Our 30-Day Australian Destination and Accommodation Guide for Families
This is our 1-month family gap year travel itinerary making our way by car from Melbourne to Cairns, the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest with kids.
Australia is a wonderful destination for families and it is not just because of the kangaroos, koalas and abundant wildlife (although that is a big part of it). Melbourne is one of my favorites cities in the word and despite its expense, Australia has a lot to offer by way of its spectacular holiday parks and truly spectacular destinations. From sightseeing the Sydney Opera House to beach bumming it on Colly’s to hanging with aboriginals in the Daintree Rainforest and trying your hand at scuba on the great barrier reef. Life doesn’t get much better than a trip to Australia!
Here is our 30-day Australian Family Gap Year Itinerary:
Melbourne (4 Nights) → The Great Ocean Road (1 night) → Lakes Entrance (1 night) → Merimbula (1 night) → Pretty Beach (3 nights) → Sydney (5 nights) → Port Stephens and One Mile Beach (5 nights) → Port Macquarie (2 nights) → Coolangatta “COOLY” (3 nights) → Burleigh Heads (3 nights) → The Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation (2 nights) → Port Douglas (6 nights) → then to Thailand
We stayed at the Metro YHA because the central location was booked but this hostel worked out great!
WiFi – Excellent!
Melbourne really surprised us and ended up being one of our favorite cities we visited on our Australasia circuit. There is good reason it is ranked the most livable city in the world.
Big green parks, wonderful public transportation, lots to see and do, along with some really good food make Melbourne a must see stop. Tour the city of Melbourne, take the free circle tram, visit the home of the Australian open, take a morning jog around Queen Victoria Park and tour the Queen Victoria Market.
**** We enjoyed the free flying fox, the kids playground and basketball court and the amazing views of the beach right from our doorstep.
WiFi – Acceptable
We drove from Melbourne to the Apollo Bay on the Great Ocean Road. Although we only had one day for the journey I am so glad we took the time to visit this part of Australia.In this shot time we played with birds and wild Koala bears, saw some amazing sights and stayed at the truly fantastic Apollo Bay Big 4 Holiday Park overlooking the ocean and the clear blue water beach. If you are surfer you will find Bell’s beach home of the annual Rip Curl surf competition.
Another stopover on our way to Sydney and Pretty Beach. We stayed at this amazing Big 4 resort right on the ocean with a ton of wonderful kids activities. They have babysitting and a wide array of family fun including a wonderful jumping “marshmallow” along with a great beach.
WiFi – Yes
There is a wonderful wooden boardwalk perfect for walking/jogging that takes you through a very nice Mangrove forest. There is surfing as well on Merimbula beach. We wish we had more time in Merimbula and I am sure you will wish so too.
We actually stayed at the Sydney Cental YHA because the Harbor location was booked. This is a cheaper option which may be better on your budget. That being said the Sydney Harbor YHA may be one of the best hostels in the world and if your budget fits it I would stay here.
WiFi – Always good at YHA, never free but fast and reliable!
Head to the Circular Quay to see the Sydney Opera House. A tour inside might be a bit much for younger kids, but you can walk around a fair bit of it and take the obligatory photos of Australia’s most famous landmark.
Royal Botanic Gardens to spot long-beaked ibises wandering around the grass and hundreds of fruit bats squabbling among the treetops in the jungle section.
The Rocks, where you can take a quick stroll through the historic streets, stopping off for a look at some of the trendy shops or the Market on Saturdays.There are plenty of places to eat lunch, but a filling prospect is pasta at Rossini, opposite the ferry terminals, where you can sit outside and watch the world go by. Portions are large, so you might want to split a meal between younger kids.
Taronga Zoo, where a cable car takes you up the hill to the main entrance. All the kids’ favorites are here, from kangaroos and koalas to platypuses, located in a nocturnal house. A farmyard section edges onto a playground of sorts, with lots of water features to give your kids a sprinkle on a hot day.
Head to the city center for an elevator ride up to the top of Sydney Tower, where you can look right across Sydney as far as the Blue Mountains in the distance. Entry includes admission to the Sky tower, which features a darkened storytelling room where the kids can learn a little about Australian legends and Aborigines, and there’s also a thrilling simulator ride that takes you on adventures throughout Australia.
Bondi Beach, where you can reward your efforts with ice cream or a late-afternoon pizza from Pompei’s, on the main drag.
8. The Blue Mountains – Sydney Side Trip
You could easily spend a couple more days with the kids having fun in Sydney, but you shouldn’t miss a trip to the mountains. Several companies run tour buses to the area, stopping off at an animal park along the way.
