September 24, 2012

The Enchanted Maze Garden

55 Purves Road, Arthurs Seat (Mel 159 E12)

The Enchanted Maze Garden is one of Melbourne's real treasures for under-fives and on a sunny day it is a simply magical place to visit.

Located in the beautiful hinterland of Arthurs Seat, above Dromana on the Mornington Peninsula, it offers an amazing array of activities for children of all ages. There are several mazes, including a dedicated Children's Maze with a fairy garden, animal sculptures, rabbit enclosure, sand pit and an interactive game of snakes & ladders.

The main Hedge Maze is fun to explore, and small enough to let your kids do so independently or in teams, whilst The Turf Maze with the Loch Ness Monster in the middle makes for a fun game of tiggy without stepping on the grass.

The Bush Scramble obstacle course is better for kids aged 4+ but our younger ones still enjoyed exploring it where they could, and they loved going into the chook and duck enclosure located closeby.

The real hit with the kids (and the adults too) are the giant tube slides. This is a lot of work with under-fives as you have to pull the large tubes (and children perhaps) up a steep slope and then you need to ride with them, but it's well worth the effort if you can manage it. These are are not water slides, so there is no need to cater especially for this activity (although you may want a dry pair of undies for mum!) For parents with multiple children under five, it is recommended that you visit with more than one adult for this activity. My husband and I went with four kids aged 2, 3, 5 & 6 years of age and all of the kids rode the tube slides several times - the older girls together, and the younger boys with each adult.

Moving on through the stunningly landscaped gardens, you will encounter many different sculptures, including the King and Queen's Thrones and Ken Blum's chainsaw art pieces. You will also discover The Obstacle Course which includes a rope swing, swaying bridge, tunnel, bouncy planks and a see-through maze.

Make sure you rub the tummies of the smiling Buddhas lining the steps up to The 3D Indoor Maze before you prepare your children for the Spooky Maze. The website for this attraction advises that this maze may scare children under five so you need to judge for yourself whether this is appropriate for your child. We went through with all four kids, and yes they found it scary, but they understood that by taking off their 3D glasses it became less scary. There are no live actors within the maze but there is a moving rotation bridge that you can bypass if it all gets too much. I would advise leaving prams at the entrance/exit and holding any children aged under 3.

Entry to The Enchanted Maze Garden is fairly expensive ($91 for 2 adults & 4 kids), but this is a set fee that covers all activities including multiple mazes, animals, obstacle courses, tube slides and the 3D spooky maze. Personally I felt that it was well worth the admission price given the number of activities it offered and the work that has gone into creating and maintaining this attraction.

The Amazing Lolly Shop is located at the main entrance and offers sweets, snacks, coffee and re-usable water bottles for kids. There is also a cafe located upstairs, but we did not dine here on this occasion. Alternatively you can bring your own picnic to have on the lawns or in one of the several marquees scattered throughout the grounds.

The Enchanted Maze Garden is open everyday of the year 10am to 6pm (except Xmas Day). The Tube slides and Indoor 3D Maze are open until 4pm weekdays and 5pm on weekends, public holidays and school holidays. Prices are as follows;
Adults $29
Children 3-17 years (must be accompanied by an adult)$19
Children 2 and under Free
Family Pass (2 adults + 2 children)$79 -additional children with Family Pass rate $12
Seniors $23
Aged Pensioners $19
For more information, visit The Enchanted Maze Garden website.

August 23, 2012

Bounce Inc

2 Weir Street, Malvern (near Tooronga Train Station)

I am dying to check out this new trampolining centre in Malvern. My sister took her 5 and 7 year olds on the weekend and, despite a swollen ankle, she rates it as a super fun activity with kids. Plus it gave everyone an excellent night's sleep.

Bounce Inc is open for children over 3 and under 110cm from 10am to 3pm weekdays (excluding school holidays). With the older ones at school, this would be the best time to take pre-schoolers, remembering that, as with play centres, mornings will always be busiest.

