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Holidaying with kids

Wednesday, 24 October, 2012

I mentioned in an earlier post that we had recently been on holiday and that I wanted to blog about holidaying with kids. Because of various circumstances I won't get into, the last time we had had a family holiday was well over a year ago. I am normally quite an organised person, but I am phenomenally bad at planning holidays. I swore this year would be different. However, the problem with planning holidays that involve other people is pinning down when and where you can go. It took months—MONTHS!—before we could settle on both a time and a place. So even though I had good intentions at the start of the year, I don't think anything got booked until March or April.

The thing about planning holidays with kids (well, toddlers) is that you have to pick somewhere that will be enjoyable for both the adults and the little people (well, person). It couldn't be too far away because little people cannot travel that well for long periods of time. (I think the only reason Astrid coped so well with the six-hour car trip to and from beach mission was because there were other people in the backseat with her, otherwise she would have gotten very bored and whiny.) At the same time, it had to be far enough away to make us feel like we were having a decent escape from the city.

I ended up choosing the Hunter Valley. As I said in my earlier post, I went there with George three years ago in the summer, and even though we were only there for a short time, it was wonderful and I swore I would come back and bring Ben with me. From my online research, it seemed like there were enough child-friendly things to do up there—for example, the Hunter Valley Gardens, the Hunter Valley Zoo (yes, there is a zoo!), and I figured she could run between the vines the wineries. (Is it irresponsible to visit a winery with a toddler even if one of the parents doesn't drink???) I thought Ben would enjoy the wineries, and I would enjoy the cheese shops. Given what had happened on our previous family holiday and the daily routine of Astrid's awake/nap times, I thought that things would be slightly easier in that we could do something as a family in the morning, then go eat lunch together somewhere (and try to stretch Astrid out a little), then go back to our accommodations for Astrid's afternoon nap. In the afternoons, us parents could spend time together, but also have some alone time apart to recharge (which we didn't do during our first holiday, but which I the introvert really needed), and then in the evenings, we could eat dinner together (either out or at our accommodations because we found somewhere self-contained—Bergerac Villa, which is located in the Cypress Lakes Resort but is actually privately owned), and then Ben and I could spend the evenings watching something together after Astrid went down for her night sleep. I hoped that that would give us the right proportion of family time, rest time and alone/non-child time.

Fortunately as it turned out, things worked more or less according to how I had envisaged them. The week went something like this:

Monday

I'd done the majority of the packing, but of course there were all the little fiddly bits, which meant that we didn't get away as early as I'd have liked. But that was okay: Astrid was pretty tired (especially coming off a rather busy weekend—most of which was spent in Jamberoo for Peter's birthday), so we stopped briefly for morning tea at the edge of Sydney, then she fell asleep for most of the rest of the trip.

We stopped for groceries in Cessnock, then for lunch in Pokolbin Village (which I didn't find that village-like) and had some of the worst service I've ever encountered; the staff ignored us for a full ten minutes and served other people before us. Afterwards, we checked out the cheese shop there and bought some cheese and crackers (Gromit!) Then we drove on to our accommodations, which wasn't very far away.

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The cleaners were still there, so we went out onto the back deck and blew bubbles for Astrid to catch. Then we did a quick unpack, set up the portacot (which, it turned out, we didn't need to bring because there was one in the wardrobe), and showed Astrid around so she could get familiar with the place. It was a very nice house: I highly recommend it if you're looking for somewhere to stay. Upstairs there are two bedrooms—each with their own ensuite. One of the bedrooms had two single beds that could be combined into a larger bed; the other had a king-sized bed. Both had air conditioning/heating units installed—but up high where they would be no danger to little people. Downstairs, there was a little kitchen, laundry, dining area, lounge room and a deck with a barbecue—again, with adequate heating as the nights did quite cold. There was also a flatscreen TV, DVD player (with a very interesting selection of movies), a speaker with an iPod dock (which made Ben very happy) and this amazing kettle that boils water to just the right temperature for green and oolong tea.

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We decided to head out again because it was still early, and of the list of wineries recommended to us, Ben chose Mount Pleasant, which was quite a lovely property.

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The vines were quite dead, of course, this being winter (but silly me didn't think of that).

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Ben did a little wine tasting while I chased around after Astrid, who, of course, wanted to go everywhere and see everything.

