ABC Saturday Breakfast: Long weekends, overnighters and day trips

What a great chat on Saturday morning ABC Breakfast with Christine Layton, discussing the Australia Day events from Broome to Albany to keep you entertained and then a few suggestions for daytrips and overnighters throughout Western Australia.  Get out there and find new adventures even on the most well trodden path.

Below are some pics to help you pick your next regional day trip or overnighter.  Have you been to Bridgetown or Rockingham recently?

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Above:  Go down The Rabbit Hole on the main street of Bridgetown for an amazing range of local artist workshops and galleries.

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Above:  There’s no way you will leave the lolly shop in Bridgetown without a smile on a face and a bag full of sweet treats.

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Above:  Get to Rockingham which has the best range of aquatic activities in Western Australia.  Kite surf in Safety Bay, visit the penguins and dolphins on Penguin Island and in Shoalwater Bay, swim with dolphins off Palm Beach, hire jet skis, jet packs, stand up paddle boards, kayaks or cast a line on the beach and flick in some whiting and flathead.

I’m in love. There you go I’ve said it.

They make movies here.  It’s a land that gave birth to one of the worlds greatest crooners and one of the worlds greatest songs.  Below are some links to my story, published in The Starfish and also by Have A Go Newspaper.  This is a love story.  This is a story about Puglia, a land with towns that one junior reviewer of my work described as, ‘being full of towns with funny names’.  He’s right.  Puglia does have lots of towns with names you just want to keep on saying, not just for the memories but for the mood it puts you in, just like humming a few bars of ‘Volare’.

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https://www.haveagonews.com.au/paper/11-2018/320digital.pdf

http://www.thestarfish.com.au/author/chris-parry/

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ABC Adelaide Drive Program: Do we need travel agents?

On 22 Setember, I was invited to speak with Jules Schiller on ABC Adelaide’s Drive Program to discuss the issue of travel agents in light of the ABC story about Flight Centre, which described the issue of ‘marking up’ fees and a culture of underpaying staff.

My contribution to the discussion was focused on why people still use travel agents and why people choose not to use travel agents.

Nothing broadens the mind like travel and the number one thing we all learn is that there are all sorts of people out there and however you choose to plan your travel is fine by me.

Don’t be afraid to plan your own travel but if you want assistance go for it.  Your travel experience either way is more likely to be like Eat, Pray, Love than Taken.

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Image above from ABC Story: Current and former Flight Centre staff have been speaking out against the travel giant

95.3fm: Radio Conversations About Malaysia

On Saturday evening, 18 September, I spoke on 95.3fm about my regular Malaysian travels, Malaysian food and Malaysian tourism strategies.

We also spoke about Rajah Brooke butterflies, the JDT Tigers, the benefits and consequences of spicy food and how much I enjoy using the rail network (particularly the monorail) in Kuala Lumpur to travel the city.

Have a look and listen to the discussion at their Facebook page: 6EBA 95.3FM Radio Melayu (https://www.facebook.com/radiomelayuperth/)

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Pic above: I love talking about Malaysia.

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Pic above: The Rajah Brooke Butterfly that I found in the jungles of Perak.

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Pic above: KLIA Ekspres is a very fast, very quiet and very comfortable ride between KL International Airport (KLIA 1 & KLIA 2) and Kuala Lumpur.

It’s a long way down the holiday road

 

“I found out long ago, it’s a long way down the holiday road” 

That line, from Lindsay Buckingham’s, ‘Holiday Road’, theme tune for the movie, ‘Vacation’, is so evocative of those road trips from the past and the present.

Peeling mandarins, playing travel games based on the colour of oncoming vehicles, the stench of spilled milkshakes and the music that never suited every passenger in the car so it all got turned off.

My discussion on the ABC Saturday Breakfast Show about roadtrips turned into more of a nostalgic romp through time for Charlotte, Jamie and I and we almost forgot to mention some of the good road trips from Perth that can take you to so many wonderful places.

The Avon Valley, the Ferguson Valley and Dryandra Forest are all ideal day trips from Perth that make even better overnight mini vacations.

A good road trip is all about the journey as much as the destination so make sure you pull off the road and discover a new roadhouse sausage roll or a granite outcrop full of lizards basking in the sun.

Enjoy listening to our roadtrip discussion in the link at the top of this page.  Hopefully it brings back fond memories and is just a little bit inspiring for when that next long weekend comes around.

