We recently stopped in Bathurst for a stop over on our way to Dubbo from Sydney. I prefer, when doing long drives, to push on as much as possible to stop somewhere interesting for longer rather than doing a few short stops with nothing to see or do.
Bathurst is a great country town with plenty to occupy families for a few days, so absolutely enough to make for a memorable stopover.
Where to eat: The Hub Espresso Bar and Eatery
We loved this family-friendly cafe that served delicious, if somewhat pricey food for adults, and a kick-ass and very affordable menu for kids. My warm Sweet Potato Salad ($18.90) was incredible, and the kid enjoyed a 0.50c babycinio and Cheese melt ($5). The cafe handed us colouring in pencils and a kids’ menu to drawn on while we waited for our delicious food.
The Hub Espresso Bar and Eatery 52 Keppel St, Bathurst, NSW Phone: (02) 6332 1565 Hours: Daily, 7am-3.30pm The Hub Facebook Page
Where to play: Bathurst Adventure Playground
This incredible playground was a major hit. Designed with a dinosaur theme, it features plenty of activities for kids of all ages and abilities, such as a dual flying fox, large metal slide & toddlers double slide, large sand pit with water spout, maze, imaginative play cubby house, rockers and whirlygigs, climbing structure and rock wall, working sun dial. sound activated dinosaur noises, musical deck notes and dinosaur sculptures & footprints. There are excellent clean bathroom and barbecue facilities and also plenty of shade cover over various elements.
Bathurst Adventure Playground Durham St & Hope Street, Bathurst
Where to get dessert: Annies Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlour
The best way to finish the Bathurst experience is with a sundae from Annies old fashioned 1950s-style milk bar. The pink decor is to die for, and I highly recommend the local speciality, “Sofala Gold” ice cream. With 30 flavours to choose from, there’s bound to be something everyone in the family will enjoy.
It was a colder than usual summer morning today inside the brand new Penguin Expedition exhibit at SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium. A chilly 6 degrees C is set to keep the brand new Gentoo and King Emperor penguins at a comfortable temperature in their new home.
Visitors to the new penguin exhibition, which is inspired by Macquarie Island in the Southwest Pacific, can climb aboard a raft and sail around the rugged, sub-Antarctic environment. You might want to pack a cardigan if you really feel the cold, or snuggle up to the person sitting next to you. At the end of the ride there is a further viewing window to see the penguins up close.
The penguins are quite spectacular when viewed in person – and larger than expected. King Penguins can grow up to 100 cm tall and weigh 11 to 16 kg, while the smaller Gentoos reach a maximum weight of 8.5kg.
The Gentoo and King Emperor penguins recently moved up from SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium to start a dedicated penguin breeding program on site whereby marine biologists hope to produce some baby King or Gentoo penguins next year.
The breeding program will provide insight and research into the way penguin colonies work and assist in their future conservation in the wild.
As part of the new Penguin Expedition, visitors to SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium will learn about the issues facing penguins in the wild and the simple ways they can make a difference, including reducing single-use plastic consumption. Education programs such as this are beneficial in inspiring the next generation to become healthy ocean ambassadors.
Entrance to Penguin Expedition, including daily feeds and talks from dedicated keepers and trainers, is included in the cost of general admission.
SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium Aquarium Wharf, Darling Harbour, Sydney Hours: Open daily from 9.30am Cost: For the best deal, book online in advance. Walk-up price: Adults $42, Children (4-15yrs) $29:50 http://www.sealifesydney.com.au
We attended the launch of Penguin Expedition as a guest of SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium.
Today we checked out a gorgeous new play centre in Alexandria, Sydney, called Nubo. This space is like no other you will find in Sydney. While most play centres are a seething mass of running, crying sweaty children with parents either frantically trying to locate their wailing child or sitting having a coffee with their feet up, Nubo is a place of quiet and calm, even when filled with kids.
What makes it so different? The purpose of Nubo is to let kids explore, create, rest and wonder. Each section of the centre focuses on a different purpose and activity that matches it, resulting in a space looks more like a children’s museum than a traditional play gym.
While physical activity is certainly important and there are plenty of ways for kids to be active here, they can also build, get arty, indulge in pretend play and read books in the most gorgeous book nooks I’ve seen.
Parents must supervise their kids at all time, and the result is a lot more engagement with offspring such as building with Magnatiles, making a grand old play doh mess or reading a book to them.
Each area has a number of children allowed per activity and the physical ones have an age recommendation too. The whole centre caters for kids up to the age of 10.
Several of the smaller rooms in particular are geared towards older kids, such as the upstairs party room which was set up with Play Sticks and suggestions of what to build with them when we visited, and the large climbing structure in the middle of the space.
Younger kids can enjoy dedicated areas or play with the more complex activities along with an adult. With creative areas such as the Blue Room, set up with Magnatiles and Imagination Blocks, it’s the kind of play that parents can get into, too.
