On board and not bored
Places that children will really love
PACIFIC PARADISE There is no holiday experience in Australia quite l 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 of the grandeur of French Polynesia’s Bora Bora — and all less than two hours by air from Brisbane and slightly longer 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. Handfeed mullet and kingfish in the shallows at Ned’s Beach. Go for bushwalks, catch garfish off the jetty, swim at secluded beaches, spot 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. More: lordhoweisland.info; pinetrees.com.au.
ATA THE HEART It’s difficult to visit Uluru in the Northern Territory 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 Ayers Rock Resort’s Desert Awakenings tour; bacon and egg rolls might rival the sunrise for attention but everything is trumped by the stories you hear of the desert and its ancient landmarks. If you tire of looking at or walking through or around rocks, take a boomerang and spear-throwing lesson, or do a family astronomy tour to learn about the night sky. And from April 2016, the Field of Light art installation will be an additional, spectacular attraction. More: travelnt.com; ayersrockresort.com.au.
CAPITAL IDEA Blame it on the politicians, but Canberra is often overlooked as a holiday destination, yet it’s clean, easy to navigate, has great food and plenty of familyfriendly 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 nation’s experience of war and its enduring impact on our society. Among the moving and truly engaging displays are recreated World War I trenches and the perennially popular “G for George”, a 1942 Avro Lancaster B1 bomber, the history of which is recreated in a brilliant sound and light show. More: visitcanberra.com.au.
SURF AND TURF A jewel of tropical Queensland, and just an hour’s (spectacular) drive north of Cairns, Port Douglas is a 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 day trip to the Outer Reef for snorkelling and diving unparalleled anywhere in the world. Swim in crystal-clear waterholes at Mossman Gorge or, for cultural immersion with the area’s indigenous history, take a Dreamtime Walk from the indigenous-run Mossman Gorge Centre conducted by a local tribal elder. 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. More: visitportdouglasdaintree.com.au; mossmangorge.com.au. ROLLING ON THE RIVER With spectacular views, rich Aboriginal history, secluded beaches and sandstone bluffs, the Hawkesbury River and Kuring-gai Chase National Park are right on Sydney’s northern doorstep. The best way to explore is by boat, with vessels ranging from tinnies for day use to houseboats, well-appointed clippers and luxury yachts available for hire from Brooklyn (on the Hawkesbury), Newport or Church Point (on Pittwater). Chug around the 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. More: hawkesburytourism.com.au; nationalparks.nsw.gov.au; omegaclipper34.com.au; hawkesburyafloat.com.au.
SOUTHERNS SPECTACLE Blessed with green spaces that most cities only d dream of, vibrant cultural institutions geared for kids and the best cafe 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 a spot of urban farming at the acclaimed Collingwood Children’s Farm or head to Werribee Open Range Zoo for a safari-style experience just 30km 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 Market for supplies then head to Heide (about 20 minutes from the CBD) to enjoy a picnic. Once the home of art patrons John and Sunday Reed, Heide is now a superb small modern art gallery and sculpture garden. More: visitmelbourne.com.
WILDW WONDERS With its tropical rainforests, mountainous ranges, stunning waterfalls and deep gorges, El Questro is a unique combination of wilderness park and outback station covering more than 400,000ha of Kimberley land in Western Australia. 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 and survival plus snake and crocodile safety. A highlight is seeing the outback landscape from above and 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, the state’s most iconic geological formation, over Lake Argyle and the huge Argyle Diamond Mine. Unforgettable. More: elquestro.com.au.
Clockwise from main, young swimmers on Fraser Island, Queensland; Australian War Memorial, Canberra; Sovereign Hill, Ballarat; junior adventurer at Uluru; Collingwood Children’s Farm, Melbourne