Tropical North Queensland is nothing short of a paradise waiting to add some magic to your family holiday – from cosmopolitan Cairns to the rainbow-hued Reef, the gorgeously green rainforest and beyond. But among the region’s most alluring attributes are the glorious islands of the Great Barrier Reef, where even in the depths of winter you can find a swaying palm, make castles in the sand, and feel your troubles drift away in the aquamarine sea.
Fly into Cairns and make it your base to enjoy the tropical city’s outdoor lifestyle and myriad festivals and events. Little ones will love Muddy’s playground at the Esplanade lagoon; and older ones will love the ocean drive from Cairns to Port Douglas – look out for the helicopter lolly drop when Carnivale comes to town.
Dozens of diving and snorkelling tours suitable for families leave from the Cairns marina, but don’t miss out on the islands. A short boat ride away is Green Island, a coral cay great for snorkelling and rainforest walks. You can even take the family to Marineland Melanesia to meet Cassius the crocodile, the largest in captivity. Fitzroy Island is also easily reached by ferry from Cairns. Children who aren’t keen on snorkelling can hop on a glass-bottomed boat and families can tour the turtle rehabilitation centre.
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And the good news is that while the Great Barrier Reef has been under pressure, there is still plenty of colour to be seen off Cairns – and now is the time to go to avoid stinger season. Or venture further down the coast through the islands off Townsville – Orpheus has dugongs and giant clams galore; while Magnetic combines beach and koala-filled bushland – until you hit the jewel that is the Whitsundays.
The three main islands – Daydream, Hayman and Hamilton – offer great bases to explore the reef’s kaleidoscope of colour and marine life. Hamilton has its own airport, with short, direct flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Cairns, and good connections from other Australian cities. Kids stay and eat free, so it’s great for families, and the Clownfish Club island day care centre allows Mum and Dad some worry-free alone time. There are plenty of restaurants and more than 60 activities to try, including watersports.
So shrug off your winter woollies and tune the family in to the sunny island vibe of Queensland’s north.