Summer is upon us and it’s the perfect time to pack up the family and explore the southern states. Here are Claudia’s top spots to get the family inspired.
WORDS Claudia Bouma
The famous limestone stacks known as the Twelve Apostles form part of the Shipwreck Coast, a spectacular but rugged stretch of coastline that lives up to its name, with countless ships having met a cruel fate in these waters. Yet, despite the region’s gruelling maritime history, these fascinating rock formations have an unparalleled appeal and draw countless visitors every year.
The Shipwreck Coast stretches between Cape Otway and Warrnambool, along Victoria’s Great Ocean Road. There’s plenty to see and do in this awe-inspiring region, only a three-hour drive from the Melbourne CBD.
The Gibson Steps are a kids’ favourite, giving access to the ocean beach below the cliffs, while the nearby rock stacks, known as Gog and Magog, are a breathtaking sight. Loch Ard Gorge is another must-see, revealing the story of one of Australia’s most famous shipwrecks. For more details, pay a visit to the Port Campbell visitor information centre.
Take the family on a day trip to the Bay of Islands and London Bridge, then stop in the town of Peterborough for a picnic or barbecue lunch and let the kids play in the Curdies River estuary, which is safe for little ones.
The Princetown Recreation Reserve makes a great base for exploring the area and has an amenities block with hot showers, toilets and a coin-operated laundry as well as a large shaded playground. Laze around at camp or go for a dip in the picturesque Gellibrand River, which is within walking distance and an ideal place for swimming, fishing, canoeing and boating.
The Grampians’ jagged mountain peaks seem to rise up out of nowhere as you drive across the volcanic plains of western Victoria – the impressive ranges are undoubtedly the region’s icon. The park, also known by its Aboriginal name Gariwerd, attracts thousands of visitors every year with its rugged ranges, crystal clear waterfalls and breathtaking views.
The Grampians National Park is 260km west of Melbourne and is a bushwalkers’ dream-come-true, ranging from easy, 15 minute walks to gruelling, multi-day hikes. A popular choice is the 1km scenic trek to the Balconies, an amazing rock formation jutting out over the valley below, providing an excellent spot for a family picture.
A large number of stunning lookouts can be reached by car following the Mount Victory Road, cutting through this spectacular park from east to west. Boroka Lookout sits perched on the edge of the Mount Difficult Range, offering unchallenged views of Halls Gap and beyond. The Reed Lookout faces out west, rewarding with extensive mountain vistas of the Victoria and Serra Ranges as well as the sweeping Victoria Valley.
If you prefer to relax, Halls Gap not only has a great swimming pool but also an ice cream shop, which is bound to be popular with the kids. There are a couple of good caravan parks in town and the national park also has a variety of campgrounds suitable for caravans.
The region surrounding Victoria’s Glenelg River is historical, beautiful and the perfect family touring destination. Lower Glenelg National Park protects a large section of the beautiful river, creating the ideal environment for fishing, boating, canoeing and swimming.
The park is situated in Victoria’s south-west corner and adjoins the South Australian border, 400km from Melbourne and 490km from Adelaide. There are a number of campgrounds to choose from in the park, but Pritchards is the largest and most suitable for caravans.
Declared a national park in 1969, the 27,300ha sanctuary is also a popular destination for bush walkers and campers as the area is home to the acclaimed Great South West Walk and the famous Princess Margaret Rose Cave where you can marvel at stalactites, stalagmites, helictites and other impressive limestone formations.
Wildlife abounds and you’ll meet plenty of kangaroos, kookaburras and goannas. Koalas make their home here, too, but can be more difficult to find. And if you’re lucky, you might even spot a platypus.
The nearby town of Nelson is worth a visit as it features a great playground with a beautiful view of the river and boathouses that tell of an era past. Have a bite to eat at the Nelson Hotel and you won’t be disappointed. Take the kids to Nelson Beach where they can play to their hearts’ content or check out the estuary beach which is also a great spot to watch a sunset.
Hat Head National Park (NP) might be small in size but this coastal gem more than makes up for this with stunning scenery, breathtaking views and fascinating history. Nestled along New South Wales’ spectacular coastline, 465km north-east of Sydney, the park boasts unspoilt sandy beaches, pockets of lush rainforest, the impressive Smoky Cape Lighthouse and the historic Trial Bay Gaol.
The lighthouse is a must-see − the octagonal, two-storey, dazzling white building stands like a sentinel, protecting the surrounding coastal waters. The nearby head keeper’s and two assistant keepers’ cottages have been fully restored and now serve as comfortable holiday accommodation.
