Australia delivers a phenomenal range and depth of family holidays that include intimate encounters with our plentiful and unique wildlife, adventure in a stunning array of wilderness environments, authentic Indigenous experiences that offer insights into the world’s oldest living culture, a whole host of family learning opportunities not to mention some good old fashioned family fun.
Australia serves up family animal encounters in every shape and form. With our seas and bays brimming with dolphins, whales, turtles, coral and tropical fish there are a host of ways to get up close and personal with aquatic life from snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef, hand feeding the fish on Ned’s Beach on Lord Howe Island and swimming with the whale sharks on Ningaloo Reef. You can watch turtles nesting and tiny hatchlings make their way to the safety of the water and you can even have shark and crocodile encounters, if you dare, at places like Townsville’s Reef HQ, Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast, the Wilderness Wildlife Park outside of Broome, Darwin’sCrocosaurus Cove and Oceanworld Manly.
Australia’s iconic marsupials have long been a family favourite and all the major zoos and wildlife sanctuaries from Healesville to Taronga offer Aussie animal encounters alongside more exotic species. Brisbane’s Lone Pine Sanctuary is the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary, Victoria’s Moonlit Sanctuary on the Mornington Peninsula offers nocturnal tours, and all over Kangaroo Island families are likely to discover the entire diaspora of Australian animals from koalas to wallabies, kangaroos, emus and echidnas. You can even see Tasmanian devils at thehttp://www.devilsatcradle.com/ Tasmanian Devil Sanctuary.
Australia’s diverse birdlife also entrances the younger set who can hand-feed lorikeets at the Gold Coast’s Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, wander around the tropical bird enclosure at the Rainforest Tropical Habitat in Queensland’s Port Douglas, watch pelicans being fed at Kingscote on Kangaroo Island, and marvel at the nightly parade of the world’s largest colony of little penguins on Phillip Island.
There are also plenty of opportunities for adventures of a less wild kind, like riding camels along Cable Beach in Broome, hand feeding farm animals at Melbourne’s Collingwood Children’s Farm, and even watch performing sheep dogs at Norm’s Coolies Performing Sheep Dog shows in South Australia.
Adventure and Wilderness
From deserts to rainforests, from coral reefs to the Outback, the Australian landscape is tailor-made for adventurous family holidays. With 19 UNESCO World Heritage sites that range from the Great Barrier Reef, Fraser Island, and Gondwana Rainforests to the Tasmania Wilderness, Lord Howe Island Group, and Purnululu National Park as well as Australia’s 12 National Landscapes that span everything from Australia’s Red Centre to its Green Cauldron and include such dramatic adventure zones as The Australian Alps, Australia’s Coastal Wilderness, The Flinders Ranges, The Great Ocean Road, Greater Blue Mountains, Great Southwest Edge, Kakadu, Kangaroo Island, Ningaloo – Shark Bay, and The Kimberley there is so much waiting for families to discover.
Take a day trip to the pontoons on the Outer Barrier Reef off the Whitsundays, Cairns and Port Douglas where you can see the reef from the underwater viewing chamber and submarine as well as snorkelling and taking a beginners dive.
Enjoy an outback cattle station experience in the Kimberley, Northern Territory, Queensland and New South Wales. Horse riding is offered on a range of outback cattle stations in Queensland, Northern Territory, Western Australia and NSW.
Culture -Art, Music, Dance, Theatre
All the major art museums/galleries in Australia’s capital cities offer kids art programs that both help interpret exhibitions and offer hands-on art making activities. Some, like the National Gallery of Victoria, have dedicated kids’ art centres.
The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) is a world-leading state-of-the-art centre for experiencing the moving image in all its forms – film, television, internet, games. It offers kids’ flicks and kids’ hands-on workshops and production programs in its digital studio plus some fabulous exhibitions about the moving image.
Australia has some unique settings for family learning experiences. There are a whole host of dinosaur adventures along Queensland’s Tropic of Capricorn while you can journey to the stars at the Melbourne Planetarium.
Budding science enthusiasts can visit the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, test hypotheses with dozens of interactive hands-on exhibits at Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre, and watch real scientists at work at CSIRO Discovery.
For families more interested in social history, you can discover what it’s really like living at sea at Darling Harbour’s National Maritime Museumand learn for themselves how Australia’s diverse communities have shaped the Australian national landscape at the National Museum of Australia.
The list is endless: there are farm-based kids cooking classes at Tasmania’s Agrarian Kitchen, circus skills workshops at Circus Arts Trapeze School, opportunities to learn about how rich the desert is at the Alice Springs Desert Park and you can even see how kids in remote parts of the country go to school at the School of the Air.
Australia also offers a host of family experiences that delve into the country’s history. There’s nothing like historical villages such as Victoria’s Sovereign Hill and Flagstaff Hill to bring history to life. The interactive Discovery Zone at the Australian War Memorial gives kids graphic wartime experiences such as crawling through a WWI trench or climbing aboard a Vietnam War era helicopter.
There are family ghost tours of Sydney’s Quarantine Station, antique dolls and teddy bears to admire at the Toy and Railway Museum of Leuralla House in the Blue Mountains of NSW and opportunities to sail on the Lady Nelson replica tall ship up the Derwent River, jump on board 100 year old carriages of the Pichi Richi Explorers on the oldest section of the Ghan Railway in South Australia and explore a piece of living history at Tasmania’s Brickendon Historic Farm and Convict Village.
An Indigenous adventure is perfect for families who want to learn a little about the richness of Australian Aboriginal culture.
Kakadu, Uluru and Kata Tjuta National Parks in Northern Territory and Booderee National Park in New South Wales are all jointly managed by National Parks Australia and traditional owners. All offer remarkable Indigenous tours and adventures including tours to rock art sites, dot-painting workshops, spear throwing, bird watching, river cruises and introduction to traditional laws and sacred sites.
Bush tucker tours are offered everywhere from Kooljaman at Cape Leveque on the Kimberley’s Dampier Peninsula to the Bama Way in North Queensland and Brambuk National Park and Cultural Centre in Victoria’s Grampians National Park.
Finally there’s no place better than Australia when it comes down to having some plain old family fun.
Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne and Hobart all have numerous beaches within their city limits while Brisbane offers Streets Beach at South Bank and Darwin has the Wave Pool and Recreation Lagoon.
Families can swing through the trees at places like Victoria’s Otway Fly and Trees Adventure, Queensland’s Jungle Canopy Tours, go sand-boarding on Strahan’s Henty Dunes on the Stockton Dunes on the Central Coast of New South Wales or go for a ride on Puffing Billy, Australia’s oldest steam railway, in Victoria’s Dandenong Ranges.
While Daydream Island in Queensland’s Whitsundays serves up the perfect family tropical island getaway whose highlights include one of the world’s largest man-made living coral reef lagoon and an “Around Australia” 19-hole mini golf course.
Author Sue Henly