Experience the other-worldly landscapes and warm welcome of Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific
The feeling is familiar: you’re sitting in the departure lounge waiting to board that long-haul flight, watching your fellow travellers milling about, hoping, praying, that the two small children screaming and climbing over the seats will be travelling at the other end of the plane. Except this time, of course, they’re with you. So it rather begs the question, unless there’s a new job or Antipodean relatives to visit, why would you even consider a trip to the other end of the earth with children?
Well, the fact is, if you waved goodbye to your wanderlust the moment you had children, you’d be depriving the whole family of some of the most extraordinary holiday experiences on offer.
Of course, a long-haul flight will test the most patient of parents, but if you follow the night, plan late departures and travel east, you’ll make it a lot easier on yourself. Once on board, preparation is key: toys and surprises, comics and stickers, snacks and baby milk, nappies and games all need to be packed for easy access.
Gone are the days of queuing at the cockpit door to look at all the dials and levers. Having said that, if asked pleasantly, it isn’t unknown for the cabin crew to arrange for one or two well-behaved children to visit the cockpit once the plane has landed, so organise this early on in the flight and you’ll have a great card for keeping your child to heel. Another tip a friend gave me was to tell your child that the pilot is watching them through the air-conditioning vents to ensure they’re well-behaved. It works... at least up to the age of six.
The wisest parents will break the 24-hour slog with a stopover – which means you get to enjoy two holidays for the price of one flight. Take your pick from Dubai (a mere seven hours before you take a breather; then another 14 on to Sydney); Singapore (13, then another seven to Sydney) or even Japan, Bangkok or Hong Kong. But once you’ve finally made it Down Under, you’ll realise there are places here that quite simply have to be seen to be believed.
The 74 islands of the Whitsundays can take months to explore, but you could happily spend at least a week relaxing on one of the gorgeous isles or aboard your own private yacht (Sunsail offers a charter with skipper for £56 per day). Bordered by the Great Barrier Reef, the marine life is astonishing and all of the islands boast glorious weather, brilliant white beaches and azure waters.
On Hamilton Island, children can snorkel in the shallows at high tide, explore rock pools when the tide goes out or meet new friends at the Clownfish Kids Club. This leaves you free to ‘go troppo’ – the local term for letting yourself go so completely that you cease to worry about all the little things (like mortgages, shares, jobs, shaving). Bridge & Wickers offers ten nights’ accommodation from £4,860 for a family of four, including international and domestic flights.
Back on the mainland, Byron Bay is one of the hippest hippy villages and is a firm favourite To Australia Tour of the flagship cities, beaches, wildlife and outback from £9,999 for a family of four.
A three-hour flight across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand is a world geography lesson within a country a similar size to the UK. Stay in Auckland and watch the daily sailing regattas that bring this harbour to life in a riot of colours and sea spray. Mollies is a bohemian boutique hotel in the trendy Ponsonby area where a junior suite costs NZ$540 (around £228) per night. A three-hour drive south lie the geysers of Rotorua: their explosions and sulphury burps will mesmerise children. For the ultimate in comfort, Treetops Luxury Lodge & Estate is set in the heart of a forest with trout fishing and mountain biking. A suite costs NZ$1,805 (around £763) per night, for two adults and two children.
On the South Island, stay in Christchurch, the most English city outside England. The George, an elegant boutique hotel, is in the heart of the city and has executive rooms for NZ$479 per night (around £202). Spend an afternoon punting on the placid Avon river and pop into The Arts Centre, which always has a good range of children’s events.
Only 90 minutes’ drive south, you’ll enter the Southern Alps. Grasmere Lodge sits in the heart of the high country, bordering Arthur’s Pass National Park. You can spend time with the farmer on Grasmere’s sheep farm or take a flight directly from the lodge’s helipad to the heart of the Tasman Glacier. A junior suite costs from £314 per person half board with ITC Classics.
Further south, a drive via Lake Wanaka to Queenstown is unforgettable; with every turn in the road, another postcard picture is revealed. In Queenstown, take a ride on the vintage steamship on Lake Wakatipu or head 30 minutes out of town to discover the well preserved gold-rush town of Arrowtown, where children can pan for gold.
If you still haven’t had your fill of far-flung destinations, head out into the Pacific Ocean to discover some of the world’s most welcoming islands. First up is Fiji, a group of 330 islands that will give your family a taste of the culture and traditions of the region. Bridge & Wickers offers four nights in a two-bedroom plantation family ‘bure’ (a luxury take on the traditional Fijian hut) at Outrigger on the Lagoon Fiji on the Coral Coast of the island of Viti Levu. From here, take a helicopter to Castaway Island for three nights in a family beach bure, from £1,164 per person for a family of four, excluding international flights.
To the north of Fiji, the island of Samoa has gorgeous beaches, dramatic mountains, waterfalls, rainforests, lava fields and wildlife. Children are central to the Samoan way of life and are welcome everywhere. The whole family will love exploring Samoa’s islands, where you can learn to surf, or snorkel over vivid coral reefs, swim in the lagoons and traverse the Canopy Walk – a swing bridge that leads to a treehouse in a 225-year-old banyan tree. Stay at Aggie Grey’s Lagoon Resort where children can learn local dancing, drumming and mat weaving in the Dolphin Kids’ Club. A 12-day holiday costs from £5,539 for a family of four, including flights with Air New Zealand through Tailor Made Travel.
Then there’s Hawaii, without which no compilation of family destinations would be complete. It’s the birthplace of hula and surfing, and has three active volcanoes and a real-life shipwreck off Lanai Island. On the southwest shore of Maui, the award-winning Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea has luxury accommodation, oceanside dining and activities including three championship golf courses, tennis, water sports and a complimentary Kids For All Seasons programme, all set amid lush gardens and azure Pacific vistas. An ocean-view room sleeping four costs US$750 (around £453) per night in April.
If you’ve made it all the way to Hawaii, then to get home you could either head back across the Asian continent or onwards across the US to make it a truly round-the-world excursion.
Look at our Long-haul section for plenty of gorgeous destinations to visit.