The best islands for your next family holiday
So much more than just an escape from the hecticness that is
being a parent life, family holidays are a chance for your little team to reconnect, have fun, and make memories that’ll last a lifetime.
Throw in a jaw-dropping location on one of Queensland’s islands, and you’ve got a family vacation that will not only be unforgettable but will actually feel like a holiday for parents, too.
From baby’s first getaway to Great Barrier Reef adventures for mini eco rangers, we’ve rounded up the best islands for your family’s next holiday.
For babies, toddlers and tots
From Convenience Shopping Items that can be ordered in advance (no bulk-packing nappies and baby wipes here) to child-minding services and a 24-hour on-call doctor service, these guys have thought of everything to make your holiday feel like, well, an actual holiday.
Slip into island mode stress-free courtesy of the island’s fairy godmothers – aka Guest Services. These guys will take care of all your needs, whether that be organising a spot for your little one at the day care centre so you can sneak off for a snorkelling session on the reef, or kitting you out with prams and Baby Bjorns to take your bundle of joy on an adventure, too.
Speaking of exploring, child restraints for golf buggies – the main mode of island transport – are complimentary to all guests of Hamilton Island Hotels and Holiday Homes. If you opt for privately-owned accommodation, hire starts at $15/day and will be charged only for a maximum of four days even if you hire the seat for longer (thank you, Hamo!).
Tip: While there are a range of local cafes that are blessedly family-friendly, if you stay at the Reef View Hotel, Palm Bungalows or any Holiday Home, you can take advantage of the island’s Kids Stay & Eat Free offer, where children up to 12 years eat on the house in selected restaurants.
For more info on family-friendly services and activities, visit the ‘Baby’s First Holiday’ section on hamiltonisland.com.au.
(Psst, if it’s bub’s first time travelling, be sure to check out this ultimate guide to planning your first holiday with a baby.)
For their first time visiting the Great Barrier Reef
Your little ones might not fully grasp the significance of this World Heritage-listed wonder yet, but chances are their excitement levels will still be up there once they realise they’re visiting the home of Nemo.
If the kids aren’t quite ready to dive head first into the reef themselves, try Daydream Island off the coast of Airlie Beach. Part of the Whitsunday Archipelago, it’s home to one of the world’s largest man-made living coral reef lagoons where the kids can hold a sea cucumber, pat a stingray, and take part in a guided fish feed all without leaving the island’s shores.
Plus, the resort is basically one giant playground with a heap of free activities, including open-air movies, mini golf, giant chess, trivia games, and free use of kayaks and SUPs.
*Note: Daydream Island is currently undergoing refurbishment and is set to reopen mid-2018.
More adventurous broods will be spoilt for choice on Green Island in Tropical North Queensland. While a popular day trip from Cairns, if you stay at the resort you can tick off a whole range of bucket-list reef experiences spanning all ages and abilities: snorkel the island’s fringing coral reefs, hop on a glass-bottom boat tour, don a helmet and walk along the lagoon’s sea floor, or take to the outer Great Barrier Reef on an underwater scooter.
For mini eco rangers
So they’ve had their first taste of the reef and now they can’t get enough of it? Sounds like you’ve got a mini-Attenborough in your midst!
Point your travel toes in the direction of the Southern Great Barrier Reef, where the coral cays known as Lady Elliot Island and Heron Island combine education and fun in the most perfect of holiday settings.
Both islands offer Junior Ranger programs running every day during school holidays (and on school-term weekends at Heron Island), where kids aged 5 to 12 years old can take part in a range of guided nature-based activities with a focus on conservation of the reef.
When it comes to family bonding, you’ll find a heap of extra activities to get the whole squad involved, from complimentary guided reef walks and turtle tours (during the season from November – March) to snorkel safaris and scuba diving trips (minimum age 12 years old).
And with no WiFi, mobile reception or television on either island to distract, your family has the opportunity to go completely off the grid and get back to nature.
For families who love the great outdoors
There’s camping, and then there’s island camping. But when you’ve got the kids in tow, it goes without saying that a little more thought is required to ensure 1) there’s enough to keep them entertained, and 2) facilities are there to make the adventure a helluva lot easier.
On Fraser Island, you’ve got the choice of a whopping 45 national park camping grounds, but we recommend setting your sights on Dundubara or Waddy Point (top), which have dingo deterrent fences plus a bunch of handy facilities like water taps, flushing toilets, hot showers, picnic tables and gas barbeques. (Don’t forget the marshmallows because they’re some of the best campfire spots in Queensland, too).
