Keep the kids amused and intrigued with some thrill-seeking fun in places you'll reach before you hear the first 'are we there yet?', writes Ute Junker.
SOMETIMES, a family getaway is about doing nothing more strenuous than relaxing by the beach or resort pool. However, if you're looking for something more from your winter escape; a chance to explore somewhere completely different, giving your children thrills and some learning, too, all within a few hours of Australia, we've found the perfect destinations for you.
Port Vila may be what passes for the big smoke but with jungles, waterfalls, jet-boat rides and traditional villages, Vanuatu is a family playground. Efficient local buses are an easy way to get around but it's more fun to join a buggy tour that takes you along tracks and black-sand beaches. A highlight is Mele Cascade; if your kids are older, they'll love abseiling the waterfall. The Roi Mata Cultural Tour combines cave visits and snorkelling with local history.
Closer to amenities, The Warwick Le Lagon Resort and Spa has 30 hectares of grounds, with pools, tennis courts and a golf course. Accommodation varies from suites to overwater bungalows and children under 13 stay free if sharing with parents.
Half an hour's flight from Port Vila is Tanna Island, home to the very active Yasur volcano. How close you get depends on how active it is.There's plenty more to do on Tanna; your hotel will be able to organise a full roster. We love the relaxed White Grass Ocean Resort, where each bure has a sea view. A visit to the Blue Cave, a gorgeous grotto that can be accessed only by swimming underwater (just 50 centimetres - most people will manage it easily) can be organised from your hotel.
Denarau has plenty of lush resorts: the beauty of the Sheraton Fiji Resort is that guests can access all facilities at the adjacent Sheraton Denarau Villas and The Westin Denarau Island Resort & Spa. That includes six pools, restaurants (children 12 and under stay and dine free), kids' clubs and water sports.
The island's interior options include Zip-Fiji's Canopy Tour , where children aged five and over can take a thrilling treetop trip along horizontal cables at speed. Let them get muddy at Sabeto hot water springs or take them on a jet-boat safari up the Sigato River.
The Mamanuca Islands draw divers to Fiji but at Treasure Island, they're keen to show guests what's above the water, too: classes in crafts such as woodcarving, basket weaving and cooking. Children can immerse themselves in local experiences, too, on a trip to Viti Levu for a day in a village school. Treasure Island also has a program to help save endangered hawksbill turtles (the release of hundreds of hatchlings is a highlight).
Exploring the hidden delights of Rarotonga is easy; the toughest part is deciding how. Children will love hopping behind you on distinctive yellow scooters; they cost $NZ25 ($20) a day and a local driver's licence is available for a few dollars at the police station. Walk to Papua Waterfall, Avana Valley or Raemaru Lookout through rainforest trails; if that sounds like too much time away from the water, take a day trip around the island.
A trip of a different kind is Raro Tours' progressive dinner parties. You enjoy a three-course dinner, each course served in the home of a local family. The food is simple but delicious - think marinated fish, barbecue chicken and fruit salad. Self-catering units and villas at Muri Beachcomber make a great base for this outing.
Enjoy aquamarine waters, pristine sand, reefs and fish at Aitutaki, a beautiful lagoon less than an hour's flight from Rarotonga. There are wrecks, caves, coral and wall dives for scuba divers. Snorkels and fins are suitable for a day spent cruising the lagoon.
For accommodation, try Aitutaki Beach Villas. Each villa has a kitchen and balcony. Kayaks are free and hotel staff help organise day trips.
Ubud may not have the beaches that lure families to the south coast but it does have Monkey Forest, one of Bali's best-known attractions. The animal fun doesn't stop there: try the Elephant Safari Park at Taro, Bali Bird Park and nearby Reptile Park. Older kids can white-water raft, or cycle through villages and past stunning temples.
A great place to base yourself is Taman Harum Cottages. The free hotel shuttle will take you into town but most of the time, you'll find plenty to do on-site, including yoga lessons or aerobics.
If snorkelling and relaxing sounds like the right recipe for your family, head for Lombok, a laidback island that, according to locals, is what Bali was like before the crowds came. Senggigi Beach Hotel, on Lombok's west coast, is a family-friendly place in a stunning location between two bays. Hotel staff can help you organise a road trip inland.
Got any Thomas the Tank Engine fans in your family? Once the littlies catch a glimpse of Le Petit Train, Noumea's most colourful transport, they'll want to ride around on it all day. Older children will love day trips to the islands not far from Noumea. Just offshore from Anse Vata is Ile aux Canards, which offers great snorkelling, including an underwater walkway where signs explain the local marine life. Slightly further afield (45 minutes by boat) is Ilot Amedee, another great spot for snorkelling and beachcombing. From here you can also take a trip to the reef for shark and turtle spotting.
La Promenade at Anse Vata is a perfect base, combining the freedom of self-contained apartments with up to three bedrooms, with all the luxuries of a hotel.
To enjoy a more authentic Melanesian experience, hire a car and head for the beautiful Northern Province, where you can explore tropical forests and authentic village life.
Tieti Tera Beach Resort, on the east coast, makes it easy to discover the many different sides of the area. The hotel can also organise a range of forest hikes to tumbling waterfalls, and fascinating cultural experiences.
Air Vanuatu flies to Port Vila, priced from $538. airvanuatu.com. Pacific Blue flies to Port Vila, priced from $269. www.flypacificblue.com.
Warwick Le Lagon Resort and Spa, lelagonvanuatu.vu. White Grass Ocean Resort, www.whitegrassvanuatu.com.vu.
See + do
Buggy Fun Adventure Tour, www.buggyfunrental.com.vu.
Roi Mata Cultural Tours, email@example.com.
Blue Cave, www.whitegrassvanuatu.com.vu/safaris.html.
V Australia flies to Nadi, priced from $289. www.vaustralia.com.au.
Sheraton Fiji Resort, starwoodhotels.com. Treasure Island, www.treasureisland-fiji.com.
See + do
Zip-Fiji, www.zip-fiji.com. Sabeto hot springs, www.fijiecotours.net/daily-eco-tours/sleepinggiants/nalesutalefull.
Jet-boat safari, www.sigatokariver.com.
Air New Zealand flies to Rarotonga. One-way fares priced from $490, www.airnewzealand.com.au.
Muri Beachcomber, beachcomber.co.ck. Aitutake Beach Villas, www.aitutakibeachvillas.com.
See + do
Aitutaki Cruising, www.bishopscruises.com.
Garuda flies to Denpasar, priced from $910. Connecting flights to Lombok available. 1300 365 330, www.garuda-indonesia.com.
Taman Harum Cottages, www.bali-hotel-taman-harum.com.
Elephant safari park, www.baliadventuretours.com.
White-water rafting and cycling, www.balisobek.com.
Aircalin flies to New Caledonia, priced from $720. www.aircalin.com.
La Promenade, www.lapromenade.nc.
See + do
Amedee Island, www.amedeeisland.com.