Guest Blogger: Cris, her husband “J,” and their four kids live in Europe, but have spent the last year traveling the world and have visited over 21 countries. They can be found on Instagram.
“Hey honey, we’re going to Australia for five weeks!” – J
When my husband first told me we were going to Australia for five weeks in October, I began researching the best places to visit with our four children, ages 8, 7 (twins), and 6. J had appointments in Noosa, Sydney, and Melbourne on specific dates, but the rest of the time would be dedicated family holiday time. As I started researching Noosa, I realized quickly that it would be a sin not to visit Tropical North Queensland.
During our five weeks in Australia, we spent one week exploring Tropical North Queensland. Our itinerary was as follows:
Day 1 – Fly into Cairns and hire rental car
Day 2 – Tour of Green Island National Park
Day 3 – Four hour drive, overnight in Townsville
Day 4-7 – Airlie Beach, including tour of Whitehaven Island
Day 7 – Depart via Proserpine Airport (also known as Whitesunday Coast Airport)
What We Did:
Tropical North Queensland is home to several world heritage sites, including the Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral reef in the world. Queensland itself is a land of white sandy beaches, boasting year round summer temperatures and incredible wildlife. Home to crocodiles, sharks, deadly snakes, kangaroos, cockatoos, and sweet wallabies, my biggest concern was whether I would be able to keep my four children safe! We all know children have selective hearing when it comes to “dos and don’ts” and my worries haunted me even as we landed in Cairns.
Upon landing in Cairns, I immediately fell in love with the warm breeze, tropical vegetation, and the sweet sound of song birds. After checking into our hotel in Cairns, we took a walk around town in an effort to stay awake until an acceptable time for dinner, thus helping us adjust quickly to jet lag. Beaches are off-limits in Cairns and there are crocodile warnings everywhere, but the town compensates with the most family friendly promenade we’ve ever visited. The boardwalk is elevated above the beach and a perfect place for children to run along and play. There is plenty of free entertainment and, within walking distance from the town center, we found a skate park, BBQ areas, and the Cairns public swimming pool, which is a fantastic amenity for locals and tourists alike.
During our visit, we loved stopping for snacks at Muddy’s café, a nice beach front coffee shop with great food and an incredible playground, complete with a splash area for children. J and I sat outside and enjoyed coffee, while watching our children play on the gigantic hamster wheel!
Our stay in Cairns was sadly shortened by a flight mix-up in Bali, so we only had one full day to explore. To maximize our time, we decided to take a boat tour to Green Island National Park.
Green Island National Park consists of powdery white beaches and tropical trees, thus making it the perfect castaway vacation destination. After being assured by no less than five different people that there was no danger of crocodiles, we set off to explore the deserted white sand beaches. We enjoyed a packed picnic lunch on the beach and also enjoyed a glass bottom boat excursion to the coral reef that my children absolutely loved. They went wild looking at corals, different species of fish, giant starfish, and even a turtle – all without getting wet!
Back in Cairns that evening, we did what we always do when traveling abroad: sample the local cuisine! The excitement was sky high when we ordered kangaroo and crocodile skewers – so yummy we had to order more!
Early the next morning, we headed off to our next destination, Townsville. To get there, we drove for four hours along the infamous “Bruce Highway,” which was lined with mango and avocado trees and banana plantations. Along the way, we pulled into one of the many farm stalls to sample some fresh melon. It was delicious, but also a little expensive! Our decision to spend the night in Townsville was entirely motivated by our desire to give the children a break from being stuck in the car. We spent the night at the Mercure Townsville, after receiving an offer from Emirates and Rocketmiles that would earn me 3,000 miles for a one night stay.
After our overnight in Townsville, we headed off to our next destination, Airlie Beach. I had tried to get a cabin at the BIG4 Resort, which has water slides and great reviews, but because late September is a popular holiday time for Australians, the resort was fully booked and we ended up staying at the Airlie Beach Eco Cabins nearby, which was an ideal location for my family. Because we had our own transportation, it did not matter that we were located in the middle of an Australian forest/bush as we could get anywhere we needed. The cabins were well-equipped, and included washing machines, WiFi, and small torches that we used to see wild animals at night. The only thing missing was a dishwasher, but we remedied that by purchasing paper cups and dishes when we got tired of washing dishes by hand.
