From the Opera House, to the Blue Mountains, and from Mt Kosciuszko to Byron Bay, check out our 16 best family travel tips in NSW.
1. Sydney Opera House
Make 2021 the year you introduce your kids to the theatre with a show at the Sydney Opera House. While Bluey’s Big Play the Stage Show is booked out, there are plenty of other family offerings throughout the year. In April, you can join ARIA award-winning children’s band the Teeny Tiny Stevies as they perform songs from their latest album, along with hits such as Boss of My Own Body and I Ate a Rainbow. More school holiday shows will be announced soon.
2. Stay at Reflections Holiday Parks
When it comes to family holidays, nothing beats a relaxing stay at a holiday park, whether it’s by the beach or in the bush. It doesn’t matter if you want to camp, glamp, bring your caravan, or stay in a tiny house, deluxe cabin or a villa, there’s an accommodation option for everyone. Reflections Holiday Parks has 37 locations to choose from throughout NSW, each filled with family-friendly features from playgrounds to mini golf. They include Jimmys Beach Holiday Park in the tranquil mid-north coast town of Hawks Nest, where you can swim in calm blue waters and spot dolphins passing by, and North Haven Holiday Park, half an hour south of Port Macquarie, where you can go fishing or kayaking in the nearby river, explore the neighbouring Dooragan National Park and trek up North Brother Mountain. For a country experience, head to Copeton Waters Holiday Park, set beside Copeton Dam near Inverell, where you can spend your days fishing, boating, kayaking and bushwalking. Make your 2021 stay even sweeter and save $25 on your first stay over $100 when you join the free Reflections Rewards Club. Plus, if you spend over $1000 throughout the year, you’ll receive a $100 credit for another holiday.
3. Scenic World, Blue Mountains
Take a thrilling ride on the world’s steepest passenger railway, and glide between clifftops on the Scenic Skyway taking in views of the famous Three Sisters rock formation, on a trip to Scenic World in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains. You can also descend more than 500m into the Jamison Valley and walk along an elevated boardwalk under the canopy of a temperate rainforest with plants dating back to the Jurassic era between the cableway and railway stations. The original railway was built in the late 19th century to serve the Katoomba coal mine and was bought by entrepreneur Harry Hammon after its closure in 1945. It is still owned and operated by the same family.
4. Byron Bay
It’s become one of the hottest destinations in the state since the COVID-19 pandemic, but Byron Bay is definitely worth the hype. Popular with hippies and surfers since the 1970s, the town is attracting more and more families enticed by its beautiful beaches, lush hinterland and great eateries. Learn to surf, book a dolphin kayaking tour, walk to Cape Byron Lighthouse to take in the views from Australia’s most easterly point, and swim in the natural pool at the bottom of Minyon Falls. You can also visit nearby family-friendly attractions, such as Crystal Castle and Macadamia Castle.
5. Broken Hill
Get a taste of Outback life with a visit to the former mining town of Broken Hill, which lies more than 1,000km west of Sydney near the South Australian border. Surrounded by rugged, moonscape terrain, it has provided the backdrop for many films including The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Mad Max II and Mission Impossible II. Take a tour of the working Royal Flying Doctor Service base and airport to view aircraft in the hangar, and see first-hand what school life is like for children in remote outback locations with a visit to the School of the Air. Don’t miss the 1950s-style Bells Milk Bar, where you can try a range of old-style milkshakes and banana splits and peruse the museum and retro gift shop.
6. Pacific Palms, Barrington Coast
With its beautiful white sand beaches, lakes, national parks and subtropical rainforests, Pacific Palms is a real hidden gem. Named after the majestic cabbage tree palms that are abundant throughout the region, Pacific Palms is located on the Barrington Coast, just south of Forster, just three hours’ drive north of Sydney. Encompassing the coastal hamlets of Blueys Beach, Boomerang Beach, Elizabeth Beach, Smiths Lake and Seal Rocks, you can while away your days surfing, swimming or fishing at the beach, go water skiing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding or boating on Wallis Lake, Smiths Lake or Myall Lake, or embark on a hike through the rainforest. Shop for local, handmade treasures at community markets, boutiques and galleries, and dine al fresco at one of the area’s cafés, clubs or restaurants.
7. Hill End
Wandering the streets of this well-preserved 1850s gold rush town, less than four hours’ drive west of Sydney, is like stepping back in time. The largest single mass of gold ever discovered, weighing in at 285kg, was found here, and occasional gems are still found in the Cudgegong River, including diamonds, sapphires and rubies. Try your hand at gold panning, fossicking and visit an underground mine. The self-guided village walking track takes you on a tour of the town’s colonial treasures, including History Hill Museum, where you can also see rare artefacts from the era.
8. Big4 Easts Beach Kiama, South Coast
We all know happy kids mean happy parents, so a stay at BIG4 Easts Beach Kiama on the NSW South Coast is sure to satisfy the whole family. Set on a 400m-long beach, it has a waterpark with three water slides and a giant tipping bucket, an ocean-themed splash pad with interactive features, plus a shaded water journey for babies and toddlers. There is also a partially shaded sunlounge area for parents to relax. A range of super fun activities are available at the Krazy Kidz Club on weekends and during the NSW school holidays, including cooking classes to learn to make such things as Mars Bar balls, Crunchie slice and Malteser fudge, as well as craft activities such as slime making, sand art, foil art and scratch art.