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Then we headed over to Tempus Two, which has, among other things, a Japanese/Thai restaurant called Oishi. Again, this was another beautiful property, and the sun was setting over the land. (I think the summer they have concerts there.)

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The barrel room:

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The opening time on the website we had looked at was wrong, so we had to wait around a little while before the restaurant opened. So we wandered around a little (Astrid loved the fountains, but it was getting really cold and I didn't want her to get wet.) Then we resorted to electronic devices to placate the toddler before we were able to get a table. (Ben wanted to sit outside, which would have been lovely, but it was good cold and too dark by this stage.)

I was really nervous about eating out with Astrid as we haven't done it much before—especially for dinner. But she went okay. I would have liked her to eat more, however, given that everything was new (I mean, she ate sashimi for the first time, for goodness sake!), she did quite well. We finished pretty quickly, then headed home, put her to bed and spent the evening watching Fringe (starting from the beginning as I had never seen it and had wanted to), eating cheese and crackers, and (Ben) drinking wine.

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Tuesday

Surprisingly Astrid slept in later than expected (which was good because we got to sleep in a little too!) I thought she was rather getting the hang of being on holidays. Still, even though we were on holidays, the division of labour still mimicked normal life, so Ben was the one who got up for her and gave her breakfast, while I lay in for a while and took my time.

Then we headed out to the Hunter Valley Gardens. Obviously, this being winter, it wasn't as spectacular, but we still enjoyed wandering around. Here's some Korean velvet grass (which is probably my favourite kind of grass):

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I think Astrid quite liked wandering around, though she got annoyed with us when we tried to move her along because we wanted to see the rest of the gardens.

We had lunch in the café there (and discovered the dreadful state of children's menus while Astrid discovered pretty fast how much she liked chips. On the plus side, chips could be used as a bargaining tool to get her to eat other parts of her meal). Then I asked if Ben would take Astrid to the playground for half an hour while I wandered around the shops there. I bought some fudge and Turkish Delight at the chocolate shop, and found these self-help picture books for children in the bookshop that looked like they were published by a Pentecostal church:

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Then we headed back to the villa for afternoon naps—during which I drove back into Cessnock and bought some food to make for dinner for that night and another night. I also stopped at the information centre to get some brochures and maps. (And also discovered too late that there was an app for the Hunter Valley that was too big to download via 3G. But it's free!) Then, after bathing Astrid and putting her to bed, we settled in for another evening of Fringe.

Wednesday

I had thought we could go to the zoo on this day, however the zoo wasn't open. So Ben suggested we find some lookouts so we could see over the valley. There were a couple marked on the map so I navigated us to them. They weren't really proper lookouts, though could see a fairly decent view from each of them:

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As you can probably tell, we were fortunate to have such glorious weather while we were there; it was like that pretty much every day!

I noticed that Wyndham Estate (which was another winery that had been recommended to us) had a nice restaurant on its property and suggested we go there for lunch—even though it was quite a drive away. Silly me did not notice that the restaurant was only open on weekends, which was a bit of a shock when we arrived. It was a pity: Wyndham Estate was beautiful: It's the oldest winery in the region, and I would have liked to do the walk among the vines that one of the staff pointed out. Instead, I took Astrid around the property a bit while Ben had another tasting.

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Hopefully I'll get to go there again one day—to both eat at the restaurant and do the walk!

We were starving by this stage, but we drove back into Dalwood and had lunch at this place above the local pub. It was better than I had been expecting. Then we drove back to the villa for afternoon naps.

Dinner was supermarket-brand lasagne with vegetables. Then we put Astrid to bed and watched more Fringe with cheese, crackers and wine.

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Thursday

This was the day we visited the Hunter Valley Zoo, which ended up being quite a fun outing. Obviously it's not as big as Taronga, but it had a good variety of animals (cockatoos, peacocks, rainbow lorikeets, kangaroos, koalas, wombats, ostriches, swans, lemurs, farm animals and miscellaneous reptiles), and you could buy feeding cones with pellets so the animals could eat out of your hands.

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There was also this rather awesome roundabout made of a Hills Hoist:

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It amazed me how quickly Astrid took to the kangaroos. She even lay down next to them on the grass at one stage.

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We stayed until Astrid started getting cranky, then went to the Hunter Valley Steakhouse (located in the Mercure Resort near the Hunter Valley Gardens) for lunch. There was only us and one other table. I loved that many of the places provided highchairs and also colouring pages and crayons for Astrid to use (though she was always more interested in the iPad). We ordered off the children's menu for her, though she wasn't that interested in the steak, and we fed her other things from our plates.

