Sometimes it’s the activities you undertake during a holiday rather than the destination itself that create the lasting memories. For strenuous experiences, such as cycling holidays, children need to have the co-ordination and stamina to cope with the physical demands.
Family adventure holidays: Cycling
The family cycling trip through sunflower-covered fields is a romantic idea. Plan carefully, though. Kids need to be old enough to ride competently and safely. Riding on the “wrong” side of the road can be confusing for adults and children alike and it’s very stressful for parents to watch their kids cycling in traffic.
Cycling is the leading participatory sport in several European countries, including France and Italy, and can be a wonderful way to explore back-roads and villages. Networks of canal barge tow paths and disused railway lines make it a particularly good option in France. The UK, Netherlands, Spain, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam are all popular for cycling holidays. Plenty of companies will transport gear from one hotel or lodging to the next. Google “family cycling holidays” and you’ll find heaps of them. It’s a good idea to make sure there are support vehicles that can transport you and your kids too if it all gets too much. And if you’re not quite ready for multi-day adventures stick to dedicated cycling tracks in urban parks or city-based guided cycling tours.
Family adventure holidays: Sailing and Boating
Competent sailors can consider taking the family on a bareboat charter. The beauty of this is you’ll have complete freedom to go where you want (within reason). For safety reasons it’s suitable only for families where the children are already competent swimmers and can follow instructions. The Whitsundays in Queensland is one the most beautiful places on earth to do this, with a well-established infrastructure for yacht rentals.
Other places ideal for this type of holiday are the Istrian Peninsula in Croatia, the Ionian Islands in Greece and the Caribbean. British Columbia is stunningly beautiful and wonderful for sailing, though even in summer you won’t be swimming as the water is freezing. If you’re not a competent sailor look for rentals where crew is included, or flotilla trips where qualified sailors are there to help.
Other boating options include cruising on a traditional wooden gulet in Turkey (captain and cook supplied), canal barging in France or England, and motoring on a Clipper houseboat on the Hawkesbury River north of Sydney.
Family adventure holidays: Hiking
From walking in the Swiss Alps to tramping in New Zealand to hiking the Overland Track in Tasmania to trekking in the Himalayas, mountainous regions offer amazing scenery for walkers. You can usually plan an itinerary suitable for every member of the family, but it’s worth training and working up to a “big” walk to give the whole family the best chance of completing it. With kids in tow, it’s unlikely to be a two-week hike to Everest Base Camp but that doesn’t stop you walking parts of an iconic route or exploring fabulous scenery on day walks.
Family adventure holidays: Skiing and Snowboarding
Whether you’re tackling powder in Japan or moguls in America, skiing is an amazing family holiday. Many kids who reject the notion of a resort-style kids club will however embrace the concept of ski (or snowboarding) school. They learn a skill, parents get their own time on the slopes, and everyone meets up again at night to talk about their day. What can be more perfect than that?
The thing to look for choosing a family ski resort, especially with younger children, is the ease of getting onto the slopes. You don’t want to end up schlepping multiple sets of skis kilometres every day before you go anywhere. Ski-in ski-out resorts, where you’re staying right on the slopes, are ideal.
Family adventure holidays: Camping and Caravanning
Some people are campers, some are not. I sit on the fence somewhere in between, and my husband knows he has to make it easy (and comfortable) for me or I won’t go at all. But our kids love it, and it’s a great family activity. Camping and caravanning can be the most affordable way to see the world; have tent or van and you’ve got your accommodation sorted. It also gives you access to places that you might not be able to reach otherwise.
Realistically though, with children, it not so easy to just throw down a swag and sleep under the stars. You do need more kit, so wilderness camping is probably best left till the kids are old enough to carry their own packs and enough of the supplies to make it manageable for everyone else.
Australia has some cracker camping spots, from Fraser Island and North Stradbroke Island in Queensland, to Mount Kosciuszko in New South Wales, to the majestic Flinders Ranges in South Australia and Cape Le Grand National Park in Western Australia.
Campervanning around New Zealand is one of the best ways to see the country. You’ve got everything you need in the van so it works well for families, although I have it on good advice that it can get very cold, especially on the South Island, and is therefore best done in the summer months.
