As the saying goes, one person’s trash is another’s treasure. That’s definitely true for holiday activities. Not everyone has the same idea of the perfect itinerary. So, we organised the top family-friendly Aussie attractions by theme and interest.
Maybe some members of your family are art mad, while others can geek out on our science choices. Maybe you love animals and will have a whale of a time working your way through our critter-friendly collection. Or maybe you’ll pick one favourite from each list to shake up your trip and keep everyone happy.
Kick off in Canberra, home of the Australian Institute of Sport which runs daily public tours. Family admission of $55 includes access to Sportex, an interactive sport exhibit with a virtual bobsleigh, wheelchair basketball activity and more. Move it to Melbourne and the hallowed grounds of the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The adjacent interactive National Sports Museum will reopen in February 2020 after a huge redevelopment.
For an arena tour with a difference, book in to Adelaide Oval RoofClimb. Harness up to walk on the roof of the stadium in daylight, at sunset or even during a sporting match. If you prefer to get in on the action yourselves, we recommend the whirlwind of a trip to Thredbo or Jindabyne in the Snowy Mountains. In summer, tackle the terrain on a mountain-bike, bobsled or on foot. Of course, in winter, delve into the snow sports.
Australia is home to the world’s longest living culture, with more than 60,000 years of diverse and ongoing First Nations history. In Kakadu National Park, you can see First Nations art as old as 20,000 years. Ubirr and Burrungkuy are great sites for seeing ‘gunbim,’ the Bininj/Mungguy word for ‘rock art.’ At Nanguluwurr, you’ll find some spectacular hand stencils. It is important to visit these sites with respect.
Colonial history is palpable at Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney and Port Arthur Historic Site, 90 minutes from Hobart. Hear the echoes of Ned Kelly’s last siege at the statue and animated re-enactment in Glenrowan. Relive goldrush-era Ballarat when you step back in time to 1851 at Sovereign Hill outdoor museum. Pan for real gold, tour a gold mine, catch a horse-drawn coach, sit in at the schoolhouse and watch a candle-maker and confectioner craft their wares.
Venture back before time began at the Dinosaur Stampede near Winton, Queensland. Fossilised dinosaur footprints at Lark Quarry Conservation Park tell a 95-million-year-old story of dinosaurs who were chased away from a lake by a carnivorous predator.
Start at National Gallery Victoria, which is split into NGV International on St Kilda Road and NGV Australia in Federation Square. They run great kids and teens programmes in conversation with current exhibitions. Hobart’s MONA is a wacky gallery of diverse and controversial art. Parental discretion is required as some content may not be child-friendly, so follow recommendations on the map.
Katherine boasts an array of galleries and cultural spaces. Godinymayin Yijard Rivers Arts and Culture Centre is a cross-cultural sharing hub with workshops, exhibitions and live shows. Merrepen Arts Centre, Top Didj Cultural Experience and Mimi Aboriginal Arts and Craft showcase works from the local Katherine region and further afar in Arnhem Land and the Kimberley.
Head into the fresh air for art outdoors. Take an Instagram-worthy pic in front of murals and graffiti on Hosier Lane and funky Fitzroy streets in Melbourne. Sculpture by the Sea at Bondi Beach in Sydney and Cottesloe Beach in Perth bring large installations to the sand once a year. Vivid Sydney offers up light shows, installations, music and a projection on the Opera House. It is next showing in May/June 2020. Parrtjima Festival of Light will illuminate Alice Springs Desert Park from 3rd to 12th April 2020.
Australia is peppered with music icons. Tick off landmarks like Sydney Opera House and the Golden Guitar in Tamworth, Australia’s country music capital.
Time your Tamworth visit to coincide with the annual Tamworth Country Music Festival in January. You’ll find a family zone with rides, buskers along Peel Street and free concerts every night at Toyota Park. Further south in Music Festival territory, the long-running Womadelaide offers free entry for kids 12 and under and a youth discount. The Kidzone has science experiments, storytelling, face painting and jumping castles.
Other family-friendly music events with intriguing settings include Manly Jazz Festival, against a beachy backdrop, Lost Lands Family Festival in the grounds of castle-like Werribee Mansion and Big Red Bash, hosted in front of a huge sand dune in the Simpson Desert.
Science and Tech
Interested in the ins and outs of how our world works? Canberra’s Questacon is a family-oriented exhibition space that seeks to answer your questions. Entry to Awesome Earth, Q Lab, Excite and other interactive exhibits costs $70 for families of five. Other fascinating science museums worth visiting include the MAAS Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo, Australian Fossil and Mineral Museum in Bathurst and Scienceworks Museum in Melbourne.
Every year, Brisbane plays host to a World Science Festival. It will return in late March 2020 for a week of street science experiments and the chance to learn about hatching turtles.
Australia is perfectly positioned to have the best views of the Milky Way. Explore our starry skies at a number of observatories around the country. Try Carnarvon Space and Technology Museum in WA, Cosmos Centre and Observatory in Charleville, QLD, Australia Telescope Compact Array in Narrabri, NSW and Mount Stromlo Observatory just outside Canberra, ACT.
You’re guaranteed to find great major zoos in each Aussie capital. For something a little different, head to Brisbane’s Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Meet koalas up-close and hand-feed kangaroos 15 minutes’ drive from Brisbane City, for a family ticket of $88 (2 adults, 3 children). Further north in Queensland, stop at the largest butterfly aviary in the country. Kuranda’s Australian Butterfly Sanctuary is home to the stunning blue Ulysses and Cairns Birdwing species. A combined ticket also allows entry to Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome. Up the ante in Darwin with a crocodile dive experience in the Cage of Death at Crocosaurus Cove.
Thanks to our rich and diverse natural landscapes, we have some glorious native fauna visible in the wild. Go cassowary-spotting in far North Queensland, join the Little Penguin parade at dusk on Phillip Island (90 minutes’ drive from Melbourne) and watch daily bottlenose dolphin feedings at Monkey Mia, Western Australia. For an immersive experience like no other, swim with gentle ocean giants on Ningaloo Reef. From March to August, you can depart Coral Bay or Exmouth for a snorkel tour with local whale sharks.
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