Nubo is really a space that adults can enjoy being at almost as much as their kids will. It’s bright and light and relaxing (yes, relaxing!), with a large cafe space and fantastic facilities such as a feeding room for nursing babies and a gorgeous (!) dedicated kids’ bathroom.
The cafe at the moment serves very healthy basic snacks such as salads, sandwiches and smoothies. In the new year they will have a dedicated kitchen installed and chef to make hot food on site. Nubo serves only healthy food and drinks – you’ll find lots of raw and whole foods here and very little sugar.
During the week, Nubo staff, who are mostly former child care workers, run activities geared towards the younger set of under fives such as story time and craft activities. On the weekends and school holidays these activities change to become suitable for kids aged up to 10.
At the moment these activities are included in the cost of admission but as they develop these events further into workshops that are run in series, they will be charged separately. So, for example, a kid can come for a weekly workshop without also paying to use the play space, but they can choose to pay for a bundle of both if they wish to do so. On the cards for upcoming workshops as they grow are robotics and coding for all ages, even the under 5s.
We highly enjoyed our time at Nubo – yes, that’s right, the both of us.
2/160 Bourke Rd, Alexandria NSW 2090
(02) 9317 3206
Hours: Daily 9am-5pm
Prices: $10 for 0-12 months, $18 for ages 12-24 months, $38.50 for 2 years and over. For multiple children it’s $30 each. Current special promotion running: buy one get one free for general admissions and free workshops until 31 December. Get Directions Parking: If you can score a spot marked “Nubo” it’s free. Otherwise it’s pay and display ($3 hour weekdays and two hours free on weekends).
This is a question I’ve been asked pretty regularly, so here it is for anyone else who is interested too.
We Live Leanly And Save
This is the main way we travel. We save money by not spending it a lot on other things. We live in a small place, don’t have a giant mortgage to pay off, and don’t buy a lot of stuff. We don’t go out a lot and have fancy dinners or buy anything that’s overly expensive.
We Travel Off-Season
I am always looking for the best travel deals, be it airfares, hotels or attractions. I get everything discounted if I can and travel outside of peak dates to get them. Our Aulani stay, for example, was a “stay four nights get one free” deal and included a $250 resort credit because we stayed a week before their peak season started. With attractions, I am relentless at looking for discount vouchers and Groupons. My daughter is also still young enough that we can travel outside of school holiday times without it being a drama.
We Only Have One Small Kid
One kid is pretty easy to tuck into travel plans. The flight is an extra big cost, but otherwise she doesn’t cost anything extra yet for accommodation because we fit into a standard hotel room, and gets into a lot of attractions for either free or a substantially discounted rate.
Extending Business Trips
Most of our USA trips are extensions of my husbands work trips. We tag along where possible and then stay longer to make the most it. For example on our recent trip to New York, our accommodation was covered by my husband’s work since that’s what he was there to do, while the kid and I had a ball site seeing.
I very rarely get hosted stays or discounted media rates for hotels, but they do occasionally happen (I make it very clearly when I do!). I more frequently get media passes for attractions, which, again, I mark extremely clearly in my blog posts.
I hope this answers the question! Any more questions, throw them at me!
Spending the night overlooking an African savannah is a life-long dream of ours. While a family trip to Africa is on the bucket list and many eons away, we discovered that it is possible to have an incredible local experience that is as close to Africa as it’s possible to get, without actually leaving Australia.
We recently spent the night at the luxurious Zoofari Lodges at Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo. The 15 African-style lodges are at the edge of a large “African savannah” paddock where giraffe, zebra and eland roam freely.
We stayed in one of the Animal View Lodges which have verandahs opening up to the savannah view and fit four people. If you have a larger group, the Bushland View Lodges sit just behind these cabins and fit six people in each, with a queen bed, two singles and a sofa bed.
The lodges are all brand new, with gorgeous features and facilities, including a king split bed and pull out sofa bed, private ensuite, coffee and tea making facilities, mini-bar, fridge and shaded veranda with outdoor furniture. All bedding, linen and towels are provided.
Surrounding the lodges is plenty of bush, which adds to the feeling of being glamping on a safari, and it’s just a short stroll from the lodges up to the equally luxe Zoofari Lodge Guest House, where guests can relax in the pool, with a drink at the bar, or playing games in the lounge area.
All guests of Zoofari are given two day admission to Taronga Western Plains Zoo, with check in at the lodge between 2pm and 3pm in the afternoon. We chose to spend the night before at a nearby motel and arrive at the zoo before the gates opened the following morning.
We spent the morning and lunch time driving and cycling around the zoo (you can read more about our experience and tips for visiting Taronga Western Plains Zoo here), and then drove our car out of the zoo and around the corner to the Zoofari Lodges at check in time.
Our assigned cabin was called “Bongo”, after the endangered African antelope, and we became the “Bongo” family for the duration of our stay.
