Ultimate guide to Australia
From the blue of the sea and sky to the ochre red of the centre, Australia is an ancient land awash with colour and culture. It’s a dazzling destination for families, safe, friendly and easy to navigate and no matter where you should find yourself; you’ll find plenty to keep the kids entertained.
The country’s sprawling cities offer fantastic walks and tours, iconic architecture including the world famous Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, incredible interactive museums and galleries suited to all ages, plus heaps of fun activities like sailing, surfing, fishing or swimming. Animal lovers can meet some of Australia’s unique wildlife including the kangaroo, koala, emus and marine animals at one of the many excellent animal parks, zoos and aquariums.
Snorkel or dive on the Great Barrier Reef, one of the great wonders of the natural world, take the kids to the snowy heights of the country’s stunning Alpine regions, explore spectacular, history-packed national parks including iconic Kakadu, Uluru, Cradle Mountain and the Royal National Park – the second oldest registered national park in the world. And discover the fascinating culture and 50,000-year history of the country’s indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait people, the oldest continuous culture on the planet.
Accommodation across the country caters very well to families with family rooms available at most resorts, hotels and hostels, and there are plenty of holiday parks offering excellent self-contained cabins, as well as powered sites, that are perfect for family travellers.
Things to do in Australia with…
Think of Canberra and you’re likely to think politics, not miniature villages, massive dinosaurs, dancing robots and perfect playgrounds. But the national capital is a destination packed with fun attractions and activities for tots. Let them burn off all that pent up pre-school energy on the play equipment at Boundless at The Centenary of Canberra National Playground, Canberra’s first all abilities playground, the Discovery Playground at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve or The POD at the National Arboretum. Head to one of Canberra’s many museums and institutes for hands on fun. Dress up and go back in time at the Museum of Australian Democracy, have a roaring time at The National Dinosaur Museum, and see science come alive at Questacon. You’ll also find free activities and workshops for younger children and toddlers at The Canberra Museum and Gallery and The National Gallery of Australia.
You don’t need to leave Australia’s capital cities for incredible animal encounters with city zoos just waiting to indulge the kids’ love of all things furry, feathered and flippered. In Sydney, Taronga Zoo amps up the animal fun with a Noah’s Ark of wildlife, Wildlife Sydney Zoo is the place for Australian native animals and Sea Life Sydney Aquarium’s 9 interactive themed zones will take your breath away.
Melbourne Zoo is home to a world of wildlife and Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium houses thousands of aquatic animals. Black and white beauties, Wang Wang and Fu Ni, who call Adelaide Zoo home, are Australia’s only Pandas and at Brisbane’s Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary the kids can meet a variety of native wildlife. Perth has its iconic zoo, Caversham Valley for native fauna, a world-class aquarium and, just a short ferry ride away is Rottnest Island, home to the cute and cuddly quokka!
There is something utterly magical about exploring the outback with the kids. The characters are quirky, the history ancient, the scenery beautiful and the experiences unforgettable. In the Red Centre, Uluru is every bit as awe inspiring as one could imagine. When the kids aren’t marvelling at the sheer size and changing colours of The Rock, they can explore the desert by cycle or camel, learn Aboriginal dot painting techniques and hear tales as old as time. In Western Australia’s Kimberley Region the kids will be mesmerised by the awesome Bungle Bungles and in South Australia, visit Wilpena Pound and the Birdsville or Oodnadatta Tracks for a desert experience like no other. In Outback Queensland the kids will love the Stockman’s Hall of Fame and the Qantas Founders Museum while Outback New South Wales has plenty to explore in towns like Broken Hill and Lightning Ridge.
With more than 300 days of sunshine every year, you’ll find endless activities waiting for active teens on Queensland’s Gold Coast. Get your fill of the sand and surf on one the region’s 30 amazing beaches, with world-famous surf breaks and plenty of great surf schools for those eager to take to the waves. Or perhaps they’d rather hit the water for a high-speed Jet Ski safari, or test their skills on a jetpack or flyboard? They’ll also find the Southern Hemisphere’s largest collection of theme parks including the glitz and glamour of Warner Bros Movie World, everything from thrill rides to a stroll with a tiger at Dreamworld, and close encounters with dolphins, sharks, polar bears and penguins at Sea World Resort & Water Park. There are also fast flowing thrills to be found at Wet’N’Wild Water World and epic waterslides at Whitewater World.
Best time to go
Australia is enormous, with a wide range of climates but no matter what time of year you travel the sun will be shining somewhere.
In the centre and south of the country there are four distinct seasons. Summer in Australia offers consistently bright and sunny weather, perfect for enjoying its famous beaches and vast array of outdoor activities, but the Australian sun is harsh, so ensure the entire family is wearing high factor sunscreen and hats. Summer is also peak season so you’ll also need to book ahead to procure family-friendly accommodation and expect campsites, lakes and beach areas to be crowded, as the Australian summer school holidays run for six weeks of the season. Winters are cooler and in Southern NSW and Victoria, there is a choice of excellent ski resorts, which cater brilliantly for families.
