Discover the best family holidays in Australia – here is 82 to 89 of the 100 ways to holiday here this year.
82. Go houseboat hiking on the Murray River, SA
From our clifftop perch, pale blue skies and ochre dirt collide. Forty metres below, bands of gum trees push through a sea of mist to reflect in the still mirror of snaking water. Next to me, my 80-year-old mother’s face beams in the burnt-butter light cast by the rising sun. Vast and timeless, the land seems to act as a spirit level, emanating peace and creating a space for shared wonder.
Our second morning on the Murray River Walk is hypnotically beautiful. The day before, our wanderings had taken us over trackless bushland where emus and kangaroos watched from a distance, and winding oxbows lay scattered with pelicans, egrets and herons. We’ll walk 40 kilometres over four days and cruise 70 kilometres along a stretch of river upstream from Renmark in South Australia, close to the Victorian border.
Home is a houseboat, a modern and cosy two-tiered vessel with five cabins, lounge and rooftop spa that we share with eight other guests and three crew. My mother’s desire to connect with a quintessential piece of Australia has brought us here, on our first holiday together since I was a teenager.
Here, the water snakes and curls as it meanders across floodplains and, as water levels vary, so does the walk. There are no tracks or trail markers to follow here; we are far from civilisation. Our guide leads us on animal trails and routes of her own choosing, skirting the river’s edge under the watchful eyes of whistling kites, pelicans and yellow rosellas twittering in the treetops. I enjoy discovering the river on foot but the views seem somehow sweeter from the hot tub on the houseboat’s top deck.
Walking days are leisurely, finishing mid-afternoon before slipping into a hedonistic evening of nibbles and three-course dinners paired with bottomless local wines. Internationally acclaimed chef Andrew Fielke, a specialist in the use of native ingredients, is the master behind the menu.
Food is plucked from the surrounding riverland: yabby bisque, Murray cod with lemon myrtle crust and kangaroo osso buco. Wilted buds of saltbush, picked during our rambles, are mixed with the morning’s scrambled eggs. We are not just walking the land, we are tasting it, too.
83. Have a winter escape in the Aussie ski fields, NSW + Vic
There’s more to do off-piste at Thredbo than at any other ski resort in Australia. Thredbo Village has a large variety of cafes, restaurants and retail stores: ski down to the Alpine Bar at Thredbo Alpine Hotel for a taste of Chamonix-style après, with DJs playing from 2 to 6pm as skiers hit the heated pool.
Or try Australia’s best alpine cocktails at the Après Bar of the Denman Hotel or dine at its restaurant, The Terrace. Alternatively, take a snowcat to the Kareela Hutte restaurant on top of the mountain.
Victoria’s largest ski resort is also one of the best spots in Australia for cross-country skiing, with 70 kilometres of trails.
For drinks, try Apartment 3 or Astra Bar & Restaurant. QT Falls Creek’s Stingray bar has its characteristic retro style, while its Bazaar restaurant brings some chic to town, with guests encouraged to ‘dress to impress’. And the Feathertop Alpine Lodge offers the best happy hour at Falls Creek.
It’s a magnet for advanced skiers because of its side and backcountry options. There’s a designated Extreme Zone just beyond the lifts, where a free snowcat vehicle will take you to an area featuring gullies, steep cliffs and tree skiing. As for beginners, they get to learn at the top of the mountain.
Dinner Plain is Hotham’s own specially built alpine village 15 minutes from the slopes. Here you’ll find Stonesthrow Restaurant at Hotel High Plains; visit after soaking at the Japanese-inspired Onsen Retreat + Spa a few doors up. There’s also fine dining at Jack Frost Restaurant.
Some 65 per cent of Mt Buller is designated as beginner or intermediate terrain, while the remaining 35 per cent includes some of the most challenging terrain in Australasia.