During cooler weather, there is often an afternoon behind the scenes tour of the zoo for Zoofari guests, but we visited on a scorchingly hot and our tour was instead scheduled for 8pm in the evening. In the mean time, we relaxed and enjoyed the gorgeous facilities. We watched the giraffes munch on snacks and the water buffalo and ostriches roam around the paddock, then wandered up to the guest lodge for a cool drink.
The guest lodge has an excellent swimming pool, but due to an unfortunate leg grazing incident by my daughter earlier in the day, we were house-bound. I was a bit worried she’d go stir crazy in the lodge, but it was set up incredibly well, catering for both adults and kids at the same time.
While the guests without kids sat around the bar and had a cocktail, or lounged on the verandah and read a book, we found plenty of colouring in and toys for Cheese to play with, and she even learnt the rudiments of chess.
At 6pm complimentary wine tasting was served, along with canapés. After sampling delicious wine from the local region (I really enjoyed some sweet wine from Mudgee), we sat at our assigned seats at 6:30 to enjoy dinner – an African-style banquet.
Before the meal, I had a quick chat with the chef about dietary requirements, as she wanted to make sure that my daughter and I were able to find enough food to eat. The banquet is very meat heavy, so if you’re not big on meat I would advise doing similar. I really appreciated the level of concern shown for ensuring there was enough food for both myself and the picky child. The chefs in the end made special kids meals for the little ones present – fish and chips for Cheese, and nuggets and chips for another little fellow.
The dishes were brought out on large platters to share: salmon pesto pasta with chick peas, roast veggies (these were amazing!), Moroccan lamb with three berry couscous, garden salad and African rump chicken. I was served the three berry couscous on its own as well as two giant stuffed mushrooms on plates just for myself.
As each platter was eaten, more were brought out, so there was an endless amount of food if you were feeling particularly hungry. Dinner was included in the price of the Zoofari experience, but any drinks were an added extra cost. We found the price of drinks to be pretty reasonable however – the happy hour special cocktail was $10, regular cocktails $14 and a glass of wine $7.50.
Dessert was served after the dinner platters were taken away – again, African-style dishes for the adults such as cake and pudding, with plain vanilla ice cream and topping for the kids.
When dinner was well and truly over, we watched the sun go down over the savannah from our balcony, and it was suddenly time for the night tour. (Please excuse my lack of photos of the meal and night tour, it was too dark to get any decent shots.) The tour left at 8pm sharp and started with a visit to Cuddles, the only African elephant in Australiasia. Our tour guide, Stephen, had an enrichment toy filled with food for her. A little rattle of the toy and she came lumbering our way, so we were able to see her right up close.
While African elephants are not yet endangered, their numbers have been decimated in recent years due to poaching for their ivory tusks, at a rate of around a hundred a day. Eliminating the demand for ivory is the only way to stop poaches – remove the market and you remove the threat to the elephants. It’s tough hearing about the plight of these amazing animals and feeling helpless to do anything about it, but education is always the way forward. We need to know, and we need to teach our children, too.
After visiting Cuddles, we were taken to meet the hippos, who were happy to chow down on the food we brought while we learned about them and the work the zoo does in animal conservation.
Next on the tour was meeting endangered bongo, whom we hand fed carrots. Feeding a bongo is quite the gooey experience, as they love to have a good lick of the hand after eating the food offered. Pretty extraordinary, to be up close and feeding such a unique animal in the dark! We learned that there are only 200 of these herbivores left in the world due to the destruction of their habitat to mine for coltan, a metallic ore used in mobile phones. It was a stark reminder as to how we are destroying the wild even without realising it, and we were urged to recycle our mobile phones so the coltan can be removed and reused.
Our last stop on the night tour was to visit the white rhino, the second largest land animal. Using a red torch we were able to see him even in the dark, as we listened to the sad story of how the rhinos are being poached into extinction for their horns. Taronga has a breeding program in place to assist in the regeneration of the species, but the rhinos are particularly difficult animals to breed, making it a long, hard process.
Back to the cabins and to bed, it was an incredibly peaceful nights sleep until the sun came up just before 6am and the light began to stream into the cabin. There aren’t many things more beautiful than watching the sunrise, and seeing the glowing red ball rise over the savannah and highlight the animals eating their breakfast was breathtaking. A few classic Aussie wild animals joined the African ones, so our savannah included kangaroos, cockatoos and even some bush bunnies all enjoying the dawn light.
The morning behind-the-scenes tour kicks off at 7am sharp. Mindful of the kids who aren’t able to last till afterwards for breakfast, we were given milk and cereal to tide her over.
Our first stop was also the highlight, hand feeding carrots to the giraffes. They are behind a fence for our protection, their long necks enabling them to learn over and extend their long blue tongues to take the carrots from our hands. Looking up and seeing a gigantic giraffe head coming towards you is quick an unnerving experience, particularly for the younger members of the group.
