With recent lockdowns and border closures leading to countless school holiday cancellations, there’s no doubt families will be keen to go BIG on their next trip. So, don’t just book a long weekend away, go for a week or more. Here are some of the best Aussie adventures for families to spend a bit of time, and some ideas for your itinerary.
1. Underwater adventures in Great Barrier Reef, Queensland
Stretching for 2,700km, from Lady Elliot Island off the coast of Bundaberg to the tip of Cape York, the more time you give yourself to discover the Great Barrier Reef and its surrounds, the better. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed wonder actually consists of more than 3,000 coral reefs, which can be discovered snorkelling, scuba diving, on a tour on a glass bottom boat or semi-submersible vessel, or even on a scenic helicopter flight! Base yourself at one of the tropical towns on the mainland, such as Airlie Beach, Townsville, Rockhampton, Mackay, Cairns or Port Douglas. Or book a relaxing stay on one of the dozens of beautiful islands the Reef encompasses, including Great Keppel Island, Hamilton Island, Hayman Island, Magnetic Island and Fitzroy Island (or better yet – mix a few days on both!)
2. Famous theme parks in Gold Coast, Queensland
It’s known as Australia’s holiday playground – and for good reason. You will need at least a week here to fit in all the famous theme parks, as well as the many other activities and attractions on offer. You could spend at least a day each at Sea World, Dreamworld, Whitewater World and Warner Bros. Movie World. The Australian Outback Spectacular is also not to be missed, and make sure you include a visit to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. Spend at least a day frolicking on one of the region’s golden beaches, such as Main Beach, Surfers Paradise, Broadbeach, Coolangatta or Burleigh Heads – perhaps even take a surf lesson. Then head to the hinterland to see beautiful waterfalls and glow worm caves in Springbrook National Park and Tamborine Mountain, and embark on O’Reilly’s Treetop Walk in Lamington National Park. For an educational element to your holiday, book a tour with Jellurgal Aboriginal Cultural Centre to learn about the area’s Indigenous history and creation stories. There are lots of family-friendly accommodation options, including Paradise Resort Gold Coast and BIG4 Gold Coast Holiday Park.
3. Waterfall hopping at Kakadu, Northern Territory
Australia’s largest national park, known for its diverse landscapes and thriving wildlife, is only a three-hour drive from Darwin. You can easily spend a week exploring. See the world’s oldest Indigenous rock art galleries and watch the sunset over the floodplains at Ubirr, then go waterfall hopping at some of the Territory’s most famous spots, including Maguk, Florence Falls and Jim Jim Falls. Cruise along the Yellow Water wetlands for prime views of Kakadu’s scenery and wildlife (especially birds and crocs!), accompanied by commentary from a local Indigenous guide. The crocodile-shaped Mercure Kakadu Crocodile Hotel is a great place to stay.
4. Desert adventures in Red Centre, Northern Territory
A visit to Australia’s Red Centre promises a holiday experience your family will never forget. Start with Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, where you can catch Uluru’s incredible changing colours at sunset and sunrise at one of the five public viewing platforms. Walk around it, or see it from the back of a camel or on a Segway tour. You can also visit the sacred, ancient rock formations of Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) and take part in a dot painting workshop taught by a local Anangu artist at Maruku Arts at Ayers Rock Resort, where there are several hotels and a campground to stay. Since you’ve come all this way, you may as well hire a car and explore the West MacDonnell Ranges. Head to Alice Springs and take a dip at a waterhole, such as Ellery Big Hole, Redbank Gorge or Ormiston Gorge. Stop by Alice Springs Desert Park to see the birds and animals of the Outback, Megafauna Central archaeological museum for eight million-year-old fossils (including the largest bird ever!), and feed the joeys at Kangaroo Sanctuary. Spend a night at Earth Sanctuary, where you can join an incredible eco and astronomy tour.
5. Wilderness camp at the Kimberley and Pilbara, Western Australia
Begin your Western Australia adventure in Broome, the gateway to the Kimberley, where you can ride a camel along Cable Beach at sunset, learn about the area’s history at Willie Creek Pearl Farm, and discover Indigenous traditions with Yawuru man, Bart Pigram, from Narlijia Cultural Tours. Spend a few days at the remote wilderness camp Kooljaman at Cape Leveque, owned and run by the Indigenous Bardi Jawi Communities, then book a family-friendly tour or set out in your 4WD along the iconic Gibb River Road, stopping to swim in waterholes and waterfalls, hike magnificent gorges, see ancient Aboriginal rock art and camp under the stars. Round out your itinerary with visits to Lake Argyle and Purnululu National Park (the Bungle Bungles). While you’re in this part of the world, you can visit the Pilbara region as well, and discover Karijini National Park, the ghost town of Cossack, the Dampier Archipelago, and Mackerel Islands.
