Best self-drive holidays for the whole family

Thinking of a short and sweet self-drive holiday? We trace some exciting routes for you!

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A self-drive vacation is possibly one of the most baby- and tot-friendly options when you visit a country with young kids.

Besides being able to go at your own pace and time, you dictate where you start, stop and end your trip. Plus, all your belongings and essentials — think diapers and milk — are in your vehicle, so you won’t have to lug them around!

Here are some of the best self-drive destinations in the region…

1. PERTH, AUSTRALIA

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GETTING THERE Fly to Perth from Changi Airport, then make your way from Bindoon, through to Mandurah, Busselton, and Margaret River, before heading back to Perth.
DURATION Seven days.
THE DRIVE In this Chan Brothers Travel itinerary, you’ll find yourself at Bindoon’s Windmill Farm — where kangaroos, wallabies and emus await — at the end of your 1½-hour drive from Perth Airport. Stay the night, then visit nearby fruit orchards, or take a tour of the farm on a tractor to meet friendly sheep and other animals.

On day two, drive two hours to Mandurah. After checking into Seashells Mandurah, make a trip to Serpentine National Park, to marvel at the majestic falls and scenic ocean views.

The next day, hop on the 60- or 90-minute dolphin cruise (starting from AU$72/SG$83.35 for two adults and two kids) at Mandurah Cruises & Gift Shop. During this excursion, your sweetie can spot these adorable sea mammals while cruising on calm waters and even tuck into the well-loved fish and chips (available at an additional cost of $13.90/person).

Head to Margaret River on day four, making a stop at Busselton Jetty, the longest jetty in the Southern Hemisphere, before visiting the Underwater Observatory ($86.80 for two adults and two kids). At Margaret River, stay two nights at the Margarets Beach Resort, stop at lush forests, frolic at the swimming pool or children’s playground, or enjoy the family-friendly Gnarabup Beach, while daddy fires up the barbecue.

Drive back to Perth on day six through the coastal town of Bunbury. Along the way, junior will adore swimming, fishing, crabbing and watching the dolphins at Koombana Bay and the Leschenault inlet, which is flanked by the Indian Ocean.

PRICE The package for two adults and two children (below 12 years), including return flights via Singapore Airlines (economy), accommodation, and car rental, costs $5,200, subject to tax and surcharges. E-mail Chan Brothers Travel at fne@chanbrothers.com.sg, or call 6212-9684.
MORE INFORMATION Go to www.perthtouristcentre.com.au, www.westernaustralia.com and www.australia.com

Hop on over to our neighbouring country for your next road trip… details next!

2. MALAYSIA

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GETTING THERE Drive from Singapore to Johor Bahru, Port Dickson, Penang, then back to Singapore.
DURATION Six days.
THE DRIVE Start your journey on the right note by taking bubba to the family fave, Legoland Malaysia, via the Tuas Second Link. The seven themed areas offer 70 rides, slides and rollercoasters, then stay the night at the luxurious Thistle Hotel, located in the heart of Johor Bahru.

Get an early start the next morning, since you’ll need to drive three hours to Port Dickson where your brood can play on the beach, do water sports, while you relax at the spa. Check into the Avillion Port Dickson — here, your young ’uns can enjoy amenities such as the kids’ pool, kids’ club, and a pet farm that houses a large number of animals such as rabbits, peacocks, guinea pigs and chickens.

After spending the night at Port Dickson, you’ll start the next day with a five-hour drive to Penang. Check into Hotel Penaga, famed for its trendy Eames and Le Corbusier furniture. This hotel offers a babysitting service ($7.80/hour, book 24 hours ahead) if you need some couple time.

Gather the brood and get up close to nature at the Tropical Spice Garden, which boasts over 500 species of flora. Kiddos can go wild at the Garden and Spice Trail’s 3D Children’s Adventure Game housed within a rainforest. There are also tube slides and candy-coloured platforms to jump from.

For a taste of local fare, head to Kek Seng Coffee Shop (382 Penang Road) — around since 1906, you’ll feast on chicken rice and the signature ice kacang with homemade durian ice cream here. Or trek to De Tai Tong Café (45 Cintra Street, George Town) for dim sum — this historic teahouse still serves its fare in metal trolleys.

End your trip on day six with a leisurely seven-hour drive back to Singapore.

PRICE Approximately $2,300, for two adults and two children, based on the itinerary planned by Quintessentially, call 6511-1190. Includes car rental, accommodation and attraction prices, but excludes meals.
MORE INFORMATION Go to www.tourism.gov.my and www.malaysiatrulyasia.com.

3. SOUTH ISLAND, NEW ZEALAND

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GETTING THERE Fly direct to Christchurch via Singapore Airlines (from $2,179 per person) and return via Queenstown Airport. The drive will take you through the scenic MacKenzie Country, down south to Dunedin and into the city of Queenstown, where you’ll catch your return flight.
DURATION Seven days.
THE DRIVE Your kids will love this picturesque location, since every shot you snap will be picture postcard-perfect. On arriving at Christchurch, check into Amore Motor Lodge, before delighting your little ones with an Open Top Double Decker bus tour of the city.

