Get any Aussie traveller reminiscing about their childhood, and the first thing they’ll mention will be childhood road trips. Something about a lemon of a station wagon, a tent with homemade repairs, fights in the backseat, and snack food on-the-fly. Or is that just me? From swimming with turtles on the Great Barrier Reef to desert skies in the Red Centre, Australia produces rich and varied family holiday destinations. School breaks are the perfect chance for some domestic exploration, by car or plane. Check out our favourite destinations for school holidays in Australia.
Easter break – April
Mourning the return to school and work after the Christmas holidays? Soften the blow by planning something exciting for April. It doesn’t have to be extravagant. Autumn looks good on country New South Wales. Follow the country music trail to Tamworth’s Golden Guitar or animal tracks to Dubbo’s Taronga Western Plains Zoo. Bathurst serves up plenty of history at mineral and automotive museums, as well as natural beauty of Jenolan Caves.
Prefer the big city feel? Adelaide is at its best during the Adelaide Fringe Festival and WOMADelaide Festival. Both conclude in March though, so you’ll have to pick a weekend before the April school holidays. Otherwise, check out Adelaide Oval, Botanic Gardens and Zoo.
The experts recommend April in the Kimberley. The late wet season and early dry season brings comfortable climes, full waterfalls and lush greens. Visit the Bungle Bungles and Lake Kununurra. Victoria’s Great Ocean Road is another bucket-list contender to conquer. Be sure to take a family photo at the Twelve Apostles and Loch Ard Gorge. For a more active trip, try the theme parks and stunning hinterland bushwalks of the Gold Coast.
The mild autumn weather is ideal for multi-day hikes. Click here to read more.
Mid-year break – July
As winter falls, it is time to chase the sun up north. What are school holidays in Australia without beaches? Far north Queensland is at its best mid-year. It is not stinger or cyclone season, and weather stays a nice tropical warm. Use Port Douglas as base to access the Daintree Rainforest and Great Barrier Reef, or pick instead the beachy esplanade of Cairns. Island-hop in the Whitsundays. Hamilton Island is a popular choice for families because its commercial airport is easily accessed from major airports nation-wide. Queensland’s most famous island of all – the largest sand island in the world – is Fraser Island. Whale-watch and four-wheel drive to your heart’s content.
Read more about North Queensland beyond the Barrier Reef.
July is peak season in Darwin and the Northern Territory, which emerges from its wet summer. Visit Kakadu and Litchfield National Park, and cruise or paddle Katherine’s Nitmiluk Gorge.
Otherwise, opt for the Red Centre and its hefty list of attractions. Think Kata Tjuta, Uluru, Kings Canyon and the MacDonnell Ranges. Don’t be fooled by the promise of desert sun – it can get chilly in winter, especially overnight.
Western Australians should migrate to Broome to witness the natural phenomenon of the Staircase to the Moon. This optical illusion occurs on the Roebuck Bay mudflats from April to October, when the moon’s reflection resembles a ladder to the heavens.
Winter certainly shows off the full gamut of Australia’s diversity. Shift gears from the tropical north to the snowfields of the Australian Alps. Victorians can get their ski on at Mount Buller or Mount Baw Baw. The New South Wales end of the Snowy Mountains offer an array of choices including Thredbo or Perisher.
Spring break – October
As the buds start blossoming and breezes turn warm, even Australia’s most rugged landscapes soften for spring. Canberra turns colourful in spring, adorned with the tulips of the famous Floriade Festival. Other family-friendly Canberra attractions of note include Questacon, the National Museum, National Gallery and Australian Institute of Sport.
You can also follow Western Australia’s wildflower trails, with everlastings blooming in the north and orchids, daisies and desert peas in the south west. The Western Australian Botanic Garden at King’s Park in Perth has an astonishingly vibrant showcase of wildflowers. It is a good excuse to visit Perth and its historic buildings, outdoor spaces, Fremantle Markets and Swan Valley foodie trail.
Spring is great for wildlife. Whale-watch on the New South Wales south coast, peek at the penguin parade on Phillip Island, or meet the quokkas of Rottnest Island.
We also recommend stopping by historic Toowoomba and its Cobb and Co. Museum before it gets too hot. In fact, spring is a great time to explore Queensland’s outback. For more outback landscapes – some of the oldest on earth – delve into the Flinders Ranges in South Australia. One of my favourite natural wonders, this region boasts Brachina Gorge, Wilpena Pound and ancient rock art.
Summer break – December/January
With a whopping 6 weeks to play with, now’s the time to conquer long distances by car. As the mercury soars, it is also time to stick to the coast. Head to the seaside townships on the New South Wales north coast. Honourable mentions go to Port Stephens region or Coffs Harbour and Sawtell. Hit Byron Bay for a surf break – the quintessential trip when it comes to school holidays in Australia – before continuing up to the beaches and national park of Queensland’s Noosa.
East coast capitals fare well in summer. Melbourne offers up the Australian Open tennis grand slam. It also boasts several museums and galleries indoors out of the heat. Try the National Gallery of Victoria or Australian Centre for the Moving Image. Sydney is famous for its New Year’s fireworks, Australia Day celebrations and beaches. Swim at tourist favourite Bondi, or along the Northern Beaches.
The Apple Isle also ripens at this time of year. Fly or cruise to Tasmania (the Spirit of Tasmania overnight car ferry departs from Melbourne) for cooler temperatures and delicious fresh produce. Orchards and roadside stalls yield delicious stone fruits, and I can vouch for the buttery ooze of Tasmanian triple cream brie. Shop for souvenirs at Salamanca Markets in Hobart, swim in Launceston’s Cataract Gorge, and wave in the boats of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. Summer is also an ideal time to hike Tasmania’s scenic multi-day trails, including Bay of Fires, Three Capes and the Overland Track from Cradle Mountain to Lake St. Clair.