Australia is a vast and beautiful country. In two weeks you can see a lot, but you won’t have time to see it all. With everything that Australia has to offer (and not knowing if you’ll ever make it back because it’s so far away), creating the right itinerary for your family can be daunting. Here are our planning tips and a great itinerary framework to help you take in the best of Australia with kids.
To get started, decide how many moves you are comfortable making during your holiday. Australia is renowned for its beautiful beaches, rugged outback and cosmopolitan cities. The formula for the perfect Australian itinerary with kids incorporates all three of these elements: city plus beach plus outback or bush. In that spirit, Sydney, the Great Barrier Reef and Uluru are a fantastic combination for families. This does require a significant amount of moving around, though, so I’ve included alternate options for those who want to simplify their travel plans or want to pack in a bit more.
TIP: The outback typically refers to Australia’s more remote areas, whereas the bush encompasses rural areas closer to civilization. The bush, which includes more accessible rainforests, countryside and mountain ranges, makes for a great substitution or addition to the outback component in our recommended itinerary.
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Sydney is a great place to begin your holiday and a must for first-time visitors to Australia. Regularly found at the top of “World’s Best” lists, Sydney is a laid-back city with top-notch restaurants and plenty of activities to keep families happy. Our 72 hours in Sydney guide provides details on where to go and what to do with kids. Highlights include the coastal walk from Bondi Beach toward Coogee, family surf lessons and climbing over the Harbour Bridge.
TIP: Sydney has great public transportation, so being close to a ferry and/or a train station will serve you well. Most international flights arrive into Sydney in the early morning. Make arrangements for an early check-in at your hotel so that you can hit the ground running. If visiting in the summer, pack swimsuits in your carry-on luggage. In the event your luggage is delayed or your hotel isn’t ready, you can start your vacation on the beach without missing a beat.
The Blue Mountains are a UNESCO World Heritage Site located about two hours by car from Sydney. The scenery is spectacular and dramatically different from the city. Go for a ride on the Scenic Railway, the world’s steepest incline railway, or the Scenic Skyway, a glass-bottom sky tram that offers stunning views of the Three Sisters, Wentworth Falls and the Jamison Valley. A bit further afield are the Jenolan Caves, also well worth a visit if you have the time.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is in the Northern Territory, about a three-hour flight from Sydney. It’s home to the iconic red monolith known as Uluru or Ayers Rock. A rock may not seem like much of a reason to board a flight and consume precious vacation time, but it’s a magical place, and the landscape is what everyone imagines when they picture the Australian Outback. If you are able to stay at Longitude 131, do it — this property will take your visit to another level. In addition to guided tours of Uluru and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas), I recommend the camel rides and sightseeing by helicopter.
The Whitsunday Islands are a gorgeous group of islands set on the fringe of the Great Barrier Reef. Just eight of the islands have hotels, and these are only accessible by infrequent flights or boat launches. Getting here will require patience and time, but the sugary white beaches, amazing resorts and proximity to the reef make it worth the effort. Every water activity imaginable is available on the reef; sailing, snorkeling, kayaking, submarine sightseeing and, of course, scuba diving are family favorites.
TIP: If you fly, be first to call the window seat — the views coming in are fantastic. If you are planning to visit the Daintree Rainforest as well, staying on the mainland may be preferable. Both Cairns (pronounced cans) and Port Douglas are gateway towns to the reef. I’d opt for Port Douglas, as it is more relaxed and less touristy than Cairns, and also closer to the rainforest.
If you want to check yet another World Heritage Site off your list, include a visit to Daintree National Park, home to the oldest rainforest on the planet. The Daintree Discovery Centre is an excellent way to start your exploration. Here you can learn all about the region, wander the forest from elevated boardwalks and take in scenic views from the canopy tower. Other family activities in the region include zipline tours, horseback riding, and duck boat and 4WD adventures. If staying in Port Douglas, visit the Wildlife Habitat, where you can have breakfast with the birds and visit with kangaroos and koalas too.
Editor’s Note: Photos by Leslie Rich except where noted.
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