Finding family fun

Friends heading for the surf at dawn, Bondi Beach. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES
Friends heading for the surf at dawn, Bondi Beach. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES
If you’re planning an Australian trip with your family, add these top family-friendly experiences to your travel list this year, writes Sara Bunny.

We all know gathering the troops for a family getaway can be a tricky task. Hunting down kid-friendly outdoor excursions or all-ages entertainment at a theme park or museum — keeping the entire crew happy can be no mean feat. But when it comes to endless options for the whole whānau, you can’t beat a jaunt across the Tasman. Whether you’re a sporty bunch, prefer the city scene, looking for off-track adventures or want a bit of everything, here are some of Australia’s best family activities.


The Pinnacles of Nambung National Park are amazing natural limestone 
The Pinnacles of Nambung National Park are amazing natural limestone structures, some standing as high as five metres. The pinnacles were formed about 25,000 to 30,000 years ago, after the sea receded and left deposits of sea shells.
Nature’s playground

If you’re headed for Perth/Boorloo, be sure to take an adventure to the other-worldly Pinnacles at Nambung National Park. Located near the coastal town of Cervantes, the park features desert sands as far as the eye can see and a slew of large limestone spires. Let the kids loose to burn off steam and explore the rocks up close, and get a fun history lesson on the area through the interactive displays at the Pinnacles Desert Discovery Centre. The park is about 2.5 hours’ drive from Perth along the scenic Indian Ocean Drive, or you can join a coach tour and let someone else do the driving. While you’re there, call in at nearby Jurien Bay for a splash in the turquoise waters and the chance to spot the town’s friendly resident seals.


Down in Tasmania, get underground at the magical Hastings Caves. Hidden beneath dense rainforest, the enormous subterranean labyrinth includes the country’s largest dolomite cave accessible to visitors; spiky stalactites at every turn and a vast system of echoey chambers to explore. The kid-friendly guided tours bring fascinating details about the history of the caves to life and most of the walking trails are accessible for prams or small legs. Above ground, relax in the swimming pool fed by the nearby thermal springs or venture further into Hastings Caves State Reserve for easy walking tracks and a picnic among the trees.


Dolphin feeding experience at Monkey Mia beach, Western Australia.
Dolphin feeding experience at Monkey Mia beach, Western Australia.
Fishy friends

A mere 75-minute ferry ride from Brisbane, Moreton Island is a sandy spot known for its steep dunes, pristine beaches and snorkel-friendly shipwrecks close to shore. It’s ideal for a day trip with the whānau, but a stay at the Tangalooma Island Resort lets you take part in the dolphin feeding programme with some of the island’s most memorable inhabitants. Here, a family of bottlenose dolphins are regular visitors, and in the right weather, resort guests can book small group night tours to hand feed the flippered friends. Best suited for bigger kids, as dolphin feeding means you’ll get wet in the shallow waters, all human visitors need to follow instructions from the on-site marine specialists to ensure the dolphins are protected.


Over in Western Australia, Monkey Mia is another magnet for marine fans. At this conservation park on the Coral Coast, wild bottlenose dolphins have been turning up almost daily for more than 50 years to splash in the warm shallows. On the family-friendly Monkey Mia Dolphin Experience, you can learn all about the playful mammals, see them up close on their favourite part of the beach and perhaps get the chance to throw them a fish at feeding time. The dolphins might be the star of the show, but the area is also home to turtles, rays, sharks, dugongs and a host of tropical fish. Out of the water, you can also spot the local pelicans and emus enjoying the sea breeze.


At South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula, you can encounter not only dolphins but wild and playful sea lions on a Baird Bay Ocean Eco Experience tour. Nicknamed the "puppies of the sea", the inquisitive local sea lions are known to twirl and dive close to the tour boat at their natural habitat near Jones Island. Whether you choose to watch the action from the boat or hop into the water, the small group tours are open to all ages, including kids under 5.


You can’t get more quintessential Aussie than catching some sweet waves, and on these shores, there are plenty of surf schools that offer family-friendly lessons for all ages. In Sydney/Warrane, Let’s Go Surfing offers beginner lessons at the city’s famous Bondi Beach. Classes are separated into age brackets, catering for the smallest "groms" right up to teens, and include the basics on paddling, catching waves and standing, as well as safety tips on rips, tides and sandbanks. Alongside Bondi, Let’s Go Surfing also offers lessons at Ballina, Byron Bay and Maroubra, a stone’s throw from downtown Sydney.


If one lesson isn’t enough, Surf Camp at Gerroa, two hours drive from Sydney, offers weekend, multi-day and week-long surfing adventures. The deluxe surf experience is ideal for beach-mad families and offers private cabin accommodation and your own dedicated surf coach for the weekend.