Cheese was a bit scared to feed one on her own (not surprising considering how small she is compared to them), but placing her on my hip made her feel bigger and more confident, and she declared “feeding the blue tongued giraffe” to be her favourite part of the Zoofari experience.
After the giraffes we met the black rhino, of whom there are only 2000 left in the world. Unlike the placid white rhino, the black rhino is more aggressive – he even looked angry through the bars, which I was extremely grateful for. Our guide fed him a large plant brand near the fence so we could watch him eat as we learned about the story of the rhinos.
From the rhinos we moved on to the lemurs. The Madagascar lemurs are the most endangered animal on the planet right now due to the destruction of their rainforest through illegal logging as well as hunting. It’s so sad to hear, and we watch the two lemurs at the zoo play happily in the early morning light, unaware of the plight of the rest of their species.
The meerkats are up next on the agenda, one of our favourite animals. Meerkats have exploded in popularity after the Meerkat Manor TV series, as well as a TV ad that we are apparently the only people in Australian to have not seen. If you’re aged 10 or older, you can book in for a meerket encounter later on in the day.
The last stop on our morning tour is to meet the elephants up close as they’re are having their morning beauty routine. Every day the elephants are washed thoroughly and given a bit of a pedicure, which we were able to watch up close inside the elephant enclosure. The elephant keepers were happy to give us some information on the elephants and answer our questions about their care and habits.
We were all basically starving by that stage, so it was back to the guest lodge for a big buffet breakfast. Unlike most buffets, this one has food being constantly cooked out the back and brought into the dining area, so everything is constantly fresh and hot. The guests enjoyed scrambled eggs, pancakes, toast, granola, yogurt, cereal, bacon and breakfast buns that included poached eggs, spinach and roasted baby tomatoes (there was also a version with a sausage in it if you preferred it with meat). It was an absolute feast and we ate up, knowing we had a long drive ahead of us.
After breakfast it was time to pack up and check out of the lodge by 10am. Many guests stayed on the next day to explore the zoo using the complimentary bikes or hiring a Zoofari electronic cart ($89 for the entire day, exclusively for Zoofari Lodge guests).
It was sad to say goodbye to our amazing cabin and the lovely people who we met during our stay, but oh what an experience we had!
In 2017 Taronga Western Plains Zoo will be opening a new Pridelands exhibit with 20 lions roaming over five hectares, and the option to drive through it on a small bus. We hope to return for this exhibit opening and stay again in this gorgeous, unique accomodation.
More Information On Zoofari Lodges
Rates for one night accommodation in an animal view lodge starts from $309-$399 per person for adults, from $49-$79 per person for children aged 1 – 4 years old and from $149-$179 for kids aged 5 – 15 years old.
Bushland View Lodges start from $269-$359 per person for adults, from $49-$79 per person for children aged 1 – 4 years and from $149-$179 for kids aged 5 – 15 years old.
Rates are for one night accommodation and are fully inclusive of:
Two day admission to Taronga Western Plains Zoo
One night accommodation at Zoofari Lodge
Exclusive behind the scenes tours with a Zoofari Guide
African style canapés, banquet dinner and dessert
Standard bicycle hire for two days
10% discount at the Zoo’s Souvenir Shop
10% discount voucher for Bakhita’s Café
10% discount on additional Animal Encounters
Every year since Cheese was born, I’ve printed photo Christmas cards for our friends and relatives. I love receiving gorgeous photo cards from our friends, and hope that they, similarly, enjoy receiving our holiday wishes for them in the mail.
This year, I designed our cards with Minted, a US company specialising in gorgeous stationary.
Minted has some excellent features that I really like and wanted to share.
1. A large variety of cards to choose from
There are hundreds of cards to make a selection from. Literally too many to look through!
2. A personalised card preview tool
You can easily upload your own images to see what the cards will look like with your favourite shots in them.
3. Photo manipulation
It’s super easy to zoom in and out and crop the images to suit the cards, and there’s an option for “auto enhance” too.
3. Customisation options
Add foil, change the colours, change the text from “holiday” to “Christmas” greetings. There are so many options for each card.
4. Save and review later
One of my fave features, you can save all your designs and then view them all at once so it’s easy to compare them and choose your favourite.
5. Free recipient addressing
It’s really easy to upload a spreadsheet with your family and friends’ addresses in them, and they are printed on the envelopes FOR FREE! My handwriting is appalling, so I really appreciate this.
6. Digital proofing service
This is great for the nervous orderers among us – when you’re printing a lot of expensive cards, it’s reassuring to know there is someone looking over them and checking you haven’t made a silly mistake. If you choose not to use the proofing service you get a $10 discount and get your order 2 days faster.
7. Frequent discount offers
When I ordered mine they had a 20% off sale, with the code in a banner across the top of the site.
8. The quality is gorgeous
I’ve ordered from Minted before and the quality is just stunning. When you compare them to much cheaper places you can get cards from, there is no quality comparison at all. You get what you pay for – which is, in this case, gorgeous cards your family and friends will keep long after the holidays are over.