Cost for free jumping for juniors is $10 for the first hour and $7 for the 2nd hour. Adults are $16.50 for first hour (includes BounceInc socks with grip) and $10 for 2nd hour.

There is a cafe overlooking the trampoline park which may be best visited after jumping rather than before.

Bounce Inc also do kids parties with packages priced around $28 per person.

For further information, visit the Bounce Inc website.

August 18, 2012

Puffing Billy

As far as family activities go in Melbourne, Puffing Billy would have to be a firm favourite. Even in the middle of winter, this train brings a smile to the face as it rounds the corner over Monbulk Creek in a cloud of steam and waving passengers.

Steam trains have a strange allure for most people, young and old, but Puffing Billy is particularly exciting given its location in the Dandenong Ranges, its historic significance, and its amazing preservation based on a 900 strong volunteer workforce.

Previously on this blog I have reviewed Day Out with Thomas and, whilst this is a great event with under-fives, the regular excursion ride provides an even better unplanned opportunity for stress-free family fun.

The cost can be offputting with The Billy, but you need to remember that this attraction relies heavily on a membership and volunteer base for its survival. Without it, Puffing Billy will simply discontinue and this would be a sad loss for Victorian heritage and tourism.

Having said that, there are many ways for this attraction to work for you. As a single adult travelling with kids under five, the return journey is $41 (Belgrave to Emerald or Lakeside - thats less than $14 each if you have 2 kids). Alternatively, many parents opt to go one way with one parent ($24), meeting another adult with car at a designated destination station. I personally think this takes a lot of the fun out of the journey. The kids will want to hang their legs out the windows and this requires some holding on, plus adults enjoy this trip just as much as the kids - I wouldn't want to be the one hanging out in the car at the other end.

Whilst children under 4 are free on Puffing Billy, the adult return fare makes the family pass at $83 the best option for two parents travelling with 1 to 4 kids from Belgrave to Emerald or Lakeside return. Any longer would probably be excessive for children of this age group, and these destinations are very accessible with younger children.

Based on our experience travelling on a weekend with two adults and four kids under 6, my suggestion to parents of under-fives would be as follows;

- Park at Belgrave Train Station carpark and follow the well signed path to Puffing Billy.

- On the weekend, take the 11.10am or 12.30pm train from Belgrave. You need to be there at least 30-45 minutes beforehand to buy tickets, get snacks, take photos and find the carriage you want to be in. Try to sit on the right hand side of the train (facing forward) for the best views.

- Depart Belgrave and enjoy the 50 minute journey to Emerald (60 minutes to Lakeside). There is a 10-12 minute stop at Menzies Creek for toilet and refreshments.

- During Summer I would highly reccomend going to Lakeside and taking a picnic lunch. Return train leaves at 2.20pm or 3.40pm from Lakeside, giving you plenty of time to explore the lake, have a bbq lunch and visit the playground.

- In Winter, I reccommend visiting Emerald. If it's not wet, then the playground is fun, otherwise the Emerald Bakery in the main street have fantastic food, coffee, hot chocolates and booth seats out the back. Also, the fruit shop across the road is great. Trains go back to Belgrave at 2.40pm or 3.55pm. There are toilets at the station.

- Once you are back in Belgrave, walk up to the main street and visit Sushi Express. There is a toy box for the kids and a train delivering their food. If you are more in the mood for sweet, Chocolate Sensation has amazing cakes and be sure to pick yourself up some chia or olive bread. If food is not on your radar, pick up the car and drive to Belgrave Park Lake for a runaround and explore.

For those of you keen to keep Puffing Billy on track, membership is a good, affordable way of helping out. This is a particularly viable option for people with big, extended families as you will recieve a 15% discount on all bookings made by that member.

For more information, visit the Puffing Billy website. Please double check timetable and fare information before planning your trip.

July 26, 2012

Playdough Recipe

A couple of years ago I did a playdough recipe post, but thanks to my friend Sophie (a kindergarten teacher) I now use this very easy recipe that doesn't require any cooking. This playdough has a great consistency (not too oily or sticky) and it lasts for ages when kept in a snaplock container in the pantry. This is a huge amount, so we usually split it into two bowls and make two different colours.

