Of all Australia’s incredible wilderness destinations, the ones that really thrill kids and make parents want to pack their bags offer the kinds of adventurous activities that you’d never find at home and enough of them to fill the day.
With the power to expose kids to exceptional and diverse natural environments where unique wildlife encounters are possible, these Aussie wild spots are also affordable, accessible and ultra family-friendly.
1. Northern Territory: Bitter Springs
It’s the best snorkelling adventure you can have away from the reef: a drift dive through a translucent tropical hot springs spotting freshwater turtles and fish as you coast along in a warm, bubbling current.
The clarity of Bitter Springs’ mineral-rich water is unbelievable and easy access makes this a great adventure for everyone, especially kids.
Simply don a snorkel, slide into the creek at one end and float downstream to exit via stairs at the other, completing as many glorious laps as you like.
On a frosty winter’s morning this spot is sheer heaven and you’ll enjoy blissful solitude at daybreak.
Traditionally known as Koran, Bitter Springs is protected within Elsey National Park and is open year-round.
There are no entry fees and an adjacent picnic area provides tables, toilets and a walking trail that loops alongside the river.
Don’t miss a trip to nearby Mataranka Hot Springs where water flowing from Rainbow Springs gathers in simmering emerald pools, shaded beneath the world’s largest stand of livistona rigida fan palms that quite literally support a colony of little red flying foxes that can number up to 250,000.
Signposted off the Stuart Highway 2km north of Mataranka and 420km south of Darwin.
Stay: Mataranka Cabins and Camping, a 500m walk from the springs.
Pack: snorkel, mask & fins.
Don’t miss: Territory Day (July 1st) for the chance to buy fireworks (private sales are banned elsewhere in Australia). Contact: www.parksandwildlife.nt.gov.au.
2. Western Australia: Ningaloo Reef
While Ningaloo’s reef sharks snooze on the sand and green turtles glide on by, a mesmerising procession of parrotfish and wrasse gnaw on vibrant corals alive with nudibranchs and anemone fish protecting their soft, sticky homes.
The mass spawning of corals along Ningaloo Reef every March and April lure whale sharks – the world’s largest fish – along with manta rays and migrating humpbacks that linger until November when its time for nesting green, loggerhead and hawksbill turtles to return to their birth places in the dunes.
while away from the sea, great short hikes lead deep into Cape Range’s rugged limestone canyons where you can spot rare black-footed rock wallabies and nesting sea eagles.
Located roughly halfway between Perth and Broome, Cape Range National Park is accessible via the tiny town of Exmouth, where you can stock up on essentials, including drinking water, for extended stays at the national park’s low-cost beachfront camps.
Where: Head 36km west of Exmouth. Entry costs $12 per vehicle.
Visit: April to June to swim with whale sharks and during summer to encounter nesting turtles.
Stay: Camp by the beach ($10/adult, $2.20/child) or under a solid ceiling in nearby Exmouth.
Pack: snorkelling gear, fishing rods, surfboards, hiking boots.
Don’t miss: a boat cruise through Yardie Creek Gorge.
3. Queensland: Boodjamulla National Park
In Queensland’s remote northwest, Lawn Hill Creek blazes an emerald, palm-fringed path across a parched landscape of sandstone ranges and spinifex plains.
Delicate tufa dams segregate the creek into staggered, deep gorges, equally impressive at sunset from the bow of a canoe or atop a towering rock lookout.
To the indigenous Waanyi people, this is Boodjamulla or Rainbow Serpent country, a former wet-season hunting ground, cattle property and today, a vast sanctuary protected as Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park.
straight off-the-bank swimming, and a 6km-long canoe adventure beneath soaring walls of sheer red rock, following a vivid maze of fan palms and waterlilies to reach limestone waterfalls and deep, barramundi-filled swimming holes.
Of the walk trails, choose Wild Dog Dreaming to discover Indigenous rock art, petroglyphs, artefacts and middens, a shady swimming spot at the Cascades and a lookout above riverbanks where freshwater crocodiles bask in the sun (4.5km/1.5hrs return).
Where: 340km (4-5hrs drive) northwest of Mt Isa via a mostly unsealed track.
Stay: Camp at Boodjamulla National Park ($5.95pp, $23.80/family, free for kids under 5yrs) or in air-con rooms at nearby Adels Grove (meals available).
Pack: a canoe or kayak (or hire one on site).
Don’t miss: Riversleigh World Heritage Area for ancient fossils of Aussie mega fauna.
4. Western Australia: Walpole Wilderness Area
Deep within these 363,000 hectares of old growth jarrah, karri and giant tingle forests, calm coastal inlets, granite monadnocks and wild rivers, lies WA’s first, official tract of true wilderness, an area so remote it remains completely untouched by human intervention.
