Whether your kids love animals or you feel they need to get in touch with nature to give some balance in this ever more fast-paced world, spending time with your loved ones experiencing our native environment and its fauna is sure to provide memories you’ll treasure for years to come.
Australia is a bountiful country for the intrepid holidaymaker. With so much choice, it’s important to plan which animal you want to see, the environment you want to see it in and how much effort you might want to go through to get there, as well as the level of exertion while you’re there.
With any animal spotting holiday or adventure taking place in an animal’s natural habitat, you need to do your research. Not only do seasons play a big part in what’s available when, but not all animals are easy to find or overly friendly when they are found.
Here's our pick of the best.
Whale watching can often be achieved by simply watching the ocean from our regional beaches, but to get up close it’s best to hop on a boat.
From July to November, whale watching cruises run from Moreton Bay in Queensland’s south through to Hervey Bay where you can experience migrating humpback whales off the east coast. For an intense whale watching experience, Hervey Bay is hard to beat with a range of day cruises available in small and large boats.
To experience dolphins there are two standout destinations: Tangalooma Island Resort on Moreton Island and Monkey Mia in Shark Bay, Western Australia. Both offer hand feeding of dolphins – strictly controlled of course.
You can choose to stay at Tangalooma or take a day trip from Pinkenba including return catamaran transfers and a wild dolphin experience for $95 for adults and $50 for children. A top tip at Monkey Mia is to stay on and attend the quieter second and third morning feeding.
The easy option to encounter a crocodile close to home is, of course, Australia Zoo. But to get into the natural world of our iconic dino monsters a trip to the north is needed.
From Rockhampton onwards crocs start frequenting national parks but a guided tour is advised. Best for this is a trip to the Northern Territory and jumping croc feeding in the Adelaide River. One hour cruises cost $35–$40 for adults and $20–$25 for children. Be aware … if you don’t like the sight of raw chicken wrapped in angry crocodile then it’s probably best to avoid this real world experience!
Turtles are a wonderfully gentle animal to see, either in open water swimming or as a beautiful spectacle during the egg-laying season.
To swim with turtles, head to Hamilton Island and get your snorkelling kit ready. Whilst it’s easy enough to swim off the shore of Hamilton Island, safety for kids is paramount so ensure your kids are strong swimmers and have life vests. Guided deep water turtle discovery tours in the reef fringing Hamilton Island including snorkelling are available for the great value price of $15 per adult and $10 per child.
A visit to Mon Repos Regional Park near Bundaberg during the turtle laying season from November to March is a must do experience. Be sure to book early and prepare your kids for a bit of nocturnal beach walking to get up close to a nesting turtle or, later in the season, to see the tiny hatchlings making their way to the sea. Kelly’s Beach Resort offers great package deals so be sure to get on the mailing list for accommodation for this unique experience.
What’s exciting about a camel? It’s perhaps not an obvious choice, but Australia offers some great trekking via camel. Camel Treks Australia offers a variety of trekking experiences including a four-day family trek. This trek is open to families with children aged 4 to 14 years and takes you into South Australia’s Flinders Ranges for a camping safari adventure.
Alternatively, head north-west and combine a camel tour with a visit to the iconic landmark of Uluru. Starting at $129 per person, a sunset or sunrise tour by camel back with Uluru Camel Tours may be just the thing for that “what did you do on holiday?” conversation.
For penguins head to Phillip Island, home to one of the largest penguin colonies in Australia. Here you will see wild penguins returning home at sunset during the Penguin Parade. Self-guided viewing tickets start at $24.50 per adult, or families with children aged 12 or over can book a ranger-guided 1½ tour from $75.90 per person. For full details visit www.penguins.org.au. There are a lot of conditions to protect the penguins, including no photography permitted at the Penguin Parade.
If you’re feeling adventurous and have some eco mad kids then a trip to Christmas Island might be a cool bucket list item. Christmas Island is famous for the red crab migration, with the island inundated with literally millions of land crabs at certain times of the year. Visit www.christmas.net.au for all the key information around seasons and the habits of the little red fellows. Expect to pay in excess of $200 per night for accommodation for a family of four. Flights are extra of course.
Of course, not all wild animals play the game, and while our great selection brings you closer to nature you may decide to opt for the easier solution of a zoo.
On our doorstep is Australia Zoo, famous for its crocs. Kids aged seven and over can get up close to the zoo's animals by taking part in their Zoo Keeper for a Day program. A great birthday treat for any youngster!
In the same style, Sea World has a Junior Ambassador program, and whilst shorter and only available for 8 to 14 year olds, spending time with dolphins and other marine animals is always a treat.
To take it to max, Melbourne Zoo offers a Roar ’n’ Snore experience for families with kids aged five years and over. This delightful experience will see your family sleeping in an old elephant enclosure right in the heart of the zoo. Surely an exciting adventure for all!
Taking a step away from mainland living and spending time closer to nature is also a great option. While not specifically linked to a given species, island retreats and stays can be very rewarding for any animal mad youngster.
Kangaroo Island is home to many native Australian animals and birds in their natural habitat and offers a selection of resorts and retreats that cater for most budgets. Animal life here is plentiful with everything from the obvious (kangaroos) to seals, koalas, goannas and the elusive platypus. Wildlife tours are available to help you find and observe the rich fauna on the island.
Great for a weekend getaway, Fraser Island is better suited for those who fancy a 4WD holiday, although it’s also possible to take a ferry and arrive by foot or take a tour. Wildlife is abundant on Fraser Island, but it is best known for its dingo population. Be sure to read up on conservation rules and issues before your visit.
If your family is keen on bird life then a trip to Lord Howe Island is sure to please. With more seabird species breeding in larger numbers than anywhere else in Australia, you’re sure to spot at least one! With 207 different recorded bird species, Lord Howe Island is certainly an ornithologists dream. Planning around seasons is advised, with summer being the most active for birdlife.
For more family travel inspo, check out 12 ways to a successful road trip with young kids, 5 family snow and ski holidays to add to your bucket list and 10 of the best holiday parks for families.