There’s also a fully fenced jumping pillow surrounded by sand with a shade structure. It’s loads of fun for the young and young-at-heart, so mum and dad are encouraged to join in the fun too!
9. Tomaree Coastal Adventures, Port Stephens
Climbing trees, rolling down sandhills and scrambling over rocks are some of the joys that kids can experience with Tomaree Coastal Adventures at Port Stephens, just north of Newcastle. Outdoor educator, walking guide and mum, Amy Robinson, launched the business to share her love of Tomaree National Park and its beaches, coastal forests, wetlands and ancient volcanic peaks. She creates structures and nature art and gives kids of all ages the opportunity to explore their surroundings. Options include two-hour nature play sessions on weekdays for children aged one to six, and WILD family adventures during school holidays that may include bushwalking, nature craft, bug hunts, exploring rock pools, and survival skills like starting fires and building shelters.
10. The Big Banana Fun Park, Coffs Harbour
The biggest theme park between Sydney and the Gold Coast, The Big Banana Fun Park has the largest giant slide in the country, a toboggan ride, state-of-the-art laser tag arena, 36-hole mini golf course, a 4D ride simulator and an ice-skating rink, plus a waterpark operating from September to April, with four rides and a kids’ aqua play area. You can also take a tour of the plantation and visit Steve McEwan’s Reptile World. Make sure you get the obligatory happy snap in front of the big fibreglass banana, which has been a Pacific Hwy landmark since the 1960s.
11. Hunter Valley Gardens
As well as its many family-friendly wineries, there are plenty of other ways to keep kids entertained in the Hunter Valley. Hunter Valley Gardens has ten internationally themed gardens to explore, including the magical Storybook Garden. There are also five rides open during school holidays and event periods, including a carousel, swing chair, giant ferris wheel, super slide and tea cup ride. At Tulloch Wines, little ones can have a special Junior Tasting Experience of five snacks, paired with non-alcoholic drinks, while there’s a dedicated kids’ zone at Misty Glen Wines, indoor and outdoor games at Scarborough Wine Co., a cubby house at Whispering Brook, and play equipment at Gemelli Estate. You can also hire bikes and ride around the wineries, go horse riding, and visit Hunter Valley Zoo.
12. Bridgeclimb Sydney
Families with kids aged eight and over can embark on the ultimate Sydney experience – climbing the world-famous Sydney Harbour Bridge! The 3.5-hour Summit Climb ascends on the upper arch of the bridge and suits those who are confident scaling ladders to reach the top, while the 2.5-hour Summit Express Climb follows the bridge’s lower arch to reach the top and suits those who are curious about the bridge’s architecture and want to feel they are in the belly of the steel structure. There are fewer stops along the route and no ladders. Standing atop the bridge and taking in the views is an incredible moment.
13. Climb Mt Kosciuszko
Challenge your family with a trek to Australia’s highest peak, Mt Kosciuszko, in the NSW Snowy Mountains. There are two ways to do it, with one beginning in Thredbo and the other in Charlotte Pass. In Thredbo, you can take a scenic ride aboard the Kosciuszko Express Chairlift to the start of the Kosciuszko Walk, which is 13km return and takes four to five hours. The track winds above Lake Cootapatamba, Australia’s highest lake. Or if you have older, more adventurous kids start from Charlotte Pass, which is 18.6km return and takes six to eight hours. The best time to do it is after the snow melts, from December to March, when the alpine wildflowers are blooming.
14. Port Macquarie Koala Hospital
Take a tour of Port Macquarie Koala Hospital on the NSW mid-north coast to see sick and injured koalas being treated. Run by not-for-profit organisation Koala Conservation Australia Incorporated, the hospital has a treatment room, eight intensive care units, six outdoor intensive care units and 33 rehabilitation yards, many of which have trees for koalas to learn to climb as part of the rehabilitation process. Between 200 and 250 koalas are admitted through the hospital each year to be treated for chlamydia and injuries caused mostly by car accidents and dog attacks.
15. Lord Howe Island
Spend your days riding bikes to crowd-free beaches for barbecues or picnics, snorkelling the world’s southernmost coral reef, kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding on the lagoon, and soaking in the scenery from one of Lord Howe Island’s many amazing hikes. At any one time, only 400 visitors are allowed on the 11km-long, crescent-shaped island, which is around a two-hour flight from Sydney, Port Macquarie or Brisbane, Stay at a beach house, self-contained apartment or the family-friendly Pinetrees Lodge, which is consistently rated one of Australia’s best hotels on TripAdvisor.
16. Snow Trip
Make the most of winter in Australia and book a snow holiday for a fun few days of family snowball fights, building snowmen, tobogganing and learning to ski or snowboard. There are many resorts to choose from, each with their own kid-friendly offerings, including Perisher, Thredbo and Charlotte Pass in NSW and Falls Creek, Hotham and Mt Buller in Victoria.