9. International shipping
I was stoked to see they shipped to Australia! It costs $20 for their standard international mail, but that’s pretty regular for getting something shipped all the way Down Under.
I can’t wait to get my cards! I will show them off on social media when they arrive.
Wanting to order your own gorgeous holiday cards? Make sure you do so while there is still time at Minted.com.
Thanks to Minted.com for the complimentary voucher to try their card ordering service. I’ve ordered from Minted in the past and have always been extremely happy with their quality and service so was more than happy to share my experience with others.
Visiting Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo is a road trip many Australian families have made over the past 40 years, since the zoo opened in 1977. The zoo was opened initially to provide more grazing and breeding space for large animals such as elephants and antelopes, with 35 animals from six countries.
While the design of the zoo has remained the same, with open-range with concealed moats separating the animals from visitors, the zoo expanded significantly after a big financial investment from the government into both Taronga zoos several years back.
Both Taronga zoos focus on conservation, and at Dubbo you’re able to see their breeding plans in action. We visited in late spring and were treated with many babies around the zoo, including zebra, 10 wild dog pups, giraffes and Sabai, the three-week-old Asian elephant calf.
Also on display were the Galapagos tortoises and their babies – the first juveniles I’ve ever seen. Classified as “vulnerable” due to their decline in numbers, it was remarkable to see the tiny tortoises doing their best to bring their species back from the brink of extinction.
The zoo is home to many endangered animals that can be seen up close around the park. With Taronga’s focus on conservation comes education – the more people who know about the plight of these animals and care enough to make a difference themselves, the better chance we have of saving these species from extinction.
Endangered animals at the park include the Asian elephants, black and white rhinoceros, the bongo, of which there are only 200 left in the wild, and the Sumatran tiger. All of the money you pay at the zoo for everything from admission to souvenirs, goes back into the upkeep of the animals and their conservation programs.
I always think it’s best to know before you go, so if you’re heading out to Taronga Western Plains Zoo soon, these tips might help you out.
1. Plan to spend two days there
One day is pretty rushed and there is a lot to see and do, including free talks by keepers as well as upgraded activities that cost a bit extra. Admission for two days is included in a one-day entry, so it also makes your money go further.
2. Book a bike or buggy
You can get around the zoo with your own car, but what’s the fun in that? The most popular mode of transport is an electronic buggy ($69 for 3 hours). To secure one, arrive at least 10 minutes before opening time as they book out fast.
Our favourite way to see the zoo was by bike, as it allows you get off the main road and ride through the bush trails as well as getting some exercise. You can bring your own bikes or hire them ($15 for a bike, $25 for a bike with kid seat, $29 for a bike with caboose for the entire day).
3. Arrive early
The animals are most active in the early morning. On a hot day, by midday the animals are all snoozing in the shade, so it’s worth your while to be early.
4. Book an animal encounter
The cheapest and most fun is the giraffe feeding for $7 per person. Who doesn’t want the chance to feed one of these majestic creatures? More info on animal encounters here.
5. Follow the keepers’ talk schedule
The scheduled talks start early in the morning when the zoo opens and continue around the zoo path, so you can easily just go from one to the next. The main benefit in this is the keepers usually feed the animals at the same time as their talk so you can see them close up and active. We visited the hippos, for example, before the talk and couldn’t even see them in their large enclosure. When we returned for the talk, the keeper had them right up near the visitors’ platform showing off their massive teeth.
6. Bring your own food
While there is a cafe at the entrance and a kiosk halfway around the 6km circuit, the food at the zoo is basic and expensive. There are plenty of picnic spots around the zoo in the shade so if you can bring your own food I would highly recommend it.
7. Book online
If you book your tickets online, you get 20% off entry fees. You can also book animal encounters online – and I highly advise you do so well in advance of your trip, as the popular ones book up very quickly. Book your tickets here.
8. Book accomodation in advance
We drove up from Sydney the day before and stayed the night in the excellent Best Western Bluegum Motor Inn. For $175 a night we were given an upgrade to a gorgeous newly renovated family room with air conditioning, one queen and two single beds, a fridge with no mini bar (hooray!), free internet, complimentary water, milk and apples. The motor inn is right in the centre of Dubbo, only a few minutes drive from several restaurants and a large Coles, plus there is a park with a playground across the road. It’s an 8 minute drive from the Best Western to Dubbo zoo.
9. Splurge on a Zoofari Lodge
This was hands down one of the most incredible accomodation experiences we’ve had. We stayed overnight in a Zoofari Lodge within the zoo – a luxe cabin situated right on the edge of an African savannah where giraffe, zebra and eland roam freely.
Watching the sun go down and come up again the next morning over this gorgeous landscape is an experience that won’t be forgotten. (An animal view Zoofari lodge costs from $309 per adult per night. More info here.)
