Families flock to the Far North Queensland town of Cairns for a well-deserved holiday. The easy access to restorative natural landscapes such as the lush Wet Tropics rainforest and the famed Great Barrier Reef (great excuses to tear teens away from screens) and the range of accommodation options means there’s something for young families, blended families and multi-generational getaways. Here’s our guide to making the most of this fabulous family-friendly destination.
Where to stay
Although it’s a coastal destination, cooling off in Cairns is a poolside pursuit – beaches here are often treated with trepidation thanks to stingers (the season is November to May) and crocodiles. Book accommodation with a pool – or pools – on site: Alamanda Palm Cove has the best of both worlds with access to the palm-sprinkled Palm Cove beach, as well as kid-friendly and adults-only pool zones. Family packages also include extras such as free yoga classes, games room access and beach toys as well as gear for babies such as baths, play mats and bouncers.
Like everything within reach? Try The Reef House Palm Cove MGallery by Sofitel right on the water’s edge in the heart of Cairns. There’s restaurants and bars on-site, two outdoor pools and, for evenings when alone time is necessary, on-site babysitting services.
The Reef Retreat Palm Cove offers self-contained apartments metres from Palm Cove beach in a range of studio and apartment configurations, perfect for guests who want to spread out. Shaded by palms and paperbark trees, the area is a tranquil retreat, with a small heated pool and spa and a barbecue area for relaxed entertaining.
Where to eat
Cairns’ eateries reflect the town’s laidback lifestyle. Luckily for families, that means there are plenty of places to take the kids for a meal without having to vet the menu beforehand. Ease into your activity-packed days at somewhere like Blackbird Espresso, where the coffee is strong and the iced doughnuts and crispy pastries turn the first meal of the day into a treat.
Need something more substantial? At Waterbar and Grill, couples and families happily coexist over juicy steaks (the restaurant’s specialty) alongside a marina-front view. There’s a helpful stack of high chairs and a kids’ menu of pub classics that include ice-cream and a drink in the meal price.
Easy lunches are just that at Jafflehead, the fool-proof crowd pleaser that has a dizzying selection of toasties, from Vegemite and cheese for picky eaters to a smoked pork belly with jalapeño mayo for the more mature palette.
What to do
The Wet Tropics Rainforest, the world’s oldest continuously surviving tropical rainforest, is the area’s obvious exploratory highlight. Little ones will love chugging along on the rickety Kuranda Scenic Railway from Cairns to Kuranda as it leaps over the deep crevasse of Barron Gorge; budding Attenboroughs can immerse themselves in the rainforest by first flying over on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and later winding among the wildlife on a guided elevated boardwalk experience on the rainforest floor.
Picked a place to stay that doesn’t have a pool? Head to the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon, where families make a regular stop during the warmer months and let the tykes tire out in the salt-water pool. It’s open all year round and is always patrolled by a lifeguard for peace of mind.
Many of the area’s treasures are also located offshore so a boat trip makes a necessary and welcome day trip. Green Island, a sparkling atoll amid the Great Barrier Reef, is 45 minutes from Cairns by high-speed catamaran and makes for a wonderful side trip; tour companies can organise half- or full-day trips to the island, inclusive of activities such as snorkelling, glass-bottom boat journeys and SNUBA – a kind of scuba and snorkel hybrid – for more adventurous children.