Animals. The one word that never fails to get children excited! So for a recent getaway, we decided to do away with the beach resorts and head to Perth and Surrounds to give the twins an animal-centric vacation. Turned out to be a great decision and our most “successful” vacation with the children – easy to plan, easy on the pocket and easy on the parents (the children were just too happy to be cranky).
The city and nature
Because of our original flight being cancelled, our trip had to be cut short by almost 2 days. Unfortunately, this meant that we ended up missing most attractions in Perth city.
But one attraction not to be missed is King’s Park and Botanic Garden, one of the largest inner-city parks in the world. It overlooks the city and there are several vantage points from where you can get stunning views – of the city, the Perth Hills in the distance, and the sailboats bobbing on the beautiful blue waters of Swan River.
There are a few playgrounds within King’s Park, we went to Synergy Parkland which had manicured lawns, a dinosaur themed playground, ducks swimming around in a pond, and a café – so adults and children were all well catered for.
The Marine life
The morning after our arrival, we headed to Rockingham city, about 40 kilometers from Perth. While Rockingham offers activities like kitesurfing and ‘skydive the beach’, what most interested us was the dolphin cruise.
We opted for the 90-minute Dolphin, Penguin and Sea Lion Adventure Cruise (offered by Rockingham Wild Encounters), prepared to see some wild dolphins in their natural environment. What we weren’t prepared for was the extreme drop in temperature and the chilly winds that accompanied. Thankfully, we had spare jackets for the kids (the ones the paranoid mom carries everywhere, although they’re never used) and they saved the day, and the cruise.
The first half-hour of our cruise wasn’t too successful because of the weather. But just as the sighs and the grumpy voices started, we came across a small colony of dolphins diving playfully in and out of the water, and the sighs were replaced by frantic digs for cameras.
Having sighted dolphins, we headed to Seal Island, where we saw some extremely lazy, rare Australian sea lions enjoying their afternoon naps, with not a care in the world.
Next up was Penguin Island. Besides being home to the world’s smallest penguins, Penguin Island also provides a predator-free protected area for birds, and as such it is home to breeding colonies of pelicans and several other shorebirds. Seeing all these creatures in their natural environment is truly an experience. Although, we saw just one nesting penguin (besides the rehabilitated ones at The Discovery Centre), it was a much better experience than seeing several in enclosed quarters in a zoo.
Penguin Island also has beautiful views, white sandy beaches and limestone reefs. You’re even allowed to bring your equipment for snorkeling or scuba diving.
Penguin Island is a conservation park, so there are no shops or cafes. You can carry your own food and drinks (there is a small picnic area), but make sure you clean up after.
The wildlife & the wineries
Swan Valley has it all – wildlife, wineries, chocolate factories, art galleries, breweries and distilleries. And when you visit a winery that not only has great wine but also a playground and kids’ menu, the world just makes perfect sense.
While on the topic of wineries, know that Swan Valley is the oldest wine region of Western Australia, viticulture started here about 180 years ago. The Swan Valley Food and Wine Trail is a scenic loop with wineries, restaurants and cafes on it. We didn’t do the full loop but used the map as a guide and visited the few wineries that our B&B host recommended (read the ones with playgrounds). My favourite was the The Laughin’ Barrel, which has a kiddy playground in sight of the outdoor seating. Need I say more? Besides their Rosé, also worth trying is the Dukkah (a blend of toasted crushed seeds and nuts).
Day 2 in Swan Valley, I woke up to a little voice asking, “What animals are we going to see today mama?” A few hours later, we set out for Caversham Wildlife Park, which has enough animals and shows to keep little ones busy for several hours. My favourite part of the vacation (probably of any vacation ever) was feeding the Kangaroos at Caversham. It was endearing how the hungry ones held my hand with both of theirs while they gobbled up the food in my palm. The twins, albeit a bit wary at first, were soon running around with handfuls of kangaroo-food, trying to find hungry joeys to feed.
We also got lucky at the Koala enclosure, where we met Sunshine, an adult male Koala being carried by one of the volunteers, not unlike a toddler. We were told that Koalas are not normally brought out or carried to meet visitors, they come to the keepers on their own when they want a cuddle. This was my first time seeing a Koala and I was surprised by how big they are, Sunshine weighed over 10 kilos.
Ponies, wombats, emus and peacocks are some of the other animals you’ll see. We had a Kodak moment when we came across a peacock sitting surrounded by a dozen white kangaroos, talk about living in harmony. Unfortunately, I was too mesmerized to take out my camera.
While at Caversham, catch as many shows as you can. Most shows are interactive – kids can volunteer to bottle-feed lambs or milk a cow at the Farm Show, younger children can step inside the rabbit enclosure at Molly’s Farm, and at Meet the Wombat show anyone can hold a snake, anyone brave enough that is.
Swan Valley is close enough for a day trip (or two) from Perth, but we chose to stay there for 2 days because I was intent on having the twins experience a farm-stay to complete the animal encounters.
Mind you, I’m not talking about one of those touristy places with a dog and 2 pigs, Keller’s B&B is a real working farm. In fact, if it hadn’t been for some hardcore googling, I never would have found the place. On our first morning there, we were up early enough to watch our host Philipp milking the cows. Philipp then took us for a ride on the tractor, to feed the cows and pigs and to collect eggs from the chickens – quite an experience for the kids.
By the time we got back, our wonderful hostess Marija had a lovely breakfast spread out for us – freshly baked bread, fresh eggs, fresh juice, fresh milk, homemade jams and preserves. While my daughter dug wholeheartedly into the chocolate milk, my son decided that no one except him was even allowed to touch the jams.
The Kellers’ very friendly dog Rosie and their 2 cats, completed our animal experience and the huge trampoline at the back of the house ensured that the parents enjoyed multiple cups of hot coffee, uninterrupted!
Although, it has been a few months since we got back, the twins still remember the kangaroos and the dolphins fondly (poor Sunshine seems to have been forgotten though), and “When are we going back to Perth” has been a frequent question in our house. What was the twins’ favourite part of the vacation, you ask? After writing a whole article on animals, when I asked them this question, they both insisted it was the “standing” tractor ride.