Finding travel destinations your kids enjoy guarantees a great time for everyone.
WORDS Claudia Bouma
Choosing a kids’ bucket list after six years of extensive travel around Oz, a country the size of Europe, was next to impossible, but I gave it a shot. My main criteria for the places I chose include suitability for kids as young as three, and the price tag. As a family of six travelling on a tight budget, we don’t have a lot of money to spend on extravagant tours, so we are always on the lookout for activities that are fun, interesting and affordable.
Mt Gambier would have to be one of the most kid-friendly cities in Australia, with multiple large playgrounds and a free wildlife park. Your kids will also love the Umpherston Sinkhole with its seemingly never-ending steps and the nearby historic machinery that provides great entertainment. The Blue Lake is not to be missed, regardless what time of the year you visit, and the steep walk up the hill to the Centenary Tower is worth the effort – the panoramic views are spectacular. Take the kids to the Cave Garden where a suspended viewing platform near the bottom of the garden allows for a unique insight into the cave.
One place the kids talk about to this day is Vaughan Springs. This small campground located in the Victorian goldfields has one unforgettable attraction: a massive slide which is a favourite with kids and adults. If you’re game, use a jacket or blanket to add speed to your descent and you’re in for a riveting experience. The historic town of Castlemaine is a quick 10-minute drive away, where the kids will enjoy exploring the Forest Creek Gold Diggings, once known as the ‘bank till free for all’. Today, it is a wonderful place for kids to learn about Australia’s fascinating mining history.
The people of the small town of Coonabarabran came up with the brilliant idea of creating the world’s largest virtual solar system drive by building 10 massive billboards, which represent our 10 planets, along five popular driving routes. This amazing project is, in fact, an exciting astronomy adventure which ends at the spectacular Siding Spring Observatory in Warrumbungle NP where an entry fee is payable if you want to see the telescope up close. The park is also a bushwalking mecca with a vast network of trails, differing in length and difficulty. The 12.5km hike to the Breadknife, the park’s iconic feature, is the most popular but you might want to walk to Spirey’s View instead. This 6.2km walk eliminates the steep ascent, yet offers magnificent vistas.
Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree can be found in Warren NP, a short drive from Pemberton in southern Western Australia. The two older kids didn’t stare at the impressive karri tree for long once they realised they could climb the thing. One hundred and thirty rungs separated them from the top viewing platform, which is a dizzying 75m high while the treetop cabin weighs two tonnes. They didn’t make it to the top as they were too little at the time, but this tree certainly ranks high on their bucket list for the next trip west.
Driving into the outback town of Longreach from the east it is impossible to miss the Qantas Founders Museum as the great red tail of a decommissioned Boeing 747 dominates the landscape. The museum has won multiple awards and entry for kids under five when accompanied by an adult is free. The spectacular Wing Walk Tour is only accessible for kids aged 12 and up. Longreach is also famous for its tribute to the many outback pioneers – the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame. The gift shop has lots of interesting books, videos and souvenirs but you’ll have to pay the entry fee if you want to enter the museum.
Also known as ‘the city built on gold,’ Bendigo is a great place to explore a former gold mine and gain insight into the town’s rich past. The Central Deborah Gold Mine offers several tours of which the Mine Experience Tour is the shortest and cheapest, and suitable for kids as young as four. Four-year-old Hannah looked like a real miner with her helmet and she enjoyed the 75-minute guided tour, which took us 61m underground. Pay a visit to Rosalind Park, where the kids will try to run the 124 steps to the top of the poppet head tower – the panoramic views are well worth the climb. A short walk from the park, the colourful Golden Dragon Museum is an interesting place to visit. Don’t miss the picturesque Lake Weeroona, home to a large children’s playground and undercover barbecue areas.
Hidden in Tasman NP on the Tasman peninsula, Fortescue Bay campground is a great place for kids of any age as it is right on the beach and swimming is safe. Older kids will appreciate a visit to Port Arthur Historic Site where they will learn about Tassie’s fascinating convict history. For a cheap day out, take the kids to see the Tasman’s Arch, Devil’s Kitchen, Blowhole and the Tesselated Pavement, or make a detour to Morley’s Lookout where you’ll have beautiful views of Waterfall Bay with the cliff walls rising straight out of the water.
On top of the beautiful Green Mountains in southern Queensland, Lamington NP is a rainforest oasis with lots to offer. Friendly crimson rosellas and king parrots make their home in the national park campground and will be your friend if you’re willing to feed them. Nearby O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat sells bird feed and has a special feeding area. Kids will also enjoy the 160m Treetop Walk, which is suspended 15m above the ground with nine expansion bridges. Access is free, though donations are appreciated for maintenance purposes.
Last but not least, Lower Glenelg NP in south-west Victoria, near the South Australian border, is a destination not to be missed. Most of the campsites at Pritchards, the largest in the park, are next to the river. Jetties are scattered along this beautiful waterway, where we were fortunate enough to spot a platypus. Kangaroos and koalas call this area their home, too, though we didn’t always appreciate the koalas’ growling at night. The nearby town of Nelson has a great playground as well as a great pub with lunches at affordable prices. A picturesque 15-minute drive takes you to the famous Princess Margaret Rose Cave, which is a must-see, but a fee does apply.
Yuraygir NP is a coastal gem along New South Wales’ northern coast where kids can build sand castles and look for shells to their heart’s content. The spacious Illaroo campground has sites with view of the ocean, or you can find a site which is sheltered from the sea breeze. Beach driving is allowed so hubbie will be happy here, too. A short 2km return walk to the windswept rock platform, aptly named Rocky Point, is suitable for little ones, as is the 1km Angophora Grove Walk. Take the kids on a day trip to see the Red Cliffs and Lake Arragan where you’re bound to meet a family of eastern grey kangaroos.
I could mention many other places where our kids had a ball without us having to spend a cent but the above 10 destinations are a good start. Of course, there are many more we haven’t been to yet so the list might look very different in a few years’ time. Have fun making up your own bucket list while creating unforgettable memories in the process.