Séverine, a French mama living in Singapore raves about this unique way to travel around Australia. ‘Campervanning was a first for us — it is an excellent way for families to travel. It gives you flexibility, you don’t need to book hotels weeks in advance, you can even sleep in a campervan rest area along the road.’
If you have read my first article, “I took my kids out of school and travelled around the world for four months.”, you know I had the chance to go on a travel adventure with my family earlier this year. Narrowing down where to go was probably the most challenging part! We decided on Australia as one of the destinations, since we loved our one-week trip to Sydney, the Blue Mountains, the year before. If you love nature, Australia is a must-see destination with thousands of national parks and conservation reserves. The country is so big that there is a vast variety of environments – from deserts to rainforests and coral reefs to eucalypt woodlands. Every family can find what they love. Plus add in the great coffee, kid-friendly restaurants with colouring sheets and kids’ menus and easy-to-find kid-friendly accommodation and you’ll see how Australia makes for a great family destination!
Read more: New Zealand Campervan Family Adventure
Where travel in Australia with kids
Even in three weeks, you cannot see the whole of Australia. You will probably need three months! I would start with Sydney and the East Coast if you have never been. Sydney is so famous and such a great city with chill vibes. The Blue Mountains are very close so you can easily do this in one week trip. If you have one more week, you can rent a campervan and drive north up the Great Barrier Reef. As we had done Sydney once before, we decided to fly directly to Cairns to discover the Great Barrier Reef.
If you are looking for more wilderness and to experience the vastness of Australia, I recommend going to the Red Centre and driving north to Darwin like we did.
Finally, you can also explore the West Coast with a road trip from Margaret River to Perth. This is still on our To-Do list, and we will happily return to Australia to explore this.
Australia with kids: the Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef was a long-time dream for me, and unfortunately, I have to say that I was slightly disappointed. Maybe I had too many expectations for waiting to see it for so long. Like all the world’s coral reefs, the Great Barrier Reef is threatened. Coral bleaching is more frequent due to climate change exacerbating marine heatwaves, but also higher ocean acidity, loss of oxygen, pollution, and more. Even if this is the place where I saw the most colourful corals, lots of them were white (which does not mean dead; they can survive if conditions improve), and there were not as many fish as in Indonesia, for example.
But don’t be mistaken; the Great Barrier Reef is still gorgeous. I think I was most disappointed about the touristy aspect of it. As it is pretty far from the coast, you cannot go by yourself, and most boats are big and full of tourists. Boat trips are expensive, so we took only one and snorkelled for only one day at the Great Barrier Reef. We chose one boat company that cares about the environment and had respectful practices. I appreciated on the way back their explanation of the marine life we saw and the threats they are facing. It is an excellent time to educate your children about ecology. Explain to them what’s happening and how we can make a difference.
Even if it is a little bit disappointing to spend only one day at the Great Barrier Reef, there are plenty of other things to do around Cairns: snorkel in the islands closer to shore like Fitzroy Island, hike to Barron Falls, discover tropical forests at Daintree National Park, go on a cruise to find crocodiles.
The Red Centre
Before preparing for our trip, Uluru was the only thing I knew about the Red Centre. But there is much more than this, and we loved this region. Uluru is one of the most famous places in Australia and has a significant meaning for the Aboriginal people. So, you don’t want to miss it. Watch the sunset on this gigantic red rock, even surrounded by many people and in a parking lot, it is a beautiful show. But also take the time to explore it closely. You can rent bikes to circle around, stop at the different beautiful places, and learn about the Aboriginal culture.
If you love hiking, you can discover beautiful red gorges and canyons. Our favourite ones are Ormiston Gorge, Kings Canyon, and Kata Tjuṯa.
Ormiston Gorge is relatively small and easily accessible to younger children. You can even take a refreshing dip in the waterhole. To admire the red walls of the gorge and pound from above, I recommend the Ghost Gum Lookout: a steep climb up but very short, perfect for athletic children who are quickly bored.
Kings Canyon is a majestic canyon with towering sandstone cliffs and breathtaking panoramic views. The Kings Canyon Rim Walk along the rim is a longer trail of 3 to 4 hours, but it has fantastic views, and you can discover a hidden gorge. Just watch small children with the cliffs.
