Brisbane and the Gold Coast of Queensland are ideal destinations for a family vacation. Brisbane, the capital of the Sunshine State, has an easy-going and family-friendly spirit, with activities like bike tours and an enormous Ferris wheel. And the Gold Coast offers lots of opportunity for adventures in nature and encounters with Australia’s unique wildlife, like koalas and kangaroos.
The itinerary here includes chances to meet them, as well as dolphins—and even magical glow worms on a night safari. In fact, this seven-day trip makes the most of every moment, with a variety of experiences sure to appeal to all the travelers in your family. Of course, there’s also some time to simply lie on the beach and enjoy the tropical warmth and sunny skies of Queensland.
Itinerary / 7 DAYSPLAN YOUR TRIP
DAY 1Arrival into Brisbane
You’ll be met at the airport for a transfer to your hotel, Ovolo The Valley, where you’ll spend the next three nights. This colorful hotel brings a sense of whimsy to Fortitude Valley, one of Brisbane’s highlights. Just north of the Story Bridge, the Valley is a mix of all that makes the city fascinating, from historic buildings to new restaurants and bars. It’s where you’ll find Brisbane’s lively Chinatown, the Emporium shopping center and boutiques of James Street, and a range of dining options.
After you get settled into your large room with its eye-popping floral motifs and enjoy the free in-room snacks and a soda from the complimentary minibar, head out for a stroll around the Valley.
DAY 2Explore Brisbane
After your tour, you’ll be ready for lunch, which is on your own. Brisbane has an abundance of alfresco dining options; pairing a meal with the blissful climate is a must on any visit. At the South Bank Parklands, where you’ll join a bicycle tour later, you’ll find places serving burgers, pizza, and Cal-Mex entrees, among others. Nearby, on the opposite side of the river, the Eagle Street Pier, Brisbane Powerhouse, and Howard Smith Wharves also have appealing local favorites.
Properly fueled up, you’ll enjoy the afternoon with a bicycle tour of Brisbane, beginning at the Wheel of Brisbane in the South Bank Parklands. Your Brisbane by Bicycle guide will provide an overview of the city’s history, culture, and even its cuisine. The pace is leisurely, with many stops to take photos, so don’t worry if you only bike occasionally (or never) back home. While Brisbane has its share of hills, this tour follows the river—a car- and hill-free area.
Then, as the sun sets and the city lights begin to sparkle, you’ll be on your own to explore. Head to The Wheel of Brisbane in the South Bank Parklands—a huge Ferris wheel where you can enjoy 360-degree views of the city while learning about the city’s landmarks via an audio system in your gondola. Afterwards, you’ll find that Brisbane has a variety of family-friendly restaurants to choose from, covering all the world’s cuisines. If your visit falls on a Friday or Saturday night, the Eat Street Market is a must. This dining and entertainment destination features 180 shipping containers that now house a mouthwatering selection of vendors preparing Asian, Mexican, Turkish, and other dishes. Big communal tables and live music performances complete the festive atmosphere.
DAY 3Tangalooma Island Resort
After you arrive on Moreton Island, you can choose from a variety of activities at the resort. One of the island’s most unusual features is the Tangalooma Wrecks—a cluster of 15 ships that were intentionally sunk to create a sheltered anchorage spot on Moreton Bay. You can kayak out to the site or join a snorkeling expedition, which will drop you off alongside the ships. Other options this afternoon include trying the unusual activity of sand tobogganing, a marine discovery cruise, or a jet boat ride. Or you can simply relax on the beaches of Moreton Island and enjoy a long lunch at one of several restaurants.
In the evening, before you head back to Brisbane, you’ll experience a close-up wildlife encounter like no other—a wild dolphin feeding. After a safety briefing, you’ll wade into the ocean beside the resort’s jetty where you can handfeed the wild dolphins as the sun sets.
DAY 4Get to the Gold Coast
Peppers Soul Surfers Paradise soars 77 stories above the sea and the beaches of Surfers Paradise. The building has become an icon of the Gold Coast, thanks in part to its inviting contemporary style. All rooms are apartments that are perfect for families, with full kitchens and washing machines and dryers in all units. After you take in the view from your private balcony, descend to explore some of the shopping and cafes of Surfers Paradise—as well as, of course, the beach.
DAY 5Explore the Gold Coast
Afterwards, get up close and personal with the water you’ve just seen on a thrilling jet boat ride. Go with Paradise Jet Boating on the Broadwater Adventure and you’ll spend 55 minutes zooming across the clear water. You’ll buzz the beach while boating in as little as four inches of water and experience full 360-degree spins. You’ll also speed into the Moreton Bay Marine Park—the Gold Coast’s only jet boat tour to do so—where you can look for dolphins, wallabies, and other wildlife.
In the afternoon, you’ll be on your own. Choose to dive into Australia’s Aboriginal history on a visit to Burleigh Heads National Park and Jellurgal Aboriginal Cultural Centre. Located to the south of Brisbane on the Gold Coast, the center showcases a culture that dates back thousands of years. You’ll learn about dreamtime stories, the didgeridoo, and other aspects of Aboriginal culture and beliefs. The park where the center is located is relatively small, about 67 acres, but includes a diversity of landscapes—grassland, mangroves, rainforest, and beaches—which you can explore on a free path.
DAY 6Koalas and Glow Worms
Currumbin is more than just a place to admire Australia’s wildlife. The Currumbin Wildlife Hospital rescues and rehabilitates some 11,000 animals each year. Include a stop there on your visit to learn about the hospital’s efforts and wish the patients speedy recoveries.
This evening, you’ll head out on an unforgettable night safari. The Southern Cross 4 WD Tours Glow Worm Night Tour will introduce you to a natural spectacle that you can only experience in Queensland and a few other destinations around the world. The glow worms aren’t actually worms, but fly larvae that use their blue-green lights to attract prey to the webs they spin. As they light up the landscape, the effect is truly otherworldly. The outing also includes a nocturnal rainforest walk, where you’ll be able to observe other animals that live in or near Tamborine National Park and that only emerge after sunset, like bats, geckos, and possums. You’ll end your evening of nighttime exploring with hot chocolate and dessert.