Granted, you will need a 4WD vehicle and it’ll cost you between $175 and $199 (depending on season) to get your vehicle and up to four passengers over on the ferry (extra passengers = extra fee), but it’s worth it to have the largest sand island in the world – full of FREE adventures – as your playground.
Tube down the freshwater Eli Creek, get your tootsies in the silica sand around Lake McKenzie, surf your boogie board down the dunes of Lake Wabby, spots dingoes 4WDing along 75 mile beach, and snap a picture with the rusty Maheno shipwreck… this is just the beginning of the awesome things to see and do while you’re here!
(Never camped on Fraser before? Learn the need-to-know in this 5-minute boot camp guide.)
Closer to Brisbane, North Stradbroke Island serves as the perfect break for families who want an escape from the city but don’t want to stray too far from civilisation.
Suitable for conventional vehicles, scoot on over with Stradbroke Ferries from Cleveland and take your pick from Straddie Camping‘s six campgrounds or two glamping-style EcoShacks. The main hot spots around Point Lookout and Amity Point are ideal for families, being just a stone’s throw from the beach and close to the island’s cafes and shops.
‘Straddie’, as she’s affectionately known, is another winner when it comes to free entertainment, with kilometres of gorgeous sands (perfect for beach 4WDing and sand-boarding), scenic walks and freshwater lakes. Over at Amity Point, water babies will be kept busy with snorkelling, beachcombing, fishing, and dolphin feeding down by the jetty.
If you’re heading over for a quick weekend jaunt, check out this 48-hour guide to the island’s best-kept secrets.
For those who want to get off the beaten track
Queensland is a pretty big place – nearly five times the size of Japan in fact – so it ain’t hard to believe that there are more secret islands than you can shake a palm leaf at.
Thankfully, this means some family-friendly stunners have managed to stay off the holiday radar.
Fitzroy Island is one of said places, and despite being only a 45-minute ferry ride from Cairns – and home to one of the most beautiful beaches in the sunshine state – it remains blissfully low on the scale of crowds.
While you’ll find all the holiday blessings of a tropical island (i.e. fringing reefs just a fin’s flip from the shore, water toys galore courtesy of the adventure centre and beach hire hut, and inland rainforest tracks for keen strollers), for the kids, there are only two words they’ll need to know: OCEAN TRAMPOLINE. #awyeah
If a day trip is all the island time you need, sweet! If not, hunker down in a cosy cabin or camp out under the stars at the Fitzroy Island Resort, which also has a movie theatre, games room, and kids playroom (and a swim-up bar and poolside massages for the adults).
Vehicle-free and having no grocery facilities sans the one bar and bistro (FYI bringing your own groceries will save you a stack of mula), it’s the family-friendly version of the bare minimum, with a focus on slowing down to enjoy the island’s assets.
Pack some nibbles and enjoy a private picnic on one of 17 white-sandy beaches, hire kayaks and SUPs from GKI Adventures, snorkel secluded coves on a motorised canoe trip, or just kick-back and let island time take over.
For more info and tips on what to see and do while you’re there – including where to stay – check out this ultimate family guide to Great Keppel Island.
For those with luxury on their minds
If luxury is more your family’s vacay style, then these three island beauties are guaranteed to hit all the right spots.
Starting from the top (literally) at Australia’s northernmost island resort on the Great Barrier Reef, Lizard Island is normally an adults-only retreat before turning into a kids’ utopia during their exclusive ‘Family Time’ offer during the July and September school holidays (for children 6 to 12 years old).
From family fishing trips and snorkelling lessons to treasure hunts and sand castle building competitions, it’s pretty much impossible for the kids to be bored with their jacked-up junior rangers program (and they’ll be so occupied they won’t even realise you’ve snuck off for a couple’s spa sesh or private picnic on a deserted beach).
Getting there is also an adventure in itself, flying over a 200km expanse of the Great Barrier Reef on a one-hour scenic flight from Cairns.
Capped at just 28 indulged guests or booked in its entirety for exclusive use, the island’s luxury lodge is holiday bliss wrapped up in 1,368 hectares of pristine national park and surrounding World Heritage-listed reef. The price tag reflects all-inclusive perks like gourmet meals (with wine and beer for the parentals), daily Orpheus experiences (snorkelling, fishing, island cruises), and unlimited use of water toys including motorised dinghies and catamaran.
But the attention to detail goes way beyond the fun stuff right down to the needs of your family, so much so that the head chef takes note of your likes and dislikes as well as set meal times for your infant if needed.
(In case you need further nudging here are another 7 reasons why you and your brood need to holiday on Orpheus Island.)