4 cups plain flour
2 cups cooking salt
4 tablespoons cooking oil
1 packet of cream or tartar
4 cups freshly boiled water
food colour

Place all dry ingredients in a bowl
Add food colouring (if desired)
Pour in boiled water and stir with a wooden spoon. Add oil and mix again.
Once cool enough to handle, knead together on a board.
Store in an airtight container.

July 20, 2012

The Otways with Kids

This fantastic post on The Otways is courtesy of Romy Mangan, mother to three children aged 6, 5 and 3. The Otways are located on the Great Ocean Road, about three hours drive from Melbourne.

During the recent July school holidays my family and I decided it was time to get away and occupy the kids with more than the usual round of museums and parks. So I booked us a short get away to the Otways , one of my favourite locations in Victoria. I hadn’t been back since I was pregnant with my 6 year old and have since added a 5 and a 3 year old to the mix so I was looking forward to visiting with them.

Booking couldn’t have been easier, there are many websites to choose from but I selected for last minute deals. I was delighted to find a two bedroom cottage that was self catering and would be perfect for our needs. So we packed our bags with plenty of warm clothes and gumboots and off we went to our cottage, Nellie Nook which is located in Lavers Hill on the Great Ocean Road.

It is a 3 hour trip from the Eastern Suburbs so I knew we would need to stop for a break and something to eat. We chose the Winchelsea Shire Hall Tea Rooms. It was pleasant and very affordable and provided good food and plenty of space for the kids to run off some steam before we headed back on our journey. On the way we played counting coloured cars, I spy, I went on a picnic and took a….., which always ends in something silly and usually with my kids something involving a bodily function. But it kept them occupied until we got there.

Neal (the owner of Nellie Nook) was there to greet us and had lit the wood heater for us. He was a great host and took us off on a walk around his property which has some woods and a small waterfall. There is also a damn with frogs in it. When we got back he presented us with homemade bread which we scoffed in about 2 minutes.
We then took off for an exploration of Lavers Hill, which to be fair is set in beautiful surrounds but doesn’t offer the kids much so we headed for Hopetoun Falls. There are many waterfalls in the area abut we chose this as we knew our kids would make the walk there and back.

The falls were great and the kids were amazed at sound of the crashing water. A huge tree had fallen into the falls and the kids loved this as it showed the scale and power of the waterfall. They made the walk there and back up the many steps without a moan. Great!

We stopped in Lavers Hill at the motel for dinner. Unfortunately the menu selection wasn’t great and the food though ample in size was just OK, however if the kids were asked the same they would say thumbs up to the chips and sausage rolls for dinner. Our next adventure was to see the Glow Worms which were only a 3 minute drive away in Melba Gully Visit Victoria Glow Worms.

By 6 o’clock it was pitch black so we needed our torches to walk the 10 minutes to where the glow worms are. Neal had given us directions so we knew where we were going; otherwise I think we might have wandered off. The lights of the worms were just lovely and looked like twinkling fairy lights in the trees. After this it was back for a movie and cosy up on the sofa.

Next day we were up and about exploring Nellie Nook again and then we bundled everyone in to the car and set off to Otway Fly Tree Top Walk. This place is great. The Kookaburras were calling on arrival and helped to build the kids expectations from minute one. We booked the Tree Top walk which cost around $50. There is a zip fly wire tour but our kids were too young and also due to the cost, we thought we would wait until they were older and would appreciate it more. The walk through the forest is beautiful with huge gums towering above and the freshest air I’ve ever breathed. We then came to the dinosaur trail. It is a walk that the kids and we loved. There are replica models of various favourite dinosaurs, including Stegosaurus, Triceratops and T Rex. Along this part of the walk there were plenty of really good photo opportunities, we had great fun posing with the dinosaurs. After this walk it was on to the tree tops. If you are afraid of heights this may not be for you but it is perfectly safe and gets you up really high. The kids went charging on and climbed the tower pretending it was a spaceship. My youngest struggled a bit so she needed a shoulder ride from time to time but was able to cope very well.

