Best Australian Family Holidays
Whether you’re after a long weekend city break, a beach or mountain escape far from the city chaos or an outback adventure, here are our baker’s dozen of the best Australian family holidays.
Blame it on the politicians, but our capital is often overlooked as a holiday destination, yet it’s clean, easy to navigate, has great food and plenty of family-friendly accommodation. Visiting Parliament House is a must, and it’s free – but it’s worth shelling out for a tour that explores in detail the building, its people and their stories. View the National Gallery’s world-class collection, particularly strong on Australian and Aboriginal art, and see images of the people who have shaped the nation at the National Portrait Gallery next door. Visit the Australian War Memorial to learn about the Australian experience of war and its enduring impact on our society. Among the moving and truly engaging displays, are recreated WWI trenches and the perennially popular “G for George”, a 1942 Avro Lancaster B1 bomber, whose history is recreated in a brilliant sound and light show. Click here for more info.
Uluru and the Red Centre, NT
It’s difficult to visit Uluru and not feel a connection to this very spiritual place. With your own car you can DIY Uluru and Kata Tjuta; pay your park entrance fees and the rest is basically free. But kids in particular will benefit from interaction with local indigenous people through experiences such as the guided Desert Awakenings tour where bacon and egg rolls might rival the sunrise for attention but everything is trumped by the stories you hear of the desert and its landmarks. If you tire of looking at, walking through or around rocks, take a boomerang and spear throwing lesson, or do a family astro tour to learn about the night sky. And from April 2016 the Field of Light art installation is an additional, spectacular attraction. Click here for more info.
Lord Howe Island, NSW
There is no holiday experience in Australia quite like Lord Howe Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Listed wonderland, with wildlife to rival the Galapagos, reefs to match West Papua and a mountain experience like Bora Bora, just two hours’ flight from Sydney. With its slow pace – there’s no mobile phone coverage, everyone gets around on bicycles and no one wears shoes – it’s perfect for families to (re)connect. And at Pinetrees Lodge there’s superb hospitality and simple but world class food.
Hand-feed mullet and kingfish in the shallows at Ned’s Beach. Go for bushwalks, catch garfish off the jetty, swim at secluded beaches, spot massive green turtles from a glass-bottomed boat and snorkel over spectacular coral reefs full of manta rays and Galapagos sharks. Your only stress will be choosing which beach or picnic spot to visit each day. Click here for more info.
There is arguably no easier short family break than Noosa, with super-easy access from Brisbane or from interstate via Sunshine Coast airport.
Walk through the stunning national park to secluded beaches with pristine sand. Book the kids in for a surfing lesson on the Noosa main beach, where they’ll be guaranteed to get up in a single session. Or hire a stand up paddle board and give your core the workout of a lifetime.
Noosa is also blessed with some wonderful restaurants, all of which are family-friendly. Eating dinner at 5pm is perfectly normal there! There’s great shopping in Hastings Street, Noosa Junction and Noosaville, it’s easy to get around (even without a car), particularly pram friendly and the sea never gets especially cold. You can buy fresh local produce from the Noosa Farmers market, which is on every Sunday or head up to the famous Eumundi artisan markets on Saturday and Wednesday mornings.
Blessed with green spaces that most cities only dream of, vibrant cultural institutions geared for kids and the best café and food scene in the country, Melbourne is fabulous for families. Explore the stunning Royal Botanic Gardens and the Children’s Garden at its edge, complete with bamboo forest, wetland and tree tower. Try your hand at some urban farming at the acclaimed Collingwood Childrens’ Farm or head to Werribee Open Range Zoo for a safari-style experience just 30 km from the city.
Depending on the season you can catch a game of AFL or Test cricket at the MCG, or see the world’s best tennis players and fastest F1 drivers in action.
Visit the Queen Victoria food market for picnic supplies then head to Heide (about 20 minutes from the CBD) to enjoy it. Once the home of art patrons John and Sunday Reed it is now a superb small modern art gallery and sculpture garden. Click here for more info.
Hawkesbury River, NSW
With its spectacular views, rich Aboriginal history, secluded beaches, meandering creeks and sandstone bluffs, the Hawkesbury River and the Kuring-gai Chase National Park is God’s own country, right on Sydney’s doorstep.
The best way to explore is by boat, with a variety of vessels, from tinnies for day use to houseboats, well-appointed Clippers and luxury yachts available for hire from Brooklyn (on the Hawkesbury) or from Newport or Church Point (on Pittwater). Chugg around the wide estuaries by day and moor in sheltered coves overnight, swim, go fishing, take to a paddle board or kayak, cook barbies on-board, and anchor at strategic spots for fish and chips or something fancier. Click here for more info.
Port Douglas & Cape Tribulation, QLD
A jewel of tropical north Queensland, and just an hour’s (spectacular) drive north of Cairns, Port Douglas is the gateway to both the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. The popular resort town boasts pristine Four Mile Beach and is brimming with good restaurants and family-friendly accommodation.
Sail on a catamaran to the Low Isles or take a larger vessel for a daytrip to the Outer Reef for snorkelling and diving unparalleled anywhere in the world. Swim in crystal-clear waterholes at Mossman Gorge, or, for some cultural immersion with the area’s indigenous history, take a guided bushwalk with one of traditional owners.
Drive to Cape Tribulation, where the rainforest literally meets the reef, and the whole family can share the adrenalin rush as you jungle surf between the trees. Click here for more info.
