Travelling with children in central Australia can be joyous – camping, bushwalks, stargazing, swimming, wildlife spotting… Only extreme temperatures, humidity and distances conspire to spoil the party. But if you can beat the heat, this isn't a place where you'll encounter much urban menace, pollution or tedious queuing.
At the Hotel
When you're knee-high to a grasshopper, staying at a hotel is an adventure. Kids aren't fussed about interior design, fluffy bathrobes, Italian tapware or the dated tropical-flower print on the bed linen. The key requirements are facilities-based: swimming pools, playgrounds, games rooms, in-house movies, children's menus and the presence of other kids top the list of priorities. If it means your kids will be happier, try to suspend any ingrained hotel snobberies and stay somewhere where the little ones will be well catered for.
On the Road
As anyone with kids knows, getting from A to B is the biggest threat to having a good time. Both A and B are fine once you get there, but the long road-tripping hours in between can be hell on wheels.
For babies and toddlers, time your drives with established sleep times: once they're asleep the hypnotic lull of tyres on asphalt can keep them that way for hours. For older kids, there's something to be said for technological distractions in the back seat: portable DVD players or Play Station–type games (with headphones!) can help pass the kilometres, and books-on-CD (available at ABC shops) are suited to long drives. Factor in regular pit stops and bring plenty of snacks, colouring books and crayons, sticker albums, drink bottles… And a good game of 'I Spy With My Little Eye' never goes astray.
Have a read of Lonely Planet's Travel With Children for some more ideas.
- You'll find public toilets with family rooms where you can go to feed babies or change nappies in most shopping centres. As anywhere, children should be accompanied in all public toilets, including at shopping centres.
- Many motels and some caravan parks have playgrounds and swimming pools, and can supply cots and baby baths. Top-end hotels and some (but not all) midrange hotels often accommodate children for free, but B&Bs are often child-free zones.
- For babysitting, ask at your hotel, although you're unlikely to get far outside of Darwin.
- Child prices (and family rates) apply for most tours, sights admission fees and air, bus and train transport, with some discounts as high as 50% off. However, the definition of 'child' can vary from under 12 to under 18 years.
- Heat is a problem while travelling in central Australia, especially in summer, with relentless desert sun and high humidity in the Top End. Time your visit for winter (which is high season!) or make sure the kids are enshrouded in big floppy hats, SPF 30+ sunscreen and sunglasses. Always carry plenty of water and drink regularly.
- Medical services here are of a high standard, with items such as baby-food formula and nappies widely available from pharmacies and supermarkets (plan ahead if heading to remote regions).
- Major hire-car companies can supply booster seats, for which you'll be charged around $25 for up to three days' use, with an additional daily fee for longer periods.