Vast and spectacular, Australia offers amazing experiences for younger visitors.
By Jac Taylor
Some childhood holidays are remembered forever. A trip to Australia might be one of them. The astounding landscapes, amazing and accessible wildlife, achievable adventures and just plain fun to be had throughout Australia mean there is never a dull moment for travellers of all ages.
Australia's Red Centre is far from big city lights, making it an incredible place to see stars. Right beside the famous monolith of Uluru, you can take an Astro Tour at Ayers Rock Resort. Use a telescope, binoculars and iPad technology to see constellations, star colours, planets and even the Milky Way from here, while learning about our place in the universe from the resort's resident astronomer. This family-friendly experience is free for children under 15.
One of the most reliable locations in the world to interact with a wild dolphin close up, Monkey Mia draws both tourists and scientists to see its beautiful marine visitors. A pod of bottlenose dolphins swims up to this scenic spot, jutting out into the Indian Ocean from Western Australia's Coral Coast, up to three times every day. Park rangers supervise and help visitors feed fish to the dolphins in a free experience (apart from a small fee to enter the reserve). This marine wonderland also offers swimming with manta rays and whale watching for all visitors from five years of age.
Experience Australian life in the bush on one of the country's cattle, sheep or even camel stations. They are just like farms but often on a very grand scale (for example Anna Creek Station in South Australia is larger than Israel and roughly the same size as Rwanda). Stations like Pimpara Lake Station in outback New South Wales offer the chance to stay in wool shearers' cottages, campsites, huts or lodges, and allow family visitors to help feed the animals or try riding a camel or a horse. Bullara Station, near the town of Exmouth in Western Australia, even has an outdoor bathroom so you can shower under the stars. Bullara is located on the coastline of World Heritage Ningaloo Reef, one of the few places on earth where you can swim with whale sharks.
The impossibly vibrant fish and sea life of the Great Barrier Reef, which stretches 2,300 kilometres (1,430 miles) along the coast of Queensland, are famous with little movie fans worldwide, thanks to Hollywood. The residents of this natural wonder of the world are just as colourful in real life as one would hope, with adorable clownfish (Nemo) and blue tang fish (Dory) commonly seen throughout these warm waters. The smallest visitors might enjoy a glass-bottomed boat tour, available at many places along the Great Barrier Reef, including Green Island off Cairns. Older families can swim and snorkel from live-aboard boats such as Spirit of Freedom, which floats right over the reef on two, three and five-night tours.
Perhaps Australia's most renowned walking trail, the 223-kilometre (139-mile) Larapinta Trail, which goes from the outback town of Alice Springs through the West MacDonnell Ranges in Central Australia, may not seem like an obvious family holiday activity at first glance. However, several tour operators offer luxury guided multi-day hikes along the track. Take a three-day to 14-day trek with World Expeditions and enjoy well-appointed semi-permanent campsites along the way.
Experiencing Australia's beach culture of sand, surf and sunshine is a must on any visit, and surfers from all over the world are drawn to the particular beauty of Byron Bay, just over a one-hour drive south from the Gold Coast. The aquatic opportunities are endless here, with snorkelling and surfing some favourites for families. Beginners are welcome to try some time on a surfboard, with plenty of surf schools welcoming children and families for a single, fun taster lesson, or several, to really work on those skills. Operators such as Soul Surf School and Let's Go Surfing can teach children over seven years of age, or families wanting a lesson together. If you'd rather explore under the waves, there are several snorkelling tours available for children over five years old. Alternatively, simply hit the beach with a pair of goggles and flippers and start swimming through the underwater world.
Thredbo, a Snowy Mountains resort in New South Wales, is a popular destination for skiers and snowboarders, who love to cruise down the mountain's many ski trails. But over the warmer months (mid-November to May), adventurers swap their snow gear for two wheels. The chairlift takes riders every day to the top of 25 kilometres (16 miles) of trails, including cross-country, downhill and BMX-style tracks. Hire a bike and sign up for lessons and tours at Thredbo MTB, practise on jumps and ladder bridges in Snowgums Skills Park or participate in a Freeriders day for kids aged 10 to 15. Of course, if you visit during a white winter, there are plenty of kids programs for learning to carve the snow.