January 2017


Ever since my own mum took me on a Caribbean cruise when I was 13 years old, I’ve always dreamt of going on vacation with my two young children: 11-year old Stephen and Sophie, who’s the same age that I was when I went on that cruise trip. This year it finally happened. Buoyed by a promotion at work, which proved instrumental in helping me accrue the necessary funds for our trip, and by the fact that I had accumulated about 10 days of leave by the time summer rolled around, we finally decided to give it a go this past July.

Sipadan Island

As far as locations go, as much as I treasure my Caribbean memories, it’s Southeast Asia that I truly fell in love with during my college days, so that’s where I decided to take the kids. More precisely, I wanted to do a tour of Malaysia, probably my favorite country in the whole area, concluding with a trip to Sipadan Island, where I figured I would introduce the children to the joys of scuba diving.

Sipadan Island

We arrived in Kuala Lumpur after a long flight during which I managed to get the kids to pay attention to their iPads instead of making a ruckus and bothering the rest of the passengers. Strike one for technology, I guess. We only stayed in Kuala Lumpur for two days, though, since big metropolises aren’t necessarily the main reason why I love Southeast Asia so much. Still, it was enough for them to gawk at the Petronas Twin Towers and enjoy a nice afternoon in the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park.

Sipadan Island

After that, we headed directly to Borneo. As the third largest island in the world, Borneo is pretty much its own country. The Malaysian side of it encompasses the states of Sarawak and Sabah, the latter of which was the focus of my family’s trip. We had a lot of fun hiking around the base of Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in the entire country, and spent an entire afternoon visiting the Mari-Mari cultural village, where my kids caught a glimpse into the lives of Sabah’s traditional culture, a culture that is so far removed from their day-to-day existence it might as well belong to Mars. We also got to witness the sight of orangutans slinging from tree to tree in the Orangutan Rehabilitation Center in Sandakan, a sanctuary for orphaned animals that is as heartbreaking as it is beautiful.

Sipadan Island

Then it was time for me and the kids to enjoy some of the finest diving the world has to offer in nearby Sipadan Island. This was one of the first places where I went after I got my PADI certificate in the early 1980s, and it was worth every cent back then as it is now. In fact, Sipadan regularly gets named among the top dive destinations on the planet, and for good reason too. Everywhere you turn here, it seems like there’s a brand new thing that catches your attention. On our first diving session, a family of turtles could be seen munching on algae right next to us. The second day, something like a dozen ribbontail stingrays just casually passed us by as we were exploring a renowned diving spot called the Hanging Gardens. Finally, on the third day we even saw a thresher shark, an extremely rare sight even in these creature-rich waters. Needless to say, Sophie must’ve garnered a thousand Facebook likes for her pic of this most fearsome of aquatic predators.

Sipadan Island

Finally, we spent the last two days of our vacation quietly nestled on the beach. We had enough time to catch up on our shared hopes, fears and dreams for the future, which is what any successful vacation ought to facilitate. Suffice to say, it was the kind of bonding experience that truly brings families together.

Sipadan Island

And so we concluded our first trip abroad closer than we’d ever been. My current hope is that such experiences will become the norm in our family, rather than the exception. And that one day Stephen and Sophie will get to do this with their own children as well, thus perpetuating a family custom that has been passed down from generation to generation. Until then, we’ll always have Sipadan Island.

Smart travellers know that the best way to experience any city is from the perspective of its locals. It’s the locals who know where to go, what to do, what to eat, and how to make the most out of your time in a location.

If you’re planning to spend a weekend in one of Australia’s most vibrant cities, Sydney, choose the local experience and you’re bound to have a memorable adventure.

Here are 6 ways to help you spend a weekend like a local family.

  • Use public transport

Instead of using your personal vehicle, opt for public transportation. You’ll get some amazing views on the city and won’t have to lose time worrying about parking.