 

 

Rockingham Time

As a guest of Quest Apartments and Rockingham tourism operators, my family enjoyed a very busy weekender out of Perth.

Great weekenders, and the much savoured long weekend, often mean we try to travel as far as we can to somehow ensure the best time possible because we’re as far as we can be from home.

For so much of the Australian population, the state capital cities are our homes and these cities all have fond traditional weekend destinations. In Melbourne, the locals love Daylesford while in Sydney it might be the Blue Mountains.  In Brisbane there’s the Gold Coast while Adelaide has the Barossa Valley and Hobart has just about the whole island of Tasmania to choose from to get away for the weekend.

In Perth, Margaret River is the big one to head for. Close to four hours from Perth it is renowned for its opportunities to indulge and excite.

What about if I told you that south of Perth, just 45 minutes away, or north of Bunbury, just 90 minutes away, is a seaside community that offers high quality accommodation less than five minutes’ walk from the most remarkable beach and boardwalk in Western Australia and has a well-coordinated suite of tourist activities to interest anyone with a heartbeat?

For a breakaway with the family, and to shake off the beguiling summer laziness of the weeks immediately following Christmas, we headed to Rockingham to have an adventure and try out the Christmas presents, including the snorkel sets, boogie boards and beach towels.

For two days my family of four experienced the brilliant freshness and vibrancy of the Quest Apartments, a Rockingham Wildlife Encounters tour of Shoalwater Bay with dolphins, seals, ospreys and pelicans surrounding us for over two hours, a stand-up paddle board lesson tailored for all ages and dining experiences along the Palm Beach foreshore to rival and largely outdo the most popular Perth beachside eateries.

On top of this, I took the opportunity to experience the Jetpack experience available on Rockingham Beach and my son Tom enjoyed a ride on one of the jet skis available for tour group hire.

On a recent trip to Rockingham by a very different route I had arrived on Rockingham Beach after jumping out of a perfectly operating aircraft at 14000 feet.

As I had swung in my harness, linked in an embrace of clips and straps to my tandem skydiving instructor, I had looked around. We were high enough that there was curvature to the horizon and I could see Penguin Island and the smaller islands of Shoalwater Bay and the broad, thin white stretch of Palm Beach that marks the Rockingham foreshore.

It was at the Penguin Island jetty, where Shoalwater Bay meets Safety Bay that our weekend began. By mid-morning we were on the waters of Shoalwater Bay, within the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park.  Just past Seal Island we encountered a pod of ten dolphins.  Watching them graze on the sea grass below and lazily rise to breathe was remarkable but then the pod must have realised a few of us had cameras.  Sliding behind the wake of the boat they suddenly leapt from the water, spinning and splashing with what I am absolutely sure were smiles on their faces.

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Dolphins of Shoalwater Bay

We make our way around the bay and find some seals basking in the sunshine on Seal Island. All males, these seals get down to Rockingham from the islands around Lancelin to the north of Perth to escape the females and enjoy a bit of fishing and lazing about doing nothing on the beach.  Oh for the life.

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Dolphins of Shoalwater Bay with Seal Island in the background

It’s a tour with so much to see and while I probably am not usually too keen on commentaries, there is a lot worth listening to as well. After a quick stop on Penguin Island to successfully locate some little Fairy Penguins it’s back to the mainland, about a kilometre away, to complete this first adventure that has surprised and thrilled us all.

We make our way to the Quest Apartments and the kids are immediately impressed by the spaciousness of two adjoining rooms but before they can grab the remote control for the television it’s time to hit the beach and try out the snorkelling gear and boogie boards. Palm Beach has to be the best beach in Western Australia for a child to learn how to snorkel and Waikiki Beach, with the sea breeze in your back, has to be one of the best boogie boarding beaches.

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Quest Apartments Rockingham; new, fresh and close to all the action

That evening, we are sun blasted and salt encrusted and even though the kids are fading they don’t want to miss an opportunity to walk along Palm Beach once the sun has set and with torches and nets in hand they catch some prawns as they flick along the surface the water. It’s strictly catch and release as we’ve booked into Rustico’s, a popular tapas bar on the foreshore and with a big day deserving a big meal we suitably indulge and then walk back to our rooms for the evening where salty heads sleep soundly.

