Oh wow Melbourne! How many million years has it been since we were allowed to roam the city streets, pick up glorious cups of much needed coffee from the laneways, and visit all the fabulous corners of this city we call home? It feels like forever doesn’t it? However long it’s really been, it’s been far too long and I know lots of us are crying out for some city time. Well, it looks like we may not have to wait much longer, and I have a feeling I’ve found just what you and the kids need to give you all those Melbourne city vibes!
Unique & unforgettable experiences
Just to remind you why our city is so magnificent, Melbourne Marriott Hotel have come up with a glorious city glamping experience for you to enjoy with your family. Imagine their little faces when they see this pre Christmas treat. Awwwww!
When you book this long awaited escape, your 5-star room, which comes with a private courtyard, will feature a glamping teepee for the kids plus all the necessities such as sleeping bags, pillows and outdoor chairs.
The kids get to enjoy a fun night under the stars whilst mama & papa get to snooze in the comfort of a dreamy Marriott bed! We have totally earned this after the year we’ve had! I can picture myself there now. Hotel beds are just the best aren’t they? An added bonus with this package is you get a late check-out up to 1pm, so there’s plenty of time for a lazy brekkie, a little walk and even more fun time in the teepee for the kids whilst you kick back with the paper!
Private courtyard with Tepee tent
Large double bed
Range of custom cushions and blankets
Sleeping bags for 2 children
Fire pit with fairy lights
Individual courtyard mood lighting
Relaxation camp chairs for parents
Picnic table and chairs
Selection of games and board games
Family Picnic Hampers are also available to order to have in the courtyard or take to the park.
To book your family’s once in a lifetime adventure under the city stars click here!
About the Melbourne Marriot Hotel
Discover 5-star amenities and an enviable city center location at the wonderful Melbourne Marriott Hotel. Situated downtown, this contemporary hotel is just a short walk away from theatres, shopping, parks, attractions and restaurants. Unwind in stylish, spacious accommodation, featuring plush bedding and complimentary Wi-Fi – many rooms with stunning Melbourne city views. For relaxation, the Marriot offers a fantastic fitness center with an indoor pool and high-tech gym. Grab cocktails in the Elements Lounge and Bar or indulge in modern Australian cuisine at the hotel’s on-site restaurant. The Melbourne Marriot has an ideal downtown location, exploring top attractions with your family couldn’t be easier.
If people slept outside under the stars each night, I bet they’d live a lot differently – Unknown
I’d love to know if you book this adventure, so keep me posted xx Liv
I spent a little piece of my week chatting to the gorgeous Molly from The Kirks Crazy Life. I met Molly a while back, and immediately I knew she was a lovely person. She’s one of those people who gives off a good vibe and you know instantly that you’re going to get along! If you want to follow someone on Instagram who is ‘doing life’ with a passion Molly’s ya gal!
Hey Molly, can you tell our readers a little about yourself?
My husband and I have been married for almost 10 years now, and I am a mummy to my 9 year old daughter Audrey, my 5 year old son Marquez and my son Christopher who was stillborn 7 years ago. I moved to Melbourne 11 years ago from New South Wales and I now live in the outer Western suburbs of Melbourne. I love it!
Our family loves to travel, explore different places and create memories together. My favourite thing in the world is to spend quality time with my family and that’s how I make the most out of life. Of course, I also love shopping too!!!
I originally started posting on Instagram when my youngest was born as a way to share photos with friends and shop small business. Fairly early on the children started repping for small businesses and helping to bring awareness of their products. After a while it evolved again to photos featuring the whole family, our adventures and all the products that I love and use. The inspiration really came from my love of fashion, travel and photography which I am really passionate about.
How are you coping with not being able to go far right now? I know you’re a big travel fan.
Staying home has definitely taken some getting used to. We are so used to getting away, so to not be able to do that has definitely been tricky for us. We, like lots of others, had the disappointment of having to cancel all our trips this year due to Covid, including a long awaited trip to Greece and Italy in May. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a little cry when I had to cancel everything. But having to stay at home is the best option for us right now and we’re definitely looking forward to getting away as soon as we’re able.
In the meantime I have started paying more attention to my indoor plant collection and keeping myself busy to avoid going stir crazy. Current restrictions have made creating the content I love to create difficult, but we all need to do the right thing and get through this together.
When you look back on 2020 what do you think you’ll say it taught you?
I have really embraced a quieter life for the time being. It’s nice to stop and be bored sometimes, it gives you time to think. Spending simple days at home or in the backyard reminds me of parts of my own childhood and the things I did with my family growing up. Most importantly I have learnt that it’s ok to have quiet weekends at home and we don’t always need to be on the go to make memories as a family.
I do love the fast life and fear it will probably come back with a vengeance once I have more freedom to travel safely – Molly
Since homeschooling, I have found a passion for teaching.
I have always wanted to train to be a teacher but have been too scared that perhaps it wasn’t for me. Don’t get me wrong, some days remote learning with my daughter is testing but I am so happy to have been given the opportunity. Now I’m able to be more involved in Audrey’s learning it has taught us a lot about each other. I enjoy seeing how Audrey is progressing plus I get to learn more about how her mind works. It has definitely brought us closer together and I am very proud of how she is coming along with school. As for Marquez, he is loving having Audrey home more and adores spending time with her on her breaks.