The next day, drive into the heart of the South Island to Lake Tekapo by crossing the vast Canterbury planes and passing places like the Beautiful Valley. Here, take in the magnificent view of the bright turquoise waters, the first of the large Southern lakes. Stay at the Mantra Lake Tekapo, then participate in activities like a horse trek or a boat trip.

On day three, make your way to Mount Cook National Park where, if you’re lucky, you’ll catch sight of Aoraki Mount Cook, the country’s highest mountain. There are plenty of short hikes that travellers of all ages can enjoy here, too. If you don’t mind arriving late at Dunedin, stay till dusk at the town of Oamaru to catch the blue penguins coming ashore.

Stay at the Motel on York in Dunedin, which will be your base as you explore the city’s rich Edwardian and Scottish heritage. Visit the Otago Museum to learn about Southern Maori life and mythology, before delighting junior with a trip to the iconic Dunedin Railway Station, plus a train ride along the Taieri Gorge. The Otago Peninsula is a short drive from the city centre, where you can visit the historic Larnach Castle (145 Camp Road) and Penguin Place (45 Pakihau Road, [64]3478-0286), a private conservation reserve for the endangered yellow-eyed penguins. Then, make a sweet stop at Cadbury World to sample and buy chocolate during your tour.

Day Five marks the start of your drive into Queenstown, during which you’ll pass the old mining towns of Lawrence, Roxburgh and Alexandra along the way. Don’t forget to pick up fresh produce like apples and peaches here! At Queenstown, register at the Garden Court Suites and Apartments before attempting the Skyline Gondola, which brings you to the top of Bob’s Peak, some 450m above Queenstown. The next day, enjoy a scenic cruise along Lake Wakatipu on the vintage steamship TSS Earnslaw to Walter Peak High Country Farm, where you’ll tuck into a delish gourmet barbecue lunch and take part in a farm tour. Continue exploring Queenstown before returning your rental car and catching your flight home.

PRICE From $950 per person, inclusive of airport transfers, accommodation, car rental, selected attraction admission, detailed driving instructions, as well as maps and guide books. Excludes airfare. Book at www.newzealandselfdrivetours.co.nz, or call [64]3443-7892.
MORE INFORMATION Go to www.tourism.net.nz, www.christchurchnz.com or www.mtcooknz.com

Love everything to do with the Land of the Rising Sun? Check out the next self-drive spot…

4. KYUSHU, JAPAN

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GETTING THERE Fly to Fukuoka Airport on Singapore Airlines and make your way to Hamanoura, Kumamoto and Beppu, before driving back to Fukuoka to catch your flight out.
DURATION Six days.
THE DRIVE You’ll be surprised to find bite-sized pieces of Europe here when you start your journey from Fukuoka Airport. Pop into Arita Porcelain Park for a quirky taste of Germany in Japan, while driving past beautiful rice terrace fields in Hamanoura. In this traditional German village replica, you’ll check out an impressive exhibition of both European and Japanese porcelain, as well as an ancient kiln. Next, head to Huis Ten Bosch, a theme park that houses copies of Dutch buildings, as well as canals, amusement rides and water-play areas, perfect for the little ones.

Stay the night at Hotel Nagasaki, before heading to Nagasaki Peace Park (852-8118 Nagasaki Prefecture, [81]9-5829-1171) on day two. Here, you’ll get a history lesson when you learn about the World War II atomic bombing of the city, while the kiddos enjoy the wide open spaces. Then, pop by Glover Garden for a stunning view of Nagasaki Harbour at the top of the Minami-Yamate hill, before heading to the hot springs resort of Unzen Jigoku to watch the ground spit out piping hot volcanic water and steam.

The next day, catch a ferry from Shimabara Port to Kumamoto Port, where you can explore Kumamoto Castle, which was built in 1607. Then soak in nature’s sights and sounds at Suizenji Garden and Kikuchi Valley before checking into Aso Plaza (1287 Uchinomaki, Aso, [81]9-6732-0711) for the night. Arrange an early start the next day since you’ll be making your way to Takachiho Gorge, where you can row a boat across the lake, while junior feeds the ducks. Make sure to head to Yufuin, a popular hot springs resort, to catch glimpses of the twin-peaked Mount Yufu, which marks Yufuin’s skyline.

On day five, drive to Beppu to experience a seaside sand bath. After changing into a yukata [a casual summer kimono], you’ll lie in a hole in the sand, while an attendant covers you from top to toe in sand, exposing only your head and feet. This relaxing 10-minute procedure, which even kids can enjoy, is said to be useful for treating muscle pain, arthritis and indigestion. After this bracing treatment, shop for souvenirs at Tosu Premium Outlet, before checking into Hotel Monterey La Soeur for the night. You’ll leave for Fukuoka Airport for the return flight home the next day.

PRICE From $1,518 per person, including return airfare on Singapore Airlines, accommodation and car rental. Excludes taxes and visas (if necessary). Visit www.his.com.sg, or call 6222-1230.
MORE INFORMATION Go to www.japan-guide.com and www.visitkyushu.org

This story was first published in the September 2014 issue of Mother & Baby Singapore.

Main photo: iStock

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