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Rustico’s Tapas on the Rockingham foreshore

The following morning after a great foreshore brekky we meet up with Bill at Surf Mania who is keen for us to have a go on a stand-up paddle board. I wish I had a few photos of us falling in after overbalancing but we are all surprised with how stable the boards are, particularly on the still waters of Palm Beach.  Just watch out for local resident, Bluey, when you’re walking through the water (see pic below).

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A very mean and bold blue manna crab, called Bluey, stopping me from getting closer to my family in the background.

We all take our turn and while I was obviously the best at standing up and paddling I don’t say anything to the family, choosing to wait until I can write and brag about the experience.

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Up and about on a Stand-Up-Paddleboard

Having completed the slow, calm and relaxing activity of stand-up paddle boarding we make our way a few hundred metres down the beach, about halfway between the café strip and where the skydivers are starting to land on the beach. We’re at one of Rockingham’s newest adventures, the jetpack experience.  The device works through a water jet propulsion system with arm levers that determine the direction you travel.  The controls are surprisingly sensitive and as Jetpack and Flyboarding Adventures operator Edward explains, you need to learn quickly how to vary your direction and altitude to avoid being dunked in the water.  It’s tough to get the hang of and you swallow a bit of water but it is something completely different and completely enjoyable.  With a bit of practise I’m sure I could be put to use doing stunts for the next James Bond movie.

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Up and about, and down with a splash, at Jetpack and Flyboard Adventures on Rockingham Beach.

Checking out of Quest Apartments later that afternoon I notice my daughter Matilda on the balcony taking a last look at the sea view. She turns and tells me that she is thinking about what I always tell her; if you’re sorry to leave it means you’ve had a great time.  She says she is very sorry to leave.

As we drive back to Perth I think about a family weekender we recently made to Broome, near the top of Western Australia. Broome is often described as being on ‘Broome Time’. I guess it’s meant to convey a slowing down, a lack of rushing about and taking it easy.

Is it possible we can enter a new description in the lexicon of Western Australian travel?

Rockingham Time.

Let Rockingham Time be a very Western Australian description for making the most of every minute. Let Rockingham Time be more than the traditional view of Rockingham being a pleasant day trip from Perth.  Let Rockingham Time be a weekend, or even better a long weekend to explore and indulge yourself, your friends and your family at full speed.

Whatever your age, whether it is a taste for dining or a thirst for adventure let Rockingham Time guide you through at least two days of exquisite time well spent.

Get to Rockingham. Get stuck in to what it has to offer.  Be exhausted and be alive.

Fact Box

Rockingham is 40km south of Perth and is home to the Royal Australian Navy’s biggest fleet base at Garden Island.

Quest Apartments Rockingham features 96 fully self-contained studio and one and two bedroom apartments with rates starting from $199 per night. Call 08 9591 0600 to enquire about their summer packages.

For information on tours, adventures and equipment hire in Rockingham call the Rockingham Visitor Centre on 9592 2778 or email enquiry.rtc@westnet.com.au

January 2017

Labuan: A very surprising and welcoming island

I featured Labuan Island in a recent interview on 6PR radio.  This article was written for Grand Dorsett Labuan.

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Grand Dorsett Labuan

I’m standing in the lobby of the Grand Dorsett Labuan amidst a crew of Dorsett Grand Labuan staff. They are about to perform their welcome song for my crew, an assortment of trekkers from various parts of Australia who have recently completed the Sandakan Ranau Death March Trek, retracing the footsteps of Prisoners of War in 1945.

I’ve been pulled into the group and handed the song sheet which is in English and Bahasa Malay. I keep up reasonably well even though I don’t know the tune and speak very limited Bahasa Malay.

The one image I have of this experience is looking up from my song sheet across at the singers alongside me as they belt out the line, “We welcome you to Dorsett Labuan!” and they’re singing with smiles on their faces. They’re not embarrassed and there’s no reluctance to show their pride and enthusiasm for their hotel.

My group of trekkers are spellbound. Many have travelled throughout the world and it’s the most heartfelt greeting any of them have received in a hotel. I used to think being gonged on arrival and handed a peach iced tea was pretty special but these guys are the best I’ve seen at welcoming guests.

The Dorsett Grand Labuan is the only five star hotel on the island and just minutes from the airport, waterfront and the busy town centre. The hotel receives regular awards for its customer service and with their singing staff I think they also have a good chance of winning Malaysia’s Got Talent.

Labuan Island is a territory of Malaysia off the western coast of Borneo and to the south of Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah. It can accessed easily by plane or ferry or if you’re slightly more adventurous, by speed boat. Electing the speed boat route takes 20 minutes from the mainland and you motor past islands, shipwrecks and red hulled offshore drilling ships waiting for their next job.

