Family time in super Sydney
Prior to 2013, the last time I visited Sydney I was barely into my teens and the New South Wales' capital's monorail was being built. Back then its main attractions for me were the shopping, Centrepoint Tower and Taronga Zoo. It felt like a concrete jungle, bereft of the variety of entertainment options of Melbourne. Which is probably why most of my subsequent visits to Australia have been to the vibrant Victorian city.
But having come back to Sydney three times for work last year, I've got a new appreciation for what it has to offer families. The monorail may have gone (a victim of local politics, overinflated pricing and poor patronage) but judging by what's on offer this summer it feels like a magical place to take the kids.
Part of the buzz around the city is being generated by the return of The Lion King stage show for the first time in almost a decade.
Housed in the grandeur of the centrally-located Capitol Theatre, this adaptation of the hit 1994 animated-musical has been wowing audiences around the world since 1997 (it's now the fourth longest-running show on Broadway).
Along with the African rhythms and Oscar-winning tunes by Sir Elton John and Sir Tim Rice, the show offers some jaw-dropping stagecraft and eye-catching costumes, including life-size puppets that will enchant theatregoers of all ages.
Running until at least June, the Sydney cast includes a couple of Kiwis in central roles - former New Zealand age-group rugby rep Nick Afoa is the adult form of lion-cub Simba, and Wellington's Jamie McGregor plays wisecracking meerkat Timon.
McGregor, who has played the role in both Singapore and the previous run in Sydney, says the show's appeal lies in its storytelling, combining puppetry, music and humour.
"There's not much like this out there, it's fairly special," he says. Fellow cast-mate Russell Dykstra, an Aussie veteran of stage and screen, who plays Pumbaa the warthog, agrees.
"Like most great fables it has something in it for everyone - for adults it provides a reminder of what's important. Often productions can be full of sound and fury signifying nothing, but this one really supports the music and staging - there's nothing extraneous."
Just down the road from the Capitol, dinosaurs have taken over the Australian Museum for the summer. Tyrannosaurs - Meet the Family offers up an awe-inspiring range of fossilised and cast skeletons of many of the 20 species of tyrannosaurs that once roamed the earth.
You can meet "Scotty", the biggest T Rex ever discovered, and amongst the multimedia exhibits are an opportunity to hatch different species and compare your grip to the crushing power of a T Rex jaw.
In February, the museum will be introducing Tyrannosnore Sleepovers where 5 to 12-year-olds (with an adult) can spend a night in the museum which includes a torchlight tour, craftmaking, pizza eating and DVD watching.
However, the honour of Sydney's most-kid friendly museum must go to the Powerhouse, situated just on the far side of Darling Harbour and again only a short walk from the CBD. I was lucky enough to see a fantastic Wallace and Gromit's World of Invention exhibition there in May and this summer they have two exhibitions well worth checking out.
A hit during its four-month stay at Te Papa in early 2013, Game Masters traces the history of video gaming from Space Invaders to Metal Gear Solid. It features more than 100 playable video games, including "spacies", which will no doubt evoke memories of fish-and-chip shop visits for many parents.
It also offers plenty of ways to burn off excess energy or let out your frustrations with a dance floor beckoning visitors to try out Dance Central 3 and booths where you can play Rock Band and SingStar.
Not sure if their playlists include Hot Potato or Big Red Car, but you'll certainly hear those two tunes in the basement at the Powerhouse.
Since September 2011 that's been home to an exhibition on the Wiggles. A celebration of one of Australia's most successful exports during the past two decades, it offers memorabilia and plenty of memories for adults and interactive fun for kids - you can "wake up Jeff", play guitar with a virtual Murray, set sail on Captain Feathersword's ship and join Henry the Octopus in an animated 3D underwater world.
But if all this inside action seems faintly ridiculous in the height of summer, then a visit to the city's freshly-minted Wet ‘n' Wild is a must. Situated in Prospect, 32km west of the CBD, the A$135 million (NZ$146m) 25 hectare complex features more than 40 slides, rides and attractions. Open until 11pm most nights, it also offers a separate family zone for children under 120cm (which still boasts 10 waterslides) and under-3s are free.
Of course with it being newly opened, it's likely to be incredibly busy so an alternative could be the long-established Jamberoo Action Park (jamberoo.net), two hours from Sydney and just south of Wollongong.
Like Wet ‘n' Wild it has a separate area for littlies and exciting rides for older kids, including the Taipan - a waterslide in the dark - and the Funnel Web - a raft ride where you get sucked down a pipe. The wider area also includes a chairlift and bobsled.
If you prefer to get wet a little closer to the CBD, the Darling Harbour-based Australian National Martime Museum has a Viking-themed Wetworld, aimed at two to 12-year-olds running until January 27. Held in conjunction with the museum's Vikings: Beyond the Legend exhibition, it offers a selection of waterplay activities, including a supersoaker maze.
What better way to safely vent sibling rivalry or the tensions of travelling together as a family?
FIND OUT MORE
The Lion King disney.com.au/lionkingthemusical
Tyrannosaurs – Meet the Family australianmuseum.net.au
The Powerhouse powerhousemuseum.com
Wet ‘n' Wild wetnwildsydney.com.au
Jamberoo Action Park jamberoo.net
Australian National Maritime Museum anmm.gov.au
Sunday Star Times