Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley, Wolgan Valley, New South Wales © Luxury Lodges of Australia
10 life-changing childhood experiences in Australia
Discover Australia’s most extraordinary experiences for a life-changing childhood holiday.
By Amy Fraser and Jac Taylor
Imagine meeting your favourite Disney Pixar characters in real life, watching the night sky illuminate with dancing colours, listening to ancient Aboriginal tales, and soaring down a snowy mountain. Epic childhood experiences aren’t hard to come by in Australia. Let the life-long memories begin.
1. Gaze into the Milky Way
Where: Uluru in the Northern Territory.
Australia’s known for its bright sunshine and blue horizons, but come nightfall our skies transform into a sea of dazzling stars. In fact, Australia’s Southern Hemisphere location makes it one of the best places in the world to see the Milky Way, and when it comes to viewing the myriad of stars, there's nowhere better than Uluru, the spiritual heart of Australia. Located in the Red Centre, its desert sky is perfect for stargazing, not to mention the epic backdrop of Australia’s sacred monolith – that’s a memory that will never fade.
How to experience it: At Ayres Rock Resort, you’ll gain more than just a magnificent view. Book onto the family-friendly Astro Tour and get your hands on all the gear – telescope, binoculars and iPad technology – to learn about the galaxy’s planets, constellations and Milky Way from a resident astronomer.
2. Feed wild dolphins
Where: Monkey Mia in the Shark Bay World Heritage Area, a two-hour flight from Perth.
In Australia it’s not uncommon to be approached by the odd friendly parrot or, outside of cities, kangaroos. But in Monkey Mia, the friendliest residents are the pod of bottlenose dolphins who swim up to the beach three times a day from the waters off the Coral Coast to greet tourists, locals and even marine biologists who have travelled across the world to interact with them. A clockwork routine since the 1960s, it really is a remarkable event and one of the only places in the world where you’re guaranteed to get so close that you can even feed these wild dolphins.
How to experience it: Visit the Monkey Mia Visitors Centre at 7:45am for a brief with the park ranger, before wading into the shallow waters to greet and feed the dolphins.
3. Stay at an outback station
Where: Various outback locations around Australia.
Nothing screams Aussie adventure like a remote station stay in the outback. With miles of wide-open space to run around and explore, farm animals to ride, feed and look after, and epic encompassing landscapes, the outback is a wonderful place for kids to get away from technology and into the wild. Say goodbye to shoes and hello to newfound freedom.
How to experience it: 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 interact with the station’s animals. For a coastal occasion, Bullara Station, on the coastline of the World Heritage Ningaloo Reef, is one of the few places on earth where you can swim with whale sharks.
4. Meet Dory and Nemo, for real
Where: The Great Barrier Reef, Queensland.
The impossibly vibrant fish and marine 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’s Finding Nemo. 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.
How to experience it: 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.
5. Become a nature expert
Where: The Blue Mountains, a three-hour drive west of Sydney.
Australia’s backyard is bursting with wonderful wildlife and spectacular landscapes made for adventure. It’s often those childhood memories of outdoor escapes – playing in the forest, meeting wildlife and immersing yourself in nature – that stay with you for life. At Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley you can go a step further. Let your kids venture into the wilderness with expert rangers, where they can not only learn nature-based skills such as following animal tracks and learning to ride a horse, but they can even build new habitats for Aussie animals in need. What’s more rewarding than that?
How to experience it: Sign your kids up to the Wolgan Rangers programme for a fun and enriching getaway. They’ll leave with smiles on their faces and a long-lasting appreciation for the natural world.
6. Walk into a winter wonderland
Where: The Australian Alps span across Victoria, Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales.
From outback to rainforest to glistening white mountains, Australia’s not short of diverse landscapes, with one of the most beguiling being the Australian Alps. During Australia’s winter, this vast mountain range transforms into a winter wonderland, and seeing this enchanting white landscape for the first time will take your breath away. Think learning how to ski, whizzing down the mountain on a snowmobile, or being pulled through the sparkling snow by Siberian Huskies – is this Australia or the North Pole?
How to experience it: Victoria’s Falls Creek is a family-friendly ski village, perfect for families to experience the magic of the mountains. Make the most of the thriving kids ski school with access to 92 named runs that wind through the snow-dusted forest.
7. Get to know Australia’s ocean culture
Where: Byron Bay, a one-hour drive from the Gold Coast.
Experiencing Australia's beach culture of sand, surf and sunshine is a must, and surfers from all over the world are drawn to the particular beauty of Byron Bay. Known for its beginner-friendly waves, crystal clear waters and abundance of marine life (including frequently spotted dolphins and turtles), if there’s anywhere to experience ocean life, it’s here.
How to experience it: Book a surfing lesson with Soul Surf School or Let's Go Surfing where kids over seven can learn to ride the waves. If you’d rather explore beneath the surface, join a snorkelling tour with Byron Bay Dive Centre to meet Nemo’s turtle friends who have travelled via the East Australian Current or ‘EAC’ as referred to in Finding Nemo.
8. Witness the world’s best light show
Where: Multiple locations across Tasmania.
The Aurora Australis, otherwise known as the Southern Lights, is one of nature’s most extraordinary spectacles. Although it can be seen all year round, the event is most commonly seen during winter (May to August) in Australia’s most southern state, Tasmania. Marvel at this flickering light show as it illuminates the night sky with ripples of green, purple, red and blue dancing over the horizon – it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Visit Bruny Island, Satellite Island, Bathurst Harbour and Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park for the best views.
How to experience it: Stay overnight at Par Avion Southwest Wilderness Camp on Bathurst Island, where you can watch the magic unfold in front of you before tucking into a deliciously warming hot chocolate on the beach.
9. Play with new underwater mates
Where: South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula.
If there’s one thing your kids won’t forget, it’s watching an excitable sea lion twirl around them in the ocean, before rewarding a lucky member of your family with a kiss. On South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula, a large number of sea lions are often found frolicking in nearby waters, and various charters offer travellers the chance to swim with these rare and endangered creatures in the wild. Their curious and playful nature has dubbed them the “puppies of the sea”, and getting into the water with them makes for quite the life-changing encounter.
How to experience it: Head out with Baird Bay Ocean Eco Experience and be amazed as these playful creatures somersault around you in the water. Book during November to March for warmer waters and calm conditions.
10. Immerse yourself in the world’s oldest living culture
Where: Multiple locations across Australia.
Aboriginal experiences are as insightful as they are enjoyable, and immersing yourself in the world’s oldest living culture as a family is bound to create life-long memories. As well as being a brilliant opportunity for kids to learn about Australia’s history and heritage, Aboriginal experiences are great fun for all ages. Take a dot-painting workshop in Australia’s spiritual heart, learn ancient traditions from buck tucker to throwing a boomerang, and listen to enriching Dreamtime stories over 60,000 years old. Your kids will see the land in a whole new light.
How to experience it: One-hour from Australia’s cultural capital, Canberra, the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve offers kids the chance to explore the ancient land of the Ngunnawal people with a guided ranger. Here, they’ll learn about the reserve’s history and cultural connections while developing a deep understanding of ecosystems and the Aboriginal way of life. It’s nature’s very own classroom.