The island has a wonderful pace about it and even the traffic is slower than you’ll find in other parts of South East Asia and distinctly more courteous.

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Labuan:  Where even a Ferrari will slow down to let you cross the road.

While most tourists come for the great duty free shopping, particularly the textiles and technology, there is also a very good museum with free entry located five minutes’ walk from the Dorsett Grand Labuan. The colourful history and cultural themes of Labuan is well documented with many interesting and interpretive displays.

The first Governor of Labuan, James Brooke, was better suited to his original inspiration for coming to Borneo in the 1800’s.  After some strategic discussion at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, Brooke set off across the South China Sea to rid Borneo of its Pirates.  He was better at being swashbuckling than sitting behind a desk but those who took his place have done a magnificent job of creating an island where the shopping is brilliant, the history is rich, the hawker markets are cheap and delicious and the diving and fishing is just about unbeatable anywhere in the world. For those with a love of reality tv, Survivor Island, where the first ever Survivor series was set, is located nearby to the north and tours allow you to wallow in the same mud pools as the contestants, including a nude Richard Hatch.

My trekking group have come to Labuan to bind together the Sandakan Death March Trek that began with many days of trekking through mountainous Borneo jungle and then riding a stock carriage train to the coast, then a fast boat to the island. Every step we’ve taken and the stories we have talked about have led us to Labuan War Cemetery, the final resting place for the few whose remains are known and the many who are only ‘Known Unto God’.

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Labuan War Cemetery

As we walk the lines of memorial graves we think about the Australian and British Prisoners of War who perished at Sandakan and Ranau and on the three death marches in 1945. We think about how the final 15 prisoners were shot and killed 12 days after the war had finished. From 2434 Australian and British Prisoners of War, only 6 survived.

We stand in front of Richard Murray’s grave. He stepped forward from a line of men and said that he alone stole rice, knowing he would be killed. Stealing rice was a capital offence and he sacrificed his life so that others may live.

We stand in front of Captain John Oakeshott’s grave, a doctor who had the opportunity to escape but decided to stay with the sick. He was one those killed 12 days after the war had ended.

As a fighter jet from the Royal Malaysian Air Force flies over the Cross of Sacrifice at the cemetery we also remember the sacrifice of so many local people from Sabah and Sarawak who were killed during World War II and the bravery of those who provided assistance to the prisoners.

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The Royal Malaysian Air Force pays tribute to the fallen from the Empire.

It is a beautiful war cemetery, well maintained by Labuan authorities and staff are on site Monday to Friday from 7am to 4:30pm.

While the trek has been physically exhausting the walk through Labuan War Cemetery has been emotionally exhausting. Returning to the Dorsett Grand Labuan, our group is quiet and some choose to just sit in the lobby while others go off to breakfast, for a swim or a play with the resident sun loving cat.

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Susan Carlos is a wonderful General Manager of the Grand Dorsett Labuan but this cat is truly in charge.

For each us, in our own way, we find the space to reflect on our journey. I’ve cried during this trek but for now I am smiling. As I remember the staff at the hotel who sang to us I know I have to come back and share this experience with others, for the history of the past and for the friendships of the future.

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Back to Borneo, the race is on!

Legoland – The building blocks for an amazing family adventure

Published by Escape travel supplement for Australian Sunday newspapers. 

The writer and his family were guests of Tourism Malaysia, Tourism Johor and Tiger Air.

In life, when we have a straightforward decision to make we often use the expression that the decision is black and white. This means it’s an easy decision to make. There aren’t a lot of options or consequences.

For a family holiday the typical black and white decision might be something like, ‘Shall we holiday in Australia or go overseas?’ or ‘Shall we have an adventure or enjoy the luxury of a resort?’

I have just discovered that life is not just black and white. It is also blue. It is red. It is green and yellow and orange. It is just about every colour you can imagine. Life is Lego.

Without doubt one of the most wonderful memories I have of arriving at the Legoland Hotel was all of us bursting out laughing with sheer happiness at how wonderful the hotel looked.

Two adults and two children were just in awe of this hotel that looks like it’s built of Lego bricks. It’s got big blue turrets, an exterior staircase made out of oddly coloured Lego bricks and over the entrance is a gigantic green dragon whose bottom has smashed through the roof.