If you missed out on Pretty Beach, you may want to visit the Featherdale Wildlife Park, where you can get up close to more kangaroos, koalas, and Tasmanian devils. The tour will also stop at Scenic World, where you can take the short ride on the Scenic Railway (Family $88.00). It’s very steep, so hold on tight. At the bottom you’ll find yourselves among an ancient tree fern forest — it’s truly remarkable. A short walk takes you to the Skyway, a cable car that travels 300m (984 ft.) above the Jamison Valley.
Elsewhere in the mountains there are fabulous views across craggy bluffs and deep bowls of gum trees. It’s a long day, so pack plenty of snacks and a few favorite toys.
This is a wonderful Holiday Park that provides great value and perfect for families.
WiFi – Wonderful WiFi!
Stockton Beach, One Mile Beach surfing, sand dunes, camel rides, great kids beaches, sand, sunshine and a wonderful holiday park. Stockton beach was a big surprise and sucked us in. I bought a surfboard here and surfed 4 days. We enjoyed every minute of it.
The Flynns Beach Caravan Park is newly owned and operated by a husband wife team and their 8-year-old daughter. It is clean, well priced and close to Flynn’s beach!
WiFi – Off and on but it works.
We came here to surf but the weather told us otherwise. So we hunkered down, enjoyed some family time and the Koala Sanctuary. Port Macquarie (also known by locals as just “Port”) is a beautiful beach-side town with lots to offer for families. It is a nice stop on the way up to the Gold Coast.
**** This place can be pricey, but we got a great rate through Bookings at the time. We scored a nice full size apartment for 3 nights right on the beach where we regrouped, did some laundry, surfed and got ready to catch our flight to Cairns.
WiFi – No because it is crazy expensive! But the public library is right next door and has great free WiFi!
On a rocky headland (great surf and swimming),with a nice walking/running path and a laid back local vibe, Burleigh Heads is a good stop on the Gold Coast. Just down from Surfer’s Paradise it is a much better choice for family and waves.
* Surfers Paradise , a slightly unnerving cityscape on the horizon. There are as many apartment towers here as shades of fake tan. Check it out if you like casinos and theme parks,
Board a Plane to Cairns
Getting ready for Christmas in Cairns. Now it’s time to fly north, up the Tropics. We boarded the plane from Brisbane.
12. The Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation – 2 nights
** Funky in a fun way, the cape tribulation beach house is one to remember. It is a YHA hostel and well run with a good staff who means well.
WiFi – Yes, you can get dial-up speeds just outside the registration office.
We spent one night in Cairns to pick up our rental car and then drove straight up to the Daintree National Park and the Cape Tribulation Rainforests where you emerge into a dripping world of palms, strangler figs, staghorns, pythons, frogs, and electric-blue butterflies.
The Nimrod, despite its horrible name is a group of wonderful apartments about 3 minutes from Port Douglas proper by car with a reasonable price and beautiful pool.
WiFi – Yes, very good if you are closer to the office or by the pool. Otherwise you will have trouble getting a good signal.
We based ourselves in Port Douglas rather than Cairns, because the beach is huge and uncrowded and some of the best trips originate from here.
If you do go swimming, remember to swim inside the nets off the sand; the “stingers” (box jellyfish) around here can cause life-threatening stings, especially where kids are concerned.
14. A Great day on the Great Barrier Reef!
We home based in Port Douglas (see above) and drove into Cairns for the day to do our pontoon trip.
Thankfully, once on the Reef itself, the dangerous jellyfish that make most of the region uninhabitable are very uncommon. Cruise boats leave from Port Douglas and Cairns, with the majority of the boats leaving from Cairns. It takes around 90 minutes to get to the outer Reef by boat; but once there, you are in for some amazing snorkeling.
Expect to see numerous species of corals and fish, and even an occasional turtle. A good seafood lunch is generally served on board, so you won’t go hungry!
YHA – Youth Hostel Accommodation’s are great in Australia especially in the big cities.
Big 4 Holiday Parks – The big 4 Holiday Parks in Australia are of two types – 1. Crazy expensive or 2. Amazing value. We love the latter and found some great Big 4 Holiday Parks as we traveled through Australia.
Bookings.com – Very good for booking in Australia with sometimes very heavy discounted accommodations.
Agoda – I always check both booking and Agoda before I hit the “book now” button. Agoda is best in Asia and second best in Australia.