Darling Harbour and surrounds
We take a train to Circular Quay station for an early morning stroll in the Royal Botanic Gardens (alternatively hop on the Choo Choo Express for a 25-minute tour of the gardens). Then it’s on through bustling Circular Quay. My boys are enthralled by the sights and sounds, from flame throwers and didgeridoo players to the horns of arriving and departing ferries. If you’re lucky, there may be a cruise ship docked at the Overseas Passenger Terminal.
We have time before heading to Campbell’s Cove for our Family Barbecue Pirate Lunch Cruise with Sydney Harbour Tall Ships, so the kids and dad pop into the Rocks History Museum. At 11am we are welcomed aboard the majestic Southern Swan tall ship by friendly pirate Captain Parbuckle for the two-hour tour. As we sail around Sydney Harbour our own mini swashbuckling pirates help hoist the sails, find hidden treasure, steer the ship and scrub the decks. After a hearty lunch, we catch a ferry around the corner to Sydney Wildlife World in Darling Harbour.
Home to Rex – one of the world’s largest saltwater crocodiles – Sydney Wildlife World (next door to the equally entertaining Sydney Aquarium) has over 250 different species from koalas and kangaroos to wombats and stick insects. The boys touch some hugely horrifying horned beetles and get their photo taken with a cuddly koala.
There’s enough time to head across the harbour to the Australian National Maritime Museum where the kids board the HMAS Onslow submarine and HMAS Vampire destroyer warship and experience life on, and under, the water.
After grabbing a bite to eat in Darling Harbour (there are plenty of kid-friendly cafes and al fresco eateries along the water) we head to Sydney Observatory in the Rocks for a night telescope viewing. We know it’s been a long day when the little ones fall asleep in the beanbag planetarium!
Where to stay: Holiday Inn at the Rocks
Home to major sports stadiums, the happening Entertainment Quarter and nearby Centennial Park, the Moore Park area has heaps of things to do for families.
At 10 am we saddle up for the My Little Ponies session at Centennial Parklands Equestrian Centre. Here my novice riders find out all about caring for horses before hopping on for a pony ride. From four-legged to two-wheeled transport, we hop on our bikes to the Learners Cycleway – ideal for kids starting out on a bike. While I follow the kids, hubby has a go at rollerblading (hire rollerblades and safety equipment from Skater HQ in the Entertainment Quarter). For lunch we head to Centennial Parklands Kiosk (attached to Centennial Park Dining where every second Tuesday they have free activities and entertainment for kids) for baguettes and sausage rolls.
At 2pm we catch a tour of the Sydney Cricket Ground for a behind the scenes historical journey through the SCG and Sydney Football Stadium. After this the kids can’t wait to go crazy in the Entertainment Quarter, or EQ. My five-year-old heads straight for the Bubbles of Fun from Flymotion, where participants bounce, bob and bash around a pool in giant waterproof bubbles! My little chap prefers the furry fun at Bowral Farmyard Friends in the EQ Showring.
As the sun sets, we head back to the parklands for a Spotlight Prowl with a Centennial Park ranger to spot possums and other night creatures. The kids love the torchlight action and work up an appetite for some well-earned grub at the Ablaze Grill and Bar at EQ.
Where to stay: Arts Hotel, Paddington.
Bondi is just as famous for its breakfasts as its breaks. So we head to Brown Sugar in North Bondi – just one of the many popular brekkie haunts – to fuel-up for the rest of the day. Then it’s time browsing in the boutiques, galleries and super cool shops in Hall Street and Curlewis Street.
Then we hit the beach for the Discover Bondi – Get Wet tour. The tour takes us inside Australia’s oldest surf lifesaving club and we get our photo taken with a Bondi lifesaver and surf rescue board. Hubby then braves the waves for a guided swim between the flags.
Lunch is pizza and gelato at Pompei’s in Roscoe Street – a winner with kids – before heading to Bondi Pavilion and the Marine Discovery Centre. The 30-minute audio-visual Underwater Bondi Experience takes us on a ‘dive tour’ of the amazing sea life in Bondi Bay, from seadragons to baby Port Jackson sharks Janet and Tito.
We then head past the iconic Bondi Icebergs –home to an award-winning restaurant and historic ocean pool. Instead of stopping for a late afternoon cocktail (another time without kids perhaps!) we embark on some of the stunning Bondi to Bronte coastal walk. The first part of this walk from Bondi is easy for kids, but little legs soon get tired so we sit and enjoy the view.
After lots of walking, we hop on a bus up the road to Westfield Bondi Junction (WBJ) – Australia’s flashiest shopping mall – for a pit stop and early evening movie (while I sneek off for a spot of late-night window shopping!).
Where to stay: Swiss Grand Resort & Spa
Homebush Bay & Olympic Park area
Sydney Olympic Park and adjacent Newington Armory is a 50-minute ferry ride from Circular Quay. There’s a host of kids’ activities (more in school holidays with Kids in the Park), from archery to Segway tours.
We take a dip at the Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre where the Splasher’s indoor water playground keeps the little ones entertained. Also at the Aquatic Centre over-fives can try outdoor trapeze flying lessons, but my high-fliers opt instead for a smoothie and a snack!
On our way to hire some wheels for the afternoon’s bike ride, the kids get sidetracked watching the action at the Monster Park skate park. We decide to do all the hard work ourselves today, so hire a tag-along bike and another bike with a child seat next to Lillies on the Park cafe and set off to explore some of the 35 kilometres of cycle pathways around the Olympic venues, Bicentennial Park and along the Parramatta River (you can even hire tandem bikes and pedal cars).
We stop for leisurely late lunch at the Armoury Wharf Cafe in Newington Armoury – formerly the Royal Australian Naval Armament Depot with over 100 heritage buildings. Here kids can follow the Newington Armoury Clue Trail for three to 12 year olds. There is also a new Birds Australia Discovery Centre with free tours every Saturday. Then it’s back to the hotel for an early night!
Where to stay: Ibis Sydney Olympic Park.
A 30-minute ferry ride from the city, we start our day at Oceanworld Manly. One of my boys is too little, the other too nervous to actually get in the water with Oceanworld’s many inhabitants. But if kids over five are keen they can don wetsuits for the Reef Snorkel experience in the Tropical Reef exhibit, or try the Shark Camp (seven to 13 year olds). Instead we marvel at the myriad of marine life from the underwater tunnel. Little ones will love trying to spot Nemo in the Tropical Reef exhibit.
After lunch, it’s off for a surfing lesson with Manly Surf School. While the kids learn the basics, mum and dad have a go with the grown-ups. It is easy to see why they say children are very fast learners!
A five-minute drive from Manly is Q Station for a glimpse of Australia’s early immigration history. After an early dinner at the Boilerhouse restaurant, we rug up for the Family Ghosty tour to hear stories and legends of former Quarantine Station internees. As the night sets in, we’re keen to return to the warmth and safety of our bed, happily exhausted after our five-day Sydney adventure.
Where to stay: Novotel Sydney Manly Pacific