Travel to Melbourne – Moonlit Sanctuary (The Mornington Peninsula)

This is a continuation of our Melbourne travelogue in Sept 2014. Yes, it took me ermm.. that long to blog this down!

This is the start of our road trip leg  which we rented a car to drive from Melbourne city towards Philips Island and back. We choose to do a pit stop at Moonlit Sanctuary en-route the way to Philips Island. And I am so glad we made this choice instead of heading to some caged zoo. This place is located in The Mornington Peninsula and some visitors might choose to plan a few nights stay in this location but we didn’t as we didn’t have enough nights.

I simply love this place because many of the animals are roaming freely in this conservation sanctuary. It was not difficult to navigate to the location with the use of a rented GPS from the car rental company.

There is a cafe within the same premise and we had a simple lunch here. Food was really simple staples and nothing to shout about. But it fills the stomach.

It will be advisable to have proper meals somewhere else before reaching here. But if not, at least the kids won’t go hungry.

We paid for our tickets at the counter which doubled up as an ordering counter for the cafe too. This is also the place where some of the caged animals are displayed. E.g. a python, reptiles, fishes and more. Honestly, these are not my favourites and so we whisked fast past these enclosures and went into the park inside.

There are “encounters” which you can pay a fee to experience. E.g. with a snake, a moment with the Koala and etc. Xi En saw a visitor with a ranger “encountering” a snake and he cannot resist but asked if he can touch the python too! I was miles away when he did that! Daddy took the following photo while I was standing really far away. The kind ranger and visitor allowed him a feel of the reptile which really thrilled him.

Oh, do remember to buy a pack of feeds from the same counter before you entered the park. Children and adults will enjoy feeding the wild animals later.

Some of the animals we saw upon entering:

Most of the kangaroos are actually as tall or even taller than an adult when they stand on their hind legs. They are mild in nature but just be careful of their powerful legs when they make a hop/jump! Eizac adored the kangaroos and till today, one of the few things he remembered about the Melbourne trip is “Eizac feed kangaroos”. 😀

Travel tip: It is a little difficult to navigate a pram/trolley in the park due to the uneven grounds. Best to leave it in the car and let the children walk or baby-wear for the younger ones.

We really enjoyed this place and will highly recommend it for children (and adults) to have close encounters with animals.

Do visit their website for ticket pricing and opening hours: http://www.moonlitsanctuary.com.au/default.aspx

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 2: The tours)

After sharing about how we survived in this inaugural family trip to Melbourne, this next post covers our “free and easy tours” proper. As this is a trip primarily for the kids, we limited our choices of activities to kids’ friendly ones. Here are some activities/places which we enjoyed:

1) Parks, Playgrounds and Beaches

Nothing else excite the kids more than slides, swings and lots of space to run around. It takes only playgrounds to make them happy and keep them occupied.

A Playground (made largely with recycled materials) in St Kilda’s neighbourhood

This is an outdoor playground made largely from recycled materials. It boosts of trampolines, tree house for climbing, slides of various sizes, flying fox and many little nooks and crannies. We were staying within walking distance and thus managed to drop by during their short opening hours. It seemed to be operated by a group of co-op volunteers and we saw locals baking cookies and enjoy coffee/tea together. Perhaps we looked too “touristy” for them to befriend us. But otherwise, with free entry and lots of brightly coloured structures it is definitely a kids’ haven. The boys loved this place and we would have spent more time here if they weren’t closing.

Opening hours and location can be found here.

