Today I’m happy to share a dispatch from the Southern Hemisphere by one of my online friends Rachel, an American who lives in Australia. Many of you may remember her wonderful posts about The Great Barrier Reef and Melbourne. Rachel’s younger daughter was born in the summer of 2009, and here she talks about her first extended trip with both her children. I don’t know why, but it when you go from being a parent of one to a parent of multiple children, travel suddenly becomes more intimidating than it’s ever been (parents whose oldest children are twins are the only ones to avoid this anxiety I’m guessing). It’s obvious to me from reading what Rachel has to say that thinking carefully about what everyone in your family will enjoy and what will make them most comfortable is the key to easing your way into traveling as a family of four (or more). The answer here? Animals – and lots of ’em.
A visit to Kangaroo Island with kids
It is a truth universally acknowledged that an American woman in possession of the good fortune to live in Australia must be in want of hyperbolic exclamations over the native animal life. (Hey, if I’m going to crib, I’m going to crib from the best.) But in all seriousness, I’ve lived here for four years and still can’t get over how crazy native Australian animals are. And I’m not even talking the biped types. Kangaroos. They really exist in the wild and everything. And don’t get me started on platypuses. Or my personal favorite in the marsupial family, the echidna, which looks like a really adorable porcupine with a platypus snout.
Right. There is a point to all of this, besides establishing that Australian native life has the ability to reduce my prose output to baby-talk gibberish. In October of 2009, we took our first expedition as a family of four, spending a week in South Australia. After a relatively brief couple of days in Adelaide, the capital city, we drove on down to Kangaroo Island, a place where rare species outnumber humans (there are only 4,400 permanent residents on the nearly 100-mile landmass).
Where to stay on Kangaroo Island
Traveling with young children can be a delicate balance, or at least it is for our family. We typically thrive in places that are outdoorsy enough to accommodate our free-range older daughter, Jessica (who was four at the time of this trip) but settled enough to provide food and accommodation that’s above basic yet not so swanky that they blanch at the sight of a rough and tumble foursome completed by baby Lily (then six months). Kangaroo Island fit that description perfectly.
We stayed in the largest town of Kingscote, about an hour’s drive from the ferry landing terminal at Penneshaw. Because of the girls, we chose two hotels with serviced apartments, which proved to be a mixed bag. One apartment was so execrable as to defy description, and we ended up fleeing at around 10 p.m. for a hotel room. Happily the other, in the Acacia Apartments, was the total opposite, and it’s where we stayed for the majority of our visit. No gratuities were exchanged for this comment – I just highly recommend the place!
Although Australia is a land dominated by summer, it does extend far enough south such that flocks of Little Penguins make their appearance on the shores of the southeastern states. So on our first day on Kangaroo Island, we took a nighttime guided tour of the penguin nesting grounds on the shores of Penneshaw. As we were oohing and aahing over the unbelievably adorable sight of tiny penguins waddling around the rocky beaches and honking and squeaking as they settled in for the night, Jessica told us “And you know what the penguins are saying? What a cute human exhibit on the wooden benches. And the little blonde girl humans are sooooooooo adorable.”
A visit to Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park
Of course, viewing animals is no match for getting up close and personal with them, which we did at the Pardana Wildlife Park (now called Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park). A privately owned animal park run by a husband and wife team, the park features, among other things, a small paddock where you can feed Kangaroo Island kangaroos (hey, when in Rome, right?). The kangaroos on the island are on the smaller side – they grow about waist-height and this particular bunch were placid, probably from the regular feeding as much from the sunny, warm weather. At this time, I have a warm, personal empathy for marsupials, being as how I wear the younger heiress in a sling for convenience and ease of transport. I swear some of the females in the bunch gave me the “you too?” look.
Other animal-related highlights to be found on Kangaroo Island:
- Daily pelican feedings off the docks at Kingscote. Every day around sunset, a local resident comes out and feeds pelicans. You can gather around and get pretty much up close and personal with the birds, which are both a.) larger than I expected and b.) comical. The guy doing the feeding buys out of his own pocket and canvasses the crowd for a $5 per person payment; for the entertainment you get and the man’s knowledge of the pelican breed and this particular flock, it’s not bad value.
- Seal Bay Conservation Park. A pristine beach so lovely it’ll make your throat ache, and also home to herds of seals. You can either go for a tour directly on the beach with a guide, or take a walk down a boardwalk that gets you within a couple hundred yards of the creatures. We opted for the boardwalk because the beach tour lasted an hour and once you start, obviously, you can’t stop the tour; that kind of stricture can be dicey with a young family.
This trip was our first as a family of four, and much to my relief Lily follows in her older sister’s footsteps as an eager and mostly flexible traveler. Having said that, I really don’t think you can find an easier destination to find delight, but either way, it was a perfect first vacation as a foursome.
Rachel Alembakis is an expat American living in Melbourne with her husband and two daughters. She’s not sure whether she’s a cautionary or celebratory tale about what happens when you go to a bar and meet an Australian man.