To have a local experience, rent bikes for your family and cycle the city away. The weather is just perfect for being out and about on a bike. Plus, the city is very bike-friendly. You’re going to have a blast cycling through its streets and cycleways.

  • Book a vacation rental

Instead of booking a hotel room, go for a smart vacation rental. You can find great rentals on platforms like Gumtree. They’re much more comfortable then hotels and give you a local-like experience of the city.

  • Plan a perfect getaway

To experience a typical Sydney family outing, plan a family getaway. When overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of Sydney streets, the locals head over to the nearby amazing natural sights.

A favourite among the locals are the city’s many gardens. Take your family to the Chinese Gardens or visit the breathtaking Royal Botanic Gardens. Pack a nice lunch and organize a spontaneous picnic amid the stunning Australian nature.

Another interesting destination is the relatively new Barangaroo Reserve. There are so many activities to choose from here. Make sure to stop by one of the markets or delicatessen shops beforehand. That’s where locals have a bite while enjoying the amazing views of the harbour.

Finally, there’s the 220 hectares of the Centennial Park. Located just 15 minutes away from the city centre, you’ll have a green area filled with playgrounds, horse stables and even a beautiful café-restaurant. If your family loves sports, there’s nothing better than walking or running the 3.8 km route around the oval.

  • Take a ferry trip to Manly

This is an activity where you’re bound to encounter only locals. Some Sydneyers are lucky enough to have this ferry route as their daily commute. The ferry ride will give your family some unforgettable sights of the Quay and Nelson’s Point.

Manly is located on the north of the harbour and it’s known for its beautiful, palm tree lined boulevards, a selection of surf shops and some nice restaurants which face the water. If you’re up for some beach activities, you’ll have a blast here. The Manly beach is just perfect for swimming, but if you’re into surfing you’re bound to find a few waves here as well.

  • Scout secret beaches or go for this classic

Beaches are the essential weekend destination for Sydneyers. You can either look for secret beaches or settle for a classic loved by locals and tourists alike.


Bondi beach

Bondi beach

Bondi beach is just amazing. It’s a perfect place for fun family time. You can set up a beach tent and easily spend an entire day exploring this natural marvel. If you want to experience the beach like a local, get there in the early morning like 7.30 am and leave by 10.30 am. That’s especially valid during the summer when the beach gets very crowded.

What about Sydney’s secret beaches? You can find them very close to the Central Business District, or downtown. If you’re visiting the city during the summer, you’re bound to encounter crowds at the famous beaches. So, if you want more space, you should check out Redleaf Beach or Milk Beach.


Sydney secret beaches

Sydney secret beaches – Source:

They’re both located in the Eastern Suburbs and they’re harbour beaches. Have a look at Manly Beach’s little cousin called Shelley Beach as well, or head north to Palm Beach for the amazing red-tinged sand which stretches there for over a mile. The views are unforgettable.

  • Go to the top of the Harbour Bridge

Tourists choose the Bridge Climb most of the time, which is pricey and might even give you a bad vase of vertigo.

Fortunately, you can get the same experience without the side effects and at a much lower price. To get some stunning views, take your family to the Pylon Lookout. The location can be reached by walking onto the bridge along the pedestrian path. The admission fee is only AUD $13.

You can climb several stories surrounded by the pylon that supports the bridge. The views from the top are simply spectacular.

Why it’s worth to experience Sydney like a local

Getting the local experience is a sure way to add uniqueness to your adventure. You’ll get to see parts of Sydney that only a few tourists ever check out. Travelling off the beaten track, mingling with the locals, and experiencing local ways of life all offer plenty of opportunities to make new friends.

If you get to know a family from Sydney, keep in touch with them and you’re bound to get another opportunity to visit Sydney and experience even more local sights and activities. Needless to say, you’ll become a local in no time.

Kelly Smith is an avid traveller, reader and writer. She works at Career FAQs, Australia’s leading resource on careers and learning. When not working, she likes to discover the hidden gems of Australian and European cities.