There’s plenty of bushwalking to enjoy in this scenic region. The 1.4km Jack Perkins Track starts at the lighthouse, finishing at North Smoky Beach after walking through pockets of rainforest and dry woodland. For the keen bushwalker, the 10km Smoky Cape to Little Bay track is a lot more challenging – allow four hours for the one-way journey.
Aussie history is on display at Trial Bay Gaol. The prison, located in Arakoon NP (adjacent to Hat Head NP), was built from 1877-1886 to house prisoners who were there to build the breakwater. Walking through the historic ruins takes you back in time to the history that played itself out here in the early 1900s.
Bush camping is available at Smoky Cape at the northern end of the park and Hungry Gate in the south. Trial Bay Gaol campground offers camping next to the beach with the modern facilities of a caravan park.
A beautiful camping destination on the Sapphire Coast, Bournda National Park (NP) has all an outdoor enthusiast could desire. Bournda and Tura Beach stretch out for miles while Wallagoot Lake is a wonderful spot for swimming and other water-based activities.
Bournda NP is situated along New South Wales’ southern coast, 20km north of Merimbula and around 20km south of Bega. Camping is available at Hobart Beach, a large campground within the national park with hot showers, non-flush toilets and a basic laundry with hot water.
Bournda Lagoon’s still waters are a popular destination in summer, with the 6km Bournda Track the ideal way to explore the lagoon’s upper reaches, along with Bournda Island. Rock fishing opportunities abound at Boulder Bay and White Rock in the northern end of the park where you are likely to catch salmon and tailor.
Alternatively, you can launch a tinnie at Wallagoot Lake Boat Club or Scotts Bay to explore the area. Freshwater Bondi Lake, nestled behind the coastal dunes, is an important habitat for threatened waterbirds like the little tern, pied oystercatcher and hooded plover.
Take the kids on a day trip to the historic town of Tathra and visit the old wharf, which has been transformed into a cosy cafe. You might even spot a fur seal or fairy penguin playing in the surrounding waters as there’s a large colony living on Montague Island, a nature reserve offshore to the north.
Tucked away in New South Wales’ south-eastern corner, Ben Boyd National Park is a coastal destination full of surprises. Stunning scenery, intriguing history and good camping facilities combine to make this national park a popular weekend getaway.
From the whale sighting tower built by 19th century entrepreneur Ben Boyd – after whom the park is named – to the impressive Green Cape Lighthouse, the park has a number of attractions for people of all ages. History comes to life at the site of the Davidson Whaling Station while the famous Light to Light walking track rewards with spectacular ocean views. Camping is available in the south of the park at Saltwater Creek and Bittangabee Bay.
Ben Boyd’s tower at the entrance of Twofold Bay is a must-see. At present there is no access to Boyd’s tower but two lookouts afford sweeping views of Twofold Bay and the rugged coastline.
Part of the ‘highway of lights’, Green Cape Lighthouse is the state’s southernmost light still in use today. Guided tours are conducted weekly, Thursday to Monday at 3pm – fees apply.
Make a day trip to the picturesque town of Eden and visit the Eden Killer Whale Museum where the kids will learn about the town’s fascinating whaling history and Old Tom – an orca who assisted the whalers in their search for and capture of these large marine mammals.
This spectacular national park in WA’s south-western corner stretches for more than 100km, from Cape Naturaliste in the north to Cape Leeuwin in the south, and has some of Australia’s most impressive coastal scenery. It is one of the most visited national parks in WA (according to the Conservation Commission of Western Australia) with more than two million visits a year.
The camping is fabulous – just imagine setting up your tent in the middle of the bush with the roar of the ocean in the background. There are three campgrounds in the park: Conto Field, Point Road and Boranup. Sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Conto’s Campground is a fantastic base as it offers beautiful, secluded campsites, most with a table and a fireplace.
There is plenty to see and do, and most of it is free. Bushwalking lovers will enjoy the Cape to Cape Track. If you’re keen you can attempt the entire 135km walk but you can also just choose to walk a section. The start of the walk at Cape Naturaliste has been fully sealed for the first 2.2km which allows easy access for wheelchairs and prams.
The beaches along this rugged coastline are amazing and some of them are sheltered from the pounding of the ocean waves, which makes for great swimming and snorkelling. Yallingup Beach is a particularly nice beach for families with small kids.