Lockdown has also seen us enjoying new projects around the house, and involving the kids in what we do. I’m looking forward to renovating my laundry and repainting the kids’ cubby house which are next on the list. 2020 has also taught me that I probably didn’t need to visit my shopping centre daily!!!
Is there anything you have loved about being in lockdown that you’ll continue to enjoy when we finally get our freedom back?
One of the things I have really loved is being able to spend more time with the kids and just relax without any other pressures or time restrictions. I will definitely be making sure that once everything goes back to normal we will save some weekends where we do nothing at all and just hang out as a family. I’ve also really enjoyed paying more attention to myself and my skin care regime. Self care really helps me switch off and relax so I’ll be making an effort to stick at it.
Follow Molly and her family enjoying their ‘crazy life’ full of awesome adventures!
Camping and I have a strange relationship! I love being outdoors, I don’t love the dust and dirt. I love the wildlife, I don’t love the creepy crawlies. I love the freedom that the children have, I love the camp cooking, I love the kids excitement at bed time when we’re all snuggling down. I do not love (or even like) tents! Nope! If all I have is a tent, you can go without me.
Part of me envies the hoards of families who camp, and have all the stuff! Their camps look like they could sustain life for years and years, in a perfectly happy state, with not one meal missed or one iota of sleep even slightly disturbed. We do not camp like that! We don’t have nearly enough equipment, we barely have any camping knowledge, and to be honest I have always felt that ‘holiday sleeping’ requires, at the very least, a decent bed and a fluffy duvet! (Aka a hotel!)
Hold on though….. You may find this hard to believe, but even I have been persuaded to fall in love with camping after testing out the gorgeous Go Pod Teardrop Caravans last weekend!
We picked up our beautiful GoPod at about 11am, on the hottest Victoria day since records began. Honestly, the thought of arriving at a campsite and having to erect a camp in this heat would have been hell. Not with our GoPod. With lots of great tips and advice from Kayleen, we hooked the teardrop caravan up to the car, and drove off toward the ocean, knowing there would be very little do do, in order to get comfy on arrival!
We have never towed anything before, not even a trailer, and as Mr W was a little ‘tired‘ after his work Christmas party the night before, I was in charge! The glory of the GoPod is that it is very lightweight and super easy to tow. Thank goodness!! We made it safely to Anglesea with me at the helm, even negotiating Bunnings and Hungry Jacks on the way! *You may applaud now!
Set up was done and dusted in about 20 minutes. We unhooked the GoPod, rolled it into the best position, plugged it in and put up the tent! Once the table and chairs were up, and the kids were bouncing on the jumping pillow, we kicked back to enjoy our weekend. That is perfect camping in my mind! No stress, no arguments about who put the groundsheet in the wrong place, just an easy set up and a perfectly snug place to sleep…. with the fly screens tightly shut!!!
The GoPod 90 has double doors ( a godsend for extra air and midnight toilet trips!) and a deliriously comfy queen bed. (Bedding can be hired on booking). There was so much storage I felt like we could have travelled for weeks and weeks even with Monty’s desire to change his clothes every thirty six minutes. Everything has been meticulously thought about from the mattress to the tool box. Even the MukMat, chairs and table were included. Like I said, nothing had been left out!!
We make sure you have the confidence to set off and are always a phone call away for our hirers. With the support of YouTube, a manual and our advice you have everything you need for a great trip’- GoPod
The GoPod kitchen was lovingly filled with everything your little camping heart could desire! Gas burners and fridge, crockery and lights, enough storage to be able to make a Christmas feast if you so wish! The GoPod has plugs for chargers, USB sockets, heaps of storage for clothes, toys, UNO (of course), and all the other camping paraphernalia you need. There really is no easier way to hit the road!!
Everything you need for a simple getaway is right here. – GoPod
As we were four and the GoPod 90 sleeps 2 (or two adults and a small child), we added on a tent for the boys! Everyone was happy! Even the tent had a fab mattress, duvet and fan which doubled as a light. It barely felt like camping, as we were all so comfy!
I know camping is a little like Vegemite, you either love it or you hate it, however, if you are anything like the Wilsons, and are divided down the middle, you need to look at the GoPods. These cute caravans are wonderful alone, and a marvellous addition to any camp setup. They are especially splendid for those of you who like to have home comforts whilst on the road! (Think cuddly duvet and wine glasses).
There are a few different types of GoPod, some sleeping up to four people, so they are perfect for everyone, plus, they are offering great deals on long term hire too for you adventurers! Another great use for the GoPod is for guests when you don’t have the spare room at home! Imagine giving your guests their own GoPod for the weekend, within reach of your dinner table and witty conversation! Best sleepover ever!!!
For people who want an easy towing experience for a safe and amazing getaway. GoPod Teardrop Campers are the caravans you never knew you needed. – GoPod
If you love the idea of hooking up and escaping, without the hassle, if you love the idea of being in the great outdoors whilst sleeping and cooking in luxury, this is the caravan for you! Tow small and travel big is the GoPod motto, and trust us, these are 100% made for big adventures! Who’s coming with us on our next trip??