South Coast, NSW
This gorgeous area of New South Wales is renowned for its pristine, uncrowded beaches and crystal clear bays and lakes. And it’s only a couple of hours from Sydney. Make a truly scenic excursion of it, driving through the Royal National Park, perhaps stopping for a swim and a morning tea picnic at Wottamolla Beach. Head back onto the main highway before taking the spectacular Grand Pacific Drive from Stanwell Park to Thirroul, via the Sea Cliff Bridge which hangs out over the ocean.
South of Woollongong head to Kiama to view its famous Blowhole which can spout water 20 metres into the air. If the kids have energy, the Kiama Coastal Walk is a 22-kilometre path all the way to Gerringong.
A highlight is the Minnamurra Rainforest in Budderoo National Park, a pocket of subtropical and warm temperate rainforest where giant roots creep across the forest floor, thick strangler figs wrap around trees and where you’ll spot elusive lyrebirds, eastern water dragons, swamp wallabies and a host of bird species. There’s a 1.6-km elevated boardwalk from the information centre.
Continuing south, Gerroa is a particularly kid-friendly location with a popular campsite, a surf beach and a protected lagoon, while nearby Berri offers a host of cute cafes. Unless of course you just want fish and chips on the beach.
El Questro + Bungle Bungles, WA
With its tropical rainforests, mountainous ranges, stunning waterfalls and deep freshwater gorges, El Questro is a unique combination of wilderness park and outback station covering a million acres of Kimberley land. There are plenty of opportunities for self-guided hiking and 4WD adventures, while organised activities include horse riding, barramundi fishing, and a full day 4WD circuit around the Cockburn Range. A Junior Rangers program teaches younger adventurers about bush tucker, bush survival and snake and crocodile safety.
A highlight is seeing this vast outback landscape from above. Scenic flights from El Questro’s airstrip can take you in one direction to the Kimberley coast and Mitchell Falls and in another to the World Heritage listed Bungle Bungles, Western Australia’s most iconic geological formation, over Lake Argyle and the massive Argyle Diamond Mine. Unforgettable.
Fraser Island, QLD
Dingoes. Whales. More than 300 species of birds. All six marine species of turtle. And subtropical rainforest that grows on sandy dunes. The list of natural attractions on the world’s largest sand island includes freshwater lakes, wallum swamps and endless white beaches flanked by strikingly coloured sand cliffs. The best part for kids (and many big kids) is exploring it all by 4WD, getting bogged, dodging tides and the adventure of camping under the stars. There are 28 designated camping areas (some with facilities, most without) including four with dingo deterrent fences recommended for families. For a little more comfort Kingfisher Bay Resort has eco-friendly self-contained villas and hotel family rooms where you can tap into the resort facilities and activities such as guided walks, whale watching cruises and the highly acclaimed junior eco rangers program.
The South West, WA
This rich and varied corner of our continent is perfect for an extended family roadtrip from Perth to Margaret River, and through the southern forests to Denmark and Albany, although you’ll need at least a couple of weeks to do it justice.
Swim with dolphins in Bunbury, walk the longest timber jetty in the southern hemisphere at Busselton, go whale watching from Dunsborough, visit world-class cellar doors in Margaret River (and descend into limestone caves beneath them), and discover the beauty of Albany’s rugged coastline and its whaling, convict and settler past. Highlights include touring Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, where the Southern and Indian Oceans collide, snorkelling in the stunning, protected Greens Pool at William Bay National Park near Denmark, and walking through the canopy of tingle trees at Walpole’s Valley of the Giants Treetop Walk. Click here for more info.
Few places beat Victoria’s Goldfields for a spot of educational tourism. At Bendigo’s Central Deborah Mine, kit up in overalls, boots and a miner’s headlamp before descending 85 metres underground to look for seams of quartz hiding nuggets of gold. Visit the Chinese Museum to learn about the contribution of Chinese miners and their descendants to the community. Step back in time to a recreated gold rush town at Sovereign Hill, where the kids can learn how to load a musket, pan for gold and eat their body weight in boiled sweets. The highlight is the “Blood on the Southern Cross” production which dramatically recreates the story of the Eureka Stockade. There’s not an actor in sight – it’s all done with recorded voices, light and clever sets – but it’s spellbinding.
Blue Mountains, NSW
Less than two hours from Sydney but quite simply a world way, the Blue Mountains has long been one of New South Wales’s most popular family holiday destinations. And for Sydneysiders it’s a great spot for a weekend getaway, with plenty of things to entertain the kids. Autumn is the best time of year to travel there, as the leaves on the many deciduous trees start turning gold and red. There’s plenty of accommodation in B&Bs and heritage guesthouses, as well as campsites.
Marvel at the views of the Three Sisters rock formation and the Jamison Valley at Echo Point. If you’re game climb down the Giant Stairway to the track below the cliffs. Scenic World is a popular attraction which helps you explore the World Heritage area.
The Scenic Railway, the worlds’ steepest incline railway transports you down to the Jamison Valley floor where you can explore 2.4 km of elevated boardwalk. Return via cable car then switch to the Scenic Skyway and look through the glass floor at the rainforest canopy about 270 metres below. Depending on the age of your kids and their stamina you can create an itinerary that allows you to explore the rainforest, do some easy bushwalking and marvel at spectacular views.
The famous Hydro Majestic hotel, an art deco gem at Medlow Bath, has been brought back to life with a multi-million dollar refurbishment, offering high tea in the Wintergarden restaurant overlooking the Megalong Valley. You can stay there in plush guestrooms too.
Return to Sydney via Mt Tomah stopping at its stunning cool climate botanic garden.