Australia with kids
By James Holland
Families looking to travel to Australia with kids should start with this guide to the country’s provinces. (Flickr: Alan Jones)
Australia is much more than the Hemsworth brothers, Vegemite and the blooming onion. This island continent is in fact a multi-faceted wonderland of vistas, cultures and activities. It may be the aqua blue of the Great Barrier Reef, the laid back Aussie attitude or the iconic Sydney Opera House calling you here. But touring Australia with kids will not disappoint. And while its enormous size may be daunting, hopefully this travel guide to Australia will get you started on the right path.
The Great Barrier Reef (Flickr: Kyle Taylor)
The multi-layered Sunshine State, occupying the northeast corner of the country, commands a place in every travel guide to Australia. It’s known for the Great Barrier Reef, tropical rainforests, and urban hot spots like The Gold Coast and Brisbane. It’s no wonder that a visit to Australia with kids will necessitate a trip here.
Start by heading up to Cairns on the north coast, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. Enter a menagerie of underwater colors here or helicopter over the reef for a bird’s eye view. Cairns is also the base for the Kuranda Scenic Railway, which cuts through the local tropical rainforest to Kuranda. In this small village, you can visit the Koala Gardens or heritage markets to shop for toys and more (maybe skip the boomerangs).
Only a few hours north, you’ll find the Daintree Rainforest, a must on any trip to Australia with Kids. Explore the lush green of the tropical rainforest by gliding through on a Jungle Surfing Canopy Tour. Or see secluded swimming holes and the Mossman Gorge on one of the rainforest tours.
Back down South, take in surfing lessons in Currumbin in the Gold Coast. Later, visit the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary to scratch that theme park itch.
New South Wales
Head South from Queensland to the cosmopolitan New South Wales. It’s home to world-class cities, striking skylines, beaches and more. The most iconic among New South Wale’s attractions may be Sydney and its harbor.
Traveling Australia with kids means starting your Sydney visit with the harbor where you can visit the famous Sydney Opera House and climb Harbour Bridge. After, visit Darling Harbour and the kid-friendly Sea Life Aquarium, home to a special Penguin expedition involving a boat tour and loads of waddling birds. And if you have time, head to Sydney’s coast to soak up sun at the ever-popular Bondi Beach.
The Taronga Plains Zoo in Dubbo is worth an addition to any travel guide to Australia. Kids will get to see animals, both native and exotic, in large open ranges. Drive or bike through the 6 km’s of pathways to see all the animals, including rarities like the black rhino.
To see all of Australia with kids, the capital Canberra and its host of national museums is worth a trip as well. Questacon in particular stands out where kids can explore the interactive science museum. Make colored shadows on the wall, manipulate a cloud chamber or, for younger ones, climb around the active play structure.
The Twelve Apostles (Flickr: Lenny K Photography)
On the Southeastern tip resides the relatively small state of Victoria. The culture capital of Australia, Melbourne, can be found here. Ski resorts are a quick inland trip and lining its southern coast is one of the country’s most renowned road trip destinations.
As the culture capital, Melbourne should be on every travel guide to Australia. People watch and shop at the Queen Victoria Market. Visit the children’s gallery at the Melbourne Museum. And while it may be on the southern coast across from Tasmania, you’re still with driving distance of multiple inland ski resorts. Take advantage of ski and snowboarding lessons for all levels.
Traveling Australia with kids also means road trips and Victoria is home to one of the best, the Great Ocean Road. This trip along the coast is a postcard in motion, winding along the coastline or looking down from cliff-top roads. One of the highlights is a collection of limestone pillars looming out of the ocean known as The Twelve Apostles (8 of which are still standing). Other worthy stops along the way include the Otway Fly Tree Top Adventures, a majestic skywalk through temperate forests and Lake Elizabeth in Forrest where you might just spot the ever-elusive Platypus.
Across the water south from Victoria lies Tasmania. Whether its because of the Tasmanian Devil or the mostly unspoiled landscape, wild is the word for this large island. A travel guide to Australia wouldn’t be complete without a deeper look at Tasmania’s natural ruggedness.
Near the Southwest National Park, the Tahune Forest AirWalk offers the perfect way to explore Tasmania’s ruggedness. Literally fly through the canopies on the Cable Eagle Hang Glider. Do the airwalk 20-30 meters above the forest floor. Take swinging bridges across the Picton and Huon rivers and sleep in somewhat secluded onsite cabins.
Kangaroo Island (Flickr: Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble)
Nestled along the southern central coastline is the very relaxed state of South Australia. It’s known for its wine, ecotourism, and a more laid-back way of life. Traveling South Australia with kids is particularly special for animal lovers.
Start in Adelaide, the “city of churches”, for some architectural wonder. Visit Adelaide Hills’ Cleland Wildlife Park where you’ll see over 130 free-roaming species including koalas and kangaroos. Cross the water to Kangaroo Island where you’ll very likely cross paths with koalas, kangaroos and wallabies. With its 5 protected areas, you can take plenty of tours including visits to colonies of penguins, lighthouses, and all manner of wildlife.
Back on the mainland, the Eyre Peninsula offers opportunities to swim with dolphins and wild sea lions. For the more adventurous, cage diving with great whites is also a favorite activity.
Visiting the state of Western Australia with kids means quality time with nature. This state takes up the entire western third of the country and is largely defined by the vast expanse of outback. It’s still vibrant, however, with amazing old growth forest and abundant marine life.
Near the southwestern corner of the state, the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk provides a breathtaking path among the canopies of 400 year-old giant trees. If pristine blue waters are more your speed, go north to Shark Bay on Australia’s westernmost coastline to see turtles, dolphins, humpbacks, and stromatolites, aka living fossils.
For a completely different trip, check out Lake Cave, the deepest open cave which happens to house a permanent lake. Onsite is CaveWorks, the kid-friendly visitor center, a perfect kid-friendly look at the local caves.
Any trip to Australia with kids requires a visit to the “real outback”, laden with natural wonders. Known for its red deserts, aboriginal communities, and surprising amount of cultures, the Northern Territory more diverse than you might realize. It’s also home to one of Australia’s most well known icons.
The bright red Uluru, deep in the bush (and south part of the state), is and should be on every travel guide to Australia. Go bushwalking, take aboriginal tours, and visit the cultural center to learn more about the area and the people who call this home. Visit the famous aboriginal rock art galleries in Kakadu National Park near the north shore. If you’re up for it, you can take a cruise here to get (safely) up close and personal with some of the largest crocodiles in the world.
Not too far from Kakadu is the town of Darwin. Spend an enchanting evening at the town’s Mindil Beach Sunset Market to take in a melting pot of cultures and cuisines. Eat some satay or taro custard while shopping for puppets, didgeridoos and other knick-knacks.
Looking for a dip? Two lagoons on Darwin’s waterfront offer safe and fun swimming. Both the Recreation Lagoon and the Wave Lagoon come with artificial waves. And experiencing Australia with kids wouldn’t be complete without a good wave pool.
James Holland of Another Spur on the Road contributed this to MiniTime.