We are so lucky to live in such a wonderful part of the world where there seem to be endless ways to entertain the children!! It’s no mean feat trying to keep everyone happy, all summer, but I’m pretty sure, this may be the answer to your prayers!!
This summer, Sovereign Hill is set to be busier than it’s been since the goldrush of the 1850’s. With brand new activities every day and the chance to win a $400 gold nugget every week, it feels like the gold rush is happening all over again! We cannot wait to get over to Sovereign Hill to experience some of the fun!
Each day of the week, for six weeks, a different adventure awaits. From ‘Make it Mondays’, to ‘Find it Fridays’, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
All of your favourite Sovereign Hill activities will also be on, including bowling, the gold pour, costume photos, as well as Sovereign Hill’s new sound and light show, AURA.
If you think you and the family would love to experience everything that’s on offer, you absolutely can!!!! Purchase a *Sovereign Hill Annual Pass, which provides you with unlimited entry to Sovereign Hill and the Gold Museum, 364 days a year, as well as discounted mine tours, coach rides, and other special offers.
MAKE IT MONDAYS – Try your hand at butter churning and cheese making, make your own block candle or help us sew the Eureka Flag.
TROTTING TUESDAYS – Meet the Sovereign Hill horses, get your photo taken with a Clydesdale and watch our horse team change over the horses that pull the Sovereign Hill vehicles.
WHATS’ THAT WHISTLE WEDNESDAYS – Learn about steam engines, take a tour of some ruins and hear stories of child miners on the goldfields.
TRADE THURSDAYS – Watch rare trades in action, have a go at the traditional process of Cyanotype, go behind the scenes of the Sovereign Hill coach builders.
FIND IT FRIDAYS – Rush to the diggings for the chance to discover a $400 gold nugget, take a photo with the Australia nugget (worth over $85,000) and see a coin press machine in action.
SWEET SATURDAYS – Take a walk around lollipop lane, take a photo with a giant jar of Raspberry Drops and join an exclusive hands-on experience in Brown’s Confectionery.
SOLDIERING SUNDAYS – Dress as a redcoat and join their parade, learn a Trooper drill and watch on as a mass license hunt takes place in the Red Hill Gully Diggings.
All the info
What: Sovereign Hill’s Summer Gold Rush
When: 26th December, 2019 until 27th January, 2020
Time: 10am – 5pm
Where: Sovereign Hill, Bradshaw Street, Ballarat, 3350
*Sovereign Hill Annual Pass
Child (5–15 years) – only available when purchased with an Adult, Family or Single Family Ticket/Pass
Concession* (To be purchased as Adult Pass)
Family (2 Adults and up to 4 Children)
Single Adult Family (1 Adult and up to 3 Children)
Conditions: Annual Pass is valid for 12 months from date of purchase. Current Annual Pass card and photo ID must be presented on each visit. This Annual Pass is not transferable. A surcharge may apply for entry to special events. Only the Annual Pass holder whose name is listed on this card is entitled to free entry to Sovereign Hill. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Discounts are not accumulative – only a single discount can be applied to purchases.
Extra charges apply for some activities and major events.
Yes folks, picnic season is back on! (We’re in Melbourne, so picnic season is definitely a thing!) Everyone loves eating outdoors, especially us Mamas, as it means fresh air, fun times, and the birds get to clean up the crumbs! That’s why I’m hitting you up with this intel before you finish your Christmas shopping, or complete your back to school haul, and before the weeks and weeks of school holidays where lunches last aaaaalllll day!!
From where we were staying at La Pievuccia (Castiglion Fiorentino) it took us about 55 minutes to drive to Assisi. Once we’d left the motorway, we followed fields full of sunflowers, along winding, tree lined lanes, making our way toward what looked in the distance to be something from a film set. A beguiling destination that many a religious pilgrim has travelled to since the 13th century, in honour of St. Francis. The ancient town of Assisi is a sight to behold.
With it’s narrow streets, steep hills and stunning piazzas you could easily imagine you had stepped back in time whilst exploring Assisi. The views from every laneway are breathtaking, the little ornate doors on every building promising even more beauty behind.
You can’t visit Assisi without making your way to the vast Basilica di San Francesco complex, home to an unimaginable collection of medieval frescoes as well as the tomb of St. Francis.
The Basilica di San Francesco.
The Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi is named after St. Francis who was born here and founded the Franciscan religious order in the town in 1208. UNESCO collectively designated the Franciscan structures of Assisi as a World Heritage Site in 2000, and it’s obvious why. This is absolutely the jewel in Assisi’s crown! The majestic Basilica has to be seen to be believed. The whole complex is magnificent.
The upper church – Basilica Superiore, is decorated with 28 frescoes by Giotto and are the stand out artistry in the church in my humble opinion. Each fresco depicts a scene from the life of St. Francis. They are stunning! It’s hard to believe these vibrant frescos were completed centuries ago, and almost incomprehensible for the kids!
