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Which Australian island should families visit?

There's more to family fun than building sandcastles on these island escapes.

By Katrina Lobley

Want to give the kids an island holiday they’ll remember? Dive into Australia’s Aboriginal cultures, feed wild dolphins, race down a sand dune or watch the world's smallest penguins waddle home at night. 

Hamilton Island, Whitsunday Islands, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland

Hamilton Island, Whitsunday Islands, Queensland

Hamilton Island, the most popular of the Whitsunday Islands (fly here direct from several Australian cities), was built for family fun. Zoom around the island in a golf buggy (no training required) then relax at the Reef View Hotel, where rooms can accommodate up to six guests, or in one of the island's many holiday villas, which can sleep up to 12. There is a wide range of activities available: go-karting, mini-golf, art classes, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, snorkelling, tennis, bowling and of course, exploring the Great Barrier Reef and Whitsunday Islands.

Moreton Island, Brisbane region, Queensland

Wild dolpin feeding at Tangalooma Island Resort, Moreton Island, Queensland

At Moreton Island, easily accessible from Brisbane, you can handfeed wild dolphins at dusk. The feeding takes place in front of Tangalooma Island Resort, the only development on the world's third largest sand island. You can get an adrenaline rush, too, sand-boarding the island's steep dunes.

Rottnest Island, Perth region, Western Australia

Quokka, Rottnest Island, Western Australia

Rottnest Island, a 90 minute ferry ride from Perth, is famous as a place to see quokkas – small animals that look like tiny kangaroos. The best time of day to see these cute creatures is mid to late afternoon (there are free daily quokka guided walks). Rottnest offers a range of accommodation, from budget to premium, and is home to over 60 stunning beaches, most of which are sheltered with calm, safe waters. The entire island is accessible by bike, making it a child-friendly paradise.

Magnetic Island, Cairns region, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland

Magnetic Island, Townsville, Queensland

Magnetic Island is so close to Townsville, in Tropical North Queensland, that city residents treat it as a satellite neighbourhood. Take a ferry to see the island's resident koalas (it's estimated at least 800 koalas are sitting in the gum trees) or to swim at the tranquil beaches.

Kangaroo Island, South Australia

Seal Bay Conservation Park, Kangaroo Island, South Australia

Kangaroo Island, off the coast of South Australia, is known as Australia's Galapagos. Roam around KI, as the locals call it, and ask your kids to find koalas in the gum trees, Australian sea lions on the sands, little penguins in Flinders Chase National Park and glossy black cockatoos squawking up a storm. The island is also home to its own kind of kangaroo, with chocolate-brown fur and dark tips.

Melville and Bathurst Islands, Tiwi Islands, Darwin region, Northern Territory

Putjamirra, Melville Island, Tiwi Islands, Northern Territory

Take the family on a 2 1/2 hour ferry ride from Darwin straight into traditional Tiwi culture. SeaLink Northern Territory’s Tiwi Day Tour visits the Tiwi Islands, the collective name for Bathurst and Melville islands, 80 kilometres (50 miles) from Darwin. Watch a smoking ceremony with Tiwi women, visit arts and crafts centres and learn about the islanders’ burial rituals.

North Stradbroke Island, Brisbane region, Queensland

Cylinder Beach, North Stradbroke Island, Queensland

North Stradbroke Island is just off the coast from Brisbane, and offers family-friendly beaches such as Cylinder Beach. The island can get busy over the summer holidays but the water is swimmable year round. At nearby Moreton Island you can feed wild dolphins at Tangalooma Island Resort. 

Phillip Island, Melbourne Region, Victoria

Penguin Parade, Phillip Island, Victoria

Phillip Island, south-east of Melbourne, is famous for its nightly parade of hundreds of little penguins – the world’s smallest penguins – waddling ashore after a day of fishing. The island is connected to the mainland by a bridge. You can travel there by car or bus, or catch a ferry from Stony Point.

Fraser Island, Fraser Coast region, Queensland

Fraser Island sand dunes, Fraser Island, Queensland

World Heritage-listed Fraser Island, off the Queensland coast, is famous for being the world's largest sand island. Stretching over 123 kilometres (76 miles) in length, it's also known as the only place in the world where rainforest grows on sand dunes. See the coloured sands (there are 72 different shades) and 4WD along 75 Mile Beach, where the sand is used as a roadway.

Cockatoo Island, Sydney, New South Wales

Cockatoo Island, Sydney, New South Wales

Cockatoo Island, a short ferry ride from Sydney’s Circular Quay (one of the city's main hubs), has a colourful history as a former jail and shipbuilding yard. It opened to the public in 2007 and is the only Sydney Harbour island where you can spend the night. If you have a tent you can book a four-person site for as little as AUD$45. Other accommodation options include pre-erected camping and glamping tents, apartments and heritage houses.