There’s just something about Queensland, Australia’s second-largest state and quintessential ‘sun-kissed’ destination. It’s where kids can run bare-foot on secluded beaches, hand feed dolphins, swim with freshwater turtles in the ancient Daintree River, or look for ‘Nemo’ at the Great Barrier Reef – the only living thing that can be seen from space.
Known as Australia’s Sunshine State, Queensland is so significant in terms of size, it would literally take months to visit every corner. Instead, determine the holiday your family desires most – whether it’s adrenaline thrills at the country’s best theme parks, beaches blessed by a temperate year-round climate, a guided walk through rainforest – which inspired the movie Avatar – or one spent exploring the wonders under the sea.
With 7,400km of coastline, bound by the sparkling Pacific Ocean, islands scattered like diamonds across an emerald silk scarf and the world’s oldest rainforest tumbling down to the sea, it’s little wonder Queensland is considered Australia’s most prized family destination.
Queensland’s tropics are an assault on the senses, but it’s the smell that confronts you first – a heavenly mix of frangipani, pungent paw paw, luscious mango, eucalyptus, jasmine, sea salt and balmy air.
Things to do:
- Catch a sight of dingoes in their natural habitat on Fraser Island.
- Don't miss out on the experience of diving or snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest reef system, composed of over 2,900 individual reefs.
- Not a water person? Then try sand tobogganing or sand boarding, among the most exhilarating activities you can do while on Moreton Island.
- Stunning natural scenery surrounds you, at Mossman Gorge Centre.
- Curtain Fig, Atherton Tableland.
- Kuku Yalanji leads Dreamtime walks.
- Flightless cassowary, Daintree Rainforest.
- Whitsunday Islands
Lying in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, in the warm waters of Australia’s Coral Sea. There are six species of sea turtles that come to the Great Barrier Reef to breed. There is a greater variety of diıerent species of animals and plants in the Great Barrier Reef than in any other environment in the world. In fact, some reefs in the Great Barrier Reef have many more fish types than the entire Caribbean Sea.
- Clownfish, or ‘Nemo’ as we like to call them, are easily spotted in the Great Barrier Reef.
- Guided snorkeling tour, Low Isles.
- Moreton Island is the third-largest sand island in the world, located on the eastern side of Moreton Bay, on the coast of southeast Queensland.
- Experience an exciting interaction with dolphins at Sea World. Watch your child’s face as they touch the silky-smooth skin of a bottlenose dolphin. It’s possible to swim with dolphins as a family or as individuals (children aged 5–13) at Seaworld on the Gold Coast, or hand-feed wild dolphins that live in the waters of Moreton Island, just oı Brisbane.
- One of the waterfalls along the Mossman River.
- It's quite rare to be able to see a rhino calf. Luckily, you can easily spot one in Queensland's Australia Zoo. Home to the late Steve Irwin (aka the Crocodile Hunter), daughter Bindi, the Jungle Girl, and wildlife warrior son Robert, Australia Zoo on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast is where kids can cuddle a koala, hand-feed Asian elephants, walk with a Sumatran tiger and watch a crocodile launch from the water’s edge. Check the zoo calendar for appearances by the jetsetting Irwin family.
- Dinner at the legendary Nu Nu’s restaurant, along the melaleuca-lined resort strip at Palm Cove is not to be missed. Book a blue-card-carrying sitter from Executive Babysitting Services, take a stroll in the balmy evening air and kick oı a memorable night with a coconut and lychee martini. The food is exceptional – think mod Oz cuisine with a dashing Asian/tropical twist – and so is the coıee, so return with the kids for breakfast. www.nunu.com.au
While Queensland offers countless options for family holidays, the most popular adventures nearest Brisbane are the magical, unspoiled Moreton Island – just a boat ride from the state capital Brisbane – where kids can hurtle down giant sand dunes and feed dolphins by hand. And, of course, there’s all the glitz and fun of the Gold Coast (think of a mini Florida), where families can visit Dreamworld and Warner Bros. Movie World and stay at Sea World Resort and Water Park – Australia’s only theme park resort and a kid’s dream come true. And that goes without mentioning the Sunshine Coast (home of Australia Zoo) or Fraser Island where you can see dingoes in their natural habitat.
To get a feel for the sheer scale of the state, and to wonder at the pick of Queensland’s natural treasures, a road trip north is an unforgettable journey. Less than half a day from Fraser Island lie the 74 islands of the Whitsundays, oı the coastline of Airlie Beach – two destinations rich enough for a holiday alone – but we’ll head farther north still, past the state’s other major city, Cairns, then on to the Daintree and the Great Barrier Reef.