The lower church – Basilica Inferiore, is home to more frescoes, this time by Cimabue, Pietro Lorenzetti, and Simone Martini. In the lower sanctuary is the Cripta di San Francesco – the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi.
The upper church definitely has a different ambience to the lower, undeniably more about the celebration of life. The lower rooms are darker and seemingly solemn, more of a reflection of the spirit of St.Francis and his Franciscan order. Note: There are plenty of worshippers and people who have obviously come here solely to pray, so it’s vital that visitors are respectful of that.
Whatever you plan for your day in Assisi, give yourself plenty of time to explore this incredible church. Take your time, breathe in your surroundings, and I promise you will be blown away!
According to the UN, the town of Assisi has a singular importance for its role in the diffusion of the Franciscan Order and for its “continuity of a city-sanctuary” from its Umbrian-Roman origins to today.
Top tip: Out of respect, you mustn’t take photographs or make too much noise inside the The Basilica di San Francesco.
Like most of Italy, Assisi has a long history of local artisans. You can see throughout the town that many are still going strong today. **Save your holiday money and spend it on local crafts. There is plenty for the kids to buy too, so make sure you set their budget before going!
Small delicatessens are bursting with regional specialties like local cured meats, dried pasta. Umbrian chocolates are a MUST. We spent a whole day wandering the lanes of Assisi, making our way in and out of beautiful churches, and of course eating our way through some of Italy’s finest nougat, gelato and cakes. Even with young children, Assisi is an easy and ‘must do’ day trip.
Note: Your shoulders must be covered in The Basilica di San Francesco
The town of Assisi is spotlessly clean, and filled with many cafes and restaurants for when you need refreshment. Make sure you find out what the restaurant cover charge is, as it can be really pricey to sit and eat in some places. We visited in September, which I imagine was one of the quieter times of year, yet it was still hard to get a seat in the restaurants, without a huge surcharge.
Top tip: No matter what, stay in town for an early supper and watch the sun set, overlooking the valley.
I highly recommend Assisi, not only for the incredible scenery, but also for a huge learning experience for all ages. This is a place steeped in incredible history, which you can feel with every step you take.
Other highlights in Assisi
Rocca Maggiore – a 12th-century fortress perched high in the hills, and the Roman Temple of Minerva and Roman Forum. The Rocca Maggiore is a majestic castle which dominated, for more than 800 years the citadel of Assisi and the valley of Tescio, constituting the most viable fortification for their defence.
Duomo di San Rufino – The San Rufino Cathedral or simply Assisi Cathedral is a favourite spot among pilgrims due to its connection to St. Francis’ life.
Santa Maria Sopra Minerva –Not to be confused with the church of the same name in Rome, this church is built inside a converted 1st century BC temple dedicated to the Roman goddess of wisdom, Minerva.
Santa Maria degli Angeli- St. Mary of the Angels is a 16th-century, domed church located about 2.5 miles down the hill from Assisi. We drove down and parked very easily. This Basilica is most famous for being home to the Porziuncola, a tiny stone building believed to be the home of St. Francis and his followers. Today the Porziuncola is a small church on the inside of Santa Maria degli Angeli with qeues of devout Catholics waiting to get inside and say their prayers. This incredibly ornate building is thought to be the house where St. Francis founded the Franciscan order and also where he died. This church is not only a must see for the devout and for pilgrims but also anyone with an interest in history and history of the Catholic church.
Fun fact: the Porzuincola isn’t the only building within a building owned by the Catholic Church. The Holy House of Loreto is a structure that was brought to Italy, with some difficulty, all the way from Jerusalem because it was thought to be the house of the Virgin Mary. Like the Porziuncola, it’s a major pilgrimage site.
Spot : The gold-plated statue of the Madonna degli Angeli (“Madonna of the Angels”), will watch over you as you enter the square.
Whatever time of year you decide to visit Assisi, make sure you do your research online beforehand. There are many religious festivals, which increase visitor numbers hugely.
Flights – We flew Royal Brunei from Melbourne to London (approx. $4,500 for us all), then British Airways, London Heathrow to Bologna (approx. £500 for us all). Flights to Italy were hard to come by as we left it fairly close to lift off before we booked. We checked our luggage in when we left Melbourne, and it went all the way through to Bologna which was awesome, and saved us the hassle of checking in again!
Drive – We hired a car with Budget/Avis and collected it at Bologna airport. We drove from our Farm Stay in Castiglion Fiorentino which was a little under an hour away from Assisi.
Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible. – St. Francis of Assisi
We are the sort of travellers who won’t usually visit the same place twice. Well, why would you? There’s a wide world out there, waiting to be explored! That was until we took the children to Tuscany and fell in love, not only with our surroundings but also the Tuscan people. They are renowned for being laid back life lovers, filling their days with hard work, and their evenings with great food, family, and impeccable wine. So, Tuscany drew us back and boy did we have a wonderful time again.
Tuscany is a wonderful destination for a family holiday, not just because of the splendid vistas and the impeccable wine, but also the huge variety of things to do and see. From outstanding cities and art galleries to pristine beaches and boat trips to incomparable museums and churches, Tuscany really does have it all.