We had a snack in the cafe which was well priced and went on to Apollo Bay. On our way there we saw a pod of migrating whales. This was the highlight of the trip for me. The kids loved it too but then got fed up with that and played on the beach in the winter sunshine. We had lunch in Apollo Bay and went for stroll. It was busy but it’s a lovely seaside town with plenty of shops to browse through if you don’t have impatient little ones in tow.

From here we headed to the 12 Apostles. We went to the visitor centre but our kids weren’t interested in the geology of the area and got bored on the walk. I tried to liven it up by telling stories of shipwrecks and also about the penguins but they were over it so we headed back to our cottage. Maybe when they get older we will take them back. We saw heaps of Kangaroos on the drive back but sadly no wombats.

The next day we went to Johanna beach (Map for Johanna Beach) and went to the second car park which is closer to the river and if you fancy it can be an option for going for more explorations along its banks. We didn’t do it this time as the kids wanted to play on the beach. My two older boys got drenched playing in the rock pools and chasing waves. Great fun but I was glad they had a change of clothing. We also found huge cuttle fish bones washed up, the kids took home and have now been painted in technicolour glory!

On our way back to Melbourne we decided to stop off at Werribee Zoo. We have been here lots of times as we are Friends of the Zoo but thought as it was on our way it was a great choice for a break and dinner. The Zoo didn’t disappoint with the two highlights being the gorillas that were very active and in full view and the lions were right up next to the glass too. On the safari bus the rhinos were really close and in fact the bus had to move along to keep out of their way.

We got home tired and thinking that we must get down to the Otways again very soon.

July 11, 2012

Hot Rock Crayon Painting

I get heaps of great kids art ideas from The Artful Parent and this one is my new favourite.

Find some smooth stones from around the garden and give them a good clean. Then place them on a tray lined with baking paper and put them in the oven for 20-30 minutes.

Get your crayons ready. This is a good way of getting rid of old bits and pieces of crayons, or just buy a couple of cheap packs.

Set up some work trays on the bench and find some mittens or oven mitts for the kids to wear. The stones will be very hot, so this activity is best suited to kids 3 years and over.

When the stones are hot enough, remove them from the oven and (using an oven mitt or tongs) place them onto the work trays. Larger flat stones will be easier for kids to paint without having to touch them, and longer crayons will make the task easier.

Let the kids melt the crayons onto the hot stones. They will discover that they get better results by slowly moving the crayons over the stones - more like painting than drawing.

Let the rocks dry and then use them as decoration for the fairy garden or grouped together in a bowl.

July 10, 2012

Glow Stick Bath-Time

I've seen this idea on a few blogs and I've always wanted to try it. It seemed like the perfect time tonight after our visit to the snow.

Basically it's as easy as throwing a handful of glow sticks into a nice warm bath and turning the lights off. Suddenly bath time is way more exciting.

To make it even more ambient, make a few glow jars to place around the bathroom.

Glow sticks are really cheap and you can buy them on ebay. They are also handy for carols by candlelight celebrations and kids birthday parties.

Tobogganing at Lake Mountain

Today we took the kids to see snow for the first time. Lake Mountain is only 90 minutes from our place, so that seemed the obvious place to go and chains are not required as with other ski resorts.

The kids were super excited and it was so lovely to see their faces at the first glimpse of snow. It is definitely one of my favourite activities we have done as a family.

Lake Mountain is a cross country ski resort and is the closest resort to Melbourne, making it perfect for tobogganing and snow play with young kids. Furthermore, Lake Mountain tourism supports the bushfire recovery effort.

Today there were two slopes open for tobogganing. The snow was quite icy but not too slippery and the slopes were gentle and short enough for our five and three year olds to manage on their own. Its certainly not the soft pure white snow cover you get at Bulla or Hotham, but the kids are none the wiser yet and they loved making us run up and down pushing them faster and faster - exhausting work, so a few hours on the mountain is probably ample with under fives.


Vehicle Entry is $40 midweek ($30 online) and $49 weekends/public holidays/school holidays ($40 online).

