Make life easy and think like a kid on your next school holiday, writes Sydney father of two Jeremy Chunn.
School friends of my two kids, age 7 and 10, have been to Los Angeles, Aspen, Rome and Paris, and I pity them because, when you’re that age, Paris is, like, very boring.
Stuck for a new way to thrill my two for a whole week during the last school holidays, I figured I’d try to think like a kid thunk. If long trips can be excruciating, make the journeys short. If a whole week in one place can be a yawn, go to three places in a week, with stays at home in between! And if eating out means waiting and vegetables, pack a bag full of sandwiches, boiled eggs, salami sticks and yoghurts and away you go! Ha ha!
Camping on Cockatoo Island
Harrison is right when he says (to everyone we meet) Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour should be called Seagull Island. But seagull bombardment starts before we board our ferry at Circular Quay, as we guard our chips from overhead threats. Ferries are always fun, but Quay to Cockatoo is long enough for us.
I’d been threatening the kids with camping for a few months and this surreal industrial rock in Sydney Harbour is a great introduction, as the tents are set up for you. I’d thought ahead and packed 24 hours’ worth of sandwiches, but if I had known about the lines of barbecues, huge communal fridge and washing-up sinks, I’d have packed sausages.
Walking through a tunnel drilled through the island to emerge in an eerie warehoused wasteland recalls for us the Japanese movie Spirited Away, which we’ve watched a thousand times. The kids are in plastic ponchos, protected against the drizzle, and the empty buildings spook us a bit as we wander in and out of huge spaces housing leftover exhibits from the Biennale of Sydney.
The light starts to fade so we decide to avoid the tunnel and climb the steel stairs bolted to the cliff. It’s a little bit scary, and as Harrison pokes a stick at baby seagulls, their mothers turn into Hitchcock’s evil screen stars. It’s raining and becoming darker… and Cockatoo Island is revealing itself as a parallel world. And there is almost no-one here!
The night is a long one, punctuated by regular rain and a rock drummer somewhere on the mainland practising in his garage. My daughter Indy complains about hearing “the same cheesy song, again and again” and a little river of rainwater enters through the vent in one corner of the tent. But in the morning we’re dandy again, and ready to do more. Are our pillows wet? Hell, yes! Do we care? Hell, no!
A tent for the night is $90. We went on Family Fun Day Sunday, when $2.50 gets you unlimited bus, train and ferry rides. Take sleeping bags and pillows. Wear the same clothes the next day! (02) 8969 2100; cockatooisland.gov.au
Shacking up in Lane Cove River tourist Park
Today we take the train instead of a ferry. Mundane as it may sound to many commuters, any train trip is a blast for us. The science-fiction scale of North Ryde station, plunged as deeply into the earth as a copper mine, stays with us as we emerge from the underworld and walk 10 minutes, dragging along Mum’s wheelie suitcase through the untouched scrub and glorious muddy puddles of Lane Cove River Tourist Park.
Our weenie cabin, with more mod cons than home (we have no toaster or kettle), thrills us. We sleep in a cupboard-like room with L-shaped bunks. Cool! Just like school camp!
On some nights a camp guide will take kids on a night trek into the bush with torches, but we strike out and decide to just wander around for the rest of the arvo, surprising whichever animals we find. We clock plenty of duck families, waddling along in meandering lines, and a few prickly lizards. Sadly, we do not find Po from Kung Fu Panda, but the trail back up to the campground is rechristened The Thousand Steps in honour of his journey to the temple. It’s a journey we make a few times throughout the afternoon.
I tempt the kids with a pedal-boat cruise, but we’re all a bit pooped, so we turn in early and sleep like muddy logs.
Our cabin was $150 for the night. Two kids travelled for one fare on the bus and train. 1300 729 133; www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au
Discovering Penrith and the Nepean River
Wait until the parents at school hear I took my kids to Sydney’s Western Suburbs for the holidays. Ha ha! Suck on that, snobs! And I’m glad I did, because the flat green bit way to the left on the street directory has always interested me. And it has a river running through it, just like a Bruce Springsteen song.
Nepean Shores in Penrith is bursting with vibrant green fecundity when we roll in, but our cabin isn’t ready, so we roll straight out again, to Richmond and then along the Bells Line of Road to Mount Tomah. Bells is a classic tourist road, close with thick, dark gums and moisture, and smelling strongly of sweet apples all through Bilpin.
Mount Tomah Botanic Garden is our stop for the day and, without meaning to sound like a guy who writes brochures, it is a world-class experience. The high point of the week. Jungle, rocks, most of the planet’s flora and awesome kids’ burger meals. Top notch.
In Penrith at the end of the day we explore around the river’s edge and are happy to just hang in our cabin, part of a toytown community of huts we find very appealing. A trip to reception for a few bits and pieces is all we can handle and we’re out cold for the night. We love cabins.
The next day, our last, we endure the other road over the Blue Mountains until we finally, finally, pull off at Leura. There, Indy insists on Chinese (it is bloody good) and we stumble across the Toy and Railway Museum (where Harrison sets off an alarm by reaching over a barrier to touch a bike). Right across the road is a way-cooler-than-all-the-other-lookouts lookout shaped like a Grecian amphitheatre. It even has a coin-operated turnstile for an entrance, and if you all pile in and then reach backwards to push the $2 in, you can get three for the price of one! We did!
As Harrison empties his bladder into the Megalong Valley I really can’t help but put my arms around them both and declare it’s been the Best Holiday Ever.
I picked up a deal for the Nepean Shores, Penrith, on Wotif (wotif.com) for $250 for two nights. (02) 4720 8100; www.nepeanshores.com.au.
Dinner at Penrith Panthers was $26 for the three of us. (02) 4720 5555; penrith.panthers.com.au
The Blue Mountains Botanic Garden, Mount Tomah, Bells Line of Road via Bilpin. (02) 4567 3000; mounttomahbotanicgarden.com.au