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If you needed any persuading that it couldn’t possibly be as gloriously bold and bright as I’m describing, let me just refer you to the doorman’s stand at the entrance. You know that stand you go to outside a hotel front door when you want to ask the doorman to get you a taxi or ask if there is an umbrella you could borrow? Well this stand is a big green Lego brick. Even the signs that the security guards carry at the entrance to the theme park that say, ‘Security Check’ are made of Lego.

If you’ve missed the exterior of the hotel upon your arrival the interior is even brighter and is chaotic. There is a large Lego castle and Lego pirate ship in the middle of the reception area and there pits full of Lego bricks where children are deliriously building whatever they want, no instructions required.

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Have you ever wanted to burst into song in a lift full of strangers? If you are shouting out ‘Yes!’ then make your way please to the Legoland Hotel at Jahor Bahru, Malaysia. As the doors close in each lift a mirror ball starts to spin, flashing lights swirl in the confined space and disco music begins. I feel sorry for those people who are on the lower floors as Dancing Queen is only just getting going when they have to get out. We get a longer ride and by the time our doors open we strut out of the lift still singing and striking poses that ABBA’s Agnetha and Anni-Frid could only dream about.

The 249 rooms throughout the hotel are all themed. We’ve got ourselves an Adventure room overlooking Legoland. On the shelves and walls of our room there are life-size Lego monkeys, parrots, lizards and snakes while in the bathroom above the toilet is a giant Lego tarantula and above the sink is a giant Lego scorpion. On another wall in the bathroom is a Lego hat like Indiana Jones would wear.

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The carpets are themed. The walls are themed and the bed linen and pillows all represent your theme. Even the hallways outside your room continue your theme.

I’m not sure what dangers lurk on the Kingdom and Pirate themed floors but whenever we leave our room Matilda and Tom keep pushing me over, trying to save me from falling down the ‘open trap doors’ on the carpet.

Not long after we settle into our room the kids complete the quiz that reveals a code to the room safe (guarded by a large Lego monkey). Inside the safe there are prizes for the kids and then there’s a knock on the door.

At the door is Daphne Tan, the Public Relations Manager, Sales and Marketing, for Legoland Malaysia Resort. I’ve been keen to meet Daphne who is so enthusiastic about the resort facilities.

I don’t know if she’s ever seen a more excited family than ours and with our loud voices and the kids running around, I’m sure that when she got back into one of those disco lifts she enjoyed the relative peace and quiet.

With a few hours before sunset and a bright blue sky outside we decide to head out to the water park. From our room, down the disco lifts and out to the water park takes us less than five minutes.

We head straight for the Build-A-Raft River, a lazy winding river with lots of tubes to drift on. There are giant Lego clams that squirt water at you and there are Lego bricks that drift by and you can collect them and build your own raft. Our construction is more like flotsam than a raft but it does the job as Tom perches on top and it’s kept stable by his patient sister.

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Next stop is the wave pool. Quite shallow and with waves regularly rolling through, it’s an opportunity to actually have a peaceful float, looking up at the giant Legoland sign on the hill and studying the amazing architecture of the hotel.

Moments later I’m told it’s time to move on, not by one of the numerous life guards but by two children desperate to ride the Red Rush. This ride is a very high and wide waterslide and you climb into a big circular life raft to make your descent. It spins around enough to cause a few screams but not scary enough to stop the kids bolting back up to the top to do it again…and again.

We slow down the pace after multiple Red Rush rides and try out the make-a-boat. This is the moment where I am back in my own childhood in my old cast iron bath with claw feet. I’d build boats out of my bricks and sail them on storm tossed seas made by swaying my legs back and forth. Occasionally my waves would spill over the top, carrying my boat over the edge and breaking into pieces on the bathroom floor.

Matilda and Tom are building a boat and I set to work making my own. When we’re finished we run to the start of the obstacle course that the boats have to make their way down. There’s a starters gate and we count down for our race and are held up momentarily by other kids who also want to race their boats.

Moments later they’re off and my boat immediately twists to one side and is rolled underwater by another boat and crushed, just like my dreams of victory. Somehow, Matilda and Tom’s boat escapes the carnage and reaches the bottom first, a triumph for the little family from Australia!

A few more slides, a few more thrills and it’s time to go back to the hotel, to have a shower with the tarantula and scorpion in the bathroom (using Legoland Hotel soap in the shape of a Lego brick of course).