Merry Christmas friends! To thank you for following along on our journeys this year, I’ve organised a prize pack worth almost $180 for one lucky reader as an early Chrissie pressie.
The pack contains copies of five DVD sets that the family will love:
1. Bad Moms
2. The Legend of Tarzan
3. Dial E For Emma
4. The Night Of
5. Doctor Doctor
In this new comedy from the writers of The Hangover, Amy has a seemingly perfect life – a great marriage, over-achieving kids, beautiful home and a career. However she’s over-worked, over-committed and exhausted to the point that she’s about to snap. Fed up, she joins forces with two other over-stressed moms on a quest to liberate themselves from conventional responsibilities – going on a wild, un-mom-like binge of long overdue freedom, fun and self-indulgence – putting them on a collision course with PTA Queen Bee Gwendolyn and her clique of devoted perfect moms.
The Legend of Tarzan
It has been years since the man once known as Tarzan left the jungles of Africa behind for a gentrified life as John Clayton III, Lord Greystoke, with his beloved wife, Jane at his side. Now, he has been invited back to the Congo to serve as a trade emissary of Parliament, unaware that he is a pawn in a deadly convergence of greed and revenge, masterminded by the Belgian, Captain Leon Rom. But those behind the murderous plot have no idea what they are about to unleash.
Dial E For Emma
Ring, Ring! Hello? Or should we say, yellow? Emma’s friends know that they just have to Dial E For Emma and she will answer the phone and be on her way! Emma embarks on a dancing adventure and uses her “Book of Dance” to help her try out and discover different styles of dance. Whether it is Jazz or Country, Fusion or Ballet, Emma will dance the day away! Share in Emma’s love for dancing, singing, sign language and dress ups and know that she is only a phone call away!
The Night Of
From creators Steven Zaillian and Richard Price, The Night Of is an eight-part limited series that delves into the intricate story of a fictitious murder case in New York City. The series follows the police investigation and legal proceedings, all the while examining the criminal justice system and the purgatory of Rikers Island, where the accused awaits his trial.
This new Australian series follows Hugh Knight – a rising star in the heart surgery ranks. He is gifted, charming, infallible, and a hedonist who – due to his sheer talent – believes he can live outside the rules. But his “work hard, play harder” philosophy is about to come back and bite him. Hard.
These great DVDs are available for purchase in stores nationally.
Here’s your chance to win this DVD pack for yourself (Merry Christmas!). One winner will receive a pack containing The Night Of, Doctor Doctor, Bad Moms, The Legend of Tarzan and Dial E For Emma valued at $179.75. All you need to do to be in the running to win is enter the question in the form below in 25 words or less, “Which DVD would you like to win the most and why?”. The most creative entry will win.
Our time at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand was life changing. We are a family of animal lovers and visiting these elephants in Chiang Mai has been at the top of our travel list for a good 10 years. To finally see the elephants in person and learn about these magnificent creatures was an experience that none of us will ever forget.
The Elephant Nature Park was established in the 1990s by Sangduen “Lek” (Thai for “Shorty”) Chailertas, a sanctuary and rescue centre for elephants. The park is located some 60km from Chiang Mai city, and has provided a sanctuary for rescued elephants from all over Thailand. There are currently around 75 elephants that call the park home, the majority of whom have been rescued, with a few born into the park. The youngest elephant at the park when we visited was five months old.
In more recent years, the park operators, in conjunction with the Save the Elephant Foundation, have also opened the Erawan Elephant Retirement Park in southwestern Thailand and branch elephant parks in Suri and in Cambodia to enable them to expand their rescue operations.
As the park receives no government funding, it operates under a business model in which tourists pay to visit and help care for the animals, with an option to stay for extended periods as a volunteer.
While the park initially opened to rescue and care for elephants, their mission has expanded to care for any animal in need of sanctuary. Animals at the park now include over 400 dogs (many of whom were rescued from a typhoon in Bangkok), a large herd of water buffalo that started as 7 and multiplied to 80, monkeys, cats and a pig.
The park has created its own ecosystem where any scraps go to feed the water buffalo and pig. What the park doesn’t grow itself is bought from local farmers to provide them an income, and the manure from the animals is turn given back to the farmers to fertilise their crops.
We chose to stay overnight at the park for the most in depth experience possible while visiting with our child. There is no age restriction on visitors to the park, but I wouldn’t recommend bringing small children who are unable to follow instructions. The park belongs to the elephants and humans are just visitors walking among them, keeping out of their way.
As the park is some ways out of Chiang Mai, we stayed the night before at the Shangri La, and were picked up early in the morning by our tour guide, Deng. He is one of many locals who have been employed by the park to teach visitors about the plight of the endangered elephants.
The drive takes about an hour in a very comfortable minivan, and our education starts here. We watch a video that teaches us about a cruel process called “Phajaan” where elephants are “broken in”, which literally involves crushing their spirit and often breaking their bodies in the process.
