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Magic Macarthur
Just one hour’s drive south-west of Sydney will have you and the kids feeling a world away from the city bustle. Madeline Hoskin rounds up some of the best family fun Macarthur has on offer.

Escaping to fresh country air isn’t as hard as you think. Macarthur (comprising the Camden and Campbelltown townships) is a region holding scenic hills and the Nepean and Georges Rivers, also known as the birthplace of the nation’s wool and wheat (and wine) industries. As such, it’s packed with great farm and outdoor experiences, a heap of heritage charm, beautiful gardens, accommodation of all sorts, and a good dash of adrenaline-pumping action. Whether you’re after a fun way to spend a day, night, weekend or longer, the variety on offer here has all family getaways covered.

Between 1863 and 1867 Thirlmere was a historic railway town where many workers toiled away creating the Great Southern Railway. What better place for an attraction that celebrates all things ‘trains’. Yep, you’ve stumbled across Thomas the Tank Enginelovers’ heaven. This state-of-the-art facility is stuffed with history, with a rolling stock of over 100 items that gets you interacting with original steam engines and carriages that date back to the 1800s. The displays are beautifully restored and super interactive, showcasing how conditions on the tracks have changed over time. While adults are engrossed in history, kids will be absorbed in fun. They’ll experience life inside a Prison Car, clamber over the train-themed climbing frame, venture inside a steam locomotive, have their faces painted and more. Regular events include Thomas the Tank Engine Days (yes, the Fat Controller will be there), Steam Train Rides and Vintage Train Days. Check ahead to time your visit with selected weekends or events and you’ll even enjoy a ride on a steam or diesel train; it’s sure to be the cherry atop a fantastic visit. Cafés are on hand, but you can also pack a picnic or bring goodies for a barbecue

Thomas time
‘A Day out with Thomas’ is held at Trainworks three times a year (usually in May, July and October). Bookings should be made in advance as it does sell out. Tickets cover entry, photo ops with the famous blue train himself, mini and full-size train rides, story time, jumping castles, and a whole bunch more!

Campbelltown Arts Centre
Here you get right to the cultural heart of Macarthur. The building and its surrounds are bursting with gallery exhibits, performance spaces, sculpture gardens and other nooks to explore. Popular with families is the captivating Japanese garden with its babbling waters brimming with koi, and if you’re visiting during school holidays make sure to check out the holiday programme offerings. For anywhere around $5, kids (and often parents) can get crafty, musical, scientific or dramatic in a range of interactive workshops held on site. When you’re done exploring, sit back and sip on coffees and hot chocolates from the Arts Centre Café.

Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan
Australia’s largest botanic garden certainly lures the masses – over 325,000 a year to be precise. But you needn’t fear overcrowding;there’s 416 hectares to go around. Sprawling with walking tracks, plant nurseries, a new handson and kid-friendly ‘Journey of a Seed’ selfguided trail, sculptures, BBQs and picnic spaces, it’s a perfect area for kids to roam wild.

If you’ve brought bikes you’re also in luck, as the Mountain Bike Trail here is bound to be a hit. For a little education, call the Visitor Centre before arriving and for $8 per person you can organise a guided tour, otherwise just pick up a map and set off on your own adventure. Entry is free, and gates open daily between 10am and 5pm (closed on Christmas Day).

Monkey Mania
Little monkeys will be entertained for hours at this three-level play land complete with inflatable jumping castle, foam-ball cannons, things to climb, slides to slip down, go karts to whizz around on and more. While kids go bananas, parents can sit back in the café or make use of the ‘Drop n Shop’ service: for $25, the excellent team at Monkey Mania will look after your kid for up to three hours (if they’re five or older and able to go to the bathroom alone). Kids are given a vest so staff know to keep an extra eye on them.

FastLane Karting
If you have a mini revhead in your hoard, try to sneak in a visit to this outdoor kart action at FastLane in Minto. Those four and up can ride tandem with a parent in a twin kart, kids over eight can test their skills riding solo, and senior karts are on hand for kids over 12, letting them hit speeds of 50km/h. A brand-new fleet of junior karts for kids from eight to 12 guarantees high-octane thrills, with speeds of up to 35km/h. There’s a family fun pack which will save you some dollars and give you maximum action, while locals can join the Kidz Karting Klub and build skills in confidence as well as driving. The 500-metre smooth, all-weather bitumen course is well designed with plenty of hidden challenges... even for dad!

Mowbray Park Farm
Want to experience a slice of the rural life? Then here’s your place. Nine kilometres from Picton, the working Mowbray farm offers one of the best farm-holiday experiences in Australia. Take a leisurely horse ride through the hills, enjoy a dip in the pool (or in Crocodile Creek), cook damper and billy tea on the campfire, or keep active with tennis, biking, archery, fishing and nature walks. Best of all, on weekends and throughout school holidays there’s an awesome kids’ club that’ll give young visitors tangible encounters that teach them the fun in farm chores and feeding the animals. While you can choose to just drop by for the day, at night there’s also the option to sleep soundly in one of the on-site cottages or lodges, some of which date back to the 1870s. Indeed it makes for historical, hands-on, hearty farm time that all ages will appreciate.


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