Just do it: the 7 best action-packed family-friendly holidays

Toddlers or teenagers, snow, bush or beach, there is the perfect family adventure vacation to keep kids happy on holidays. Bring on the dog-sledding, scuba diving, mountain biking and more...

A man and two children on a boat on the ocean in Rarotonga in the Cook Islands
  • Lucy E Cousins
  • February 2020

The tribe that gets active together, stays together. Have an action packed, adventure-filled holiday with the kids and you’ll be making memories for a lifetime.

Rarotonga, Cook Islands

If spending long days swimming in one of the world’s most beautiful natural lagoons sounds like paradise for your tribe, then Rarotonga in the Cook Islands is the perfect place to get wet. Locals are warm and friendly, children are welcome and the pace of life is relaxed and easy. After all, this is a place where no building can legally stand higher than the tallest coconut tree.

There is a range of self-contained villas backing onto the teal-coloured Muri Lagoon where the family (suits 0- to 12-year-olds) can spend days wading in the warm, wave-free shallow water, then chill out and relax in hammocks on the shore. Stand-up paddle boards (SUPs) can easily be rented and you can even take SUP yoga lessons, where you test your core strength by doing easy yoga moves on your boards ‒ falling in the ocean is half the fun.

In the evenings, wander the Muri Night Markets, where fresh seafood and local dishes including curries are served with delicious “island fries”.

Rarotonga, Cook Islands, cookislands.travel

Woman snorkelling in clear waters with palm trees in the background.
Go from snorkelling to playing in snow on the same day at the Big Island, Hawaii.

The Big Island, Hawaii

Imagine a place where you can swim with turtles in the morning and play in snow in the afternoon. The Big Island of Hawaii, about 300 kilometres south of Honolulu, is that destination. Perfect for 10- to 18-year-olds, you can get active by doing hiking, snorkelling, quad biking.

An island of contrasts, you’ll need your swimsuit to explore the vibrant coral reefs at Kahalu’u Beach Park, a wetsuit to swim with giant manta rays in Kona, hiking boots to walk on extinct volcanoes in Volcanoes National Park and a warm jacket for snowy mountain visits on Mauna Kea.

Made up of five volcanoes (only three are active), the Big Island offers a chance to see fields of molten lava by helicopter, or steaming lava as it hits the Pacific Ocean by boat.

Adrenaline-fuelled families may like the quad-biking adventure with views over the famous Punalu’u black sand beach, or zip-lining over spectacular Akaka Falls. For a more “educational” high, you can take an observatory tour by four-wheel drive to the top of Mauna Kea, the Big Island’s highest mountain. Reaching over 4000 metres, you’ll feel the air become thinner and snow crunch underfoot as you look through telescopes that make you believe you could almost touch the moon.

The Big Island, Hawaii, gohawaii.com

Some steps surrounded by trees leading up to a stone arch in Hoi An, Vietnam
You’ll love the fusion of culture, rich history and religion in Vietnam’s Hoi An.

Hoi An, Vietnam

Voted best city in the world by Travel + Leisure in 2019, Hoi An is a melting pot of Japanese, Chinese and French culture stretching back to the 15th century. Adding to its rich history, Hoi An’s Old Town is a UNESCO-listed World Heritage site. The nation is also innovative – Hoi An was the first Asian city to offer free Wi-Fi. Known for street art and a historic town centre, here, families of 11- to 18-year-olds will discover the perfect blend of old and new in one place.

Active families can rent bikes to explore the beautiful Old Town, kayak on the nearby Thu Bon river delta or join a mountain bike tour of the surrounding rice paddies.

A popular day trip is a visit to the spectacular Marble Mountains, half an hour from Hoi An. Climb the 250 stairs to the top (or catch the glass lift if you have smaller kids). From there you can visit the shrines and temples that are dotted around the peak or explore the extensive cave networks and famed tunnels carved by pilgrims.

Hoi An, Vietnam, vietnam.travel

An adult and three children snorkelling in the sea in Fiji.
Families can enjoy everything from snorkelling to scuba-diving in Fiji’s crystal-clear waters.

Yasawa Islands, Fiji

The tropical family-friendly beaches of the Yasawa Islands are so impressive they’ve starred in several Hollywood films including Cast Away (“Wilson!”) and The Blue Lagoon, with a young Brooke Shields. Yet, despite this, they remain surprisingly underdeveloped.

A popular destination with families, best for ages 5- to 17, the region has a year-round average temperature of about 27 degrees, crystal-clear waters and friendly locals. To get there, it’s a two-to-four-hour trip from Nadi airport, including a ferry ride, depending on which island you choose to stay on.

If you can’t decide, don’t worry, as the ferry offers a hop on/hop off island pass allowing you to visit a couple of islands during your stay. Choose from island homestays, where you can learn how the locals live, luxury resorts with infinity pools, or private beach bures (thatched cottages) on perfect stretches of sand.

For families wanting to get active, there’s kayaking, reef fishing, sailing, snorkelling or scuba diving and you could even earn your scuba diving PADI licence while you’re there (open only to children over 10). A highlight is a visit to the famous Sawa-i-Lau caves, with their ancient and majestic limestone formations.

Yasawa Islands, Fiji, fiji.travel opens in new window

Three people cycling through a mountain trail in Queenstown, New Zealand
Biking through Queenstown is a scenic way to explore one of New Zealand’s most popular sporting towns.

Queenstown, New Zealand

Known for adrenaline adventures, Queenstown receives about 2.9 million visitors a year, and for good reason. Winter is an obvious time to visit for families who love the snow, because the skiing is world-class and the après ski activities are as plentiful as an August snowfall – from innovative burgers to relaxing hot pools.

But, this adventure capital offers plenty of activities in the hotter months, too. For teenagers craving an adrenaline hit, this will be their happy place. Not only is there paddle boarding, jet boating and parasailing on Queenstown’s Lake Wakatipu, you can also canyon, zip-line and rock climb in the surrounding hills.

If that sounds a little too intense, book a farm visit or take a scenic horse ride or mountain bike ride to explore the surrounds. Whatever you decide, this is not a holiday for relaxing by a hotel pool – this is an adventure getaway served with a side of spectacular scenery.

Queenstown, New Zealand, queenstownnz.co.nz

Boy riding a horse with ocean in the background.
Magnetic Island gives you the best of the beach and bush holiday.

Magnetic Island, Queensland

With 24 kilometres of walking tracks and 23 bays and beaches, Magnetic Island, or “Maggie” as it is known locally, is the answer for families aged 2- to 15, who can’t decide between beach and bush.

Water babies can kayak and paddle board plus there are easy-access snorkelling sites along the shoreline. Confident swimmers can opt for two self-guided snorkelling trails. Just pick up a snorkelling card (AUD $5 at many local retail outlets) and look for the easy-to spot numbered floats in the water, which correspond with the map on your card.

Next, head bush on the Forts Walk to find the remaining command posts and gun placements left over from old WWII defences. Horseback riding along Horseshoe Bay at sunset is almost a rite of passage, so leave time in your schedule.

Fun fact: Of the 900 islands along Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef, Magnetic Island, eight kilometres off the coast of Townsville with its beautiful beaches and national parks, is the only one to have its own postcode (4819).

Magnetic Island, Queensland, townsvillenorthqueensland.com.au