September school holidays 2015: Last-minute ideas

Just as you've paid for all the extra-curriculum activities for the school term, you discover that it's over! What?

Forget sleep-ins and boring trips to the local playground, how about wowing those offspring of yours with some options that they won't believe you thought up?

Admittedly we found them for you, but keep that to yourself. All you need to tell them is to pack their own bags (if you're flying you might want to do a security check beforehand) and get ready for excitement.

NSW

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Sydney's Olympic Park offers more than 70 school holiday activities as part of Kids in the Park, including plenty of new and free ones. Options include a junior BMX comp, a chance to meet birds at the Armory, dance competitions, writing and a sand art comp.

sydneyolympicpark.com.au

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Free breakfast is a super-enticing offer when you're travelling with kids; they can eat as much as they want and then burn if off during the day (yeah, yeah, they'll still need lunch and dinner, but it offers some respite). At Q Station Manly those under 16 can power up and then burn it off discovering 30 hectares of Sydney Harbour National Park. The accommodation is mostly heritage, and there are some activities that are a little "enter at your own risk" with the kids, like the ghost tours. Maybe stick to the after-dark nature tours.

See qstation.com.au/Rates: from $189 per night

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Five-star luxury for families. Yay, InterContinental, you've raised the bar. Sydney's newest luxury hotel, InterContinental Sydney Double Bay, has just launched its first family package. In the offering: free breakfast for those five and under at Stockroom restaurant, and children's menus designed by children's food expert Annabel Karmel. (What? No chicken nuggets and chips?) There's also access to family-sized cabanas by the pool on the roof, though unless your kids are cold-proof, the pool might have to wait until summer.

Ihg.com/ Rates: from $350 per night

YHA hostels are often a great choice for family holidays. The Hunter Valley YHA Family Wildlife Experience offers the perfect quick getaway of two nights' accommodation in a four-bed family en suite room and entry to Hunter Valley Zoo.

See yha.com.au/ Rates: from $299 for two nights  

If Pirates of the Caribbean (or, perhaps, Captain Feathersword) is on high rotation at your place, then get your little hearties to Big4 South West Rocks, between Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour. The $1 million Shipwreck Island Water Park (complete with a genuine old fishing trawler) will host five-day, Monday to Friday "Legend of Shipwreck Island" performances between September 21 and 28. 

See big4southwestrocks.com.au/ Rates: Cabins start at $270 per night, or grab a powered campsite from $81.

VICTORIA

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Anyone else dragged their children on a winery tour? Oh. Oops. Well, now you can!

I Heart Melbourne tours help "little kids last the distance" and even bring out the cricket set on the winery tours.

"We can even run Peppa Pig on repeat in the car, if that's what you need to maximise tour enjoyment for the family!" says the website. As well as covering the wineries of the Yarra Valley, they run family day trips to the Great Ocean Road, Mornington Peninsula, the penguins of Phillip Island, and Puffing Billy. 

iheartmelbournetours.com.au  trip for a family (two adults, two children) costs $560. 

The Great Victorian Bike Ride is held smack-bang in the middle of the final school term, but the Great East Rail Trail Ride runs from October 2 to 4 this year, at the tail end of the school holidays. It's "Lycra-optional", super-family friendly and nowhere near as hardcore as the GVBR either, using light pedal power to cover 100km of the East Gippsland Rail Trail over three days. Expect forests, farmland and a lot of old timber bridges.

See greateastrailtrailride.com.au. Rates: Adults $450, children up to 16 $345 and to four $245. Includes all meals, two nights' camping, daily luggage transport and evening entertainment.

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The Art Series hotel the Blackman may look like a business hotel, but it's actually doing the kids thing rather well. Like all of the Art Series hotels, they've got tiny canvases for aspiring artists in the room, but the Blackman's Stay & Play package includes use of a Lekker bike and child's scooter, and if you've got really young ones (or just really lazy ones) you can whiz them around nearby Albert Park Lake in a brand new Bugaboo Bee3 stroller.

See artseries.com.au/blackman Rates: from $246

Your kids probably don't sleep in your room at home, so why would you subject yourself to that on holidays?

