melbourne Market

Melbourne – Phillip Island (Penguins and Panny’s Amazing World of Chocolate)

Travel to Melbourne – Moonlit Sanctuary (The Mornington Peninsula)