There are as many stunning campsites globally as there are national parks and nature reserves, but if you’re flying in from elsewhere you’ll need to be able to hire all the gear you need, so do your research carefully. Flying a tent in from home will dent your baggage limit considerably.
The rise of glamping around the world, and permanent campsites that stretch the definition of what a tent can be (including en-suite toilets), means that families who want or need a little more infrastructure – or just a comfier bed – still have the option of sleeping (almost) under the stars. In some places, such as Africa, a more established camp is the best solution for families as you don’t want little ones wandering about in the company of lions in the middle of the night.
Family adventure holidays: Canoeing and Kayaking
Paddling through the water in pristine natural environments gets you up close and personal with amazing wildlife. Many operators have minimum age requirements so seek out operators who cater to families. Double and triple kayaks are usually available so the really little ones remain safe and mum or dad can develop their bicep strength.
British Columbia in Canada is one of the ultimate places for sea kayaking, where you’re likely to come across orcas and see Grizzly Bears. The San Juan Islands in Washington State, are equally amazing. In Scotland, you can kayak the West Highland coast, in Italy there’s Sardinia’s Maddalena Archipelago and in Croatia the Dalmatian Coast.
Closer to home, the Freycinet Peninsula in Tasmania and New Zealand’s Abel Tasman National Park and Bay of Islands are great places for family kayak trips.
Family adventure holidays: Adrenalin Rush
New Zealand offers plenty of family-friendly activities to get the adrenalin pumping including jet boating, bungee jumping and white water rafting.
Bungee jumping started in New Zealand and has spread throughout the world. You can do it over the Corinth Canal in Greece and over the Zambezi River at Victoria Falls near the Zambia/Zimbabwe border among other places. There are – fortunately – strict minimum age and weight requirements; as a mother I’d rather not see my kids launch themselves into nothingness with only an elastic band tied around their ankles.
White water rafting is very physical and all operators have strict age limits, especially for the higher-classed rapids. Look for rafting adventures that are specifically for families.
In Australia there’s good rafting in Cairns and Tasmania, New Zealand has challenging rapids as does Bali. World-class rafting destinations include the Futaleufu River in Chile, the Salmon River in Idaho, USA, and the Noce River in the Italian Dolomites. The San Juan River in Utah offers some excellent on-water family adventures and includes archaeological remains from ancient civilisations.
Family adventure holidays: Soft Adventure
The options for so-called “soft adventure” family trips are endless, and really depend on your own definition of the term. It could be jungle surfing in Cape Tribulation, Queensland, zip-lining in Idaho, USA, snorkelling the Barrier Reef, a jungle safari in Costa Rica or Borneo, or learning to surf in Hawaii.
Many of these activities cater to kids as young as five (sometimes younger depending on the activity), although it’s always wise to check before you book the trip to avoid disappointment.
Family adventure holidays: Safaris and wildlife encounters
A safari in Africa is probably the ultimate wildlife spotting experience. The excitement of seeing the Big Five – lions, elephants, buffalos, leopards and rhinoceros – is beyond compare. Not all safari lodges take children under 12 – kids really need to know how to sit still on game drives for a start – although some are well geared for juniors. It’s worth noting that the game reserves of South Africa’s Eastern Cape are predominantly malaria free, which make them a good choice for families.
You can do safaris and wildlife tours in plenty of other countries. India has Bengal tigers and Vietnam has primates, bears and turtles and an abundance of flora and fauna. Borneo has orang-utans and you can get involved with family-friendly cruises that contribute to conservation projects.
In Costa Rica, you can witness Hawksbill, Loggerhead, Green and Leatherback turtles nesting on the famous Tortuguero Beach as well as an extraordinary abundance of birdlife.
Children adore swimming with dolphins and whale watching is possible in myriad locations around the world including Australia, South Africa, Hawaii, New Zealand and Newfoundland in Canada. In the USA top whale spotting sites are Cape Cod, Washington State, and southern California, off San Diego, where the Blue Whale is a frequent visitor.
In Western Australia’s Ningaloo Reef, you can swim with whale sharks, the world’s biggest fish. (It’s firmly on my son’s bucket list.)