The next day we make the five minute walk to Legoland, this time without our bathers. After having a chat with the red Ninjago character we head off towards our first stop, Legoland Driving School. After a DVD presentation on the rules of the road and a briefing from an instructor on what they learnt from the DVD the kids make their way outside to the vehicles. The course replicates a real road environment complete with traffic lights, roundabouts and all sorts of signs.

I have a photo of Tom driving his car that I will pass on to his driving instructor in about ten year’s time. Despite the lessons, despite the briefing, despite the six foot bright white arrow painted on the road, there is Tom, looking intently ahead, on the wrong side of the road.

About this time last year Tom was lucky enough to spend some time with Formula 1 Grand Prix driver, Daniel Riccardio. They had a chat and Tom gave Daniel one of his Hot Wheels cars. Perhaps Daniel gave Tom some tips on using the road a bit differently to the rest of us.

Legoland has more than 70 rides and exhibitions. Throughout the day we are on rides, off rides and looking at amazing Lego creations, including the recreation in Lego of Asian landmarks in Miniland and the Star Wars exhibition. Watching the Millennium Falcon rise up while being blasted by little Star Wars Lego Stormtroopers with blinking lights coming out of their blasters was amazing … for all ages.

There are roller coasters to ride before lunch, and some you shouldn’t go on after lunch. There are also opportunities to get creative by building your own designs. We have a go at constructing a high rise building and then hitting the earthquake button. I’m glad we don’t live in any of the buildings we made. We make cars and race them down a slope. Just like the boat building challenge of yesterday, my skills are old school and obsolete. I am lost. I sit at a table trying to work out how various pieces fit together but my fingers look up at me as if to say, “Give up now old man. Leave it to the kids.”

The trick for any theme park is to be something for everyone. Legoland works because Lego transcends age and ability. Even though I couldn’t put together a car using Lego Technic, there are old school bricks and there are big Duplo bricks for the really little kids. That consideration of all ages is really what defines the Legoland Hotel and Legoland water and theme parks.

Thinking of everyone is difficult but it’s what Legoland does best. Even the toilets have low facilities for little kids, accompanied by low sinks and hand dryers.

What surprised me the most during our time in the land of Lego was meeting so many Australian families who had just driven across for a day trip from holidaying on Singapore. We stayed for two nights at the Legoland Hotel and in that time had easy access to the water and theme parks. We also travelled through Jahor Bahru to the whimsical Hello Kitty Town and saw the amazing shopping centres that attract Singapore locals.

For one evening we travelled out of Jahor Bahru to the Sungai Lebam for a firefly cruise. Far from the dizzying sights and sounds of Legoland we sat in silence, apart from the gentle splashing of the mangroves by a crewman to awaken the fireflies.

Tom and Matilda held fireflies in gentle, cupped hands. We proved that great experiences for kids can contrast. Legoland is full of splendour and spectacle that has your senses reeling by the end of the day. For the firefly cruise, my kids had their senses reeling by just sitting still and watching the flights of light float around them.

As part of this evening adventure we also had an extraordinary dinner at the jetty used by our cruise vessel. The Restoran Bujang Terapung served us some of the best fish and crabs I’ve ever eaten and gave us a tour of the live seafood pens afterwards, including the gentle handling of a huge horseshoe crab which resembled a cross between one of Sigourney Weaver’s aliens and a Roomba vacuum cleaner.

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When we leave for Singapore, I talk to our driver, Habib, about my love of Nasi Lemak. All of a sudden we’re off the beaten track and we’re just around the corner from where Habib lives, at his local street side eatery. Minutes later we’re seated around local families he knows well, I have a new baby in my arms from the family sitting next to us and on our table are four huge bowls of cendol, plus a banana leaf wrapped nasi lemak for me and plates of fish batter sausages, deep fried bananas and donuts for the rest of the family. The cendol is the best I have ever had. The savoury mix of corn kernels with kidney beans and the sweetness of the pandan flavoured jelly in the shape of string beans, all mixed together with ice and coconut milk is a delicious treat to be long remembered for the experience and the taste.

If Legoland is your destination then make it your accommodation as well. The hotel is an adventure in itself and access to the theme parks is easy, particularly considering hotel guests are granted access to Legoland an hour before the gates open to the public. You will also have the time to have adventures and experiences around Jahore Bahru that will astound you. If even the Singapore locals go to Jahor Bahru for the shopping that should also tell you something about the worth of having a longer stay in this part of the world.