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St Kilda’s Beach (and Playground nearby)

This is near to the place we stayed at St Kilda’s. In warmer months, a stroll will be ideal but since it was still cold, we took a tram to the beach. The boys wanted to play sand but we decided against it as the cold wind was strong at the beach. Instead we retreated to a playground nearby and once again, they had good old fun. 🙂

We missed out on a number of major parks such as Royal Botanic Garden and Fritzroy Gardens due to the weather. Heard these are great places for kids to run wild too. 🙂

2) Of Trams and Trains

First up is the FREE Melbourne city tram. Don’t confuse this with the regular trams which you will need to pay. For the first 2 days in Melbourne city, the boys loved a slow-moving, old-fashioned tram. It’s helpful that this tram stops at some major tourist attractions too. It’s a good lulling method to get the kids to nap for a while too. 🙂

Both boys are huge fans of trams and trains so we took the chance not to rent a car in the city. Warning: Be prepared to walk a whole lot in Melbourne if you are not driving! Wear comfortable walking shoes and bring along sunshade/hats. Then again the grounds are quite flat and not too difficult to walk. Check this website on the purchase of Miki cards for use on public transportation. If you are confused on the most cost-effective method to travel, approach any train stations personnel as they are friendly and helpful.

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Next best thing to sitting on a train? Dangle your feet out of the train! We loved the Puffing Billy train experience! If you have young children (or feel young yourself), this is a MUST-DO! We drove here as we stayed over at Philips Island the night before. It is possible to get here using the train system but think twice if you have loads to carry. Puffing Billy is Australia’s preserved steam railway. It is a century old steam train which is still running on its original mountain track from Belgrave to Gembrook. We took the train from Belgrave to Lakeside where there is a pit stop before heading back to Belgrave.

Travel Tip: Go earlier as you will need time to walk to the boarding station. Allow time for photo taking as well. If you plan to have your meal nearby, there are only some small cafes, a subway, some sushi joint and a Vietnam place which we tried. Honestly, all of them don’t look fab. You will be better off packing some food elsewhere.

The best of the train ride has got to be this:

No one (except Popo!) needs prompting to climb onto the train ledge and dangle their feet as the train puffed along! Even the babiest Eizac enjoyed this “freedom”. 🙂 As the train chugged through the Dandenong ranges, the view was refreshing but the wind was chilling!

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As it was really cold with the wind blowing in our faces, I was glad we had a short stop to grab some hot drinks. Eizac was really freezing and downed his hot chocolate with a vengeance.

Travel Tip: Do pack along a hot tumbler during winter days, cold drinks during warmer months, food and snacks for a short picnic if you are planning to stop at Lakeside station.

If you are making a stop at Lakeside, in the warmer months, you can choose to have ride on one of these water boats. These are not open during the winter months.

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Nonetheless, we had a good time at a playground nearby and swings are always a delight too. 🙂

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3) Markets

As most will know we are not talking the same type of wet markets in Singapore. My Mum & I simply love the markets in Melbourne. The fresh produces, clean shopping environment and great prices were a hit with us! In Singapore, we rely heavily on imports and thus prices are much more expensive for good quality produces. We were spoiled for choice in the 2 markets we visited – Queen Victoria Market and the South Melbourne Market. My mum went crazy with marketing and even hurled a cauliflower back in the cabin luggage! These markets are good places to pick up some local souvenirs, buy ingredients for home-cooked meals and savor some touristy food (like donuts!). Imagine a tray of Brussels sprouts at A$1, my fav Artichoke for A$3 and a box of strawberries at A$2. I could just migrate to Australia for the fresh food! 😀

Travel Tip: Most already know this. Cook at least one meal (most of the time, it’s dinner) at your serviced apartment. The ingredients are just too good to miss out and cooking a meal save some money too. Eating out for a family can be costly. It’s tough to find a plate of chicken rice for S$3 there! 😛

My boys are not huge fan of the markets though. Save for some kiddy rides along the way, the other “fun” rides they get were with Daddy. 🙂

And of all places, we choose to meet our college friend and her children at the market too! As we do have any many clear days, we met up at the South Melbourne Market and caught up on our years of stories. It’s great that Xi En and E clicked! 🙂

Ending off on the 2nd installation of our Melbourne holiday before I missed it too much. Will pen down another 2 more posts on Melbourne when I get more time! Till then, happy weekend!

Updates on the rest of the 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)