By: Jess Smit
With three children under the age of four, I’m expecting my family holidays to be somewhat farcical for the next few years. Anything remotely involving culture is out, as is a city break; and, call me spoilt, but I feel there’s only so many times you can drag your brood through Denpasar airport without feeling somewhat jaded. So what’s doing, then? Margaret River, dear friends, Margaret River.
Firstly, it’s a doddle to get there Hit the play button on Frozen a times and you’ll be in the Western Australian capital, Perth; then hire a car at the airport and point it south, and in three hours you’ll find yourselves slap-bang in a land where sipping sauv blanc before noon is totally acceptable – encouraged, even.
Secondly, the mild Mediterranean climate means you can build sandcastles, scoff fudge, trail whales and pat farm animals almost year-round. We went in early September, when spring temperatures in their teens had me dusting off my old London Uggs; but summer is said to be just as swell.
Thirdly, the clever folk at the wineries and breweries there know that a well-positioned playground means happy children, happy parents.
Leg 1: Sunflowers Animal Farm & Farmstay, Margaret River
Our children don’t bat an eyelid at a lion in the zoo, but they scream bloody murder when confronted with a garden-variety chicken, so we thought it time they got their hands a bit dirty. Thus we found ourselves at Sunflowers Animal Farm, where border collies Chilli, Lilli and Dizzi sent our eldest fleeing up the bunk bed in our unit within seconds of us arriving. We’re city folk, okay?
The original 100-year-old farmhouse has been converted by Steve and Debbie Jones into four self-contained units, each facing a different direction. We checked into South, a two-bedder with a small kitchen, an open-plan living-and-dining area and a verandah overlooking the playground and barbecue area, with laundry facilities round the back.
This ain’t five-star stuff. Instead, it’s a self-catering, early to bed and early to rise, pull on your muddy wellies and track down your children in the rabbit cage type of place. Heck, there’s not even Wi-Fi – but there is a magic DVD library, every flavour of Simmo’s ice cream you could dream up, a 10-acre animal farm (open to day visitors too) and over 350 animals to pat and feed. We’re talking ducks, kangaroos, pigs, ostriches, llamas, emus, alpacas, guinea fowl, goats and even a talking long-beaked Corella parrot!
Our daily routine went as follows: morning shot of Lavazza coffee while the children had a pony ride atop Basil, the Shetland pony; bottle-feeding the baby orphans; distributing the contents of our buckets of animal food to the farm’s greedy residents; chatting to the parrot; and petting the baby chicks. Then we’d go on a day-trip, taking in a wine farm or two, before stopping at the supermarket in Margaret River town centre, a few minutes’ drive away, for supplies. But we always made sure we were home for the big event: the tractor ride!
Twice during our four-day stay, Farmer Jones hooked the trailer up to his big red tractor, and everyone piled in for an adventure across the 315-acre property. With children hanging precariously from the back and the dogs along for the ride, this would never pass health and safety in the UK, and all the better for it. As if it could get any better for our preschoolers Benjamin (4) and Rosie (2), Farmer Jones would pull up alongside a riverbank for marshmallow-toasting and toy-boat races downstream.
One of the fellow families on the tractor had been coming to Sunflowers for seven years, and I think we may very well be seeing them there on their eighth trip this year!
Leg 2: Pullman Resort & Spa Bunker Bay, Margaret River Region
En route to our next accommodation, about 30 minutes’ drive north of Sunflowers, we made a a little pit-stop at the gorgeous Aravina Estate where Mum picked up a few bottles of vino, Dad ogled owner Steve Tobin’s sports car gallery and the children hit up what must have been their 49th playground. Feeing sorry for us yet? Thought not, and you’ll feel even less so once we tell you about our few days at the five-star Pullman Resort Bunker Bay.
Our contemporary bungalow-style villa, a boardwalk away from the Indian Ocean, was not only stylish but also totally practical. We had two huge rooms, a fully equipped kitchen, a laundry area and a Jacuzzi bath that kept the kids entertained for hours (instant fun, just add suds).
While the little people in our party got on with the business of holidaying – by dominating the playroom tucked away beside the restaurant, for example – the grownups made the most of the free-flow bubbly at breakfast. Then it was time to grab beach toys from reception in order to bury Dad on the endless stretch of sandy beach, before dusting off with a dip in the heated pool at the end of the day.
Eagle Bay Brewery up the road is a top spot for dinner and a paddle of beer samples, and we’d totally recommend drafting in a babysitter and heading for dîner à deux at the resort’s Other Side of the Moon resto – though do save one sunset for a barbie on the little patch of lawn beside Bunker Bay’s pool. Family vacation gold!
Mums (and dads), don’t leave without checking into the resort’s award-winning Vie Spa, but book early – it’s a popular spot.
Leg 3: The Richardson Hotel & Spa, Perth
Our holiday isn’t over yet! Husband Paul thought it practical that we break up the return journey with a little stopover in Perth. He assured me it was just a coincidence that South Africa was playing rugby against Australia at Paterson Stadium, a stone’s throw from the balcony of The Richardson, our five-star boutique hotel set in a leafy Perth suburb.
Needless to say, the rest of us weren’t invited along to the game, but we pretended not to mind as we had plenty to fill our time. Starting with demolishing the children’s personalised biscuits waiting for us in our two-bedroom suite, we worked our way through the movie library, and then upset the serenity of the heated indoor pool. Even better to work off the crazy before boarding the flight home, we found Ivey Watson Playground and Stickybeaks Café just a stroller-ride away – and, beyond them, the rest of King’s Park and Botanic Garden.
While I never got to sample the degustation menu at the hotel’s renowned fine-dining Opus Restaurant, nor sip something suitably strong at the Cocktail Bar, The Conservatory dished up fabulous family fare, with a breakfast buffet that kept us going all the way back to Changi Airport.
Oh, and mums, there’s a fabulous day spa on site that uses ESPA products – in case you need a little pick-me-up before heading home!
Top 10 things to do with kids:
1. The Margaret River Dairy Company
2. Margaret River Fudge Factory
3. Heritage steam engine “Old Kate” in Rotary Park, Margaret River
4. Margaret River Chocolate Co.
5. Ye Olde Lolly Shoppe
6. Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse
7. Beaches, beaches, beaches (especially Cowaramup Bay)
8. Caves (try Mammoth Cave and Calgardup Cave)
9. Whale-watching (we headed out from Dunsborough aboard Naturaliste Charters’ catamaran)
10. Boranup Forest