Diverse, vast and beautiful, the Walpole Wilderness Area (WWA) encompasses seven national parks and reserves and is best experienced by visits to three unique, interactive forest sites that kids will love.
A short walk at Swarbrick leads beneath inspiring art suspended from some of the tallest and oldest trees in Australia and past the 39-metre Wilderness Wall of Perceptions which celebrates and commemorates the hard-fought forest campaigns that finally halted logging back in 2004.
Exploring west, you can walk right through the fire-hollowed base of the Giant Tingle Tree, at 24 metres the largest-girthed eucalypt still living in the world, and climb into the treetops at the Valley of the Giants where steel pylons 40 metres above the forest floor support the world’s longest canopy walkway.
Want more adventure? Climb to the windy summit of Mt Lindesay’s ancient granite monadnock (10km/2.5hr return) or launch a boat, go fishing or paddle with the pelicans on Walpole’s calm, clear, metre-deep tidal inlets, the most biologically diverse in WA’s south.
Where: WWA lies 450km southeast of Perth.
Visit: in spring for wildflowers.
Pack: Hiking boots, a kayak, fishing gear.
Don’t miss: Denmark’s Festival of Voice.
5. Northern Territory: Kakadu
You can’t help but be impressed by Australia’s largest national park and all the ways to explore it. Climb sandstone escarpments, swim beneath forest-fringed waterfalls and boat on billabongs where blooming lotus flowers camouflage the crocodiles lurking below.
As a refuge for a quarter of Australia’s freshwater fish species, over 1000 plant species and more than a third of the country’s bird species, Kakadu is wildlife central, and the chance to spot crocodiles thrills kids of all ages, whether from a boat at dawn on Yellow Water Billabong or from the banks of East Alligator River where enormous salties sun themselves.
Kid-thrilling adventures include bush tucker hunting and tasting tours, 4WD jaunts to Jim Jim and Twin Falls, and the safe-for-swimming plunge pools at Barramundi Falls and Gunlom.
Kakadu also contains the highest concentration of Indigenous rock art in the world, which you’ll find surprisingly within reach on free guided walking tours of Ubirr and Nourlangie Rock.
There’s resort accommodation and a huge choice of campgrounds within the national park, some providing hot showers, free nightly talks and slide shows, and free daytime cultural classes that teach traditional ochre painting, damper-making, weaving and more.
Where: 250km south of Darwin via the Arnhem Highway ($25pp entry fee).
Visit: May-September. Stay: Gagudju Lodge at Cooinda has family rooms (cots available).
Pack: hiking boots, camera, binoculars, swimming gear.
Don’t miss: Jabiru’s Mahbilil Festival in September.
6. Western Australia: Tunnel Creek & Windjana Gorge
On the Kimberley’s southern fringe, few can resist the thrilling wet-walk through a 750 metre-long section of WA’s oldest cave system, navigating by torchlight beneath stalactites and curtains of flowstones that drip into knee-deep rock pools.
Arm kids with torches to tackle this chilly wade through Tunnel Creek where cherubin (freshwater crayfish) tickle your toes and little red flying-foxes cling restlessly overhead.
In a high rock cave at the creek’s entrance, eagle eyes will spot Indigenous paintings that mark the hideout of freedom fighter Jandamarra, who in 1884 waged a guerrilla war against police and pastoralists occupying traditional lands that started with two deaths in nearby Windjana Gorge.
Rising 100 metres above the Lennard River, its walls etched with prehistoric fossils, Windjana Gorge guards a string of seasonal waterholes where jabirus stalk fish in the shade of rock figs and weeping paperbarks.
But it’s the docile freshwater crocodiles that languish in its sunny banks that draw onlookers keen to get close to the Top End’s less aggressive croc species.
Where: Visit Tunnel Creek en route to Windjana Gorge, 150km from Fitzroy Crossing.
Stay: Camp at Windjana Gorge (hot showers, $12/adult, $2.20 kids) or at Fitzroy River Lodge.
Pack: Hiking sandals, torch, camera.
Don’t miss: Croc spotting on the Fitzroy River.
7. Victoria: Portland
With bat caves and blowholes, rare wildlife colonies, surf beaches and freshwater lakes perfect for paddling and waterskiing, Victoria’s birthplace rates as one of the more surprising summertime hubs for outdoors adventures.
Cape Bridgewater’s colony of Australian fur seals lures the biggest crowds, enticing walkers along the edge of Victoria’s highest sea cliff to watch a 650-strong colony feeding and lazing on the rock ledges below (90 mins return).
A few kilometres away at Cape Duquesne, turbulent seas exploding against volcanic cliffs fill dramatic blowholes, and over winter months, whales pass by on their annual migration.
Walk the clifftop to discover Aboriginal shell middens, rock pools fed by freshwater springs and the misnamed “Petrified Forest” where crumbling stone columns resembling fossilised tree trunks stand sentry along the cliffs.
