Helen Truszkowski is a new contributor on Ciao Bambino! British born and bred, Helen has worked as a travel writer and photographer for the past 20 years. She was previously travel editor at Executive Woman magazine and is the founding author behind award winning guidebook series, ‘Take the Kids:’ Her title Take The Kids … Paris & Disneyland Resort Paris is a bestseller. Helen divides her time between Los Angeles and London with her two sons, George, 16, and Jack, 6.
Now, thanks to Helen, I’m dreaming about a family trip to Oz!
In an age of kids’ clubs and summer camps it’s become the norm to have your children charmed away by nannies, nurtured in a corner of a resort well out of ear-shot. Small wonder playground parents wince when I let slip my plan to spend two weeks on a driving tour around Southern Australia. They linger on doubts about lengthy flights, searing temperatures and creepy crawlies a-go-go.
Of course Australia is huge and deciding where to head can be a complicated affair. Compelled to at least scratch the surface of this immense island, first timers like us arrive with an obligatory sightseeing schedule, making the pilgrimage to Sydney.
Our plane skims the tarmac with postcard promises of Bondi Beach, the steely Harbour Bridge and Opera House. My 7-year-old, George, fingers the map tracing our route past suburbs with outlandish names like Woolloomooloo, Parramatta, Yagoona and Cabramatta, his eyes widening. George’s mind is all set on boomerangs and woomeras, didgeridoos and gunyahs.
We spend the next day wandering the Rock’s cobbled streets, its vibrant pocket of cafes, eateries and market stalls. We (grudgingly) share our lunch with the pelicans at Sydney Fish Market – the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. On Darling Harbour, Wildlife World offers us in your face encounters with a cassowary and kangaroo, heck I even get to cuddle a koala.
George revels in the breathtaking oasis that is the Royal Botanic Gardens. It’s chock-full with vivid blue buds, scarlet rosellas, bulging she-oak and a visitors’ code that entices kids to, ”Please walk on the grass! We also invite you to smell the roses, hug the trees, talk to the birds and picnic on the lawns.”
The air hangs heavy, filled with a cacophony of caws and buzzes, as we are given the ‘bush tucker’ lowdown during an indigenous tour of the gardens. Our guide John plucks out native berries, knowing just how to turn unintelligible botany facts into enticements like, “suck on this and see what colour your tongue turns.”
Perched as the population of Sydney is on continuous coastline, a beach is never more than a ferry-ride away. Just seven miles north-east, neatly hemmed in by a ribbon of apricot sand, Manly is more mellow than its brasher sister Bondi, and with less daunting surf. Brimful of sun-bleached hair and flip-flops, Speedo-clad kayakers and paddle boarders, this is a veritable Mecca for the bucket and spade brigade.
We stroll down the lively, pedestrianised ‘Corso’ to Oceanworld to stare at the tanks teeming with great nurse sharks, sea turtles, wobbegong sharks and moray eels.
Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
Jet lag behind us, we collect our hire car and venture north. A half-hour drive away, the captivating Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park screams ‘bushwalk right here, picnic right now’. Its ancient sandstone landscape functions as a perfect canvas for Aboriginal rock art. Among the 2,000 year-old engravings are gigantic whales, outlandish spirits, sharks and eels. The finer points may be lost on George (to him old is old) but we wander the lines hand in hand marvelling at the Garigal clan who etched them.
Blue Mountains National Park
Pushing further west beyond the city limits, we enter the cool, eucalyptus bound haze of the Blue Mountains National Park. It is all unyielding bends, jagged precipices, canyons and gorges.
Great Ocean Road to Bells Beach
Ten more days, 1,200 miles more grinding of gears, a blockbuster drive takes us on the spectacular Great Ocean Road to the iconic Bells Beach, Cape Otway Lighthouse and Port Campbell National Park, past the magnificent Twelve Apostles, pausing on solitary beaches where our footprints are the only ones in the sand. We stay in quirky, scenic seaside towns along the way — Apollo Bay, Lorne and Port Fairy.
Mungo National Park
We enter the concluding leg of our tour at the World Heritage Listed Mungo National Park. We are met by Grahem. He’s decked out in stylish khaki, Oakley shades and a vivacious grin. The orange dust lends a smooth, bronze like sheen to his skin. “Wunna bunna bidga,“ he greets us.
This ancient riverbed is Grahem’s traditional Barkindji tribal land with a history of Aboriginal occupation dating back over 40,000 years. From the off it’s clear Grahem’s knowledge doesn’t come from books. it’s been passed down from person to person, generation to generation. Like good progenitors everywhere, he begins by telling George, ‘how the birds got their colours’, ‘why the crow is glossy black’, sketching images in the sand to illustrate each tale, then carefully erasing each scene with the palm of his hand.
We adjust our ears and eyes to the starkly sculptural landforms; to distances that seem to have no end; to silences that wrap round us like a blanket. George ping-pongs around the lunar landscape in search of things to climb.“ When you’re down, come look at this “ Grahem calls, “… jaw of a hairy-nosed wombat, bit the dust about 18,000 years ago.”
As an amber sun skims the horizon, George’s sandman is no nearer. We’ve packed such an incredible amount into the last two weeks and both learned so much. But by George, it’s worth it.
Photos courtesy of Helen Truszkowski. Complimentary accommodations provided by BushBaby Travel.