The Captain Cook Highway is one of Australia’s most beautiful coastal stretches, and the 70km tract from Cairns takes you alongside the postcard-perfect Northern Beaches, complete with palm-fringed, white-sand inlets and turquoise-coloured water stretching to the horizon. Beyond is the friendly sugarcane town of Mossman, a stone’s throw from the World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest.
As you arrive at the Daintree, a chorus of what sounds like a thousand cicadas fills the air, which is sultry and positively bursting with life. Here it’s possible to discard the grime of travel and the grind of work with a baptism of sorts in a cool, green billabong. Families of turtles live in the fresh water, which makes its way from Cape Tribulation to the sea. Tiny red kingfishers skim the surface to take a drink, darting in and out of a rainforest believed to be the oldest on the planet. By the time you wrap your kids in towels on the sandy bank, they’ll be grinning from ear to ear.
In Queensland’s tropical north, you can tuck into crocodile cheesecake at the magnificent Silky Oaks Resort, hunt for mud crabs, mussels and fish – spear in hand – with the Walker brothers at nearby Cooya Beach, and take a Ngadiku Dreamtime Gorge walk at the new US$20 million Mossman Gorge Centre.
The new eco-friendly centre, which serves up excellent café fare and is almost entirely staffed by indigenous locals, ensuring man’s footprint on this ancient rainforest is kept to a minimum.
Accompanied by a local indigenous guide, the Dreamtime Walk takes participants through the rainforest under the shade of the dense canopy, learning about trees, plants, bush tucker sources and culturally significant sites, including traditional bark shelters, along the way. You will also have the chance to take an invigorating dip at a glorious waterhole fed by a gushing waterfall and surrounded by granite boulders. As you dry yourselves on a rock, your guide mixes up red and orange clay from the bubbling river water and demonstrates traditional dot painting along his arm.
On the return journey, you will learn about native fruit and berries, including the large purple plum that the cassowary bird, a rare, large flightless bird, likes to eat. At the walk’s end, freshly baked damper and steaming billy tea, prepared on an outdoor oven, are spread across a picnic table before participants reluctantly depart what must be one of Australia’s greatest natural treasures.
If you’re fortunate enough to stay at Silky Oaks Lodge (for families with children aged 12 and over), you may never venture further than its acclaimed in-house restaurant led by French-born executive chef Laurent Pedemay and its sublime waterholes fed by the Daintree River. The nearby resort town of Port Douglas meanwhile oıers holidaymakers everything from chic holiday apartments to sprawling family-friendly hotels.
From Port Douglas Marina Mirage, there are numerous trips oıered out to the nearby Great Barrier Reef. Silver Series Sonic, operated by Quicksilver, oıers diving and snorkelling at three sites in the outer reef (where you’ll undoubtedly encounter Nemo, Dory and Marlin). Alternatively, take a leisurely sail aboard the majestic Ragamufln III to the Low Isles Reef for snorkelling and a seafood and barbecue lunch.
From Port Douglas you have a choice: head for the cooler air of the Atherton Tableland with its volcanic crater lakes, 500-year-old strangler fig trees and rock wallabies that scramble over boulders at the Granite Gorge; or head south of Cairns for the laid-back town of Mission Beach.
Either way, all roads to Mission Beach – which lies at the heart of two World Heritage areas: the Great Barrier Reef and the rainforests of the Wet Tropics – travel through lush sugar and banana plantations, where you can stop and buy fresh Bowen mangoes at roadside stalls.
Castaway’s Resort and Spa is possibly the best choice for families, with rooms that look through coconut palms across the calm Coral Sea to Dunk Island. From Castaway’s you can take a kayak tour down Babinda Creek, teeming with fish, turtles and platypus, swim underneath Josephine or Murray Falls, or board an 18m ketch for a sunset cruise with Big Mama Sailing. Another experience not to be missed is a private picnic on Dunk’s pristine Naturalist Beach, spotting green sea turtles along the way.
Castaway’s general manager, William Neville, has a theory that time spent here in the aptly named Family Islands (basically those between Cairns and Townsville) is an antidote to today’s stressful lives and a great way for families to reconnect.
His hypothesis is based on the experience of many of his guests and Dunk Island’s most famous resident, Edmund Banfield, who wrote Confessions Of A Beachcomber. Banfield had tuberculosis and had come to Dunk in 1897 to die, but lived another 30 years. “People tend to disconnect from the mainland and their worries when they come out here,” Neville explains.
The journey back from Townsville to Brisbane takes in a myriad of great stopovers: see koalas in their natural habitat on Magnetic Island, dive shipwrecks oı Keswick Island, or alternatively kayak through the Everglades, take a camel ride or learn to stand-up paddleboard at Noosa – meaning you’ll just have to return for more family holidays under the sun.