Kata Tjuṯa is just a few kilometers away from Uluru, but unlike Uluru, you can venture inside Kata Tjuta, a sacred site known for its 36 domed rock formations. Walk through the Valley of the Winds to appreciate this rock formation’s beauty and size.
I have been in the United States and driving on those long straight roads, but there is nothing like the Stuart highway. You can drive a full day (at campervan speed…) without seeing a town or a sign of human life! It is an experience and with a campervan it is less boring, you can stop along the way and occupy the kids more easily.
In Alice Springs and Tennant Creek, we loved learning about the first British settlers and their hard life in this isolated bush. Take the time to visit the telegraph stations and show the kids this technology, which revolutionized communication then, so far from our ultra-connected world today. This is also an excellent opportunity to learn about the mining industry, the different minerals, and the gold mining history of Australia.
Darwin parks: hiking and crocodile spotting
As we drove north, we saw the landscape change gradually, from the dry bush to the lush tropical forest around Darwin.
This area has many parks: Nitmiluk, Kakadu, Elsey, Berry Springs, Litchfield… You need at least five days to discover the main ones.
Kakadu is the biggest one, and the Aboriginal people still own it. It’s impossible to do everything in one visit. I recommend the rock art sites to discover the Aboriginal culture, the Nardab Lookout at Ubirr, and the Yellow Water Billabong Cruise for some spectacular (and safe) crocodile spotting.
Carefully choose which period you go there because, during the wet season, most of the hikes will be closed because of crocodile encounter risks! We went there at the end of May, and unfortunately, as the wet season was late this year, Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls were still closed.
Our second favourite park was Litchfield National Park, which is quiet and less touristy. There are good hikes and plenty of opportunities to swim in the waterfalls. Don’t miss the magnetic termite mounds. They are called “magnetic” as the termites possess a unique capability to optimize their home’s temperature based on the direction of the North.
The Aboriginal culture
Going to central Australia allows us to discover the Aboriginal culture. Unfortunately, the population is small today, but they try to keep their tradition alive and share them.
In Kakadu, we learnt how to weave herbs to make bracelets and how to cook and eat waterlilies! We discovered ancient Indigenous rock art. Kakadu is dual-listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List for its outstanding natural and cultural values. It was interesting for the kids to discover another way of life close to nature and different beliefs.
Watch out for Australia’s dangerous wildlife!
Australia is a family-friendly destination, but it’s important to be aware of the potential dangers wildlife poses.
Crocodiles can swim far from the marshlands, so be careful in the Great Barrier Reef and around Darwin. However, crocodiles are closely monitored, and areas will be closed for safety if one is spotted.
It’s stinger season in the Great Barrier Reef from November to May, so you must wear a full dive suit to snorkel.
On our second day in Australia, my son nearly stepped on a snake while exiting the car. Poisonous snakes and spiders can be found throughout Australia, so always be mindful of where you walk and put your hands when hiking. While accidents are rare, it’s important to be careful and take precautions. Consider bringing a venom extractor pump first aid safety kit.
The campervan experience
The kids’ favourite part of the Australia trip was living in a campervan! It was a first for us, and we appreciated it. It is an excellent way for families to travel. The campervan gives you flexibility. You don’t need to book your hotels weeks in advance. From one day to another, you can book your campervan park or even sleep in a campervan rest area along the road.
The kids can have more toys and don’t have to pack every day for a new place. You can cook to have healthy meals and avoid dragging tired kids to restaurants in the evening. You can stay close to nature, like camping but more comfortable.
However, be careful most of them are not adapted to the dirt roads you can find in Australia. We had the misadventure of discovering it while going to Kings Canyon. I didn’t check the map enough and didn’t see that there was a dirt road. Fortunately, it was in pretty good shape, and we could take it. But we drove two more hours because we had to go so slowly, and the dust came everywhere inside the campervan, so I spent my evening cleaning!
In other places, like Kakadu, you cannot even access a few places with a regular campervan. So, look carefully at the places you want to see and decide which option is best for you. If I had to do it again, I would take a 4×4 with a caravan. 4×4 with a rooftop tent is also a good option, but not with young children.
These three weeks in Australia were terrific; they are my husband’s and my kids’ favourite country in our four-month trip. I look forward to returning and discovering other parts of this beautiful country.
Read more of Séverine’s articles, the mama behind KiddoTrip app, here:
‘I took my kids out of school and travelled around the world for four months’