Over the next few posts, I will fill you in on what we did on our latest adventure to Italy.
First stop San Casciano Val di Pesa.
San Casciano Val di Pesa – 15km Southwest of Florence
We stayed in San Casciano Val di Pesa for a few nights at the very start of our trip, as we were heading to a wedding at a nearby castle. Like all of Tuscany’s small towns, it is incredibly beautiful. This is a truly authentic Chianti town, and an easy trip to or from Florence by car, bus or train.
The medieval walled town of San Casciano Val di Pesa is very easy to get around on foot, with plenty of fashion boutiques, restaurants, cafes, churches and museums. Luckily for our Gelato loving kids, there was plenty of that on offer too! The play park could easily win a medal for having the best view of any park in Italy and is perfectly placed in close proximity to great cafes. Always a winner! There were a few market stalls dotted about the park selling local cheese, fruit and veg, and freshly caught seafood. There was another selling what can only be described as Nonna’s underwear which the children made a beeline for! We purchased some cheese but sadly had no space in the case for Nonna’s Knickers.
Top tip: Have a look online at the long list of events held here throughout the year, as it’s a busy little town with plenty to share with tourists! Market day (on a Monday) is definitely worth a peek!
Eating out in San Casciano Val di Pesa is easy! When we asked our B&B owners where we could eat a good lunch, we were told “here, everywhere is great”. They weren’t lying! We ate three meals out and each one was divine. Oh the tomatoes in Italy!!!!
The Wilson’s Top Picks in San Casciano Val di Pesa
STAY– B&B Art – This small B&B is traditionally Tuscan. The rooms are quaint tuscan style, spotlessly clean and have just the things you need in a room. (Yay for a decent hairdryer). Breakfast was an array of cured meats, cheeses, fruit, cereals, yoghurts and homemade croissant! Delish!
EAT– La Cantinetta del Nonno (Via IV Novembre, 18, 50026 San Casciano in Val di Pesa) Most definitely the best lasagne you’ll ever eat! Yes, quote me on that!
SEE –“Giuliano Ghelli” Museum of Sacred Art, located inside the Church of Santa Maria del Gesù (enter through the library on Via Lucardesi, 6). The museum hosts many religious-themed paintings from the 14th and 15th centuries, and is made up of a sacred art section, an archaeological section and a section dedicated to primitive dwellings. The museum hosts a rare piece from the Master of Cabestany, an anonymous sculptor active in the second half of the 12th century. It’s a sculpted column representing the birth and the Baptism of Christ, with plenty of details. His figures are peculiar: they have long faces, almond-shaped eyes and many are folded in drapery.
SPOT– Make a beeline for the piazza, and see if the kids can spot the majestic silver stag standing atop the Medieval town wall. This is a contemporary artwork by Mario Merz that represents the freedom of nature.
Top Tip: Coffee is always cheaper if you stand at the bar to drink it, plus, it’s a really local thing to do, so you’ll fit in like a gem!!
All in all Casciano in Val di Pesa is wonderful place to stop for a few days. If you are thinking of visiting Tuscany you can easily day trip to Florence and Sienna from Casciano in Val di Pesa, whilst also making the most of this historic town and it’s surroundings. If you’re travelling to Italy soon, have a wonderful time!
Getting to Casciano in Val di Pesa
Flights – We flew Royal Brunei from Melbourne to London (approx. $4,500 for us all), then British Airways, London Heathrow to Bologna (approx. £500 for us all). Flights to Italy were hard to come by as we left it fairly close to lift off before we booked. We checked our luggage in when we left Melbourne, and it went all the way through to Bologna which was awesome, and saved us the hassle of checking in again!
Drive – The drive from Bologna to Casciano in Val di Pesa is a little over two hours. We hired a car with Budget/Avis and collected it at Bologna airport. The whole process was painful. It took about 90 mins to collect the car, there were huge queues (make sure you get a ticket to be in line), not many staff, and it was all just a headache after such a long journey. They did the usual ‘upselling’ of all sorts of insurance this and insurance that, trying to baffle everyone stood at the counter, so beware! Make sure you know what you need and what you don’t so that you’re ready and armed with all the facts! Our friends hired with another company and got hit with a HUGE insurance add on which hadn’t been made clear at all! You have been warned!
It seems like an age ago that we left the rush of the city behind us and headed out into the Victorian countryside. A weekend of heavenly fresh air, family time and glorious Aussie bush exploring lay ahead of us, and let me tell you, the Friday night traffic wasn’t going to get me down.
We were heading to JoyBell Cottage, a much adored, family owned hideaway near Elaine, 117km from Melbourne. Elaine is small town located on the Midland Highway between Ballarat and Geelong. At the 2016 census, Elaine and the surrounding area had a population of 228, so we knew it was going to be blissfully serene. Hurrah!
Leaving the cities in Australia is a real eye opener to just how barren parts of this country are. I love that you can drive huge distances down under and see very little sign of life, just the odd kangaroo or lonely farm house. It seems to make every journey an adventure!
We arrived at our secluded little retreat in the bush at about 8pm, exhausted, but thrilled at the promise of total peace for the entire weekend!
