Some of you may remember, at the start of the New Year, Ciao Bambino put together our 2012 bucket list. It’s an impressive list that highlights phenomenal destinations to travel with kids like Dubai and Greece. This summer I was lucky enough to visit one of the destinations on my list – Australia! But I won’t check it off the list, because I’m going back and taking the whole family with me. I just got back from Queensland and the list of things to do with kids is amazing …
I’m not the screaming type. When I got the email saying I had been selected by Tourism Queensland to visit Australia, I was speechless. My older daughter grabbed my phone and read the email on her own before I could get the words out myself.
My Qantas direct flight from Los Angeles to Brisbane was just under 14 hours. Long flights are tough, no matter how old you are, but it was one of the most comfortable flights I’ve taken in a very long time. From the moment I sat down I was taken care of. Traveling solo isn’t the norm for me and I had to laugh when I sat down next to a family of five with kids not quite school age. Qantas attendants made sure they had everything they needed, including a colorful, fun travel pack full of toys and activities to help entertain during the flight. Did I mention after a great nap I had the most incredible cheeseburger for dinner?!
A quick connection in Brisbane and I was on my way to Cairns in less than a couple hours. I always go for an aisle seat, but in this case get a window. If you aren’t already over the moon excited, the view from the air as you prepare to land in Cairns is enough to have you jumping out of your seat.
After landing in Cairns, I headed north to Port Douglas. Both destinations offer access to the Great Barrier Reef, and both are worth time on your travel itinerary. The drive to Port Douglas takes about an hour, but there’s so much to see, time will fly by. Sugar cane lines the highway, but the closer you get, the more the views of the water open up.
Port Douglas, located at the end of a peninsula, is a relaxed beachside town. The birds typically make more noise than people. The small downtown area is focused around a four to five block stretch of Macrossan Street, There’s plenty of boutiques that attract visitors attention, but this is where locals shop too. One of the only two grocery stores in town can be found here, along with a Target. If you’re from the United States, take a minute to stroll through to see what the popular store is like down under.
For two nights in Port Douglas, I stayed steps from Four Mile Beach at Mandalay Luxury Beachfront Apartments. Along with being steps from the water, I loved that all of the units have full kitchens and a washer and dryer, making them a perfect fit for traveling families. The accommodations are ideal, but the attentiveness of the folks who call it home might be Mandalay’s biggest plus. Raelene Hall and her husband Derek manage and live on the property with an outgoing pup named Milo. They happily answer questions, give directions and advice.
Don’t be surprised if you run into them, with Milo of course, when you head to see the sunrise on Four Mile Beach. It’s not unusual for visitors (especially those suffering from jetlag) to get up at the crack of dawn to see the sunrise, but it’s not always something the local population takes to.
On Four Mile Beach you won’t be alone. Walkers, runners, yoga classes, you name it everyone comes out to enjoy the start of the day. The sand is pretty compact, so folks ride their bikes in the sand, which means strollers are a breeze. From the downtown area of Port Douglas, you come on to the beach at the far northern end. There’s a large payoff waiting if you’ve got the energy to walk the long stretch of beach headed south toward Cairns. It’s not quite four miles like the name implies, but it is a good walk. Make it to the end and there’s a good chance you’ll have the beach to yourself.
Do Some Climbing
The shorter walk through town is just as scenic, but requires gaining some altitude. After you walk on Four Mile Beach from downtown Port Douglas, immediately turn left. You can’t miss the white steps that climb up the cliff side. When you reach the top, you’ll have a great view of Four Mile Beach and beyond.
If the kids are done, head back down to the sand. If they’re asleep in the stroller and you’re still in the mood to move head toward Flagstaff Hill. (The folks from Mandalay will be happy to show you exactly how to get there on a map.) You’ll be on paved roadway the entire time, but it’s definitely a bit of a climb. But when you reach the top, the views from Flagstaff Hill will leave you more breathless than the walk. If you don’t want to tackle it foot, the area is easily accessible by car.
Whether by car or on foot, when it’s time to head back down toward sea level, be sure to stop at Anzac Park. There’s a large grassy area overlooking the water that’s perfect for kids to run or lay down and take a nap in. There’s also a nice playground. If it’s Sunday, wander through the market to see the mix of crafts, souvenirs and fruit and vegetables. Keep your eyes open for wedding festivities at St Mary’s by the sea. With beach-themed stained glass windows and the perfect view to say “I do,” nuptials need to be booked a year in advance.
The Center of the Albeit Quiet Action
From the St Mary’s, the downtown stretch of Macrossan will be in sight. Wander down and you’ll find numerous shops, tour providers that will take you to all sorts of area destinations like Cape Tribulation and the World Heritage Daintree Rainforest, and restaurants. Zinc Restaurant is a spot to add to your list, especially if you’re considering trying kangaroo. There’s a kids menu for little ones who aren’t so brave and hours of entertainment thanks to the restaurant’s aquarium. At around 20,000 litres, it is the largest privately-owned aquarium on the east coast of Australia! But it’s not out in the open, front and center. You have to find it. Think of it as a scavenger hunt of sorts to entertain the kids.
Along Macrossan you’ll also find a number of vacation apartments for rent. In Port Douglas, apartments are more the norm than standard hotels rooms, a win for families visiting the area. Coconut Grove is the newest addition to the offerings of luxury vacation apartment rentals. The complex has 33 spacious three bedroom apartments that overlook the bustling main drag, with high-end shiny stainless steel appliances from head to toe and an outdoor terrace with barbeque cooking area. Terrace Pool Apartments are a luxury for traveling families, offering a private swimming pool and spa. Though all apartments have three bedrooms, the layout allows them to be booked as 1 or 2 bedroom accommodations as well.
Space to spread out makes for a good night’s sleep. With so much on the itinerary, your family’s going to need it. Stay tuned for more posts in the coming months on my incredible trip to Queensland, Australia!
Editorial Note: Dana’s trip to Australia was hosted by Tourism Queensland, but as always Dana’s thoughts and opinions are her own. Photos by Dana Rebmann