Campers and birdlife congregate around freshwater lakes in Discovery Bay Coastal Park to the west (from $25.20/family/night), where you can teach the kids to fish for trout and navigate vast dunes that separate inland lakes from the sea.
Where: Portland is 194km east of the SA/Vic border.
Stay: Cape Nelson Lighthouse (from $200/night).
Pack: beach toys, fishing rods, binoculars.
Don’t miss: Koala spotting in Cobboboonee National Park.
8. South Australia: Eyre Peninsula
The wild seas that wrap around the windswept tip of the Eyre Peninsula break onto a vastly contrasting coastline of monstrous sand hills, ravaged limestone cliffs and arcing, white-sand beaches.
National parks on opposite sides of the peninsula provide incredible wilderness escapes: Coffin Bay to the west, and Lincoln National Park overlooking a bay three times the size of Sydney Harbour.
Here you can rent a family-friendly cabin on a barely-rippling bay or load up the 4WD and navigate sandy tracks to unleash the kids on remote beaches in the secluded Memory Cove Wilderness.
To the west, nestled snugly inland and sheltering an extensive system of calm water channels and tranquil inlets, lies charming Coffin Bay, famed for its oysters and salty waterfront shacks.
This idyllic coastal retreat moves to a slow rhythm and that there’s not much of a scene only adds to its appeal for water babies.
On the outskirts of town in Coffin Bay National Park you can teeter above overhanging sea cliffs, launch a kayak on protected Yangie Bay, and spot western grey kangaroos and emus on the three-hour 4WD journey to Point Sir Isaac.
Where: Port Lincoln lies 400km southwest of Adelaide. National park entry costs $11/vehicle.
Visit: Spring and autumn.
Stay: Donnington Cottage in Lincoln National Park ($96/night, sleeps 6) or camp for $11/family/night.
Pack: kayaks, fishing rods, hiking boots.
Don’t miss: farm-fresh Coffin Bay duck eggs.
9. Tasmania: Freycinet National Park
Of all Tasmania’s alluring seascapes, none magnetises visitors like Freycinet’s famous Wineglass Bay.
Dominated by rugged pink granite peaks and arced by a ribbon of impossibly white quartz sand, this perfectly curled cove of shimmering blue lures an incongruous crowd who must earn good views of the bay by hitting the trail.
You’ll meet all sorts on the 2.4km uphill climb to Wineglass Bay Lookout: sneaker-clad families with tots in tow, hardy bushwalkers hauling heavy packs to overnight on the peninsula, and international tourists keen to take home a snap of one of the world’s most photogenic bays.
After the hard work’s been done, there are plenty of drive-to spots to enjoy.
Go snorkelling at Sleepy Bay, birdwatch at Moulting Lagoon and cruise the stroller-friendly circuit (600m) around the Cape Tourville lighthouse to watch for Southern right whales.
Picnic and swim with small children at Honeymoon Bay rock pools, or tackle the adventurous, three-hour climb up Mount Amos with your teens.
You’ll meet Aussie wildlife in abundance at Freycinet: Bennetts wallabies and pademelons, echidnas and wombats at night, and with a bit of luck, the kids will fall asleep to a chorus of frog-song.
Where: Freycinet National Park is 194km from Hobart on Tassie’s East Coast.
Stay: Camp at the Friendly Beaches (free), Richardsons Beach (from $16/family).
Pack: hiking boots, a camera.
Don’t miss: Free guided walks, talks and slide shows in the national park over summer.
10. New South Wale: Northern Kosciuszko National Park
In the northern section of the state’s famous national park, springtime snowmelt reveals a renewed playground where hikers, horse riders and mountain bikers replace snow bunnies and wild Australian brumbies return to the high country.
Follow the Snowy Mountain Highway south of Tumut to Blowering Dam for great trout fishing, water skiing and free camping, before climbing to Yarrangobilly Village and Cotterill’s Cottage, the oldest in Kosciuszko National Park.
There’s affordable underground action at nearby Yarrangobilly Caves where a self-guided tour of South Glory cave and a plunge in the thermal pool costs $45 per family.
On the vast Treeless Plains, campers and brumbies congregate around historic cattlemen’s huts and navigate tracks via 4WD, mountain bike or on horseback to reach the Blue Waterholes and tackle walking tracks on to Clarke Gorge (2.5km return) or Nicole Gorge (6.3km return).
Where: Snowy Mt Highway links Tumut to Kiandra.
Stay: Free camp at Yarrangobilly Village of book the Daffodil or Pine Cottages at historic Currango Homestead.
Pack: mountain bikes, horses, hiking boots & fishing rods.
Don’t miss: a swim at Blue Waterholes.
Contact: Visit www.environment.nsw.gov.au/nationalparks.