This was my second visit to Melbourne and definitely won't be the last - I love the place. When we first went in 2004 it was as backpackers, this time it was a bit different with our two children aged 5 and 2. We escaped the winter for 3 weeks, took our eldest out of school (over Feb half-term plus a bit more) and made the 10,000 mile trip down under.
We weren't quite sure how the flights would go as it was our first really big trip with the kids; we'd been to the Caribbean but not the 24 hour epic that a trip to Australia involves. I was pleasantly surprised at just how easy it was; we really had nothing to worry about.
We stopped off in Dubai for a few nights on the way to break the journey up, and then on the big leg down to Melbourne we took off late from Dubai meaning the children slept for a good few hours pretty much after takeoff. We then arrived in Melbourne late at night as well, meaning we could go straight to bed. If I could give any tip to parents with small children it would be to try and arrive late, it saved a first day of walking around like zombies in the bright Aussie sunshine when your body’s telling you it should be dark! Having gone straight to bed on arrival I was amazed waking up on our first morning, we all felt absolutely fine, the kids were too meaning we'd somehow avoided any jetlag - happy days!
Our first week we stayed with friends in Hampton, Melbourne as we had a wedding to go to, but while there had plenty of time to soak up the city again. You can get around easily by the excellent metro and tram network which the children loved, then check out the new tallest building (Eureka Skydeck) or the free 'city circle' tram to get your bearings of the city centre. Other highlights of the city would be the Queen Victoria market, Melbourne Aquarium and St Kilda with it's bars and cafe's (and Luna Park for the kids!). In suburbia you can take advantage of the amazing public parks, play areas for kids and free BBQs which all make for a healthy outdoor lifestyle. We arrived a couple of days after the Australian Open tennis and one thing Melbourne does brilliantly is sport, in 2009 it was named as the best sporting city in the world and it's not hard to see why, it's sporting calendar is jam-packed. Aside from the tennis you've got the magnificent MCG for the cricket, the Melbourne Cup which is Australia's top horse race, Albert Park for the Australian F1 Grand Prix and an abundance of top Aussie Rules footy sides.
After a week in the city we picked up an Apollo Campervan, a 6 berth Euro Deluxe. The van was just one year old and an absolute beast (to be honest at first I thought might be too big). It won't win any awards for aero-dynamics but was actually really easy to drive and the extra space was great. After mounting a few curbs we were on our way.
The children were really excited about picking up the campervan and weren't disappointed, it's basically your house on wheels and seemed to provide endless fun for them, it couldn't be easier packing up and moving on each day. The van itself came equipped with everything you need, microwave, fridge, cooker, toilet and shower. The toilet is handy (especially with small kids), but in reality the campground showers are far better so my advice would be to use their showers. The kids slept above the drivers cab, there's a ladder to get up there and a net to protect them from falling out.
Filling the van with diesel was a pleasant surprise. Despite guzzling through it a little, it was far cheaper than the UK (we only did about 600kms and it cost just over $100 to fill up – which wasn’t too bad for such a big van!). You’ll pay roughly $50 a night for a powered site at most campgrounds; we missed out on a powered site one night so it's advisable to book ahead. If needed your camper will have enough power to get through a night without plugging it in, though the fridge runs on a trickle feed from the battery (the beers weren’t quite so cold!) so you’ll want to get plugged in again the next night.
First job was to negotiate our way out of the city, the last time we came to Melbourne we'd travelled from Adelaide along the Great Ocean Road so this time we wanted to head east towards Sydney. We headed first to Philip Island where we spent a couple of nights staying in Cowes (there are plenty of similarities all over the island to the Isle of Wight!). The infamous Penguin Parade was a highlight there, as were Koalas. You can get really close to the cuddly little chaps.
The other major highlight for us just outside Melbourne (well 200kms outside), was Wilsons Prom National Park. We stayed at Tidal River campground which was the main one in the park, what a stunning place. I'd never heard of it before coming to Melbourne so it was a really nice surprise. If you want unspoiled scenery, emus, wombats, hiking trails and great beaches then this is right up your street, it was a kind of Grampians by the sea. Best beach for us was 'Squeaky Beach' which lives up to its name by being squeaky under foot - a bizarre phenomenon but one that won't be forgotten.
After almost 3 weeks away it was time to fly home, despite 24 hours in the air the children again coped fine. This time making use of the iPad which I'd loaded up with their favourite DVDs before leaving the UK. This was really worth it as seatback TVs are limited for the younger ones - having home comforts like Postman Pat or Peppa Pig really helped pass the hours in the air when they weren't sleeping.
If you're thinking about a trip to Australia with small children I'd say just go for it, they're amazingly resilient and of course they'll have their moments, but the shared experiences you'll have will make it all worthwhile, we're already saving up for the next big trip.