So, it’s not a black and white decision to just visit Legoland. It is a fabulous, bright, multi-coloured decision that, chosen wisely, will see you experience a wonderful theme park and a beautiful part of the world.

GETTING THERE

Legoland Malaysia is west of Johor Bahru, the capital city of Johor. Fly to Singapore and take a taxi across the causeway to Johor Bahru or fly to Kuala Lumpur and then catch a short flight down to Johor’s Senai International Airport. It is a one-hour drive from Singapore’s Changi International Airport and 20 minutes from Johor’s Senai Airport.

Many airlines fly from Australian capital cities to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, including Qantas, Malaysia Airlines, Malindo Air, AirAsia and Singapore Airlines. My family travelled to Singapore from Bali on Tiger Air.

STAYING THERE

At the Legoland Hotel, all deluxe and suite rooms can sleep up to eight people. All standard and premium rooms can sleep up to five people. An Adventure-themed premium room will cost about $203 and each room has its own treasure hunt, Lego bricks to build (and step on) and all guests have entry to the Legoland Theme Park and Legoland Water Park one hour before the gates open to the public. An adult one-day ticket combo includes entry to the theme park and water park and is RM180 ($A56). A child one-day ticket combo is RM144.

EATING THERE

The hotel’s buffet restaurant caters to all ages, tastes and styles while the theme parks have a variety of fast food restaurants and snack bars. Just make sure you save the burgers for after the roller coasters.

For some excellent traditional Malaysian cuisine, try the street stalls throughout Johor Bahru. One highlight is the slightly bizarre cendol, a traditional dessert made with green jelly noodles, ice and coconut milk with added extras on request such as beans and corn.

Treasure Hunting for a New Generation on Rottnest Island

Originally published by the West Australian Newspaper and on the Rottnest Island Authority website http://www.ria.wa.gov.au.

Do you remember as a kid going to a classmate’s birthday party and as an outdoor activity, because they were all outdoor activities, being given a treasure map? Was it tea stained, burnt around the edges and perhaps missing an entire corner because whoever had used the match lost their concentration for a second?

The best maps were those of fictional islands. What’s not to love about islands with small coves and sweeping bays all ringed by a vicious ship eating reef with only one small, deep passage through? On the island would be palm trees laden with coconuts, a mountain or volcano and lots of sneaky quicksand. It’s possible I’m now channelling the old television program, Danger Island, so I’ll leave it there for island descriptions.

Surely I’m not alone in finding all maps exciting but it’s the hunt that is even more exciting. The competitive challenge to outwit your friends was always more rewarding than a shoebox full of musk sticks and clinkers.

Back to channelling television programs, I have recently discovered an activity that closely resembles the immunity idol searches on Survivor. That frustration of knowing you’re in the right area but can’t pin down the location of an object you know must be there but you don’t know what it looks like.

Geocaching. It’s a great name for the modern day treasure hunting activity. The worldwide geocaching mantra seems spot on; if you hide it, they will come.

It’s more than treasure hunting though. There’s a different reward at the end which brings me back to the hunt being almost more fun than the find. With geocaching you find something but it’s not valuable and you needn’t take anything from it. In fact, you’re invited to contribute something to it.

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Found at last!

Geocaching is the search for registered small stores of items or written notes that are generally very well hidden or where they’re not hidden may be very tricky to open. Using a smart phone or GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) device, geocaches can be found worldwide and registered through Geocaching.com which is managed by Groundspeak. The goal of Groundspeak is to ‘make everyone an explorer and to put an adventure in every location’ and ensure caches are appropriate and safe for people to search for.

It’s the ideal activity for anyone who likes the outdoors and their smartphone but especially for a family whose young members have an insatiable appetite for technology and whose older members love the outdoors.

Think about the line in ‘What A Wonderful World’ where Louis Armstrong sings, “I hear babies cry, I watch them grow, they’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know”.

I know what he means. My kids, Matilda 11 and Tom 5, are so adroit with technology and the absorption of information.

With that memory of the best treasure maps being islands and wanting to get really stuck into geocaching, what better opportunity could there be than to explore Rottnest Island and its trail of registered geocache sites?

While Rottnest has become renowned for its snorkelling and dive trails, embarking on the geocache trail is a land based adventure that gets you exploring the island and seeing things like you’ve never seen them before.

