Depending on the age and endurance of your little travellers, road trips further from home to destinations a bit more remote and a lot wilder than might soothe a parent, can turn out to be the very best adventures with kids.
So, how do you choose the right destination for your next family adventure? Here are five tips to get you headed on the right track.
Water, water, everywhere
Beautiful beaches, blue lakes and crystal-clear waterholes; Aussies are drawn to the water’s edge over summer’s hot, holiday season. To cool down, unwind and wear out high-energy kids, nothing beats water play. Water also provides a level playing field for kids of all ages, making this my number one priority when choosing my next holiday hotspot.
It might be a beginner surf break, somewhere to SUP or kayak, a fringing reef or freshwater creek to snorkel, or some lovely crocodile-free waterhole or tropical hot spring. Whatever it is, kids will always find some way to enjoy themselves in water and the best part is that all you need to pack are swimmers, goggles and something to float on.
Even if space on board is limited, most families manage to squeeze in a box of snorkelling gear, an inflatable kayak or strap down boogie or surfboards. If you are headed to just one destination for your entire break, loading up your roof rack only needs to be done twice and the bonus for water-loving parents is that you’ll have the chance to do what you love, too.
The downside over the busy summer holiday season is that high profile destinations with waterfront views are highly sought-after. National parks such as Victoria’s Wilsons Promontory and Tassie’s Freycinet National Park hold annual ballots up to six months before Christmas and coastal holiday parks often fill up quickly as well.
If you haven’t booked ahead, don’t despair! Investigate smaller seaside towns located away from popular hotspots, or head inland and away from the crowded coast to the banks of a beautiful river, dam or gorge. Self-sufficient, offroad-ready rigs can go places others can’t and the reward is often uncrowded camps, far off the radar.
Know your comfort limits
For many families, the ease of plugging into power and sending the kids for hot showers every night is the very essence of what makes a summer camping holiday work. Having access to takeaway food and ice-creams, a laundry and a variety of tourist attractions can lighten the load for parents and keep kids entertained and happy too. It’s important to know if these are the kinds of conveniences that will keep your holiday ticking or whether you can handle a slice of the simple life.
It’s everyone’s holiday and you don’t score extra points for doing it tough so consider just how far off the grid everyone in the family is happy to go. Can you (or the kids) do without WiFi, daily showers, icy drinks and enough power for some movie action once the sun goes down?
If the answer is yes, and if getting really remote is your idea of bliss, ensure your power supply and water storage are up to the job. If necessary, especially for lengthy stays off the grid, pack folding mobile solar panels that you can shift around to follow the sun, allowing you to park your rig in the shade or drive off to explore.
Summer holidays with kids can be draining on batteries with the fridge being constantly opened for cold drinks and the endless recharging of all kinds of devices. Before you hit the road, make a generous estimation of your power usage and beef up your batteries just in case. If venturing off the grid, add more water jerries and plan where you can top them up, and carry a generator (and fuel) as a power backup.
Find out in advance if there is likely to be a fire ban in place and if shade is unlikely, pack an extra tarp to rig up to the caravan.
I often joke with my sister that her Big Lap of Australia ended at the border because she spent more time in playgrounds than she did behind the wheel and they simply ran out of time. Every parent of young kids knows the feeling and I’ll admit to detouring down back alleys if I know a playground is looming (especially if I’ve already pushed a swing a couple of times that day!) Some kids travel well, but for others, 10 minutes is too much.
My daughter spent much of the first six months of her life in her car seat, tackling her first Big Lap, so I know what goes down in a car with babies! There are just so many stops for feeds, nappy changes, playtime, airtime and coffees (for mind-addled parents) that tackling big driving distances can be a time-consuming challenge.
As kids age they can usually tolerate more car time and you can actually get out there, but the payoff is having to listen to really bad kids' music and for me, playing endless rounds of my daughter’s favourite guessing game, “what’s in my pocket?”.
Your teens might be more than happy to don headphones and plug into whatever ‘i-thing’ you’ve been coerced to supply them with, allowing you to tackle more highway time. The bottom line is this: whatever kind of child you’ve got strapped into the back seat, plan a trip that they can handle and enjoy, and you just might avoid the question we all dread to hear … ‘are we there yet?’
Kids, dogs, sizzling barbecues, bikes and boats, noise and chaos; summer is a crazy time to go camping but we do it in droves. Because top camping destinations are popular for a reason, the more perfect it is, the more campers you’ll share it with over the busy summer school holidays.
For most people that’s not a problem. The excess of kids around means lots of friends for yours, an easy beach cricket game at any time of the day, and great opportunities to meet new parents over sundowners.
But if it’s solitude you are seeking, you will find quieter camps if you go against the flow or travel farther afield to wilderness destinations offering fewer facilities than most families expect. Camps that place restrictions on camping (no pets or campfires) and provide only basic facilities (no power or showers) deter many holidaymakers — but you’ll need to be self-sufficient.
If yours are adventurous kids, consider a bushwalking trip away from camp for a few days, or paddle your kayaks or take the tinny offshore to a national park island for a slice of the simple life.
The very best campsites should provide (almost) all of the entertainment you need on a summer holiday so consider what your kids love to do and decide on a destination that will provide their perfect outdoor playground. There’s nothing sadder than seeing a kid sidelined because they lack the gear to explore and play, so try to find room for at least some of your kids’ favourite outdoor toys.
That might mean strapping down surfboards or motorbikes, stowing fins and fishing gear, masks and snorkels, buckets and spades, cricket sets and soccer balls or a volleyball net. Whatever it is that your kids love to do, keeping them busy and happy will be worth the squash and squeeze in the back of the car.
If bicycles are convenient to carry and can be used for the daily ice-cream run or mountain bike adventures, consider adding a rack to take them too. If you plan to take your 4WD down sandy trails in search of top surf breaks or fishing spots, don’t forget your air compressor and recovery gear.
It might take some careful packing but the upside of hauling all your own gear is that you’ll save a fortune on rentals and you won’t need to fork out for lots of activity-based tours either. With favourite toys on board you can indulge your passions for free and spend long summer days having fun with your kids, teaching them whatever tricks are still up your sleeve.
Take a tag-along tour in search of garnets and zircons at Gemtree in the Red Centre. There’s excellent camping and nightly stock dinners too .(08) 8956 9855, www.gemtree.com.au
Learning to surf?
Head for protected and patrolled Bridgewater Bay at Portland, Victoria; Smiths Beach at Yallingup, WA; Byron Bay, NSW; or Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
Live to fish?
Head for Kakadu to chase barramundi on the east and west Alligator Rivers drain www.parksaustralia.gov.au/kakadu. Try for trout on NSW’s Snowy River and stay at the excellent Pinch (Moyangul) River Camp.
Climb into the treetops on a canopy trail: Mamu Tropical Skywalk (Wooroonooran National Park, FNQ), Otway National Park, WA’s Walpole Wilderness Area (Valley of the Giants), or Tassie’s Tahune Airwalk.