From natural wonders to huggable wildlife, outback adventure to city-bound action, our regular family writer Jac Taylor rounds up the best kids-in-tow experiences from around the country that will amuse even the fussiest mini tourist… part of our 100 Incredible Experiences (right here in your backyard) special issue.
1. Lion up for a kiss – Dolphin Marine Magic, Coffs Harbour, NSW
At intimate and eco-responsible Dolphin Marine Magic park, over-12s can have dolphin hugs in a deep-water experience, while over-sixes can do the same in the shallows.
Kids will love: anyone over eight can get in and play, swim and, yes, hug and kiss with the sea lions.
2. Cast away – Rottnest Island, WA, and Norfolk island
Indulge your little Robinson Crusoes (even if they don’t know who that is) and head offshore. Match the size of the island to the size of your kids!
Little ones will love the quokkas on Rottnest Island off Western Australia, while the bigger kids will love the adventure of poking around the ruins, swimming the clear waters and exploring the ‘accessible’ wilderness of Norfolk Island.
Kids will love: hiring bikes as a family and cycling around Rottnest spotting quokkas.
3. Show time – Walcha Show, NSW, Gascoyne, WA
Visit countryshows.com.au for a dizzying list of possibilities to catch a regional show.
In WA, the Gascoyne region kicks it up a notch in May, when there seems to be a different family friendly festival just about every weekend, with performances, art and workshops replacing the usual dog trials and cattle shows.
If you prefer dog trials and cattle shows, of course, you might want to schedule a visit to the Walcha Show – there’s showjumping and a bull ride, too.
Kids will love: escaping the routine of the city and getting a taste of real country life.
4. Off with the birds – Montague Island, NSW
Australia has no shortage of island-based wildlife hotspots – Phillip and Kangaroo islands spring to mind – but Tourism Australia’s top eco-tourism winner, twice, is one not everybody knows.
A trip to Montague Island, off New South Wales’s Narooma, has everything a nature-loving child could ask for: an exciting boat trip, snorkelling with seals, a secret peek at waddling penguins going about their business, the chaos of thousands of birds having a non-stop party on the slopes and even perhaps a stay in the lighthouse keeper’s cottage.
Kids will love: if you don’t stay over, cross your fingers to score an escort back to shore by glowing dolphins, riding the bow wave through often phosphorescent waters. See nationalparks.nsw.gov.au
5. Learn the ropes – Trees Adventure
If your youngsters hang from the rafters when they’re bored, indulge your little Tarzans at a Trees Adventure.
Take your average playground, times it by 10 and move it up high among the canopy, then you have the ideal scenario to get gutsy with the family – climbing, leaping, swinging and flying (with enough sensible safety measures that it’s two steps short of foolhardy).
The biggest park is in Grose River in NSW and the newest is in Dwellingup, WA. Believe it or not, this is for four-year-olds and up.
Kids will love: spending the day with the whole family in the treetops.
6. Within spitting distance – Sand Dune Safaris, NSW
A camel ride along the Stockton Dunes just south of Newcastle feels like real Lawrence of Arabia stuff .
Saddle up in the sand, stride through the surf, and save a bundle on a trip to more exotic locations. (There’s also sand boarding down the dunes for the older kids here).
7. Holiday gold – The Gold Coast, Queensland
Love it or loathe it, the too-bright, primary-coloured world of theme parks and resolutely family-friendly resorts are popular for a reason and, like a toddler on a rainy day, Queensland’s Gold Coast won’t let up for a second.
Just how kids like it. Give yourself over to the glitzy cheer of the three main theme parks (a seven-day pass costs $99, a 21-day pass just $5 more), fling yourself into Surfers Paradise’s street attractions such as mini golf, bungy trampolines or the promisingly named Vomatron, and stay in dedicated places, such as Paradise Resort.
Kids will love: the resort ice rink, kids’ club, laser tag, jungle gym, disco nights… you get the picture.
8. Outback station – Comeroo Camel Station, NSW
Give your over-fives the full red-dirt, working-station, literally out-the-back-of-Bourke experience.
Comeroo Camel Station is very family-friendly and offers camping out overnight with the camels through to an air-conditioned B&B.
Kids will love: there’s plenty of interaction with animals scaly through to furry, and your family pet can come, too.
9. Get your swag – Harts Range Bush Sports Weekend, near Alice Springs, NT
The cooler months in the Red Centre are chock-a-block with true-blue outback rodeos, gymkhanas and bush races.
With full facility camping, the Harts Range Bush Sports Weekend goes all out for the kids with sack races and lolly scrambles.
Kids will love: watching real-life cowboys in the heart of the desert.
10. Wild weekend – Jamala Wildlife Lodge, Canberra
This isn’t us telling you – you told us by voting Canberra Zoo’s Jamala Wildlife Lodge as Best Hotel for Children, just last year.
Kids will love: with the most comprehensive meet-the-animals program in the country, your kids are going to be beside themselves (or a cheetah, or a giraffe).