"Young, old and in-between, there’s fun for all to be had in the Sunshine State"
Boasting beach-friendly weather all year, Queensland is a family holiday mecca with activities and adventures for any age, interest and budget.
Our family of six – two parents and four children (Meghan, 15; Will, 14; Ella, 10, and Jaala, 3) – have spent the past five years of school holidays exploring Queensland’s endless beaches, lush rainforests and adventurous outback. Here’s our guide to what we consider the go-to family holiday destination.
Fun for the under fives
Jaala may be the youngest in our brood, but that doesn’t stop her from having the lion’s share of the fun. She loves sleeping in a hotel bed and eating out at a restaurant almost as much as Wiggles World at Dreamworld, the live Dora’s Best Friend Adventure show at Seaworld and the Tweety and Sylvester Cages at Movie World. There are many preschool-friendly aspects of the Gold Coast’s theme parks and attractions, which also include Australian Outback Spectacular, Paradise Country farm and Wet’n’Wild.
There is nothing more enjoyable for young children than sitting on the top level of the City Hopper ferry as it putts along the Brisbane River, or soaring up above the buildings on The Wheel of Brisbane or “My Giant Wheel”, as Jaala now affectionately calls it, after she did a few loops in it following a morning of playing at the Children’s At Centre at GoMA and swimming in the toddler-friendly splash pools at South Bank as her older siblings too part in a Segway Tour and learnt how to rock-climb with Riverlife Brisbane.
We kept boredom at bay during the one and only rainy day during our Brisbane stay with an interactive day at the Science Centre where the all of our children, including four-year-old Jaala happily played (and learned) for hours and a ride on an authentic steam train at the Workshop Rail Museum in neighbouring Ipswich.
Southern Great Barrier Reef
“Is that the baby turtle I rescued Mummy?” Thisis the standard question I get asked by Jaala each time a baby turtle appears on TV.
It’s not every day a three-year-old gets the opportunity to relocate a freshly laid loggerhead turtle egg to a safe spot up the beach as part of a world-renowned turtle conservation program, but it’s all part of the nightly turtle experience at Mon Repos Regional Park.
Each year, from November to March, the Southern Great Barrier Reef region plays host to Queensland’s “turtle season” which welcomes nesting turtles and then their hatchlings into the world.
Witnessing the nesting turtle and working with the rangers to relocate the eggs to a safer spot high up the beach was a magical nature-based experience for our family, and one that our youngest happily took part in – and still talks about a year later.
Fun for the tweens
“What do you mean the resort has its own waterpark?” Ella could not quite get over the excitement and convenience of a splashtastic waterpark just metres from our two-bedroom villa at the Oaks Oasis resort, which is just a short stroll from Golden Beach.
Prior to checking in, our family had enough action and adventure to last a week. We’d spent the first half of the morning staring at the crocodiles and cuddling koalas at Australia Zoo, and the second half riding a retired steam train and decorating delicious gingerbread men at The Ginger Factory.
We should have come home for an afternoon nap, but the lure of Oaks’ 500-square-metre splash pool, complete with waterslides, fountains and a giant tipping bucket, was too much to resist for our youngest family members.
Caloundra is a bustling family-friendly community on the southernmost end of the Sunshine Coast, which is home to a variety of accommodation options, eight beaches, rock pools and a diverse cafe scene that hosted us for budget-friendly dinners throughout our stay. Better yet, it’s just a short drive to the famous Eumundi Markets and the quaint hinterland villages of Montville and Maleny.
Whether it’s learning about the shark-breeding program or turtle hospital at Reef HQ, which is also home to the world’s largest living coral reef exhibition, trekking on Magnetic Island or learning about the impacts of a tropical cyclone in the Museum of Tropical Queensland in Townsville, there are attractions to spark the curiosity of children of all ages.
Townsville is home to Queensland’s environmental trifecta: reef, rainforest and the outback. Here families can look out for the endangered southern cassowary in the World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics or see the largest herd of purebred Texas Longhorn cattle in Australia after panning for gold in Charters Towers, home of one of the largest gold rushes in Queensland history.
There is so much more to Queensland than beautiful beaches. While we love dipping our toes in the water, our most memorable family holidays have come from hitching a camper trailer to our car and heading out west, where we’ve spent weekends camping under the stars among the beauty of the Queensland Outback.
While I adore the quiet and the wildflowers, a clear highlight for Ella was our visit to Winton, the site of the only known dinosaur stampede in the world and the Australian Age of Dinosaurs museum, where she spent time in the biggest fossil preparation laboratory in the southern hemisphere and learnt how to care for fossils using the proper skills and professional tools.
She also loved the tour inside the 747 and 707 jets inside the National Heritage-listed Qantas Hangar at Longreach Airport.
All four of our children were captivated by the Outback Stockman’s Show at the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame – it was the first time any of them had witnessed the quintessential Australian character of the stockman and learnt about the stories of the men, women and children living in outback Queensland.
Visiting the Outback was an educational adventure that stood apart from our regular beach-focused holidays for our tribe, and one that they all used as the topic for school projects later in the year.
Fun for the teens
As soon as I stepped out of our room I could hear laughter, and I instantly knew it was my family having a ball somewhere on Daydream Island. When I did hunt them down, more than 250 metres away, I found our eldest two children, Meghan and Will, knee-deep in the resort’s Living Reef, handfeeding stingrays as part of the island’s Stingray Splash tour.
The Living Reef at Daydream Island is home to more than 140 marine fish species and 83 coral varieties, and this particular afternoon it was also home to our hysterical teenagers who had the “funniest experiences of their lives” there.
As well as the animal adventures of feeding fish and cuddling koalas on Hamilton Island, The Whitsundays dished up some action-packed fun, including putt-putt and pedal-kart races at the Big4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort.
Tropical North Queensland
“You’re being serious when you say you want me to surf over the top of the rainforest canopy?” It took some time for Meghan to wrap her head around the morning’s adventure of ziplining through the rainforest, but once she was on board, proclaimed it to be the most fun she’d ever had.
Tropical North Queensland is home to countless adrenalin-pumping activities that will keep teenagers off Facebook and engaged in family activities for an entire day. Here we headed into a land without wi-fi as we explored the Daintree Rainforest and snorkelled above the Great Barrier Reef as part of a glass-bottom boat tour.
“We could stay here for a week and not fish from every jetty!” Will’s soul had found its home at Hervey Bay. A mad-keen fisherman, he would have been thrilled if we said we were staying there for a month.
We were there primarily for a whale-watching adventure, yet we all fell in love with the beachside town and its close proximity to both Fraser and Lady Elliot islands. Our day out in the bay searching for nature’s water giants delivered excitement in spades.
On our four-hour Hervey Bay whale-watching tour, we saw five separate pods of spirited whales. Each time, they splashed around our boat like playful puppies, blowing water, slapping their tails and swimming up to get a closer look at us. They also came to play the following day as we headed over to Fraser Island for a day of 4WDingacross the world’s largest sand island and, of course, fishing.
Words: Donna Kramer