We were so thankful to Sam, the owner, who had left a box of treats for us, and a beautiful welcome note from her children. This sort of personal touch is what JoyBell is all about! It really is like coming home. This was a beautiful start to what was going to be a really special weekend.
The story behind JoyBell Cottage
Every wonderful house has a story doesn’t it! JoyBell is no different! You can feel the warmth as soon as you walk in, and I’m certain it’s because of the love that has been poured into this house since it was bought by Sam and her husband.
Sam and her husband both grew up in the Aussie bush and wanted to give their children experiences that mirrored their own childhoods as often as they could. It took a year of searching for the right place but they finally found their little piece of paradise and purchased this beautiful cottage. They named it JoyBell after Sam’s mother in law Joy, who sadly passed away in 2017 from leukaemia. Joy was a passionate quilter, nature lover and raised her boys as a single mum. She was amazing, and her incredible quilting talents are in pride of place throughout the cottage!
JoyBell Cottage has 5 acres, so there is plenty of room to wear the children out, or go for a peaceful walk! There is a dam where we caught yabbies (tick off the bucket list) and plenty of room to ride bikes, explore the Australian bush and make the most of the beautiful outdoors on the doorstep!
Sam and her family have filled their lovely country cottage with Joy’s treasures, quilts and furniture, which have made it not only incredibly comfortable to stay in, but beautiful and welcoming. You can almost smell the freshly baked cookies as you walk into the kitchen. It is a true testament to the life of Sam’s mother in law, and knowing the story, and visiting the cottage, I think the name is absolutely perfect.
If you are looking to connect with nature and each other, this is the perfect weekend getaway. If you’re looking to get the children away from the tv and their iPads, this is the place for you. If you want to explore the Aussie bush, and have breakfast on the deck whilst listening to nothing but native birds, this is the place for you. If you want to see Australia at its most wonderful, this is the place for you.
JoyBell cottage is a rustic Australian bush home with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a laundry room, a large family room, a games room and a kitchen diner. The decking is perfect for mealtimes, snoozing, reading, watching kangaroos hop past, and enjoying the outdoors! It is welcoming, relaxed and ready for anyone to enjoy. Why not treat yourself to a weekend in the bush! It doesn’t get any more relaxed or more Aussie than this!
‘Joy is the most magnetic force in the universe’ – Unknown
Buninyong is about a 20 minute drive from Joybell Cottage. The first thing that you’ll notice is the beautiful Town Hall and the incredible number of coffee shops! Oh and the peace too!
Buninyong Town Hall – If you are there at the weekend, you must pop in and talk to the members of the Historical Society. They will tell you some fascinating tales of Buninyong’s past! One of my favourite facts was that ‘Buninyong’ is the aboriginal for ‘Man laying down with his knees up’ which is exactly what Mount Buninyong looks like!!
Book Cottage – Search out this wonderful little cottage bursting at the seams with $1 books. It is run by the local Lions Club, who make you feel like a long lost friend when you are joyfully flicking through all the books you have ever wanted!
In Buninyong there are more coffee shops than you could ever use in a weekend and a well stocked supermarket. You’ll find a play park, a skate park & a parkour park! Yes kids, it’s true!! Ace street art dons the walls and the botanical gardens are worth taking a stroll through. Buninyong also has a small art gallery and an outdoor pool, although we didn’t check these out.
Mount Buninyong Winery is a whole afternoon of adventure! So many games for the whole family to enjoy, and plenty of space for the kids to get outdoors whilst you sip some local wine and eat the most delicious pizza you ever tasted! Go smoked salmon, its AMAZING!!!
Are you dreaming of a childfree vacay with your gal pals?
Are you desperate to say goodbye to the laundry and school run, and lay by a pool, sipping Manhattan’s like an extra out of Sex in the City with your long lost mates from back home? Isn’t it about time you took a break and spent some quality time with your friends, minus the hubster and the kids? A relaxing break, being all classy and beautiful? This could be the chance to really be you again, to rekindle old friendships long left behind.
Well, it turns out when the media were telling us ‘Mums’ that we all deserved.. no… needed a ‘Mumcation’ they were thinking of classy trips to the local winery, or Yummy Mummies sipping Chardonnay in hot tubs chatting about Florence’s ballet lessons. They weren’t thinking about the millions of Expat mums who would be rushing to the airport, gagging for a bag of pickled onion monster munch, clutching their passports, heading home for a week in the pub with the girls.. I’m here to fill you in on the reality of The ‘Expat Mumcation’…
The reality of an Expat ‘Mumcation’
I’m currently ‘drying out’ in Hong Kong airport after my very own Expat ‘Mumcation’, and let me tell you, it’s not pretty. I’m sweating, my stomach is churning, I’ve got the shakes and the bags under my eyes are way more impressive than even the best Louis Vuitton cases.. My fake tan has almost completely disappeared, my perfectly shaped eyebrows have started sprouting, and I have just broken a nail. My hair is greasy, my jeans are way too tight and I have a broken tooth. I feel (and look) like the guys out of ‘The Hangover’
Just over two weeks ago I gleefully waved farewell to my two little darlings in Melbourne and headed off on a ‘Mumcation’ to the UK to celebrate the wedding of a dear friend. I had just under three weeks of freedom ahead of me and was pumped, preened, waxed, and feeling tip top. Having planned this trip for months, I’d had time to give myself a good talking to about my behaviour on my upcoming trip.
