Mom Cheng Lei, dad Wang Wei, their daughter Ava Wang (age 3.5) and their son Alex Wang (age 1).
Over the past October holidays, we traveled to Perth and Melbourne in Australia. Our son had never been to Australia despite being an Aussie citizen. For our daughter (who was born in Australia), it was high time to visit Grandma and Grandpa, who live in Melbourne and Perth respectively. We were based in Shanghai at the time, so we took the train to Hangzhou and flew to Perth. Then, we flew from Perth to Melbourne and from Melbourne back to Shanghai. We booked everything ourselves online after doing research on Aussie family forums Buggybuddys (buggybuddys.com.au) and Kidspot Australia (kidspot.com.au).
The flights cost around RMB 15,000 in total for two adults, one child, and one infant. That includes the AirAsia flight from Hangzhou to Perth (via Kuala Lumpur), the Jetstar flight from Perth to Melbourne, and the China Eastern flight from Melbourne to Shanghai. (Editor’s note: At the time of print, the total price for roundtrip flights with Qantas between Beijing and Melbourne for two adults, one child, and one infant during the upcoming October holiday cost around RMB 32,000.)
For accommodations, we only spent RMB 550 at the Hangzhou Renaissance for one night; we stayed with family the rest of the time. On shopping, we spent about RMB 5,000, which includes clothes and food to bring back to China.
The Best Part
As parents, we enjoyed a respite from the “child-kidnapper” reflex caused by living in China for too long. Our eyes brightened at the blue skies and endless sunshine of Perth, our moods were lifted by seeing whales frolic 2km from the beach, and our appetites were whetted by fresh, delicious food that didn’t require us to question its safety.
We felt pampered. After the fastidious planning that is required when going out in China, you could forget your nappy bag in Australia and still do well. There are kid-friendly amenities everywhere, from the parents’ room at the mall that comes with a toddler playground (complete with toys and Wiggles on TV), purified water, a microwave oven and wet wipes. There was also an abundance of new, clean, creative playgrounds that kept the kids entertained for hours while we carried on adult conversations: a long-forgotten pleasure. As for sightseeing, the best part was watching my kids’ faces upon seeing wildlife up close. Ava got to milk a cow, I learned to crack a whip, and Alex tried to taste kangaroo poo.
The Worst Part
I would never fly on a low-cost airline with kids again (AirAsia); much of the fun in traveling is negated by the hardship. We opted to pay for a lounge at the Kuala Lumpur budget terminal, but it felt cheap and nasty.
An Unexpected Moment
I (Cheng Lei) decided to get a stunt plane flight as a birthday surprise for my husband. My young son did not stay on the stomach-churning flight, but he had fun getting in the plane. For my husband – an adrenaline junkie – the gorgeous weather and utter exhilaration of aerobatic flying made it a memorable birthday. Not throwing up was an added bonus.
To say that Australia is family-friendly is an understatement. To give an example, even small supermarkets had trolleys with double baby seats. Local parks seem to go all out to make parents’ jobs easier.
We loved Salt Restaurant in Perth, not only because of the yummy food, but also because it had a kids’ playground and handed out activity packs when you joined their kids’ club. Plus, it’s right on the beach.
Caversham Wildlife Park is another worthwhile attraction. It offers ample opportunities to pat and feed the animals, whether it’s the hordes of kangaroos splayed out on the ground, the meek rabbits, rotund wombats, or even the glassy-eyed koalas drunk on eucalyptus leaves.
Also, King’s Park in Perth has a brilliant kids’ section with life-sized dinosaur sculptures and spacious wooden climbing areas. Large, safe, and pleasing to look at; what more do mums and dads want? (But watch out, magpies may steal your picnic!)
Australia is all about the freedom to do as much or as little you like – the perfect antidote to China stress. With kids, you can be lazy and plan nothing. Just stroll to the nearest playground, gorge on fabulous fresh food everywhere, hit the mall – and never have to worry about bringing your own toilet tissue.
Springtime in Perth is dry, warm, and sunny. Hats and sunglasses are needed almost year-round. It was mostly fine in Melbourne, but you should always pack warmer clothes just in case.
photo courtesy of the cheng-wei family