Ten amazing things to do for families in Australia

Feeding time at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary in Queensland, (photo by Peter Stuckings)
Feeding time at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary in Queensland

Our destination of the month, Australia is a fantastic for families. Children-friendly attractions abound and some of the best activities are free. We’ve selected our top ten places and experiences for active families. Whether you are exploring the cities, cruising the coast or venturing to the Red Centre there plenty of things for kids to do for the first time, from cuddling a koala to going on an indigenous food safari.


1. Sydney Harbour fun

There is a profusion of attractions on and around the harbour as well as plenty of affordable eateries. Darling Harbour is an obvious focal point with the Powerhouse and National Maritime museums, Sydney Aquarium and Sydney Wildlife World. Elsewhere there are free, calm and shark-netted beaches and numerous shoreline parks perfect for a picnic. Catch a Sydney ferry from Circular Quay to the renowned Taronga Zoo on the harbour’s north shore. The animals enjoy some of the best harbour-side real estate and there are feeding and animal shows every day. Walk across the Harbour Bridge to Luna Park, and climb the South East bridge pylon for a superb view of the Sydney Opera House, city and the harbour.


Koala, Sydney Wildlife World


2. Indigenous food safaris

A rewarding and entertaining way of gaining insight into Australia’s rich indigenous cultures is to join a hunting and gathering safari. Learn how to throw a spear or dig for witchetty grubs, discover which plants are used for medicine and where to find fresh water. These tours are run by local Aboriginal guides and can be found throughout Australia, including at Kakadu and Uluru, and the Daintree, out from Cairns (see www.aboriginalaustralia.com.au for a list of tours). One of the best is Animal Tracks based near Kakadu National Park; their day tour finishes off with a hands-on bush tucker dinner.


3. Whale watching

Whale watching is great for engendering awe and respect for nature. Whales frequent coastal waters from Queensland down to Victoria and across South Australia to Western Australia. From May to July humpbacks migrate from Antarctic waters via the east and west coasts to tropical calving grounds. From August to December the migration reverses with young calves in tow. Popular whale-watching spots include Hervey Bay, Gold Coast, Sydney, Narooma, Eden, Albany, and Broome. Southern right whales calve in winter (June–August) in southern Australian waters and mothers and calves can be seen from Victoria’s Great Ocean Road and Victor Harbour in South Australia.


4. Hand-feeding dolphins

You and the kids can get even closer to wild cetaceans at Tangalooma Island Resort on Moreton Island, near Brisbane, and at Monkey Mia on Western Australia’s central coast. At both places wild bottlenose dolphins have become habituated to hand feeding and the mutual interspecies respect provides a fun alternative take on ‘Man versus Wild’.


5. Learning to surf

Going back to school was never so popular. Pick a board and pitch the books. Wherever there are surf beaches you’ll find a surf school not far away. Invariably the lessons include the use of a wetsuit and board, the classes are generally small and you can usually organise private tuition. Check out www.sasurfschools.com.au for a comprehensive list of schools around Australia.


Read more about Australia's surf culture...


6. Swimming with crocs in Darwin

Not surprisingly many of the attractions here involve encounters with wild creatures that lurk surprisingly close to town. Right in the centre of Darwin CBD you can swim with crocodiles in Crocosaurus Cove (yes, you are safely placed in a cage). Just down the road at Aquascene, there is a fish feeding frenzy at every high tide, where you can get up close and personal to the big ones that got away. To enjoy a cooling swim protected from the Top End’s biting and stinging denizens head to the Darwin Waterfront Precinct with its excellent Wave Lagoon.


Discover more highlights of Darwin...


Crocodiles at Crocosaurus Cove, Darwin


7. Outdoors in the Australian Bush

Just like the beaches, the bush is free, and there are some surprisingly good short bushwalks close to the major capital cities. Sydney is superbly blessed with national parks from the Harbour to the Blue Mountains. Don’t worry if you aren’t yet prepared because there are many guiding companies that can provide the gear and expertise. For something a little more adventurous for older kids, try canyoning and abseiling in Sydney’s Blue Mountains.


8. Buckets, spades and theme parks in south-east Queensland

This is Australia’s playground. Celebrated for its climate and beaches this region has grown into an entertainment Mecca. When they aren’t at the beach, kids can cuddle a koala at Australia Zoo and ride the latest gut-churning attraction at one of the Gold Coast’s growing collection of theme parks.


See our roundup of Gold Coast theme parks...


9. Reefs, rainforest and railways in Cairns and the Far North

Many visitors to Australia will find their way to Cairns & the Great Barrier Reef, where reef tours are particular geared for families and kids of all ages (www.visitcairns.com.au). Back from the reef spend a day exploring the rainforest of the Atherton Tableland by taking the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway to Kuranda and returning on the Kuranda Scenic Railway (pictured). At Cape Tribulation the kids can fly through the rainforest canopy on a zip line (www.junglesurfing.com.au).


Read more about visiting the Great Barrier Reef...

Kuranda Scenic Railway


10. Dizzying city views

Some of the most exhilarating experiences are value-added to more mainstream viewing platforms found in the heart of the cities. Perch above city canyons on a glass floor of the Sydney Tower Walk  and Melbourne’s The Edge, or catch the breeze on the Gold Coast’s Skypoint Climb. Scramble to the very top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge or Brisbane’s Story bridge.


Brisbane's Story Village


Lindsay Brown is an Australian-based travel writer and photographer (and father of two) who has contributed to Insight Guide Queensland and the Berlitz Pocket Guide to Australia.


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Throughout October, we'll be posting articles on all things Australian; from the country's best beaches and world-famous wineries, to experiencing Aboriginal culture and witnessing unique wildlife.


See our range of Australia guides...