Then in the afternoon, it was back to the villa for naps. I decided to take some introvert time and go exploring. I was hoping to find a café I could just sit in and read, but a lot of places were closing early. So I ended up exploring a fair bit. Of course, I had to visit the Australian Alpaca Barn at Peppers Creek Village and buy yarn:

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(Yes, that's a baby alpaca/wool blend, and it was a good price compared to what you normally pay for that.) I eventually made it into this:

Jumper for Astrid. Sleeves are a bit too long but the body fits. She keeps trying to remove the bear #knitting

and this:

Spring jumper for Astrid in Luna flickering flames lace pattern.

There was a very pretty chapel there too; I think the property gets used for weddings a fair as there's an associated reception venue plus accommodation.

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I also drove around the local area, passing lots of wineries, and wandered around the Mistletoe Wines sculpture garden:

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When I arrived back and Ben and Astrid were awake, we went out again to visit yet another cheese shop (because I was conscious that it was our last night there) and bought some more cheese and crackers, then drove to a restaurant called Amanda's on the Edge, which is located on the grounds of Windsor's Edge. Again, we were early so we wandered around the grounds a bit, but the sun was setting and it was getting very dark, so we walked up and down the porch until they opened. Again, this was another fast meal (with spaghetti for Astrid off the children's menu), but it was delicious. (That's another place I'd like to return to one day to have a three course meal at my leisure.)

Then it was back to the villa for Astrid's bathtime and bedtime, plus Fringe over cheese, crackers and Wyndham Estate wine.

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Friday

This was the day we were due to leave. We disposed of all the rubbish and leftover food we couldn't take with us, packed up everything (and made sure we didn't leave any toys behind), loaded the car and were on the road in good time. (I did have to ring the property owners to let them know their oven was on the blink; I was glad that we hadn't needed to use it when it wasn't working.)

We drove over to Morpeth, which was one of Jess G's recommendations. It's a little town that used to be a major port along the Hunter River, but now it's more of a tourist attraction—a bit like Berry, though probably not as swish.

We walked around for a bit and I was worried that I had made a bad suggestion in coming here as Ben doesn't much like shopping and I wasn't sure how much Astrid could take of that sort of thing. But it turned out to be quite interesting because of the variety of shops (e.g. there was a sweet shop, a gift shop, a nut shop, a teapot shop) and because there was a toy museum upstairs that had vintage teddybears and golliwogs:

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Barbie Catwoman:

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Coffee machine-shaped teapot (?!!):

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I took a photo of these because even though I kind of like the idea of these, I would never buy them: they are Hello Kitty-themed Momijis and the one with the white hair is called “Astrid” and has a Hello Kitty electric guitar:

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When Astrid and Ben became sick of poking around shops, I sent them to the playground across the road from where we parked and then met them a bit later when I had finished poking around. (And yes, I went into the other Australian Alpaca Barn shop and bought yet more yarn:)

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Then we went to have lunch. We chose Arnott's Bakehouse because it looked pretty good. It turned out to be a most excellent choice: one of the best meals of my life was consumed there. We sat upstairs on the balcony (unfortunately this is my only photo from while we were there):

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I had the pork belly. Ben, I think, had the duck. We ordered greens for sides, as well as an extra plate for Astrid, then shared everything with her—including dessert. Amazingly she ate almost all of it (it was that good!) I remember this lunch being particularly lovely because it was a beautiful day, we didn't feel rushed, Astrid was happy (especially when she was allowed to play on the iPad), the other guests weren't annoyed at us for having a young child around for fine dining, and the food was spectacular (I don't think I've ever had zucchinis that good). So even though it was quite an expensive meal, I think it was worth every penny just for that wonderful moment.

After that, we hit the road—this time with me driving and the others napping. We arrived back in Sydney in the late afternoon and got takeaway for dinner (and all ate together, which was lovely as normally we don't get to do that as sometimes it's too difficult).

So yes, all in all, it was a very good holiday!

Things that worked well

I realise that as Astrid grows, family holidays will look different (and those of you who are more experienced parents will have to tell me how it goes when your kids are primary schoolers and high schoolers). This is what I think worked well this time:

What we could have done better

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