“You’re an adult Olivia, there’s no need to go crazy”
“It’s important that you’re sensible Olivia, you have two small children who need you”….
Well. It turns out that when you go on a ‘Mumcation’, whether it’s in Barbados, Benidorm or Bognor, you just can’t help yourself. I joked about behaving like a 14 year old, but totally lived up to it. I was child free, I had a wad of cash in my pocket and the barman was gonna get it… “double G&T’s all round”…. oh dear god…. Even typing that is making me queasy.
I had landed at Heathrow after a 26hr trek from Melbourne, squeezed my ‘bestie’ and headed to Windsor for a “quiet night” before Saturdays Hen Do… After a very civilised dinner, lots of giggles and catching up, we decided to have a walk before bed. Turns out the local pub did 2-4-1 cocktails, so we had 18. At 3:45am we found ourselves down some back alley with a bunch of 17 year olds, smoking and begging the bouncers to let us in an already closed nightclub. It wasn’t pretty. I was free as a bird, for the first time in ages and my behaviour was, quite frankly, unacceptable.
19 days later and it turns out my liver isn’t thanking me for the 2 whole bottles of gin, 27 tonics, 4 bottles of prosecco, 6 bottles of Sav, 102 Sambucca shots, 34 tequila shots, an entire tube of Mango flavoured Berocca and one whole box of Alka Seltzer. My heart is barely pumping due to the 29 pork pies, 18,000 Cadbury chocolate buttons, 22 Menthol cigarettes (I don’t even smoke) and about 72 packets of Salt & Vinegar Squares.
I lost count of the cans of coke I guzzled (wtf) just to get over the hangovers.. My dentist is going to poke me in the eye. I ate scampi and chips about 8 times.. because my daughter misses it?? Do you see what I’m getting at? Most mums will get together with their local friends, pop to a hotel in the city, have a few too many, totter back to their room, and get up for a leisurely brekkie, before making their way home to their little darlings. When your best friends are 10,000 miles away, there is no “weekend break”; it has to be at least two weeks, involve binge drinking and excessive calorie consumption. You basically have to make up for the 3 and a half years you’ve missed out on, when it comes to food, drink and shopping. *whoops.
The truth is, we all need to see our friends, spend time with them, and make the bloody most of it while we’re there, because it doesn’t happen very often. If that means almost dying in the process, well, hey, it is what it is… You know what though.. No matter how useless my body is, lying here in my tiny bed at the airport, no matter how many wrinkles I have added to my forehead, no matter how wrecked my organs are, I would do it all over again… No matter how much my heart ached for my babies, no matter how much I missed my husband, no matter what I may have missed out on, I wouldn’t change a thing.
We laughed, really, really laughed. We laughed so hard it hurt. We sat round the table and shared meals together after years apart. We talked for hours about our children, our lives, about everything. And, we laughed a bit more. We had time to be us. We spent time doing things we wanted to do, without time restrictions, play dates or bedtime routines. I watched my friend marry her love, and we all ugly cried to Oasis’ Wonderwall at the disco…
I guess what I am trying to tell you is that when you take your ‘Expat Mumcation’, do it in style, because it’s over in the blink of an eye, and you’ll be back on the other side of the world, reading “The Tiger Who Came To Tea” thanking your lucky stars you did it…. and survived…
I know, I know, road tripping with the kids sounds like a holiday from hell to some people. “Are we there yet” being shouted over and over, popcorn covering the back seats, umpteen toilet breaks and cries of “I’m booooored” interrupting “The Greatest Showman” soundtrack. However, if ever there was a trip we have done, that we could recommend to you, this would be it.
If you get the pleasure of “are we nearly there yet” on the way to the supermarket, this is probably not the holiday for you YET! Some days we were smashing out 700km+ which is not a distance for the fussy traveller! There is no amount of iPad time that can fill that space, so be prepared to play games, sing, write journals, wildlife spot, and throw in a few obligatory arguments into the mix.
Travelling through the red centre of Australia, was not only a great big tick on the bucket list, it was without doubt the trip of a lifetime. Nothing could compare.
Our top reasons to road trip with your gang
Family time – Yes this is a cert when you’re ‘trapped’ in a car or van with the family. This is the trip to do if you’d like to spend time together, lots of time. There are no kids clubs, it’s just you guys, a few dead kangaroos and the road ahead, but this is what makes it so perfect. As contrived as it sounds, we all learnt so much about each other. We had hours and hours to talk, sing our favourite songs, tell jokes, play games and really immerse ourselves in each other. Life gets in the way of these beautiful moments and a road trip is the perfect way to rekindle lost time. It’s amazing what you talk about when there are no emails distracting you and no YouTube on the tv.
