Kids ratty from too much TV? Send The Wiggles to the naughty corner. These all-green, all-grounding micro-itineraries will have you and your cherubs out of the house and loving nature in no time.

But hold up. ‘Why a national park’ you ask?

Planet Ark found that today’s children are spending more time inside and on screens than ever – and we may be setting them up to be the ‘unhappy generation’ (Needing Trees report, 2015). A beyondblue-funded study found children who experience high levels of contact with nature have a stronger sense of self-worth and superior cognitive function. So let’s do this, parents! Nature is our friend – bugs, dirt and all!

As a parent you’ve probably already got a bunch of questions about going to a NSW national park. What do I bring, are there amenities? Can I get a coffee there? (Very important!) The good news is: it’s not that far, it’s not that hard, and we’ve made it easy for you to make some magic memories with your little people.

  • Fairyland Track, Lane Cove National Park

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    Just 20 minutes from Sydney CBD, ‘Fairyland’ is an awesome little pocket of green that forms just a small part of the much bigger Great North walk – a 250km trek that links Sydney with the Hunter Valley and Newcastle.

    Begin the Fairyland track at Quebec Road (accessed by River Road), West Chatswood. The 1km (or 30 minute) track is suitable for preschoolers but – due to stairs – prams may find it a bit rough going. Bring your KeepCup for a takeaway coffee en route – there are unfortunately no cafes on this track but West Chatswood isn’t far, or the Skyline cafe, accessed at Delhi Road makes a good coffee.

    Did You Know? In 1896 the Swan family bought the rich, fertile land along Fairyland track to develop a ‘pleasure resort’. A dance hall, flying foxes, and a ‘razzle dazzle roundabout’ were built – keeping Sydneysiders entertained at weekends. After its demise in the 1960’s, the site was added to Lane Cove National Park.

    Older kids will love the longer, 5km one-way Riverside walking track on the other side of the A38. Hit the path at Riverside Drive near the park entry. Yes to picnic areas. Yes to river views. If you’re lucky, yes to swamp wallabies! BYO water, food and snacks.

  • Burrawang Walk at Kurnell, Bare Island and… a snake show!? Kamay Botany Bay National Park

    This easy loop walk starts at Kurnell Visitor Centre, approx 14km drive northeast from Cronulla where parking and coffee are available. Captain Cook’s first landing place can be found here – along with a rich and illuminating history of the meeting of European and Aboriginal culture.

    Part of the walk includes a smooth paved walk wrapped around Commemoration Flat with great views of Botany Bay and Sydney city. All kids and kids at heart will love spotting jets taking off and landing from Mascot and the enormous ships entering Botany Bay, watching from the safety of the Kamay Botany Bay National Park shoreline. Read: views, native animals and epic whale watching May through November!

    Though the historical significance of Burrawang track will be lost on really young children, it may encourage deep and important conversations with older kids. For the parent weary from nappy chat, this walk will serve up a welcome dose of different things to see and think about.

    If you’re in the Botany Bay neighbourhood on a Sunday, get yourself on a Bare Island Fort tour at 1.30pm, 2.30pm or 3.30pm. This military fort was built in 1885 to protect Botany Bay – known then as ‘Sydney’s back door’. It has many curious secrets… just ask Tom Cruise! Mission Impossible II was filmed here in 2000. Fees apply, more info here.

    Did you know: On other side of Botany Bay in La Perouse you can find the longest-running-reptile-show-in-the-world!? The La Perouse Snake Show – on every Sunday and Public Holiday at 1.30pm, Cann Park (LINK) , will have the kids transfixed. How refreshing! As has been done over the past century, the snake man will pass his hat around for donations before the last slithery reptile is introduced. More info here.

  • South Head Heritage Trail, Sydney Harbour National Park

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    Pick a low-wind day and drive or ferry the fam to Watsons Bay. From there, make your way to the South Head section of Sydney Harbour National Park – either taking the beach route along Camp Cove (a kid-friendly harbour beach with a kiosk. Note: lifeguards only in peak summer season) or rolling along Cliff Street.

    First, a few stairs, then the 1km, or 45 minute (depending on how much you gush over the views), looped walk begins. It’s easy going with a number of great ‘stop-spots’ along the way. You’ll pass by a discreet stairway to one of Sydney’s best-loved nude beaches – we’re looking at you Lady…Bay. A gorgeous two-tone lighthouse. And a number of military tunnels, cannons, gunpowder storage rooms, gun pits and spotlight stations – all built to defend Sydney from invasion. Interested? You can learn more about a Japanese sub attack on Sydney Harbour here.