These school holidays The Langham in Melbourne is offering 50 per cent off a second room when you book the first at the best available rate. Hungry kids (known here as 'Mini Melba' diners) dine for free at lunchtime Monday to Friday, too. From September 21 to October 9, The Langham is hosting a special "Barbie in Rock 'N Royals" high tea to tie in with the movie ($49 with a take-home doll).

See langhamhotels.com. Rates: from $280, book online by September 7. 

ACT

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Sporty kids will love a visit to Canberra's Australian Institute of Sport, and the doors have recently opened wider with a new website and the interactive Sportex exhibition, which is included in the tour. You might spot an Olympic, Paralympic, World, or Commonwealth champion training; the Australian Diamonds trained at the AIS in the lead up to their recent World Cup campaign.

experienceais.com. Rates: family entry $49

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East Hotel in Canberra's Kingston offers Kids Studios, aka the Kids Cubby. The room is totally designed with children in mind and includes bunk beds, a play table, play rug, beanbags and (drum roll) an Xbox 360. Adults will love the hotel too – all rooms come with a Nespresso machine to help you perk up in the morning and there's a "no excuses" fully-equipped gym. East Hotel is new and groovy and is taking Canberra by storm with a number 1 rating on TripAdvisor.

easthotel.com.au Rates: from $369 per night

WESTERN AUSTRALIA

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Celebrate 2015, the year of the quokka. Well, not entirely, but quokka selfies took over international social media earlier this year, and you can get yourself one (a selfie with a quokka, that is) on a trip to Rottnest Island (Wadjemup). Furry rat-like creatures aside, Rottnest Island - a 25-minute ferry trip from Fremantle - is a great school holiday destination, with round-island cycling, wowing white-sand beaches and a relaxed holiday vibe. Folk coming from the eastern states can get some quiet in as the WA school holidays start a week later. When they do arrive, there's a school holiday program with loads of "all ages" free activities, too. Rottofest, a comedy, film and music festival is held on September 19.

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There's a wide variety of accommodation available on Rottnest, mostly centered around the north east wedge of the island. From the historic Hotel Rottnest, where the Governor of WA would lodge, to self-contained cottages and dorms and campsites. 

See rottnestisland.com Rates: a four-bed dorm on Rottnest starts at $133 per night. 

QUEENSLAND

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With plenty of Queensland's accommodation offering enough entertainment to satisfy kids for, well, years, you can essentially check in, put your feet up and stay put in Queensland.

If kids staying, playing and eating for free takes some of the sting out of the cost of a family holiday, then O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat in Lamington National Park is the one for you. The 5 to 12-year-olds in the family are invited to get back to nature with the daily Eco Rangers program, which runs from 9am-noon or 5.30pm each day of the New South Wales and Queensland holidays. And what will the grown-ups do while the children play? Hiking and checking out the Lost World Spa sounds tempting.

Rates: From $999 for three nights 

On the Sunshine Coast an hour north of Brisbane is Novotel Twin Waters Resort. It's a water-lover's dream, sitting on a lagoon and just a jump from the Pacific Ocean and Maroochy River. You might want to emerge from the resort itself to enjoy a Jurassic Dinosaur Hunt at nearby Australia Zoo australiazoo.com.au, but the resort has closer-to-bed attractions on its 36-hectare site, including unlimited play in the lagoon's aqua park for up to two people when they book a room on a public unrestricted rate (usually $15 for a 30-minute session).

See novoteltwinwatersresort.com.au. Rates: From $169 per night

One & Only Hayman Island offers the One&Only KidsOnly Club​ these September school holidays, with fully supervised activities for kids aged between four and 11 and running each day from 9am to 6pm. Treasure Hunts (you're on a tropical island, after all), fish feeding (ditto) and baking competitions make up some of the activities. There's Teens Club, too. Hayman Island is a scenic ferry trip from Hamilton Island and Airlie Beach (both make fun day trips, too, if you get island-itis).

hayman.oneandonlyresorts.com Rates: From $895 per night

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