Scenery – Driving through the centre of Australia is like being on a David Attenborough shoot. The dingo’s running past, the Emu looking up to see who is frantically waving out of the Campervan window. The colour of the earth changing so dramatically to that deep, warm red that is so quintessentially Australian was amazing. That same red earth that we soon learnt would be ingrained in our clothes, shoes and skin. Every now and again we would stop on the side of the road and Monty would hop out and find a pile of Kangaroo bones, or a half eaten eagle. The enchantment on his face at his latest haul of treasure to take back to school was priceless. The scenery is like nowhere else on earth, and we were right there, in the thick of it, treading the same ground as people have been for thousands of years, and it felt so magical.
Sightseeing – The beauty of road tripping the Stuart Highway is that you get to see places and speak to people you would never meet if you flew this route. The incredible salt lakes, the vastness of the outback, the eagles soaring above us as we sped up the only highway going North. Road tripping allowed us to follow the signs to places we hadn’t planned to visit, and stop at free camping sites because the scenery was particularly spectacular. Road tripping gives you the freedom to make your own way, in your own time, and stay the extra night if you fancy it. This is one of the reasons it’s a great holiday when travelling with kids.
Adventure – As our journey went on, none of our excitement waned. I was sitting on the edge of my seat, watching the red earth fly by the van. The children were in the back, faces up against the windows, a live wildlife show, eyes wide and mouths open, shouting “dingo” or “eagle” every now and again! The view is like a movie set. The scenery, unbelievable.. This is the outback. The real outback. It’s almost too beautiful to put into words. Driving the Stuart Highway is nothing less than epic. The adventure of scrambling through incredible gorges, tiptoeing across water holes, laying your hands on Uluru and looking at ancient aboriginal cave paintings. Free camping, building campfires, finding roadside treasures and footprints of creatures long gone. We loved lying in the red dirt at night, star gazing up at the most breathtaking skies you have ever seen. There is almost too much adventure out there to tell you about.
New Friendships – We stopped at every roadhouse along our journey. They were all so different but each one had the same collection of people huddled around the fuel pumps. The drivers of enormous trucks getting a much needed break after hours on the road. There were travellers, refuelling and stretching their legs, batting flies, eating a much needed piece of homemade cake, or sipping on a cold beer. The atmosphere at these roadhouses was awesome. Everyone is there on an adventure and trying desperately get some wifi. People chat to each other, you hear wonderful stories of what’s to come, and swap tips for your onward journeys. A regular servo turns into a hub of storytelling and the birthplace of new friendships.
Journals – These books are so special. The hours the children spent in the back of the van drawing their surroundings, writing little scripts about what we had seen and sticking in leaflets and ticket stubs from the tours we’d been on. They are filled with adventures, stories and bursting with tales which we will all remember for years to come. I can picture us holding these books in twenty years time, when our children have their own children, telling tales of the Dingo we saw, the mine we climbed in to, or the dreamtime tales from Uluru. To have pages and pages of aboriginal dot paintings that the children created after visiting Uluru, is such an incredible keepsake that we wouldn’t have got any where else.
New experiences & Noodling – Coober Pedy is a funny old town, almost a little like you have stepped back in time, but, by far the best hours we spent on our road trip were noodling in a barren patch of ground just off the high street. Noodling is sifting through the dumps left by the miners and specking is walking slowly along staring at the ground looking for any signs of colour. A very eager gentleman at our camp site told us that noodling was allowed as long as you don’t take a shovel, and showed us on the map where he had collected a jar full of tiny gems. The kids LOVED noodling. I was less enthusiastic, mainly because of the flies, and the fact that I couldn’t find a single sparkly stone. After an hour or so Monty had enough gems to give one to every kid in his class. I was panicking that we were about to give 22 kids our little fortune, but nevertheless he was adamant they weren’t for us! Noodling is completely free, and one of the days the kids remember most about our trip.
Our kids are very used to road trips. I would say this is a must if you want to explore Australia by road! However you plan to road trip; caravan, car, campervan, bus, motorbike or even bicycle, (yes there were a few) get out there and see the magic of the Australian outback. It may seem like a mammoth feat with children but believe me, it was our greatest adventure yet, and I know it will be yours too.
This is not a cheap holiday.
We flew from Melbourne to Adelaide, where we hired a Britz campervan. The van came with everything we needed to be comfortable. We just had to stock up with food and hit the road.
When you weigh up the cost of the trip vs the experience it was totally worth it, but no, it wasn’t cheap! In fact it’s one of our most expensive trips to date and we were only away for 13 days. *Fuel is eye wateringly expensive in the outback.
Campsites were fairly reasonably priced, be prepared for some to be a lot more expensive than others.
Make sure you book you Uluru campsite first! It gets busy. **The IGA is amazing.
Free camping is FREEEE and super fun!
Take lots of pens, books, games and music to keep you entertained.
Be prepared for no wifi or phone signal. Download movies and games onto your devices, and tell your boss you aren’t contactable.
Stock up with plenty of food and drinks. Eating certainly passes the time and roadhouses aren’t cheap!
Take a decent camera, the pictures will be wonderful.
Pack warm clothes, it gets COLD out there
For anyone who suffers with nosebleeds.. Take tissues. The air is DRY! We learnt the hard way.