Aside from Thredbo, no ski resort in Australia offers the night-time attractions of Mt Buller: from ski-in, ski-out après bars like the Arlberg Bar, to the best Austrian drinking establishment outside of Europe, Kaptans Restaurant and Herbies Bar. Mt Buller’s best coffee can be found on a sundeck at Koflers Hutte, right up on the mountain.
It’s Australia’s answer to the super-resorts of North America and Europe, an amalgamation of four ski villages that covers 1245 hectares and is serviced by Australia’s only underground alpine railway. This means you can easily stay in nearby ski town Jindabyne.
Chill in front of a fire at Marritz Hotel’s Rams Head Bar or Marritz Restaurant or meet locals at the Pub Bar in The Man From Snowy River Hotel. If staying in Jindabyne, stop for a locally distilled schnapps at Wildbrumby Distillery or a craft beer with tapas at Jindabyne Brewing. Brumby Bar & Grill offers the best dinner option in town.
Lake Crackenback Resort & Spa offers two on-site restaurants and a day spa, or stay beside the lifts at Barrakee Ski Lodge.
84. Encounter Australia’s unique wildlife
Swimming with whale sharks on Ningaloo Reef has become a bucket-list staple in the last 10 years, but did you know you can swim with real whales off the coast of Cairns? Each year between May and August, gentle and curious dwarf minke whales congregate to feed and frolic. Book a multi-day dive trip with Mike Ball Dive Expeditions.
The lounging kangaroos of Western Australia’s Lucky Bay are Insta-famous these days, but you can also see them indulging in sun, sea and sand on the NSW South Coast – try Pebbly Beach and Depot Beach in Murramarang National Park – and Cape Hillsborough Beach roughly 45 minutes from Mackay, where wallabies also make the scene.
Kangaroo Island’s renowned Seal Bay Conservation Park is the first place most people think of for getting close to the Australian sea lion, but you can also see these cute creatures at Jurien Bay Marine Park on WA’s Coral Coast, about 2.5 hours’ drive from Perth. Book an offshore eco expedition with Sea Lion Charters.
The platypus is hard to spot in the wild, but that just makes a sighting that much more rewarding. Book a rainforest scuba dive in the waters of Queensland’s Eungella National Park (near Mackay) for an almost 100 per cent chance of seeing these quizzical creatures in their element.
Then there’s also the Turtle hatchings at Mon Repos near Bundaberg; swimming with manta rays off Lady Elliot Island; koala spotting at Port Stephens in NSW; searching out cassowaries at Queensland’s Mission Beach; getting up close to dolphins at Monkey Mia in WA; and coming across echidnas while walking at Cradle Mountain in Tassie.
85. Camp out in the Grampians, Vic
Victoria’s Grampians National Park (also known by its Indigenous name of Gariwerd), is 10,000 hectares of stunning sandstone mountains, bushwalks, magnificent lookouts, gushing waterfalls and wildlife. And, an easy three-hour car trip drive from Melbourne, it makes for a wholesome family adventure in the mountains.
Head for Halls Gap, the charming village in the heart of the park that’s a quick trip from everything, and make Halls Gap Zoo your first stop. Follow your visit swiftly by a scoop or two at Coolas Ice Creamery. Go horse riding in the foothills of the mountains with Grampians Horse Riding, suitable for all abilities (and kids over 10), take the short walk to spectacular MacKenzie Falls, and set yourself down on the soft sandy beach of tranquil Lake Fyans for a day spent swimming and sailing.
There are plenty of family-friendly accommodation options to choose from but Halls Gap Lakeside Tourist Park has it all: a bush camping experience, surrounded by mountain views and native wildlife, with the boon of resort-style conveniences and facilities.
86. Revisit Ballarat’s Sovereign Hill, Vic
Since 1970, Sovereign Hill has been telling the tale of life as it was in 1850s Ballarat, during the greatest shallow alluvial gold rush the world has ever seen: this icon of Aussie tourism and venerable living museum turns 50 in November.
