When children come along, most adult ideas of what makes a great holiday fly out of the window. Preventing the little monkeys from continually moaning becomes the all-consuming driving force behind travel choices. And some things you'd ordinarily overlook become mighty tempting, including…
Questacon, Canberra. Photo: Alamy
Every science museum around the world does pretty much the same thing. Once you've pushed one table of water to make waves, or watched balls roll around in a spiral before dropping into a hole, there's really no need to do so again. But science museums have one massive element in their favour – interactivity. And the kids might learn something while they're hammering away at buttons. As efforts in the genre go, Questacon in Canberra is great. See questacon.edu.au
Adults tend to be underwhelmed by the whole fish in tanks thing, but kids seem to get entranced by the lights, colours and hundreds of fish swirling around each other. There's also giddy excitement when the token harmless shark makes an appearance, as they feel a gory attack on another species is imminent. For added real life factor, the Underwater Observatory at Busselton Jetty in WA trumps most aquariums in Australia. See busseltonjetty.com.au
The twin brother of the aquarium is the wildlife park, and there are dozens of them around the country. The formula is very samey – hand-feed some kangaroos, get your photo taken with a koala, watch a demonstration, then shell out extra cash for a close encounter with a bored snake or marsupial. But the aaah factor keeps kids happily absorbed for hours. The Boronong Wildlife Sanctuary near Hobart does the wildlife park thing pretty well. See bonorong.com.au
Mini golf courses
First things first – mini golf is the sport of kings and any adult who says otherwise should be ashamed of themselves. But some grown-ups, bafflingly, don't embrace the putt putt until kids come along. It's something everyone can play together outside, it kills an hour or so, and the basics are simple enough for kids to get the hang of. There's a course at Elizabeth Quay in Perth. See elizabethquay.com.au
For adults, the slides at a waterpark merge into one somewhat. And once you've gone down once, the incentive to walk back up to the top is not especially strong. Try telling kids that, though. They'll happily clamber up steps, then wheeeeee! down the slides all day long. Wet 'N' Wild on the Gold Coast should keep them very happy indeed. See wetnwild.com.au
Imagine being too young to realise that the amphibious vehicle tour is basically a generic bus tour with a gimmick. Imagine being giddily excited with the big duck plunges into the water after a warm up around the city streets. That's basically how kids see amphibious vehicle tours, even if they've no interest in the commentary. 1770 LARC Tours in Queensland offers a twist with fab scenery rather than city sights. See 1770larctours.com.au
Parsley Bay on the Hawkesbury River. Photo: Visitsydney.com.au
When you have children, crashing surf suddenly switches from being tremendous fun to play in to being an enormous potential hazard. That's where calm, meek beaches helpfully protected from the ocean swells come in. At the likes of Parsley Bay on Sydney Harbour, kids can safely paddle without the prospect of being practically demolished by incoming waves or carried out by vicious rips.
To child-free travellers, sitting down in a park for a bit seems an astonishing waste of holiday time. For kids, though, it's a marvellous opportunity to run around in the sunshine with minimal supervision required from mum and dad. If there's a playground there, or some public barbecues to cook up a cost-cutting meal on, even better. Flagstaff Gardens is the easy option in central Melbourne.
Melbourne's Luna Park. Photo: Craig Sillitoe
Now, a theme park holds some appeal. Some proper, big, scary rollercoasters. That's adult-friendly. Fairgrounds with piddling little rides, half of which you can't fit into? Not so much. But that's because fairgrounds are designed for kids, with nothing too scary to deter them from charging from ride to ride. Luna Park in Melbourne is a happy halfway house, with at least some rides adults won't be bored stupid by. See lunapark.com.au
That charming boutique hotel is going to go entirely wasted on a five-year-old. It'll also be horribly expensive. Suddenly, those edge-of-town holiday parks with cabins, free parking, playgrounds and plenty of space to run around become strangely appealing. Discovery Parks runs several of the better-equipped options around the country. See discoveryholidayparks.com.au
Disclosure: David Whitley has been the guest of Tourism Australia and the state tourist boards.