Family Travel Survival Guide: Cairns & Tropical North Queensland - Page 2

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Tropical North Queensland, Australia
Keep "Are we there yet?" at bay with a hide-and-seek game of wildlife spotting.  (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

As any person with small children knows, it's important to have activities planned that keep the little tikes entertained through the day. Here are some places and activities to consider while putting together your family-friendly itinerary to Tropical North Queensland.

Dunk Island
The optimal choice for a family retreat, Dunk Island promises equal parts luxury and laid-back beach fun. Day trippers populate the white-sand beaches by the jetty for their days of jet skiing, swimming, or paddle surfing. For a decadent treat, book an ocean-view room in the fanciful resort here, the island’s sole lodging. Spend your days trekking the isle to hidden beaches crawling with sea life, dining on excellent seafood, as well as burgers for the kiddos, and lounging by one of the pools while the family stays entertained within. For a real slice of heaven, reserve a private picnic on an uninhabited island or a little time alone with a couple’s massage in the rainforest. The Kids Club offers babysitting during the morning; plus, in the evening, they take tykes ages three to 12 to dinner as well as lead activities like night fishing or movie nights. To get there, drive to Mission Beach from Cairns. Mission Beach Water Taxi shuttles guests to and from the island every hour (upon booking your stay, the resort will assist you with reservations). The trip takes ten minutes and costs $30 round-trip for adults and $15 round-trip for children.

Green Island
The closest bit of reef to Cairns has seen better days, but that makes it ideal for families who want to escape the crowds. Heaps of day trippers pop over to Green Island each day to swim with sea turtles and embark on the world’s original glass-bottom boat to check out the impressive giant clams. Book your teens to dive with Seawalker helmets—they can experience diving without the hazards (or costly lessons). From here, it is a cinch to visit the outer reef. To really soak up the perks of this magical island, book one of its 46 suites (once the day-visitors depart, this island’s calm infuses the whole clan). From Cairns, board Great Adventures catamarans at the Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal and enjoy the smooth 45-minute trip out to the island. Round-trip tickets for a family of four run $188. Stay at the resort and catamaran transfers with Great Adventures are included in your nightly rate.

Kuranda Skyrail
Given the huge distances and rugged outback terrain involved, it’s all about trains around northeast Australia and, indeed, throughout the country. For a kid-pleasing taste of life on the rails, schedule a day-trip to the rainforest village of Kuranda. The one-hour, 45-minute train ride weaves through dense jungle as it passes gushing waterfalls and treetops alive with tropical birds. The railway, connecting Cairns with Kuranda, was constructed between 1882 and 1891 and features 15 hand-carved tunnels and 37 bridges. Take the return trip by the Skyrail, a cable car that soars above the tree canopy, then hop off to trek on the nature trail, where the kids can make a game out of wildlife sightings. Between voyages in Kuranda, take the kiddos to the reptile museum to spot kangaroos, or to have a meal in one of the village cafés. Fares for the Kuranda Express Experience are AUS$95 for adults and AUS$48 for children; a variety of other tour options are available.

The Cairns Lagoon/Esplanade
While Cairns doesn’t list a beach on its downtown dossier, the city’s triangular manmade lagoon will do just fine at keeping your family entertained before you explore the surrounding coastline or reef just offshore. Young kids wade in the knee-deep sandy waters while their parents rest under palm trees and their elder siblings tackle each other in the deep end. This central meeting area by the city’s main pier and marina houses art walks, live music, and the glorious seaside Muddy’s Playground, which is part water-play area, part Robinson Crusoe playground drenched in color.

Undara Volcanic National Park
Once you’ve tired of beaches, motor to the outback to explore bat-filled lava tubes formed by erupting volcanoes nearly 200,000 years ago. Stay in a historical railway carriage (or pitch your own tent) and spend your nights singing round the campfire, watching for wildlife, and enjoying the sounds of the bush. During the daylight hours, check off a laundry list of outback creatures—from kangaroos to blind snakes—or frolic in the pool until dusk. Undara lies 170 miles southwest of Cairns, accessible via paved road by car (about a four-hour drive). Rental-car companies typically permit vehicles to delve this deep into the outback (check the paperwork!), though keep your eyes peeled for kangaroos and cattle, as well as huge tractor-trailers that share the road in some sections. A variety of packages offer self-guided tours and accommodation along with park entry.

Wildlife Habitat
No matter how old your kids are, they’ll likely not rest until they spot a kangaroo or koala. Roll the dice to chance spotting them in the wild or spend the cash to have "Breakfast with the Birds" at Port Douglas’s Wildlife Habitat. Share tropical fruit with rainbow-colored birds and butterflies, and then cap your meal off with a photo with one of those iconic Aussie marsupials. Port Douglas is an hour north of Cairns along the Captain Cook Highway, offering a good option for a day-trip or a pit-stop on your way north to Cape Tribulation and the Daintree Rainforest area.

Mission Beach
Located 55 miles south of Cairns, this stretch of sand attracts Queensland’s most laid-back beach bums. The beach is hugged by a rainforest populated with elusive cassowaries and a cute town with plentiful services when you need a break from the sun.

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