Expect exciting developments to help celebrate that build on the success of the cutting-edge immersive theatre experience, Aura, that was launched last year. Suitable for families, this light and sound show unfolds through hundreds of projections that follow the story of gold from its very beginnings, incorporating the Wadawurrung creation story, right up until the current day.
Set on 25 hectares of an original mining site, Sovereign Hill is a true goldfields town complete with shops, hotels, a theatre, schools, factories and underground mines to explore. Stay on site at the Sovereign Hill Hotel for the whole package.
87. Have an adventure on the Eyre Peninsula, SA
South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula is something of a natural wonderland with untold amounts of outdoor adventure to be had. Anchoring yourself around Port Lincoln on the Lower Eyre Peninsula will provide an ideal overview and offer up a whole raft of kid-friendly accommodation options.
Spend a day in the water with Adventure Bay Charters or Calypso Star Charters (both eco-certified) to get up close to a great white shark in its natural habitat or swim with sea lions, adorably known as puppy dogs of the sea.
Spend another day in nearby Lincoln National Park for its myriad boating, fishing, beachcombing, whale-watching and nature walk opportunities. Hole yourself up on family-friendly Stamford Beach for a while for some beach cricket and safe swimming.
Also in the area, Mikkira Station is a restored homestead (circa 1842) that is these days home to a colony of wild koalas.It’s also a lovely spot for a picnic and a bushwalk, too.
Similarly, Glen Forest Tourist Park is a wildlife haven with baby animals on tap for feeding and cuddling, plus mini-golf, Segway rides and a whole host of creatures to spot in the 50-hectare animal park. There’s also a vineyard on site, so take away a couple of bottles of shiraz or sauvignon blanc for after hours.
Also on the Eyre Peninsula: go swimming at some of South Australia’s loveliest beaches in Coffin Bay National Park. Hire a boat from EP Boat Hire to sail around beautiful Coffin Bay. Swim with dolphins and sea lions at Baird Bay on the west coast. Take a fascinating day trip to the ancient Gawler Ranges.
88. Sleep over on the Great Barrier Reef, Qld
Once you reach the pontoon, you can snorkel, dive and lounge to your heart’s desire, check out the underwater observatory or even hitch a helicopter ride to Heart Reef. Dinner is under the stars, before it’s time to bed down to see the reef come to life through the floor to-ceiling windows of your sub-marine room (or opt to stay on top of the pontoon in a Reefsleep bed).
Reefworld is the brainchild of Cruise Whitsundays, which works with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to ensure the whole experience is operated with the environment and sustainability front of mind.
89. Take a family-friendly rail trip
1. The West Coast Wilderness Railway heritage steam train rolls along 35 kilometres of rainforest track right through the wilderness of Tassie’s west coast. Take a full-day trip and learn about the challenges involved in building this line that would go on to connect the region’s rich copper mines to the port at Strahan, and stop for lunch in the old mining town of Queenstown.
2. Jump on the century-old Puffing Billy for a steam train ride through the pristine forests and fern gullies of Victoria’s Dandenong Ranges, rumbling across historic timber trestle bridges as you go. Take the journey to Gembrook from Lakeside (a three-hour return) to enjoy a post-ride picnic and splash around at Emerald Lake Park, with its playground, wading pool and paddle boats for hire.
3. This half-day adventure onboard a venerable old diesel steam locomotive, the Mary Valley Rattler, travels through 46 kilometres of scenic Mary Valley in the Sunshine Coast hinterland to reach the quaint rural village of Amamoor. Departing and returning to Gympie, make sure to explore restored Gympie Station.
4. This day trip from Sydney on the Hawkesbury River Express travels through Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park to the Hawkesbury River in restored carriages from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s and includes a cruise on Brisbane Water. You can also opt to join the famous Riverboat Postman cruise for lunch.
5. Ride deep into the Southern Forests on the Pemberton Tramway to get a unique perspective on the region’s towering karri forests, wildflowers and wild rivers – which you’ll trundle over on trestle bridges – and stop off at the Cascades, a series of rapids that tumble over the limestone rocks of Lefroy Brook.