Haven’t locked in a school-holiday getaway for the family? With popular destinations filling up fast, here’s where to go to make the most of your newfound freedom.
The school holidays are rapidly approaching, so it’s crunch time for deciding where to take the family for a well-earned break. Demand for summer getaways is booming as we emerge from all those lockdowns and travel restrictions, making competition for bookings fierce, if not downright ferocious. But even if you’ve left it to the last minute, it’s still possible to find a great place.
Taking a road trip is one way to get away from the crowds. You can play it safe by opting for a road trip within your own state, or do your homework before crossing state borders. While New South Wales is open to all Australian residents, Queensland is being more picky, allowing South Australians and Tasmanians but not its southern neighbours. And Victorians can only cross into NSW for the time being.
Then there’s the overseas option for the adventurous. Fiji, Thailand and Singapore have all opened up to vaccinated Australian travellers, so an overseas trip is a viable option if you’re prepared to organise the paperwork. (And, in the case of Singapore, you’re happy to budget about AU$160 per family member for a mandatory COVID-19 test on arrival at Changi Airport.) Travel to New Zealand is off the table for the time being, and will almost certainly remain so until well after school starts back in 2022.
Looking for a local beach break? You’ll need to get in quickly as spaces at beachside holiday parks and towns are being snapped up. If you’ve left it too late to snag your preferred beach holiday booking, there are plenty of other options to consider.
“While we have had a huge amount of pre-bookings for the school holidays,” said Sean Jenner, CEO of the nationwide Big4 Holiday Parks group, “there’s still some capacity for people who still feel like booking last-minute.”
If you plan to travel in December, Mr Jenner said: “There’s still a good selection of bookings available in regional country areas in Victoria and South Australia.”
And if you’re looking for a place for January, he said there are still spaces at Big4 parks “in regional country Victoria, such as Yarra Valley and Ballarat; Bateman’s Bay in NSW; and North Queensland”.
He also recommends looking for a mid-week booking rather than a stay that includes a weekend, and trying Big4’s online tool for last-minute getaways – check it out at www.big4.com.au/last-minute-availability.
/ Stay on a farm
A farmstay is a great way to teach your kids where their food comes from. A working cattle and sheep farm in Victoria’s Gippsland, Barooma is a great option for the extended family: one of its shearers’ quarters buildings has a five-bedroom set-up. And it’s a short drive to the famed Ninety Mile Beach.
The luxe Hillview Farmstay, on a 400-hectare property outside of Gundagai in the NSW Riverina region, offers upmarket cottages and glamping tents and three daily feeding sessions with its cows, chickens, alpacas and sheep, among other animals. The shearers’ quarters here are now home to a games room complete with a billiards table, and there’s a swimming pool for cooling down during the hottest part of the day.
/ Meet the stars
For an awe-inspiring family holiday, head to Warrumbungle National Park, about four hours’ drive inland from Newcastle. This is Australia’s first Dark Sky Park (and the first of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere), where the absence of light pollution makes the stargazing second to none.
Here you’ll find plenty of powered and unpowered camping spots to pitch a tent and settle in for the evening entertainment as galaxies of stars emerge in the night sky. Take the gang to check out the huge telescopes at the nearby Siding Spring Observatory and get a closer look at the stars at neighbouring Warrumbungle Observatory or Milroy Observatory outside the town of Coonabarabran.
You can also go stargazing in South Australia’s River Murray International Dark Sky Reserve, which is centred around the untouched mallee shrublands of Swan Reach Conservation Park. You’ll need a 4WD to go deep into the bush, otherwise there are plenty of other designated stargazing areas and accommodation options, including houseboats and riverside camping spots, within the wider Dark Sky Reserve across the Mid-Murray region.
/ Get on your bike
For a low-impact summer holiday, pack the bikes and tackle one of the many cycling rail trails across the country. The Murray to Mountains Rail Trail weaves it way through the historic town of Wangaratta and the pretty villages of Myrtleford and Bright in north-east Victoria. The sealed trail is mostly flat, and there are plenty of sections that pass by cafes and playgrounds to break up the day.
Following an old railway line from Scottsdale, about an hour’s drive from Launceston, the North East Tasmania Rail Trail stretches some 26 kilometres through lush forest and farmland to the town of Tulendeena. The trail is flat enough to make it enjoyable for the whole family – older kids should be able to tackle the whole return trip in a longish day.
/ Visit the Walls of China
If you really want to get away from it all, there’s no better place than Mungo National Park in south-western NSW. This stretch of the outback is home to vast expanses of fossilised lakebeds, moon-like landscapes and dramatic mini mountain ranges dubbed the “Walls of China”.
It has also been a site of Aboriginal significance for at least 42,000 years – at the Mungo Visitor Centre you can learn the story of Mungo Man and Mungo Lady, the remains of two ancient Indigenous residents of the area that are said to be the oldest examples of ritual burials anywhere on Earth.
You can camp or stay in the heritage shearers’ quarters within the national park, or take an overnight journey in a Mungo Guided Tours 4WD coach from Buronga or Mildura.