    There’s plenty to keep the kids entertained on the walk, but please beware – there are no fences on this walk. Keep the kids near and stay away from cliff edges. The paths are pram friendly, but there are a few stairs along the way.

    The views are truly awe-inspiring, and did we mention the promise of tasty food and refreshments at Watson’s Bay after your adventure?

    Pro Tip : If you’re feeling extra generous, there’s a fun playground in Robertson Park. Also plenty of green lawn for a picnic. You’re likely to witness some nuptials – this is a much loved spot for weddings!

    Take-away fish and chips, anyone? This is better viewing than The Bachelor!

  • Fairfax Walk at North Head – Sydney Harbour National Park

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    A wise man once said, “North Head is like South Head, just north”. WRONG!

    Even more epic views and nature await you here… Along with parking, toilets, a visitor centre and a cafe. Yes to coffee. Yes to ice-blocks.

    It’s worth packing the SLR for this visit. The Fairfax walk offers a 1km fully paved loop around the North Headland. Get there from North Head Scenic Drive – a 10-minute drive up the hill from Manly. Definitely best accessed by car. Parking available.

    Cue postcard material and multi-Insta-snaps! There are simply stunning views from the circuit and lookouts. And throughout May-November you’ll have a whale of a time – for real!

    Pro Tip: If your kids are older and your feet are still itchy after the Fairfax walk, head on through North Head Sanctuary and take the Bluefish Track to Shelly Beach – a reward in itself. Bring your bathers for a swim in this stunning aquatic reserve. Just save enough mojo for the walk back!

  • West Head Look Out, Resolute Picnic Area and Red Hands Cave, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park

    People enjoying the view out to sea from West Head lookout.

    People enjoying the view out to sea from West Head lookout. Photo: David Finnegan

    Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park

    David Finnegan

    20km north of Sydney, and just 1km west of world-famous Summer Bay (read: Home And Away) lies West Head. It’s a pram-friendly lookout with breath-taking views over Pittwater, Hawkesbury, Broken Bay, Barrenjoey Headland and the lighthouse.

    It’s easy to spend a bit of time here just-being. Great for a visit if you’ve got really little ones who don’t mind a car drive – do yours nod off too? Take West Head Road from McCarr’s Creek Road via Terrey Hills, or from the direction of Church Point. Parking is available 50 metres from the lookout, further if it’s busy.

    The Resolute Picnic Area is just a few minutes up the road. It’ll have you shaded below Sydney red gums in no time. There are BBQ facilities for plan-ahead types and an environmentally-friendly toilet for those of us whom nature strikes (empty your back pockets first! There’s no recovery from this one). Bring all your own supplies, including water – it’s all pure, unadulterated nature up here.

    Did You Know? Be still for just a moment. Know that you are surrounded by a quiet symphony of Aboriginal art throughout this area in the form of ancient rock art and engravings; in fact, over 350 Aboriginal sites have been recorded in this park.

    Only 600m from the picnic area, just an easy 10-minute walk, you’ll find the Red Hands Cave – the most renowned, known rock art in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. The air in this sacred place leaves you feeling a little bit different… and rich with reflective wonderment.

    Big kids can take on the full Aboriginal Heritage walk. It’s a 4.4km loop, taking around three hours, give or take. Be sure to take plenty of water with you. Enjoy the nature – and the journey of young minds expanding before your eyes.

And, because we know you’re familiar with it, let’s finish with a little bit of ‘housekeeping’ 🙂
It’s a good idea to:

  • Check the NPWS website ahead of your planned visit, or call the Park Visitor Centre – controlled burning or fire bans can close parks at short notice
  • Pack lots of water, snacks and sunscreen – and whatever else you’ve got in your parent-kit! A basic first-aid kit keeps you prepped for trips and falls
  • Pack a plastic-backed picnic rug to throw down when you find that sweet spot under a tree, or on a beach
  • Bring your own rubbish bags. Many parks don’t have rubbish bins so that wildlife is protected from harmful human food scraps, tins and wrappers
  • Charge your phone ahead of time – for happy snaps – or bring your SLR. The best memories are made in nature – 90 percent of them in fact! Learn more here.
  • Leave no trace. As they say, ‘the only thing you should leave in a park is your gentle footprints’.

Nicely done, parents!

So there’s your top five – the top picks for families. Hope you like them! There’s plenty more to come…