In the northern states it is typically warm all year-round, and there are only two seasons: dry season from May to October, and monsoon season from November to April.
Australia’s major cities offer extensive train services, bus services and, or ferries and trams.
You’ll find metred taxis in all cities and larger towns but these are expensive. Uber is also widely available and far more cost effective. Given the size of even our smaller cities, and the distance between towns, hiring a car or a camper van is a smart option for families, and there are plenty of holiday parks that offer powered sites and facilities for safe overnight stops.
If you are short on time and plan to travel between states and major cities, flying is a must as the distances are enormous, but prices can be high so shop around for bargains.
Australia’s health care services are of an extremely high international standard. Hospitals and medical centres with professional medical staff are available in all cities and towns.
Although Australia is a developed country, and there are no major mosquito borne disease outbreaks, Dengue Fever does represent a risk in the north of Queensland and it is still recommended children wear child-safe insect repellent (with no more than a 20% concentration of DEET) in the outdoors, especially by lakes and forested areas. The sun is fierce and sunscreen should be applied regularly even on overcast days.
Food and water standards in Australia are also extremely high and travellers only need to take the same precautions they would at home. No vaccinations are required to enter Australia however we do recommend that every member of the family should be up-to-date on routine vaccinations before any family holiday.
In the event of an emergency please phone 000 from anywhere in the country to access ambulance, fire brigade or police services.
- Little ones will find a plush kangaroo or koala irresistible.
- A boomerang or didgeridoo makes a great souvenir for kids who’ve enjoyed learning about Indigenous culture.
- A pair of authentic UGG Boots is a popular souvenir choice for travellers to Australia
- A great souvenir for sporty kids is a Wallabies or Socceroos jersey of their very own.
- A packet of Tim Tams is a souvenir that no one can resist.
The food of Australia, while based in British culinary traditions, is also heavily influenced by Mediterranean cuisine and the flavours of our Asian neighbours, and there is an increasing trend for using more Indigenous native ingredients and flavours.
Australian beef and lamb are renowned for their quality, though occasionally you’ll see kangaroo, crocodile and emu on the menu, all of which are worth a try. With most of its population located along its 36,735 kilometres of coastline, fresh seafood including fish, prawns, oysters, lobsters and crabs are extremely popular.
Kids will love the amazing choice of sweet tropical fruit, especially the Australian mangoes, which are utterly irresistible.
Other must try Aussie dishes include the humble meat pie and vegemite on buttery toast. When it’s time for something sweet, try pavlova, a meringue based dessert smothered in cream and fresh fruit or a packet of Tim Tams, decadent chocolate biscuits.
English is the primary language in Australia, spoken by over 70% of the population, but over 20% of Australians speak a different language in the home. This mix of languages and high rate of multi-lingualism is due to Australia’s rich multicultural population and history of migration. Australians are also known for their colourful vocabulary and unique slang, which may take a little getting used to!
Australians are friendly, relaxed, and generally informal. The Aussie ‘barbie’ (BBQ) is a longstanding social norm, and great fun for all ages. Kids and adults will gather at a home or at a public BBQ facility for food, drink, and conversation. One version of the Aussie barbie is a ‘sausage sizzle’, often hosted by a business or charity for the purposes of fundraising, where a sausage on a slice of bread is exchanged for a ‘gold coin donation’ ($1 or $2AUD).
In most family settings, Australians dress casually, with practicality being the primary concern. Don’t be surprised to see leisure wear, suitable for surfing or hiking or relaxing in the sun, everywhere you go. In the hottest summer months, shorts and singlets are almost universal!
In the end, Aussies are a laid-back and friendly lot – be open to a smile and a “g’day, mate!”, and let them welcome you to their island home.
The Australian dollar is relatively strong against international currencies and travel doesn’t come cheap. Given the country’s distance from anywhere, getting there is the biggest expense, and the cost of travelling between cities can also add up for families as domestic flight prices and petrol tend to be pricey.
Eating out can be expensive and it is worth noting that tipping is not customary, though it is appreciated. Hotel prices are at the higher end but Airbnb is also increasing in popularity and can make a great budget option for families. Caravanning and camping are extremely popular and there are plenty of National park campsites and excellent holiday parks catering to families that are both affordable and fun.
Tours and adventure activities are also expensive but there are many free public art galleries, museums and gardens to explore in major capital cities. And exploring the country’s excellent national parks and beautiful beaches doesn’t cost a thing.
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Janeece Keller is the founder and editor of Family Travel. She mostly travels with her husband and two young kids. She has a large blended family that lives in Australia and Europe. She has visited 52 countries and lived on 3 continents. From camping to luxury resorts Janeece tries to make sure her family has diverse holiday experiences each year. She is an avid hiker and ocean swimmer who loves good food, margaritas and heading off the beaten path.