Busy parents often feel pressured to spend a fortune entertaining their kids, particularly during weekends and holidays. The good news is that quality time doesn’t have to mean expensive. We’ve scoured Australia to find a host of holiday activities that are fun, family-oriented, and best of all free.
In Brisbane, the Queensland Museum and Queensland Art Gallery, are essential school holiday venues. Both boast free entry to most exhibits, with friendly volunteers on hand to answer kids’ tricky questions. Marvel at Australia’s largest dinosaur bones at the museum, then move on to the nearby art gallery for interactive artist-run workshops and exhibitions. Afterwards, let them run wild through South Bank Parklands – also free.
Chocoholics will love Adelaide’s Haigh’s Visitors Centre, where free factory tours show how bitter cocoa beans turn into yummy chocolate. . Sample the delicious chocolates, enjoy a free tea or coffee, and choose from a range of discounted products. Tours are at 11 am, 1 pm, and 2 pm from Monday to Saturday. Phone to book on 08-8372 7070.
Apart from fabulous weekend markets and weekly fitness classes, the Cairns Esplanade regularly hosts free concerts and other family activities. At one end is the wonderful Muddy’s Playground, which features water play, climbing nets, mangrove maze, spinning toys and a flying fox. At the other end is a large swimming lagoon which is free for all between 6 am and 10 pm daily.
Darwin’s Mindil Beach Sunset Markets run during the Top End’s dry season (late April to early October), but still manage to attract more visitors than Litchfield, Kakadu and even Uluru. Set out amongst monsoon vine forest trees and coconut palms, the markets offer more than 1200 multicultural food items, including crocodile and ostrich; street theatre; performance art; concerts; plus all the usual market attractions. Open Thursday and Sunday nights, with entrance and parking free.
Everyone knows of the famous, but pricey Bridgeclimb experience, but did you know you can climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge for free? Okay, you won’t make it to the top arch as you do on Bridgeclimb, but at least you’ll be able to take as many photos and stop as many times as you like. Take the pedestrian walkway leading from the Rocks to Milsons Point and enjoy the sights. Allow about 30 minutes each way – more if you have young kids who like to make lots of stops.
Melbourne’s City Circle Tram is a free, easy and a fun way to get around central Melbourne. Trams run every 10 minutes and take in La Trobe, Spring and Flinders streets, as well as Harbour Esplanade. Or you can try the lesser-known but just as free Melbourne City Tourist Shuttle, a hop-on, hop-off bus which stops at key destinations complete with on-board commentary.
Perth’s Whiteman Park is set over more than 4200 hectares of picturesque bushland. There are playgrounds (for big and small kids), bushwalking trails, bike paths, sports facilities, picnic shelters. Dogs on a lead are welcome, plus there’s a huge off-leash area, so you can take the furry kids as well!
History comes to life at Canberra’s Australian War Memorial, where kids can learn about Australia’s involvement with war. A highlight is the memorial’s new Discovery Zone, where kids can see, touch, hear and experience war-time experiences – from climbing aboard an Iroquois helicopter, to checking out a Cold War submarine.
As in other states, many of Tasmania’s campsites are free. Check out Swimcart Beach, on the waterfront in the Bay of Fires region, or the nearby Cosy Corner where there are loads of rocks to climb and explore.
No child is going to knock back visits to theme parks, zoos or movies, but let’s face it: all they really want is to spend time with you. Here’s how to holiday at home, without breaking the budget…
·Take a trip to the beach, mountains, nature reserve, or even a great park. Pack a picnic and make a day of it.
·Visit your local museum or art gallery. Most are free and have fabulous facilities for kids, particularly during school holidays when they put on workshops and exhibitions.
·Check out your local library. Modern libraries are kid-friendly, with free story readings, plus cosy corners, pillows and even bean bags for kids to lounge on while they read. During holidays, many libraries put on free shows, arts and crafts, author visits, and other activities.
·Invite one of your child’s best friends over for a morning, afternoon, day or even a sleepover. Your child will have a ball, you get to know their friend, you’ll be giving another parent a break, and hopefully, the favour will be returned another time.
·Councils regularly offer freebies for families and kids – year-round, as well as during the holidays. In Brisbane, these include concerts, open-air movie screenings, craft workshops, and sports activities. Check with your council for details.
·Explore your own backyard. My kids regularly pack a picnic and blanket, and we go for a walk in the bushland near our home. We end up on a rocky outcrop where we hang out, looking for crystals and cool rocks, hunting for kangaroos, reading books, and talking to people we meet along the way.
It’s simple, but they love it!