Before we travel to Rottnest I catch up with Griffin Longley from Nature Play WA. Despite Tom’s reluctance to accept Griffin’s invitation to make a cubby by the river’s edge near Nature Play WA headquarters, the CEO of Nature Play WA accepts my declaration that my kids really do enjoy the outdoors.

Griffin explains that geocaching is supported by Nature Play WA because of the benefits that align with so many of the activities they promote and undertake across Western Australia.

What I’m really taken with is his description of community awareness and connection. By geocaching you gain a greater understanding of what’s in your community and a greater connection to your community by knowing more about it, including of course where things are hidden.

GPS units are available for hire from Nature Play WA. While a smart phone has the capability of locating geocaches, a GPS unit has many advantages; they’re straightforward with easy to navigate menus, they are rugged, splash proof (some are even waterproof) and, particularly for children, they represent yet another technological device that they can master quicker than I could manage to open the battery compartment.

Our first search is out near Kingston Barracks and the swinging arrow on the compass of the GPS directs us to the coordinates of a geocache and then it’s up to us to scramble, peek, prod and scrape for an object that fits the description on the Rottnest Geocache Register.

We find what we’re looking for and it’s exhilarating! While the cache itself is not remarkably exciting I come back yet again to the hunt being more fun than the find.

One thing that is clearly apparent even at this early stage of our weekend but we keep coming back to in our observations is that it’s so important to remember that when you’re searching for caches in bush locations you need to be careful about where you put your hands and feet. Geocaching heightens your awareness of your location, particularly the beauty of the bush, so making sure you don’t damage flora and fauna is important.

It can be tough though. Some of those caches just about demand whoops for joy and jumps of elation. I’m being very mindful in this article not to give spoilers but when an online hint suggests that a cache is located at waist height and ends up being found on the ground I’m just glad Matilda didn’t log my comments on the accredited geocache website.

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Not a geocache and a lot easier to find

The geocaches I most enjoy are the ones where we all search and then one by one our enthusiasm falters as we reach our point of perplexion. Tom is always the first, particularly when we explain the geocache is never found on bugs, or in bugs.

I’m normally next, I like to have a quick squirrel about and then under the guise of, “Best I leave it for the kids!” I back away to observe proceedings as Matilda and her mother stoop low, stretch high, check coordinates on their GPS’s, look around and then start the routine all over again. I think there’s an opportunity to label this the ‘Geocache Dance’.

At last count over two million geocaches have been hidden all over the world. Wherever you travel, just search online for geocaches in your location and see what you can find. In Western Australia there are hundreds of registered geocaches in the Perth metropolitan area and throughout the state; from Rottnest Island to Quairading, Busselton to Denmark, Wedge Island to Grass Patch, Corrigin to Karajini and Kununurra to Exmouth. Here’s one to look for this weekend if you happen to be in the area; Mount Archie in the Little Sandy Desert at GPS coordinates S25, 33.915 E123, 14.331 (WGS 84) and it’s at an elevation of 471m.

There are a number of geocache types you can search for. The traditional cache is a container of some type with a log sheet and maybe a few items left by previous geocachers. Some of the traditional cache containers found by my family across the state include plastic containers, old ammunition tins, mint tins and handcrafted wooden boxes.

Mystery or puzzle caches can involve complicated hints to determine the coordinates or maybe a cache that is easy to locate but difficult to open. Earth caches are geological formations of interest that you can locate and learn about as the required coordinates are usually accompanied by some educational notes.

As an activity, geocaching is intriguing. While you can pack up the family and friends and travel for the purpose of geocaching it’s also possible to search for geocaches in any location you find yourself. Next time you have to travel to far flung sporting fields on a weekend or attend a wedding in the hills, do a search on a smart phone (or GPS if you happen to have one of those) and see what’s in your location. There might be a geocache hiding in the fork of that tree you can see, just over there.

Geocaching is a special way to use technology to have a lot of fun on your own, with friends, competitive teams or with your family. I’m surprised my family enjoys geocaching. It seems that every time a favourite item is lost in the house and desperate searches ensue, it brings out nothing but bitter recriminations and declarations of war on the state of bedroom clutter. Yet somehow, being outdoors together, consulting technology and hunting together for an unidentified object brings out laughter, support, a gentle sense of competition and a great sense of adventure.

The writer and his family were guests of the Rottnest Island Authority.

To learn more about geocaching go to the Groundspeak website at www.groundspeak.com, www.geocaching.com or Nature Play WA on www.natureplaywa.org.au