Questacon — National Science and Technology Centre, Parkes, Canberra, Australian Capital...
Questacon — National Science and Technology Centre, Parkes, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia.
Themed attractions

Budding scientist in the family? Don’t miss a visit to Questacon — National Science and Technology Centre next time you’re in Canberra. Open daily, Questacon takes in everything from the inner workings of a beehive to the darkest reaches of outer space, through a huge range of interactive shows, workshops and exhibitions. One of the most popular exhibits is Excite@Q, where visitors of all ages can play air hockey with robots, see themselves in thermal vision and test their balance in the Rototron. The popular Spectacular Science Show is performed live by Questacon’s own theatre troupe, while Little Explorers’ events cater for the youngest members of the family.


Also in Canberra, Quizzic Alley is a must for Harry Potter fans. Here you’ll find Australia’s biggest range of official Harry Potter merch, from books and puzzles to wizard-approved gadgets, costumes, toys and wands. While you’re there, be sure to try your hand at driving the famous flying car, try a QBrew potion and feel right at home in your favourite house.


The Gold Coast is well-known as the hub of Aussie theme parks, and if you’re struggling to work out where to start, head to the biggest of them all: Wet’n’Wild. Popular with locals as well as out-of-towners, you can choose your water-based activities according to the "max", "moderate" or "mild" thrill level classification on each ride. Teens flock to the tornado tube and the new Kaboom! ride featuring a 10-metre drop, while classics like the Mammoth Falls white water rafting ride offer a gentler buzz. And if you’ve got littlies in tow or family members that aren’t exactly water babies, calmer attractions like the whirlpool springs, lazy river, dive’n’movies and the new H2Oasis let you cool off without the adrenaline rush.


Mt Hotham village after fresh snow on a clear winter’s day.
Mt Hotham village after fresh snow on a clear winter’s day.
Cool kids

If your Aussie trip coincides with the winter months, take in the mountain magic from a snowmobile at Victoria’s Falls Creek Ski Resort. These zippy tours along backcountry landscapes offer stunning views of Mt McKay, The Summit, Frying Pan Spur and the basalt outcrop known as Ruined Castle. Adults can opt to drive a snowmobile themselves or have an alpine guide do the driving so they can sit back and enjoy the ride. Tobogganing and snowshoeing also make for great family fun, Twilight Tuesdays offer games and marshmallows for the youngest whānau members and the Thursday night fireworks fiestas light up the slopes for all ages.


At nearby Mt Hotham, kids from 5-13 years can take the driver’s seat of a mini snowmobile for their own (supervised) thrill ride on the powder. The Kids’ Club offers ski and snowboard lessons for all levels, and Mighty Mites includes ski lessons and plenty of snow-filled fun for youngsters aged 3-6.


Sunset over Yellow Water/Ngurrungurrudjba Billabong, part of the South Alligator River floodplain...
Sunset over Yellow Water/Ngurrungurrudjba Billabong, part of the South Alligator River floodplain, seen from the boardwalk on the eastern water’s edge. Cooinda, Northern Territory, Australia.
Uniquely Aussie

Learning about indigenous cultures brings a meaningful new dimension to any Australian adventure, and there are countless family-friendly ways to connect with the people and places that bring the stories to life. At Maruku Arts in the Northern Territory’s spectacular Red Centre, take a dot painting workshop with a local Anangu artist. With the help of an interpreter, you’ll hear about traditional and contemporary Anangu life, as well as the ancient symbols and tools used in Anangu art and teaching.

Also in the NT, Kakadu National Park is not only about jaw-dropping scenery and incredible wildlife, it’s also packed with significance for the Bininj/Mungguy people. See traditional art and hear the local stories at Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre and take the family on a memorable cruise along the Yellow Water Billabong, where you might spot some of the crocs and birdlife that also call the area home.


Great Barrier Reef should be on every family’s travel list, and with Dreamtime Snorkel, you get to see all the wonders of the water as well as learn about the indigenous significance of the area. Following a traditional welcome and acknowledgement ceremony, these family-friendly tours include a trip to the outer reef and a guided snorkel experience that looks into the ecosystem’s place in Aboriginal heritage. Along the way, you get to taste bush tucker, watch cultural dances and didgeridoo demos and play with traditional clap sticks and fire poles.


Perth’s Wadjemup/Rottnest Island, is already known for its cute and cheeky quokka — Australia’s smallest wallabies. But on a Go Cultural tour with a local Noongar guide, you can learn about the island’s significance in Dreaming stories, cultural beliefs and its darker history as a penal settlement in the early days of colonisation. Starting with a traditional sand ceremony, the one-hour walking tours include Noongar songs and legends.


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