The video explains that elephants are taken from their mothers as babies or bred in forced breeding centres and then put through this barbaric process in order to make them compliment and easily trained for circuses, logging, which, despite being banned is still used in remote areas, and the popular animal trekking.
Once at the park we meet the elephants. Up high on a viewing platform we feed them fruit directly into their trunks, which they throw into their mouths like candy. Elephants are herbivores that spend around 12-18 hours a day feeding, so a lot of our interaction with them involves food.
There are strict rules at the park which visitors must agree to obey to be able to meet the elephants – both for their protection and for ours.There is no touching elephants unless you are feeding them at the same time, and no straying off the paths or away from the guides. The welfare of the elephants is at the heart of every rule, but these are also dangerous animals who are roaming freely. No one wants their own story to end getting crushed by an elephant in Thailand.
We are taken around the park to meet the elephants up close. Some have formed new herds, some prefer to be on their own. Each elephant is at a different stage of rehabilitation. Some are more comfortable with people, some less so, and we keep well clear of these. When we hear the elephants’ stories we are brought to tears.
Broken backs through carrying tourists in trekking camps. Blind eyes from tourist camera flashes and gouged by their owners for not obeying orders. Broken legs from treading on landmines while illegally logging. Our hearts break over and over and it’s impossible to hold tears back when we see ripped ears and misshapen limbs on these magnificent animals that deserve so much better.
The elephants come to the park bearing a lifetime of scars. Their owners are usually only willing to part with them once they are too old and broken to be of serve any longer, and they want to buy a new elephant to replace it. While the elephants are occasionally given to the park by owners who have genuinely loved them, the majority are purchased, which is where the money visitors pay to visit the park goes to. It did not sit well with any of us that the buying of these elephants actually helps the cycle of elephant abuse continue, but it’s also clear that at the moment that there is no other way to assist the elephants while there is no government legislation to protect them.
While the stories we hear about the elephants’ history are desperately sad, their future is bright. The park gives them acres to roam in freedom and plenty of nourishing food to eat. There are no more chains, no more heavy loads to carry, just days spend wandering through grassy fields, playing in rivers and taking mud baths.
We watch the elephants frolic in the river, playing games and grabbing each other with their trunks. They throw mud on their backs to keep cool and rub up against each other in the shade. The elephants are joyful and playful, newly formed families enjoying their lives once more.
Later in the afternoon we are taken to our room to settle in. It’s much more luxurious than the basic accommodation we had been expecting, and from the balcony we can see the elephants being taken into the large enclosures that they spend the night in, for the protection of both them and the neighbouring villages. We are in awe to be so close – but during the night when they talk amongst themselves instead of sleeping, we are a bit less glad of our close proximity – it’s like sleeping in the jungle!
Our second day in the park is much like the first – meeting more elephants, feeding them more fruit, watching them play and making their food. The best moment of each day is washing the elephants in the river to rid them of the fly eggs that stick to their backs and irritate them.
The elephants stand happily in the water munching on fruit while we are armed with small buckets and hurl water at their enormous backs. Elephants can’t smile but I swear there is a grin on the face of our grand old lady as she is cooled down by her willing minions on each side.
This park is a powerful place to visit, and it’s clear that we are not the only people to have found it to be a profoundly moving experience. It’s not uncommon for volunteers to arrive with the intention to visit for a week and then stay on indefinitely, so moved by their mission and their desire to make a difference in the lives of the elephants and other animals.
Our stay is only two short days. We are in disbelief when it flies by so quickly and we have to say good bye to the elephants we have fallen in love with. We are told that elephants never forget, and I hope that they can make peace with their devastating past and remember the kindness they have been shown in their new lives by the people who are so passionate about their welfare.
We are all changed by our experience, including five-year-old Cheese. She tells everyone back in Sydney not to ride the elephants “because they’re blind”, which confuses many people about why we took her to see blind elephants, but nevertheless, the message is there and she’s helping spread it.
This is teaching the next generation about conservation at its finest – learning through seeing, doing, hearing, touching. The kind of teaching that encourages children to care through first hand experience, that reaches their hearts and helps them grow up to be passionate advocates for animals and the environment.
Months afterwards, my daughter is still bringing up moments from our visit. “Do you remember when we fed the elephants?” she asked me on the way to school one morning, out of the blue. “And we washed them in the river?”. She says it in wonderment, like she can’t believe that those amazing experiences in her memory are real. I absolutely do remember. There is no way I will ever forget.
Tips for visiting the Elephant Nature Park
The only way to visit the park is by booking on a day tour, an overnight tour, or a week long volunteer stay through their website. You cannot turn up on your own without a booking.
Pack and apply plenty of mosquito repellant.
Pack shoes for walking through fields as well as going into the water. Shoes like Crocs that are slip on and off and water resistant are ideal.
Bring Thai or US power adapters.
There is plenty of water available and you will be given a reusable water bottle.
The food served is all vegan.
Book as far in advance as you can as the park is extremely popular and tours book up fast.
