Magical Australia Child-Friendly Adventure Down Under

My 11-year old daughter Savannah shares my shoe size and she stands nearly as tall. But what scares me most is that she hates fishing. And every time we drive past trees I helped save, she rolls her eyes, “Mom, you’ve told me a hundred times.” I was raised by a hippie dad who instilled a love of the great outdoors, but my daughter proudly declares she hates mud, swamps, and forests.

Savannah meets a koala in Tasmania.

With a couple of clicks of the mouse, I bought tickets to the land Down Under. I’d spent five months studying rainforest ecology in Queensland—it was time to see what Australia could do for my kids. They wanted to meet the Croc Hunter. See kangaroos, koalas and tropical fish. Then Savannah asked, breaking the spell, “Can we bring the Game Cube?”

Planning Well

Our first stop was the Whitsunday Islands, forested jewels at the Great Barrier Reef’s southern reach. We took a Fantasea cruise to the outer reef. Their first-class staff caters to families—offering free caps, face painting and a humorous snorkeling demo. Donning fins, mask and snorkels, the kids jumped in, watching creatures dart past them with wide-eyed wonder. We spotted the cast of Finding Nemo—clownfish, blue surgeonfish, green turtle—plus a groper large enough to swallow my son, Sam.

On Daydream, the nearest island, we were greeted with shell necklaces and smiles. The kids loved the soft corals, sharks, rays and fish in the massive open water aquarium surrounding the resort. We hiked the rainforest trail, arriving at Lover’s Cove to the kids” first glimpse of wild wallabies. “I thought a “wallaby” was a wombat! I was expecting a wombat!” Savannah laughed.

We discovered that Tasmanian devils really exist, but a contagious cancer has devastated their population, which is restricted to Tasmania, an island state off the southeast coast. We learned about research to save the species at Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park, cuddled koalas, petted wombats and watched joeys peering out of pouches at Something Wild Wildlife Sanctuary.

On a misty morn, we strolled through prehistoric forests at Tasmania’s Mount Field National Park with tree ferns, moss-covered logs, and gigantic eucalyptus—the world’s second-tallest trees. While Savannah ogled the oblivious wallabies, Sam shouted “platypus!” when he spotted one in the creek.

Island Adventure

Next, we jetted back to Queensland’s Fraser Island, a World Her-itage Site and the world’s largest sand island. A Kingfisher Bay Resort ranger led our 4WD ecotour of the island’s pristine freshwater lakes and rainforest. Sam held back, but Savannah jumped into the icy water with abandon. Kingfisher Bay’s owners built the minimal-impact ecoresort in 1992, with award-winning architecture, alternative energy, xeriscaping, and the Seabelle restaurant specializing in “bush tucker” (dishes made with native herbs, flowers, fruits, animals and insects).

We spent a perfect last day at Tangalooma (“gathering of the fish”) Resort on Moreton Island, tobogganing down enormous sand dunes followed by an ecocruise on water so clear we saw every turtle, fish, and stingray. Dolphins danced in the boat’s wake, and we lucked upon 200 dugong—close cousins of American manatees. We killed the motor and floated through with absolute awe.

On the flight home, I wondered whether our Australian adventure had raised Savannah’s appreciation of nature. She had acted the trooper on a windy day kayaking trip. “My arms got so tired, but I kept on trying my hardest,” she wrote in her journal. Back home, a tragedy solidified her newfound passion—Steve Irwin’s death two weeks after we’d explored his beloved Australia Zoo and wildlife hospital. We watched Croc Hunter shows in his memory, while I continued to hope I would raise my kids to become the wildlife warriors he urged us all to be.