Outside the Xbox

For the notoriously difficult to impress, Lee Atkinson recommends ghost tours, adventure and urban grit.

WORKING out what will captivate teenagers can be tricky. The idea is to keep them active, amused and interested - and you don't have to go far; Australia's East Coast has attractions pretty much guaranteed to give teenagers a good time.

New tricks in Newcastle

If your teens are up for a challenge, they'll love the TreeTop Adventure Park at Minmi, near Newcastle. The park has a series of six treetop obstacle courses, consisting of 96 "challenges" and 20 flying foxes.

Two of these courses are suitable for children under 10, one is designated as only for over-16s and you negotiate the courses independently. As high as 15 metres above the ground, challenges involve traversing high wires, skipping across the top of vertically suspended sawn-off logs and even swinging, Tarzan-like, on a rope into a giant spider net.

At all times you are attached to a safety line but still need to be brave. If that sounds a little too extreme, there's always Circus Avalon, a youth troupe that has two-hour lessons three times a week and will teach teens all the tricks of the trade, from tightrope walking to juggling and riding a unicycle.

treetopadventurepark.com.au; circusavalon.com.au.

River rafting, Coffs Harbour

If wave pools aren't enough to thrill, try rafting a real river. White-water rafting is the ultimate get-wet thrill ride and Coffs Harbour has some of the best white water in Australia.


The main action is on the Nymboida River, which has rapids up to grade five and are just about guaranteed to have your heart in your mouth and turn your knuckles white. Most trips on the Nymboida are full-day outings and there are some two-day offering.

If the water is not running high enough to safely raft the Nymboida, rafting companies will try Goolang Creek, not far from the hamlet of Nymboida. This tiny, trickling stream turns into a raging torrent when the power station upstream releases its water - it's great for beginners. Rapids here reach grade three.

If you're not sure whether you'd rather raft or surf there's always surf rafting on the ocean beaches in a self-bailing raft, catching the waves back to shore, an adventure you'll find only in Coffs Harbour.


Cleaning up in the Whitsundays

It can be nigh on impossible to get teenagers to clean up their room but ask them if they'd like to be involved in cleaning up the Great Barrier Reef and you might be surprised at their answer. Libby Edge of Eco Barge Services runs the Marine Debris Removal Program in the Whitsundays and since July 2009 she and her band of merry volunteers have removed a whopping 55,937 kilograms of marine debris from the Whitsunday Islands and foreshores.

Full-day trips depart from Airlie Beach and head to one of the 74 Whitsunday Islands, where the rubbish and debris are collected, logged and sorted for recycling. All equipment (rubber gloves and garbage bags), along with lunch, is provided. Cruising the Whitsunday Passage is free; helping save the environment is priceless! Trips depart, on average, once a month.

Register at ecobargeservices.com.

Ghosts in Ballarat

At first glance, the goldfields of Victoria might seem an odd place to recommend for teenagers; sure, Sovereign Hill Outdoor Museum has its attractions and the nightly sound and light show is exciting enough to capture the attention of even the most history-phobic youngster but, on the whole, the past can be a hard sell. Teens might think differently, however, if you tell them that Ballarat is Australia's most haunted city and take them on a ghost tour.

There are three to choose from, including a cemetery visit and a "Haunt & Carriage" tour through the city streets in a horse-drawn carriage. All three tours bring the often blood-soaked history of the goldfields and the Eureka Stockade alive - sure to satisfy even the most ghoulish teen.


On your bike in the Victorian high country

Finding an active adventure holiday for the whole family can sometimes be a challenge but the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail is perfect for family groups. It's a 94-kilometre cycling trail that follows a decommissioned regional rail line from Wangaratta, through Beechworth, Myrtleford, Porepunkah and Bright.

It's the longest trail of its type in Australia and to do it all takes about three days but the beauty of it is that because it passes through so many towns, you can pick and choose your sections. And there's a choice of hotels, motels, B&Bs or camping for the overnight stays.

The trail winds through fertile farmland, vineyards, small villages and historic country towns - past cellar doors, farm-gate stalls (great for provisions), old tobacco kilns and traces of the gold rush that first opened up this part of the state.

Being a rail trail, there's no road traffic to worry about and at times the pathway is deep inside the bush so you won't even see or hear a car. Even though it's in the alpine high country, most of the climbs and descents are gradual - good news for those who haven't been on a bike in a while and family groups that may have riders with little legs.


Melbourne's underbelly

Walking can sometimes be anathema to teenagers used to getting where they need to go by bus or car but there are a couple of quirky walking tours of Melbourne that might get your teen ready and willing to hit the streets.

Melbourne Street Art Tours is run by street artists and the 3½-hour walking tour of spray-painted laneways and other inner-city art haunts gives a great overview of the Melbourne underground art scene. The tour finishes at Blender Studios, where you can see artists and street artists at work.

Alternatively, Melbourne Crime Tour is a four-hour walk through the city, exploring the city's criminal and often violent past. The tour ends at the City Watch House at Old Melbourne Gaol, the central custody centre or holding place for people arrested and awaiting trial. It's enough to keep teens on the straight and narrow. Not recommended for kids under 15. melbournestreettours.com; gowest.com.au; oldmelbournegaol.com.au/city_watch_house.