Our first night at the cabin, as I was unpacking our bags, the owner knocked on our door and asked if the children wanted to see the wallabies! We all wanted to see the wallabies, so we grabbed the torches and dashed out into the gardens. It was pitch dark and we had to be silent so as not to scare the animals away. The owner instructed us to direct our lights towards the bushes, where the wallabies were hidden. The light caused the wallabies to freeze momentarily, so we were able to see them up close before they unfroze and disappeared into the woods.
The Airlie Beach Lagoon is located in the town center. The Lagoon is an immense public swimming pool surrounded by sand and patches of grass that are perfect for laying down and sunbathing. What started as a splash break for the kids quickly turned into a whole day of lounging and swimming. The Lagoon has a shallow end, a shaded children’s area, and public toilets and water fountains at every corner. Our children could not get enough of it and J and I took the opportunity to relax and read a book under a tree!
During our stay in Airlie Beach, one activity we signed up for was a guided trip to Whitehaven Beach. If you have older children in their teens, an ideal trip would be an overnight sailing trip to Whitehaven Beach. Our children were too young for an overnight stay, so we booked a day trip on a tour boat instead. The tour company collected us in the morning from the BIG4 resort and drove us to the port. Our tour boat then took us through the Whitesunday group of islands, a collection of continental islands located off the central coast of Queensland. The islands are in varying states of habitation, with Daydream Island still undergoing construction following a hurricane and Hamilton Island being a VIP island where you can stay in a villa that comes equipped with a four person golf cart that you can use to explore the island.
Our tour stopped on Whitesunday Island, the main island around which the Whitesunday group of islands are centered. There is no resort on the island, but Whitehaven Beach will make you blink twice in disbelief. The white sand stretches as far as the eye can see and words cannot describe the way the sand twists into the turquoise sea. While I was hypnotized by the magic of the beach, my children ran along the infinite stretch of white beach. We learned that because the sand is so full of silica, it makes a squeaking noise as you walk!
Our children playing on Whitehaven Beach.
Picnic lunch on Whitehaven Beach.
The tour boat provided a picnic lunch, which we enjoyed on the beach. There was a bit of friction between the children and the free-roaming iguanas, which resulted in my children choosing to have lunch on the table/bench instead of on the actual beach! We also encountered a small group of starving backpackers who had spent the night sleeping in tents on the island and our guide was kind enough to share food with them. No one is really prepared for how deserted Whitesunday Island can be with no fresh water, no coffee shops – nothing. I guess sleeping under the starry sky on this unspoiled piece of paradise requires sacrifice!
After lunch, our tour boat took us snorkeling along the Great Barrier Reef. All snorkeling gear was provided, including flotation tubes. Unfortunately, my children found the water to be too cold and were nervous about snorkeling in open sea. Luckily, the guide was prepared and took the children on a smaller boat to look for stingray. Although I also found the water to be cold, it’s not every day that you get to snorkel along the Great Barrier Reef, so I held my breath and braved the frigid waters.
Whenever I think of North Tropical Queensland, a heart will always appear next to its name. It truly was an ideal family destination. The towns we stayed in had great facilities for children (including toddlers!), and the tour companies are able to accommodate all ages. Because it is summer all year round, the beaches are simply stunning and listed as the best in the world. What makes North Tropical Queensland truly special, though, is how man and nature coexist.
- The island trips get booked up very quickly, so book in advance, especially if you are traveling during Australian school holidays.
- We purchased a mobile SIM card for one of our phones and for $50 AUD, we had 3 GB of internet and free local calls for two months. This allowed us to use our phone’s map app instead of paying for an expensive GPS rental.
- Although there are many islands to visit in North Tropical Queensland and options range from expensive villas and luxury resorts to camping, we chose to stay on the mainland and visit the islands as part of day tours. This was not only a logistical lifesaver, but it was also lighter on the budget.
- Sailing is an ideal way to explore the Whitesunday islands.
We hoped you enjoyed the beautiful white sand beaches as much as we did!
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