6. Whale shark swim tours at Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia
It’s best known as THE place to swim with whale sharks, the biggest fish in the world, which visit between March and July each year, but there are oodles of other ways to fill a week at Ningaloo Reef, on Australia’s Coral Coast. Book tours from Coral Bay and Exmouth for the once in a lifetime whale shark experience, and swim with manta rays and migrating humpback whales, see rare turtles, pods of dolphins and vibrant tropical fish. You can also explore the reef on a glass-bottom boat tour. Pop into Ningaloo Centre to find out more about what’s offered in the area and nearby Cape Range National Park, where you can admire the gorges and cliffs of Yardie Creek on a boat tour.
7. Kangaroo Island, South Australia - go sandboarding at Little Sahara
Visiting Kangaroo Island is like going on an African wildlife safari, except with Australian native animals instead! Kids will love seeing kangaroos, koalas and seals in the wild, learning about the fascinating Ligurian bees at Island Beehive, and watching pelicans being fed on the wharf behind the Kangaroo Island Penguin Centre. They can also go sandboarding at Little Sahara, marvel at the birds of prey at Raptor Domain, and explore hidden caves on the island’s stunning beaches. For a day the whole family will love, make sure you include False Cape Wines in your itinerary – it has a playground with a cubby house and slippery dip to keep littlies entertained while parents taste what’s on offer from the cellar door.
8. River scenery and serene rainforest in Gippsland, Victoria
From hiking in Mitchell River National Park to kayaking at Lakes Entrance, there’s plenty of family fun to be had throughout the Gippsland region, in Australia’s south-east corner. Discover a honeycomb of spectacular limestone formations, carved by an underground river almost 400 million years ago, at Buchan Caves; learn about the state’s history in the waterfront village of Port Albert, and head underground for a taste of what life was like as a miner at Wonthaggi State Coal Mine, which operated from 1909 to 1968.
9. An adventure around the Harbour City - Sydney, NSW
It’s the most visited city in the country for international travellers, but the Harbour City offers some amazing experiences for Australian families as well. Hire bikes and explore the Royal Botanical Gardens, perhaps stopping for a picnic at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair; climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge and see a show at the Sydney Opera House. Take in 360-degree views of the city from the top of its tallest building, Sydney Tower, and feel like you are walking on air on the highest outdoor viewpoint during the one-hour SKYWALK tour. Camp overnight in the middle of the Harbour on Cockatoo Island, formerly a convict penal establishment and naval shipyard, and ride the ferris wheel, brave the rollercoasters and challenge yourself in the mirror maze at Luna Park, on the shore of the Harbour at Milsons Point.
10. Coastal wilderness to Sapphire Coast, NSW
The Sapphire Coast, in the NSW far south, is like nature’s playground, filled with unspoilt beaches and national parks beckoning to be discovered. Spot dolphins, fur seals, and a variety of bird life along the ancient coastline aboard a marine discovery cruise; learn to surf; and go mountain biking at Tathra. Climb to the treetops, swing through the forest, and fly over the park at exhilarating speeds on a flying fox at Magic Mountain in Merimbula, and see the creatures of the deep at Merimbula Aquarium.
11. Trek to Wineglass Bay, Tasmania
Tasmania is a great destination for families who love hiking holidays, and the trek to Wineglass Bay Lookout to see the view over the beach repeatedly named one of the world’s best, is manageable with kids (though the older they are the easier it will be!). Pack a picnic lunch to have on the way and take a dip in the cool southern waters afterwards. Kids will also love visiting Cape Tourville Lighthouse, rock hopping at Sleepy Bay, and kayaking in Freycinet National Park. There are lots of family-friendly accommodation options in the area, on the island’s east coast, including BIG4 Iluka on Freycinet Holiday Park, Freycinet Lodge and Edge of the Bay Resort.
12. Scenic hikes at Cradle Mountain, Tasmania
The Tasmanian devil is one of the country’s most iconic creatures, so a visit to Devils@Cradle, at the entrance to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Cradle Mountain National Park, is a truly special experience. The conservation sanctuary is also home to the closely related Spotted-tail and Eastern quolls. You can spot wallabies and wombats on one of the many scenic hikes in the area, which range from the Enchanted Walk for littlies to circumnavigating Dove Lake with older kids. Make sure you include a visit to the quirky model village at Tasmazia & The Village of Lower Crackpot. Other activities include horse riding, quad biking, canoeing, mountain biking and boating on Lake St Clair. When it comes to accommodation, Cradle Mountain Wilderness Village and Discovery Parks – Cradle Mountain are excellent options for families.
13. Explore indigenous culture in Canberra, ACT
The nation’s capital is filled with great things for families to do. From the science and technology museum Questacon to the National Zoo & Aquarium, the National Arboretum and the Australian War Memorial, you can easily fill a week (or more!) here. It’s worth taking a trip to Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, around an hour’s drive away, which offers kids a wilderness experience and the chance to learn about Indigenous culture from park rangers. And if you’re looking for somewhere to stay, you can’t go past the uber-family friendly East Hotel Canberra.