Family friendly holidays
Growing up in a large family in the seventies, holidays were always at a premium, taken once a year after Christmas and always at various beach ‘shacks’ (and they were shacks) in the south of Adelaide. And they were major logistical efforts, involving as they did at least two car trips to safely deliver kids, the dog and cat, the cricket set, surfboards, striped tent and other indispensable beach paraphernalia.
All us kids were desperate to try a caravanning holiday for once, or a ‘cubby house on wheels’ as we saw it. But it was never going to happen, my mother dismissing the idea out of hand on the grounds of the dubious hygiene to be found in the bathroom facilities of such places. Of course with hindsight and adulthood comes understanding – the idea of all of us cooped up in such a van doesn’t bear thinking about now!
And just as we’ve all grown up, so too has the concept of caravan parks. They’re now called holiday parks and while caravan sites are still available and an integral part of holidaying in Australia, more and more families are choosing to book into a variety of on-site cabin and villa accommodation, all with their own bathrooms and some even with spas!
Big 4 Holiday Parks are one core group that have evolved over 25 years - beginning with four independent owners of parks in Ballarat, and now the largest grouping in the southern hemisphere. Villas in each of the parks are generally standardised in appearance and facilities. Each usually has veranda decking with outdoor furniture, two bedrooms accommodating up to six, a self-catering kitchen, bathroom as well as TV, DVD player and reverse cycle air-conditioning.
Big 4 managers and owners are friendly and knowledgable about local attractions, and even under pressure are always nice to kids (!). Draconian rules about what you can and can’t do form no part of the philosophy of these modern-day holiday parks. Because boom gates control the entrances to most holiday parks, kids can freely ride and scoot their way round, safe from passing traffic.
And it’s interesting to note that many of the parks are located on what is prime real estate such as uninterrupted water frontages, meaning that as parks continue to improve and upgrade facilities, families can have affordable holidays located at the heart of major tourist destinations.
Adelaide Shores Caravan Resort, West Beach, Adelaide
The real estate mantra of location, location, location could have been coined for this park. At 125 hectares, it’s one of the largest in the Big 4 group and situated on land designated as coastal recreation reserve.
A wide stretch of sandy beach is located a short boardwalk over the sand dunes on the western edge of the park - and as a local girl, it can be declared that in all honesty, the mid-coast beaches of fine white sand are ideal for families and are one of the best-kept secrets of Adelaide. The sparkling clear blue-green seas are safe for swimming because the seas here are part of the Gulf of St Vincent, not ocean.
The location of the park means that this stretch of West Beach is virtually private for guests staying at the park. A kilometre down the road, a marina allows the safe launching of boats out into the gulf, where the main attraction for fisher-types is the chance to catch the famed King George whiting.
The park also has two large shaded and heated swimming pools and adjacent adventure playground. Older kids will love the games room and internet stand and there are with tennis courts and mini golf located just outside the park boundaries. Bikes can also be ridden on a smooth flat bike path from the entrance to the park, following the banks of the Pattawalonga River into bayside Glenelg, where The Beach House is a popular amusement and waterslide destination.
There are also two 18-hole public golf courses across the road for big kids to play at and a bus service outside the front gate takes visitors to the city or the nearby beach suburbs of Glenelg or Henley Beach. Order take-away fish and chips to eat on the foreshore lawns, and watch the local kids jumping off the jetties, or patiently fishing as the sun sets into the gulf.
East’s Narooma Shores Holiday Park, Narooma, NSW
Where? That’s the usual response from southerners about your next holiday destination and that’s the way it should stay, because this place is a hidden delight. It’s located about three hours south of Sydney, or an hour and a half north of Merimbula.
The Big 4 (coincidentally named East’s, one of several along the eastern seaboard owned and operated by a third-generation holiday park family) is located at pole position on the peaceful lagoon formed by the breakwater at the mouth of the Wagonga Inlet.
Narooma has every seaside activity imaginable – from fishing off the breakwater, hiring a tinnie to explore the back reaches of Wagonga Inlet, to the safe swimming of Mill Bay or the surf of Bar Beach and all within walking distance. Bring roller blades, scooters or bikes as there’s a distance-marked smooth walking path around the complete perimeter of the inlet to the seafood cafes of Forsters Bay.
The highlight of visiting Narooma occurs in September during whale watching season. Because the closeness of the continental shelf to Narooma, with Montague Island off shore nearby, conditions are ideal for the krill on which migrating whales feed and mean only a short boat trip to find the whales.
On the day we ventured out, we chanced on a family group of eight humpback whales, our captain declaring it the best sighting he’d had in two years. The law says that boats may go to within 100 metres, then must cut their engines and wait on the movement of the whales. On this occasion the boat rocked around quite as bit as the whales lazily dived in and around no more than 10 metres away.
Imagine the dismay, when Miss 4 declared she was scared…’because of Pinocchio’…? How could we forget that Pinocchio was eaten by the whale. Fortunately the speed and daring of the dolphins later racing the boat and the sight of fur seals floating upside down in ‘loafing’ mode off Montague Island soon took her mind off it.
Parkgate Resort, Hall’s Gap, The Grampians
One of the main reasons that the Grampians make such an ideal family holiday location - apart from the stunning views of the serrated sandstone ridge tops and wide diversity of animal and plants - is that it is cheap! Once there, the main activity is bushwalking. The Wonderland region, accessed from Halls Gap, is the beginning point for most visitors to the area.
There are tracks to suit all ages and levels of fitness, from the gentle beginners’ walk to Venus Baths, to the more challenging climb to the Pinnacle peak, through the Grand Canyon and past many granite rock formations.
The view at the end, overlooking the valley and Lake Bellfield is well worth the discovery of muscles you forgot you had. The region also offers guided mountain biking tours, overnight bush walks, rock climbing and abseiling for the more adventurous members of the family.
Further afield, the drive and walk down to the roaring Mackenzie Falls is also worth doing and although steep, can be managed by young children…ours put all the huffing and puffing adults to shame by running down the landscaped track…and back up again without drawing breath!
The Falls flow all year round, and after rain are magnificent in sight and sound. If the family is feeling a little weary, then the holiday park has the usual recreation facilities in the way of tennis courts, playground and swimming pool, half basketball court and grassed volleyball court.
The park itself is spread over a spacious 35 acres and kids can wander off exploring in complete safety. The rocky granite outcrop near the roadside boundary is a favourite place to play hide and seek or test out beginner rock-climbing skills.
From the park, it’s only a 20-minute walk to a useful selection of shops. The animal life around the park is delightful, including stray ‘roos that wander across the property, and the vociferous bird life of rosellas, parrots, galahs and cockatoos. Huge flocks of sulphur-crested cockatoos sweep over at dawn and dusk on their way to nearby Lake Fyans, arguing on top note as they go!
The cedar cabins and villas face the westering sun, setting over the ridge top of the Wonderland Range – it’s a pretty perfect end to a day of healthy exercise and crisp mountain air, sitting on the decking, red wine in hand and contemplating life.
Big4 Holiday Park destinations are listed on their website and contain special offers and promotions for families – including their popular free night’s camping for the family.
By Jennifer Kernahan
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This article was first published in Australian Family Magazine, March 2003. Updated July 2009.