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Travelling with children

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Australians have an easy-going attitude to children and in most places they are welcome. With plenty of beautiful beaches, parks and playgrounds, travelling Australia with children in tow can be great fun.

The national online hub Web Child (whttp://www.webchild.com.au) has a calendar of child-friendly events in all states plus links to online monthly magazines listing kids’ activities in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Adelaide and Perth. In theory, hard copies can be found at libraries and major museums. General children’s travel advice is available in Rough Guides’ Travel With Babies and Young Children.

Getting around

Most forms of Australian transport offer child concessions. Metropolitan buses and trains give discounts of around fifty percent for children and many allow children under 4 or 5 to travel free. Most interstate buses offer around twenty percent off for under-14s.

Long-distance train travel is limited in Australia, not to mention a slower and more expensive option. But it does have the advantage of sleepers and a bit more freedom of movement if you’re travelling with small children. Domestic airlines offer discounts of around fifty percent of the full adult fare for children between 2 and 11 years. However, adult discount deals are likely to be even cheaper. Infants usually travel free. Otherwise, there’s always the option of self-drive. Car rental is reasonably priced, and motorhomes and campervans are also available for rental; don’t forget to take more activities for the trip than usual – music, books, magnetic games, cards – to last the long distances.

Accommodation

Many motels give discounts for children and some offer a baby-sitting service – check when you book. Most resorts have kids’ clubs with organized activities and baby-sitting services.

Initially more expensive, self-contained accommodation can prove cheaper in the long run as it’s possible to cook your own meals. These days, youth hostels are not exclusively for backpackers and most have affordable family rooms – some en-suite. A few modern hostels are positively luxurious, and most are in good locations. All have communal kitchens, lounge areas and television, and there are usually plenty of books and games.

Aside from camping, the most economical way to see the country is to stay in some of the thousands of caravan parks. Most have on-site vans or self-contained cabins at reasonable family rates. Check with visitor centres for details.

Eating out

In cities and large towns, many of the atmospheric upmarket restaurants are welcoming to children, often providing highchairs, toys or drawing materials and a decent children’s menu. Italian restaurants are generally kiddie-friendly in menu and mood alike. Otherwise, there are the usual fast-food outlets, often with enclosed play areas, and children are allowed in the dining section of pubs for counter meals. Most country towns have pubs and some have RSL clubs (Returned Servicemen’s League), which are a cheap way to feed the family on basic pub food.

Kids’ gear

Car and van rental companies provide child safety seats. Taxis will too, if you request them when you book. Airlines will allow you to carry a pram or travel cot for free, and it’s possible to rent baby equipment from some shops – local Yellow Pages have listings. When planning a sightseeing day that involves a lot of walking, check with the tourist attraction to see if they rent out pushchairs – this can make the difference between a pleasant and an awful day out.

Activities

Most tours and entry fees for tourist destinations offer concession rates for children and/or family tickets. If you have two or more children the latter usually work out substantially cheaper. Museums often have children’s areas, and during school holidays many run supervised activities, along with programmes that include storytelling and performances. In most states, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) runs entertaining and educational ranger-led walks and activities during the school holidays. While these are free, there’s usually a park entrance fee. Check at visitor centres or with NPWS in each state for timetables and fees.

Sun care

The Australian sun is ferocious, so sensible skincare is essential for outdoor activities. A “no hat, no play” policy operates in school playgrounds and most kids wear legionnaire-style caps, or broad-brimmed sun hats – easy to find in surf shops and department stores. Most kids wear UV-resistant Lycra swim tops or wetsuit-style all-in-ones to the beach. The Cancer Council Australia (whttp://www.cancer.org.au) sells such items online and in shops in many Australian towns.

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