Chains - these are only required in certain conditions. Its worth ringing the hotline on the morning of your visit and checking the snow report and road conditions - 03 5957 7232

Hire - The best deals are in Buxton,Narbethong and Marysville where you can get overpants, boots & toboggan hire for $16 per child. The same thing is $30 on the mountain.

Food - There is a restaurant on the mountain that has hot food and drinks, and plenty of bakeries and cafes along the way. For a nice sit-down lunch, Innocent Bystander in Healesville is kid friendly and has fantastic pizza and tapas. The York on Lilydale is a good dinner option with kids as it has an indoor playroom and kids meal deals.

Ways to save money

Op Shop Ski Gear - Knowing we would probably visit the snow this season, I have been trawling the op shops for a few weeks, stocking up on warm and wet gear. They may not be the most attractive options, but they did the trick and the kids will outgrow them by next season. There are some good op shops in Healesville if you haven't got everything you need, plus the $2 shop have cheap kids snow gloves.

Self catering - we stocked up at the IGA in Coldstream on snacks, drinks and sandwich things and these kept the kids entertained in the car on the way up, plus the treats proved useful up the mountain.

Hardware Stores - I've seen a few hardware stores that sell toboggans for $20-30, This could be worthwhile if you will use them again - great for the slipperly slide in summer.

For further information, visit the Lake Mountain Alpine Resort website.

A fun way to warm up after a day at the snow is with a Glow Stick Bath.

March 29, 2012

Carriage Cafe in Seville

Nestled in bushland about an hour from the city on the Warburton Trail, this unique café is fantastic for young families and makes a perfect venue for lunch on a sunny day.

Inspired by its location on the old Lilydale to Warburton railway, the café is housed in the shell of an old railway carriage complete with private booth seating and sliding windows. Accessible by a ramp and stairs, the train is raised up on stilts to align with the large undercover ‘platform’ offering spacious alfresco dining overlooking the open pavement and grass areas below. In this lower area, you are invited to park your bike, tie up the dog, tether your horse, or just let the kids run around whilst you enjoy a relaxing lunch up on the deck. There a couple of ride-ons to borrow and a toy box to keep the little ones entertained.

The last train to come through here was in 1965, however the railway theme is alive and well at The Carriage Cafe. Sitting out on the deck watching the cyclists and pedestrians arrive along the trail and the sheep grazing in the surrounding paddocks, you could well forget the time passed since that last train rolled into Seville Station.

Taking your order at the ‘ticket booth’, the staff are genial and relaxed, and meals are delivered to the table with a smile. The menu is basic and fairly uninspired, but family friendly and affordable. For only $3.50, your kids will love the Station Master Lunch with a train shaped sandwich, choc iced cupcake and a glass of juice. Offerings for adults include egg & bacon pie, lamp wraps, focaccias, salads, steak sandwich and chilli con carne, plus a specials board for breakfast.

Parking is available near the old Seville station at the end of Station Road. This is about a four minute walk down the Warburton trail so pack the trikes and bikes and let the kids ride across the old railway bridge down the track to the café, waving to all the cyclists and horse riders along the way.

After lunch, the now grassed over Seville station makes a nice place to sit and watch the horses in the paddocks beyond. Also, there are plenty of great produce suppliers only a short drive away so make sure you pick up some fresh fruit and veg on your way home.

The Carriage Cafe is located in Seville, about an hour from Melbourne off the Warburton Highway.

February 3, 2012

Playschool Concerts

Various Locations

It's that time of year again. Playschool concert tickets are now on sale for Victoria shows running from 2nd-25th March 2012.

Tickets are $14.50. Depending on location, show times available are 10am, 12pm, 2pm. For bookings visit Kids Promotions.

Dads n' Lads and Dads n' Daughters Adventure Weekends

Churchill Island, Phillip Island
Dads n' Lads - 11th/12th February 2012 (4-7 year olds)
Dads n' Daughters - 17th/18th March 2012 (4 to 7 year olds)

This sounds like great fun and a wonderful bonding opportunity for dads.