Bring some spare money for buying snacks and souvenirs. We bought some gorgeous wood elephants carved by the mahouts of their charges. We had no problems bringing these back into Australia.
Tips for visiting with kids
Kids of any age can visit the park for the day or stay overnight. This includes babies.
Judge wisely whether your kids are the right age and temperament to visit. Are they old enough to follow directions and keep out of harms way?
Visiting the Elephant Nature Park is only possible through their guided tour programs, which involve a lot of talking and walking. Ensure that kids are able to keep up with the group on foot (we had to carry Cheese a fair bit when her legs got tired) and either listen to the guides or quietly entertain themselves while the guides are talking to the group.
Dress them to get dirty! Expect to get filthy, sweaty and wet and dress accordingly. Part of the tour involves going into the river knee deep to wash the elephant so bring water shoes, as well as sneakers to walk around the grounds in.
Pack food they will eat. If you have a fussy eater like ours, bring food they will eat if they turn their noses up at the delicious vegan food on offer. We had some nut bars and the like that kept our fussy five-year-old going.
For their own safety, ensure that your kids understand the rules of the park regarding behaviour around the elephants. Repeat them frequently with little ones!
The park is one giant teaching moment for kids, so use the opportunity to talk to them about the situation with elephants in terms they can understand if they’re little like ours. Topics to discuss include not only the issues facing elephants in captivity in Thailand, but the loss of habitat for the Asian elephant and what that means, including their classification as an endangered animal, how elephant families operate and the differences between Asian elephants and African elephants, for example.
How do you know if a sanctuary is legit?
It can be really hard to tell as many places who call themselves an elephant sanctuary still mistreat elephants for tourists. I suggest looking at reviews and photos on TripAdvisor to do some research and look for the following things which are harmful to the elephants, they you won’t find in a true sanctuary:
1. The elephants are in chains. The elephants should never be chained.
2. The elephants have people riding them, with or without a chair. Elephants should never be ridden.
3. The baby elephants have been separated from their herd. The herd values babies above all else and do not willing let people get close to them.
4. The elephants perform tricks. They should never perform tricks!
No high tea pilgrimage is complete without an afternoon tea at the QVB Tea Room. Located in what was once the original Grand Ballroom of the landmark Queen Victoria Building, The Tea Room oozes style and grace. The addition of custom designed Baccarat crystal chandeliers in 2014 gave the interior a burst of glamour and sparkle.
Tea at The Tea Room is served on on authentic British silverware and classic Royal Albert china. I particularly love the heavy silverware. It feels very old world and classy.
The Tea Room serves three kinds of afternoon teas – traditional, Oriental and gluten free. We chose the traditional, but with a twist. Mine had to be vegetarian, and my dad’s needed significant adjustments due to his dietary restraints. Our server was one of the kindest, thorough waitstaff I have encountered. He went back and forth between our table ad the kitchen several times to make sure that my dad was being given a full afternoon tea that suited his diet. I wish I’d asked for his name to commend him to The Tea Room afterwards. He made the experience hassle free, while also ensuring that my dad was able to enjoy the tea entirely. Most importantly, my dad wasn’t make to feel like his requirements were a hinderance or annoyance, so the whole experience was very enjoyable, before we’d even tasted the tea.
Speaking of the tea, it arrived quickly in large pots. Once we’d poured all of our tea, helpful staff returned sporadically throughout our meal to ask if we would like a hot water top up in our little teapots. Very thoughtful.
Our selection of savoury and sweets came shortly afterwards on tiered platters. My dad’s arrived on its own platter (pic above), and the others all combined on another.
The vegetarian tea was very similar to the regular one. The only difference was the sandwiches – mine were cheese and tomato chutney and cucumber and cream cheese, while the regular sandwiches included ham.
The sandwiches were delicious. Fresh, light bread, and tasty fillings. We were offered extra sandwiches later on and were given an entire extra serving, including egg (yay!). The egg was actually my favourite. Also on the sandwich plate were a little cup of XX and truffle oil, and a bite of pastry with explosively tasty tomato and avocado on it.
One large scone per person was allocated (my dad scored two with his special menu). The scones were a mix of plain and sultana.The scones were warm, right out of the oven and the delicious mixed berry jam and thick cream were generously portioned. Also on the scone plate were spinach bites in pastry. Freshly cooked and so good.
Onto the sweets. Four tiny perfect desserts: a berry macaron, chocolate mousse square, berry tart and mango and strawberry mousse square. All four were perfect. Light, elegant, beautifully presented, and all bursting with flavour.
I couldn’t fault anything about our experience. From the staff to the food, it was perfect. This is why we will be back, and keep on coming back, year after year. Thank you Tea Room for making this such a special afternoon for me and my family.
The Tea Room QVB
3, Queen Victoria Building,
455 George Street,
Sydney NSW 2000
Phone: (02) 9283 7279
Hours: Daily 10am-5pm Get Directions