Australians have an easy-going attitude to children and in most places they are welcome – small luxury hotels may stipulate no under-12s and tots are discouraged in upmarket restaurants. With beautiful beaches, parks and playgrounds, and all sorts of wildlife to discover, travelling Australia with kids can be great fun.
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The national online hub Web Child (webchild.com.au) has a calendar of child-friendly events in all states plus links to online listings for Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Adelaide and Perth. In the cities and larger towns, general facilities are good – changing tables are found in most restaurants and public toilets, and staff in cafés may warm a bottle if they have time. Breastfeeding in public has been a legal right in Australia since 1984 – something to remember if you receive comments in small country towns – and individual states have implemented laws to protect you from harassment.
The catch with touring Australia with children is its size – fail to appreciate the distances involved in road travel and the jolly family hols can be a disaster of 14-hour drives. Domestic airlines may be the best bet for interstate travel. Some airlines offer discounts for children between 2 and 11 years. However, you may find that a discounted adult ticket is even cheaper. Infants usually travel free.
Long-distance bus travel with kids verges on the masochistic; most interstate buses offer discounts for under-14s. Long-distance train travel, though limited, has the advantage of sleepers and a bit more freedom of movement. Discounts are generally available up to 11 or 12 years old and children under 4 generally go free. Most train companies offer family fares, too, allowing discounted or free travel for children who travel with at least one adult. Otherwise, there’s always the option of self-drive. Car rental is reasonably priced, and motorhomes and campervans are also available for rental.
Within cities, metropolitan buses and trains give discounts of around fifty percent for children and many allow children under 4 or 5 to travel free.
While resorts and motels often provide child discounts and may offer a baby-sitting service or organized activities, most families on extended trips find self-catering provides the most flexibility. Similarly hostels are not exclusively for backpackers and most have affordable family rooms – some en-suite. A few modern hostels are positively luxurious, and most are in good locations. All have communal kitchens, lounge areas and television, and there are usually plenty of books and games.
Aside from camping, the most economical way to see the country is the thousands of caravan parks. Most have on-site vans or self-contained cabins at reasonable family rates. Check with visitor centres for details.
Since they take a relaxed attitude to dining, Aussies welcome children in most cafés, restaurants and pubs, with some providing a decent children’s menu. Smart upmarket restaurants are the exception, but really, why would you want to?
The ubiquity of British and Italian favourites such as fish and chips or pasta, plus the fast, casual service typical of ethnic Chinese and Thai restaurants make for kid-friendly dining. Children are allowed in the dining section of most pubs (they are banned from the gaming and bar sections, however), and typical counter-meal menus and eating hours of 5 to 8pm will suit. The airy modern-bistro style of pubs in large towns is child-friendly too. Elsewhere, it’s a judgement call – Aussie pubs can be fairly rowdy even though you’ll be in a separate dining room, and some maintain an over-18s-only policy. Most country towns also have an RSL club (Returned Servicemen’s League), a bastion of older, usually male, diners but a cheap way to feed the family on pub grub.
Airlines will allow you to carry a pram, push chair or travel cot for free. For car seats, Australian law requires that all children below six months are in a rear-facing safety seat; from six months to four years are in a rear- or forward-facing child seat; and those from four to seven are in a forward-facing seat or on a booster seat. Exemptions are in taxis. Car and van rental companies provide child safety seats at a cost. Keep in mind that your own seat may not fit standard attachments in Australian cars.
The Australian sun is ferocious, so sensible skincare is essential for outdoor activities. A “no hat, no play” policy operates in school playgrounds and most kids wear legionnaire-style caps, or broad-brimmed sun hats. Most kids wear UV-resistant Lycra swim tops or wetsuit-style all-in-ones to the beach.