Ditch the TV, computer games, mobile phones and get back to basics with a weekend of action packed activities. Spend quality time with your child in the great outdoors of Phillip Island and enjoy the activities for both young and old.

Activities include: camping at Churchill Island Heritage Farm – sleep under the stars, tell tales round the campfire and enjoy a BBQ dinner and big breakfast (*own tent required)
- join a ranger for a rock pool ramble and beachcomb
- take part in the farming activities at Churchill Island Heritage Farm
- get competitive with the old time games
- visit the Koala Conservation Centre and see little penguins at the world-famous Penguin Parade.

The cost is $165 all inclusive (dinner, breakfast & activities for one adult & one child). $65 per extra child.

Bookings and information, contact Jade Cranton Tel: 5951 2802 or email

A swim at Lysterfield Lake

Cnr Horswood Road and Logan Park Rd, Narre Warren North (melways ref. 108 D2)

I wasn't sure what to expect when my sister suggested we take the kids to Narre Warren North for a swim in the lake. I had never heard of Lysterfield Lake Park and I was amazed to discover it is a massive 3400 hectare nature reserve only 45 minutes from the city. Until the 1970's, Lysterfield Lake was a reservoir for the Mornington Peninsula. It was opened to the public in 1986 and then revamped with 20 kilometres of mountain bike tracks for the Commonwealth Games in 2006.

This is a great place to take the kids for a swim on a sunny day, especially if you don't want to get in yourself. There are two protected swimming bays with sandy beaches and a gradual increase in water depth. It is only a very short walk from the car to the beach and the water is warm and clear. It would be a great place for a mothers group catch up or a picnic with friends. My 18 month old, 3 year old and five year old all had a wonderful time paddling about with their cousins.

There are two large picnic areas along the lake shore with tables, toilets and bbq facilities. There are also some great bike tracks suitable for families, so it would be worth packing the bikes or just taking a walk with the pram.

Lysterfield Lake is open every day of the year from 8.30am. Access is from Horswwood Road which is off the Belgrave-Hallam Road. For further information, visit the Parks Victoria website -

November 11, 2011

U Pick Berries in Silvan

Blue Hills Berries and Cherries
27 Parker Road, Silvan (melways ref 121 F11)

This is a great activity to do with young kids before the weather gets too hot. The fields of Silvan are abundant with strawberries, blueberries, raspberries & cherries at the moment and blackberries will be arriving in the coming weeks. The kids will absolutely love finding the ripe fruit to pick and put in their container, or put straight in their mouths as is often the case. My two year old ended up with an empty container but a very berry grin. The older kids, on the other hand, loved building their stash to take home - and man do we have a lot of berries to eat!

I'd suggest that weekends would get crazy busy during November and December, so if you can go midweek this would be ideal - today we basically had the fields to ourselves. Whilst it is a steep site, it is manageable with a pram if you have the energy. My 1 year old was asleep in our double stroller so because it was so quiet I was able to leave him parked at the bottom of the rows whilst we picked.

Entry is $10 for adults, $5 for kids over 3 and under 3's are free. The berries you pick to take home are $10 per kilo and $15 per kilo for blueberries. There are also containers of pre-picked berries to buy.

Silvan is about 10 minutes drive from Monbulk at the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges. Visit the Blue Hills website for further information.

October 7, 2011

Caribbean Gardens

1280 Ferntree Gulley Road, Scoresby

This place has to be seen to be believed. Firstly, its amazing that 100 acres of undeveloped land still exists in Melbourne's suburbs Secondly, it feels and looks like a 1980's holiday park, ideal for a Griswald family picnic.

I'd suggest the best time to visit Caribbean Gardens with young kids is on Wednesdays or Fridays during school holidays. The train, chairlift and jungle boat rides all operate on these days at $4 each, plus there is the market and other activities such as face painting and jumping castle. It is free entry, there is ample parking, and there are plenty of great playgrounds for your kids to explore. Definitely worth checking out for yourself.

For more information, visit the Caribbean Gardens website.