Sights, surf and plenty of seafood
The Travelers: Jonas Stahlbage, a Swede, and Monica Mak, who hails from Hong Kong but spent half her life in the US, and their son Gustav, age 14 months.
The Destination: Sydney, Australia.
The Plan: Jonas needed to go to Australia for a business trip, and Monica and Gustav jumped on board for a weeklong seaside escape. Self-described “foodies,” Monica and Jonas were excited about the prospect of a week’s worth of quality fish, crab and oysters. “My goal was to eat seafood until I just didn’t want to eat seafood anymore!” smiles Monica. Gustav, though perhaps too young to appreciate a good plate of raw oysters, would get a chance to chase after seagulls and splash in the waves on Sydney’s beaches.
The Bumpy Start: A mess-up at the airline counter (the airline misplaced Monica’s Hong Kong ID!) made for a hectic start. Then, a total of 14 hours in the air, plus a layover in Singapore, made for a tired toddler. When the family finally arrived in Sydney, they discovered that their reservation was off by two days and that they had nowhere to stay!
The Resolution: Luckily, another branch of the serviced apartment building/hotel that they’d hoped to stay at had space available, and the family settled in there. “It was smooth sailing from then on,” says Monica. And smooth eating, too – with the exception of just one steak dinner for Jonas, the three stuck to food from the sea for every meal!
Where to stay: The Medina Grand Sydney (AUD 200/night and up; 0061 02 9274 0000). For AUD 210/night, the family rented a one-bedroom serviced apartment with a living room and full kitchen. “We would definitely stay again,” says Monica. “Serviced apartments are so much more convenient when you have kids. We were able to do laundry and make our own breakfast, and when Gustav was hungry, we could make snacks.” Thanks to the Medina’s convenient location smack dab in the middle of the CBD, just a quick walk from the waterfront, the family could also get home easily for Gustav’s afternoon naps.
Where to play: When Jonas had to get down to business, Monica and Gustav spent a day relaxing at the Royal Botanic Gardens (free entry; 0061 02 9231 8111/ 8125), the large and beautiful waterfront park near the opera house. “They really welcome you to interact with the environment,” says Monica, and Gustav had no problem obeying the many signs encouraging people to lounge and play on the grass. The family also enjoyed a trip to Manly Beach on the north shore, a half-hour ferry ride from Circular Quay. It wasn’t quite swimming season in May, but it was the perfect temperature for splashing around. “We let Gustav just go wild in the water.”
Where to eat: Jonas and Monica got their fill of shellfish at the Sydney Cove Oyster Bar (0061 02 9247 2937) on the Circular Quay. While there was no kids’ menu, there were plenty of stalls nearby offering yummy snacks for kids; Gustav ate a croissant while his parents dined on oysters in the half shell. The couple also recommend exploring the strip of restaurants along the wharf at Woolloomooloo Bay, a short ferry ride away from their hotel. Lined with restaurants offering cuisines of all kind, the place “felt a little bit off the beaten path.” In general, the family found Sydney restaurants very child-friendly and affordable, with main dishes generally running about AUD 40. Gustav wasn’t hard to please, though – after his first taste of fish and chips, he fell in love. Apparently a seafood fanatic like his parents, Gustav ate this dish five days in a row!
Where to shop: By visiting in May, the family lucked out – summer clothing was majorly discounted in all the stores. “They were Yaxiu prices!” Monica raves. They loaded up on cheap summer outfits for all three, and shoes for Gustav. For one-stop shopping, Monica recommends the Queen Victoria Building and Sydney Central Plaza shopping centers, both in the CBD. Nearby is Oxford Street, a shopping strip with a focus on more hip clothing. The family also stocked up on summer reads and children’s books at Pitt Street, a pedestrian shopping area with really good bookstores.
Greatest bargain: By far, the best deal of the vacation was a full-day trip to the Blue Mountains, a mountain range west of Sydney. The family booked the tour through Oz Trails (0061 02 9387 8390). For AUD 83 with lunch, or 70 without (kids AUD 70/60), they got a ten-hour daytrip through the national park, with a gondola ride down into the valley and a stop-off at a kangaroo park for the finale. Gustav enjoyed the chance to run around, and the scenery was “absolutely breathtaking.” The highlight of the trip was the stunning view of the park from Kings Tableland Lookout. The couple’s only complaint was lunch came too late in the day. “Definitely bring some snacks and have a real big breakfast,” suggests Monica, or maybe opt for the non-lunch tickets, and grab your own at one of the cute cafes during the day.
Biggest disappointment: The Sydney Aquarium (AUD 27.50/adult, AUD 14/children; 0061 02 8251 7800) boasts that it keeps its doors open until 10pm, so the family decided to spend the day outside and then check out the aquarium right before dinner. Unfortunately, much of the aquarium was outside and poorly lit, and the sea lions were already off hiding for the night. Despite their disappointment, Jonas and Monica suspect the aquarium is probably still worth a visit earlier in the day. Monica’s 6-year-old niece, an official aquarium expert, declared it one of the best aquariums she’d visited.
Transportation tips: Since they were only staying a week, Monica and Jonas decided against renting a car and relied on taxis and ferries to get around. The ferry system was fast, convenient, and stroller-friendly, and Gustav loved watching the water rush by. But when the family tried to hail taxis, they ran up against an unexpected rule: all children younger than 12 months are required to sit in car seats in cabs. Gustav was 14 months, but taxi drivers cited different ages to Monica and Jonas, and sometimes refused to take them. “That was quite a pain,” says Monica, who suggests that parents with children under a year bring their own car seat. Alternatively, you can call ahead and reserve a taxi with a car seat, but that’s not always practical.