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A catamaran tour out tot he great barrier reef in queensland, australia


Queensland is the ultimate tropical outdoor getaway. A potentially long plane ride is well worth the time to come to this stunning part of Australia. Cascading waves break gently over miles of rainbow-colored coral, surrounded by crazy clear blue and turquoise water. Along the shore are endless sandy beaches, bordered by a lush rain-forest filled with countless creatures big and small. Taking the kids to paradise like this will never be forgotten. Many locals dub this destination to be the “Disney World” of Australia, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth, besides maybe its popularity!


Know Before You Go

While most rumors about Australian animals are simply old wives’ tales, there is a still a very real and very wild risk. On the way into our Thala Beach Resort lodge, I almost stumbled straight into a juvenile python laying out on the steps. Kangaroos are cuddly looking, but males in the wild can be big and aggressive. There’s bugs and birds as well that aren’t always friendly. But with that said, we had very little problems with any animals, kept a safe distance and stayed alert. This can be a wonderful opportunity for kids to learn about respecting creatures outside of pets or the zoo.

When it comes to marine life, it is essential the little ones know what’s to come. Especially during jellyfish season when tiny stingers can lead to serious injuries if not wearing a ‘stinger suit’. Or, you can simply visit outside the jellyfish season from November to May. Besides that, animals living of the reef, big and small, are to be enjoyed from afar and are not pets. The coral is also a living animal and should not be stepped on – so make sure the kiddos are strong swimmers or are wearing floaties when they need a break.

Also, know that Cairns often refers to the city itself inside Queensland. But the whole area outside downtown is where most of the active pursuits are found, including the smaller beach town of Port Douglas, Palm Cove and all the way north to Cooktown and beyond.


Into the Rainforest

The Daintree Rainforest covers much of Queensland’s coastline along Australia’s northeastern corner. This is one of the few places in the world boasting both tropical reefs and forest in one place. While you can stay in the nature reserves, there’s plenty of walking trails and hideaways to check out on your own. Waterfalls are somewhat common in the rainforest and can make for an easy (but humid!) climb for the family. Take a break near Port Douglas at the Mossman River Outlet, where there are gorgeous full of swimmable watering holes. Watch the current if the kids are small, or simply cool off tired tootsies for a while on the little beach. If you’re traveling during jellyfish season this can be a nice alternative to ocean swims as its much cooler and there are far less creatures.


Kangaroo at the Cairns Tropical Zoo


Keep your eyes peeled for animals in the forest, but if you’d like to see them up close, take the afternoon to see the Cairns Tropical Zoo. One ticket gives you access for three days, so you all can take an hour or two here and there for kids with short attention spans. While not as flashy as other zoos in larger cities, this one dedicates itself to conservation. Kids will have the chance to see live reptile shows, pregnant koalas and bounding caraway birds as big as ostriches. The highlight was the kangaroo sanctuary, where you can purchase a handful of pellets for a dollar and actually pet/feed the ‘roos.

Practically across the street is a wonderful option for accommodation – the Pullman Palm Cove Resort and Spa. Some rooms are massive (yet still affordable) and are set up suite style, including full kitchens. There’s a private entrance to a secluded rooftop terrace as well, complete with hot tub and barbecue.


Exploring the Great Barrier Reef

Arguably, Cairns and it’s surrounding areas are home to the best spots for diving, snorkeling and glass-bottom boat rides along the Great Barrier Reef. It can provide a beautiful haven for families who love the ocean and hope to see some colorful marine life up close and personal. People will snorkel and swim right off the beaches, but a boat tour is recommended to see some of the best parts of the reefs, fish and marine mammals. For instance, the Quicksilver tours take you to the bustling Outer Reef and provide lessons, equipment rentals and even a borrowed GoPro camera if you left yours at home (like we did!). Some of the creatures spotted included sea turtles, barracudas, and of course, nemo. Depending on your budget and the tour, some will have included lunches, drinks, and even overnights. Families are welcome to stay aboard the Reef Encounters ships to spend even more time out on this natural wonder.

Some families will opt to immerse themselves further into the experience and will explore and stay on neighboring islands. Fitzroy Island is wonderful for people young and old, offering oodles of activities and prime access to the reef by way of ferry boats and the beaches.


Little Hidden Culinary Treasures

After some crazy days out in nature, it can be relaxing to have a little downtime back in town. Port Douglas is a little slower paces, just outside of Cairns and a perfect base for reaching all the best attractions. After our catamaran boat tour, we stumbled into the Tin Shed restaurant and loved the pub-style food. While you have a snack, your family can watch the sun set over Port Douglas harbor at this outdoor sanctuary.


Shark at the Great Barrier Reef


Seafood is all the rage along the coastal towns obviously, but for a change the crew can try Tortilla’s Cucina Mexicana for fairly authentic Tex-Mex, even though Mexico is 11,000 miles away. Like most restaurants, this is an open air establishment and is also conveniently located next to a popular ice cream parlor in Port Douglas too. Have the kids try some funky Aussie flavors, like honeycomb.

A short drive away, Palm Cove has some more upscale options along the beach, such as the eclectic Rising Sun and Vivo Bar and Grill for Italian delights. Cairns itself is full of any cuisine imaginable, from Australian fare at Pie Face and Mama Coco’s for laid back café grub.

Have you ever considered Australia for an unforgettable family trip? If you need help planning or want to know more, ask away!


Eileen Cotter Wright

Author Eileen Cotter Wright

Eileen Cotter is a freelance travel journalist and owner of Pure Wander. She's our resident expat extraordinaire and falls down a lot in yoga class. Follow her on Instagram @Pure_Wander.

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