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Why go: It’s a laidback city with awesome age-old churches, crystal-clear water teeming with marine life, fantastic shopping (fashion accessories specifically), good local food and wonderful hospitality.
Things to do: If the golden sand beach doesn’t keep you busy, go mango shopping (Cebuano mangoes are among the best in the country), visit guitar factories (they have cute toy guitars for little hands), get acquainted with the various historical sites (a half-day city tour will suffice). The Shangri-La Mactan Island Resort & Spa (www.shangri-la.com) has gorgeous kids’ club with play areas for infants, toddlers and older kids. Its short strip of private beach has parasails, glass-bottom kayaks, snorkelling and diving equipment for hire, plus there’s an area dedicated to sandcastle building – colourful spades and tubs included. Parents take note: Chi spa is among the best in the region.
When to go: September to February is cool and dry and temperatures rarely hit above 28 deg C. During the rainy season between June and August, scattered showers bring relief to the usually hot and humid weather, plus hotels hand out low-season rates.
What to pack: Lightweight casual wear, beach sandals, sunblock and after-sun care lotion. Leave space for souvenirs – fresh and dehydrated mangoes.
Getting there: SilkAir operates direct flights to Cebu.
TAMBORINE MOUNTAIN, GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA
Why go: The immensely picturesque “green behind gold” offers cool weather and crisp mountain air all year round. The tranquil high country escape (it’s 550m above sea level) is 45 minutes’ drive away from beachy fun.
Things to do: Go bush walking (UNESCO World Heritage – listed Lamington National Park has 160km of marked walking trails), check out the 180m long O’Reilly’s Tree Top Walk (the highest point is 30m above ground) or zip through the forest with the 160m long flying fox. Thunderbird Park has a Thunderegg mine (hunt for lava rocks called Thunder eggs), horse rides through the bush and a mini golf facility. If you absolutely must shop, hop over to Gallery Walk. Don’t miss Granny Mac’s store for its 80 varieties of freshly made fudge. Bina Burra Mountain Lodge (www.binnaburralodge.com.au) has rustic timber and log cabin accommodation and a well-run kids’ club (activities include rainforest adventure, rock climbing, abseiling, archery and bush walks). Family-oriented Cedar Creek Lodges (www.cedarcreeklodges.com.au) has two-bedroom lodges along the banks or Cedar Creek. In-room facilities include a wood fireplace and washing machine.
When to go: Summer, between December and February, when temperatures hover between 20 and 25 deg C. Expect wet weather, but the rain clears quickly in Queensland. It’s about 15 deg C during the much cooler and drier winter months of June to August.
What to pack: Walking shoes and light sweater for cool mornings and evenings.
Getting there: Fly to Brisbane; Tamborine Mountain is an hour’s drive from the airport.
Why go: Dubbed the New Phuket because it’s cleaner, quieter and cheaper. Beach umbrellas are banned and pesky touts are as rare as tall buildings.
Things to do: Asia’s rock climbing capital offers plenty of outdoor fun in a postcard-perfect setting framed by towering limestone cliffs. All your usual sea-based activities are available. Land excursion options include tours to natural hot spring, Tiger Cave (one of Southern Thailand’s most famous forest temples) and an emerald-coloured lagoon. Ao Nang is Krabi’s busiest beach and that’s quiet compared to Phuket’s Patong. Railay and Phra Nang beaches, a 20-minute longtail boat ride away, offer long stretches of powder-fine sand and clear water. Rayavadee resort (www.rayavadee.com) is expensive but worth the splurge. Accessible only by boat, Krabi’s beast beachers Railay and Phra Nang are at the resort’s doorstep. Staff are very good with children.
When to go: It’s always hot and humid, though November to March is cooler. Avoid Thailand’s hottest month in April.
What to pack: Beach sandals, walking shoes, insect repellent and sunblock.
Getting there: Tiger Airways operates direct flights to Krabi.
Why go: Paradise is just four hours’ flight away. You don’t have to snorkel to swim with the fish. They, baby sharks included, are right there, darting about beneath your feet as you wade into the sea. The best thing about the Maldives: Water around the beach is calm and shallow (about waist-deep for adults).
Things to do: Maldives isn’t all about romance and honeymooning; some resorts are particularly family-friendly. Hilton Maldives Resort & Spa has diving lessons for children eight years and up. Kids’ menus are available and lunch is the perfect time to take them to the underwater restaurant to look at fish and coral while they eat. Four Seasons Maldives at Kuda Huraa (www.fourseasons.com) has a kids’ club offering a wide range of indoor and outdoor activities. The recreation centre can organise nature walks, jet-skiing, fishing and island excursions for the family.
When to go: Between January and April, when the skies are clear and the sea is calm. Depending on your luck, the wet season between May and November could mean endless rain or scattered showers (and it’s low season, so you can snag good hotel deals).
What to pack: Beachwear, smart casual wear for evenings and sunblock
Getting there: Singapore Airlines operates direct flights to Male, the capital. Your resort can arrange a speedboat or seaplane transfer to its island.
Why go: Borneo, the world’s largest island, has abundant wildlife, an astounding variety of flora and fauna and rich and intriguing culture, thanks to the island’s diverse tribes and races.
Things to do: Eat (Sarawak laksa) and shop (textiles and basketware) till you drop in Kuching, visit the orang utan sanctuary, get acquainted with local culture at Sarawak Cultural Village, then get out of the city and head to the jungle. The very experienced Borneo Adventure (www.borneoadventure.com) has fully guided tours and expeditions to longhouses (a chance to interact with fast-disappearing Iban tribe), caves and national parks. Hilton Batang Ai Longhouse Resort (www.hilton.com) is four hours’ drive from Kuching. It has comfortable, longhouse-style accommodation set by a tranquil lake. It’s also an excellent base for outdoor adventure trekking, kayaking, excursions to waterfalls in the middle of the rainforest. A canopy walk behind the resort is a safe and fun place for the kids to get started on forest-based sports. A caveat: The humidity can be exhausting, so dress light.
When to go: March to June are the best months if you’re planning to spend a lot of time outdoors. Avoid the north-east monsoon between October and February.
What to pack: Lightweight clothes, good walking shoes, hiking boots and insect repellent.
Getting there: SilkAir and Malaysian Airlines operate direct flights to Kuching.
WANGANUI, NEW ZEALAND
Why go: Seclusion in the middle of civilisation, adventure in a dense rainforest and a setting that’s unlike home.
Things to do: Base yourself around Whanganui River. Sign up for the Whanganui River Cultural Discovery tour for an insight into the Maori culture (Waka Tours, www.wakatours.net, does it very well)Expect canoe trips deep into Whanganui National Park, stopovers at historical sites and overnight stays at a Marae (traditional Maori village). The wildlife-rich park, with rare species of birds, is a tramper’s dream. For the fit and energetic family, the popular 42km Matemateonga Track is a three-to four-day tramp, one way. But you can always take it easy and admire the spectacular surrounds. Try the charming, family-run Bridge to Nowhere Lodge next to the river (www.bridgetonowheretours.co.nz). On-site is a small farm, and canoe hire, tramping trips and hunting packages are available.
When to go: Between October and April, which is late spring and summer, when temperatures average 21 deg C.
What to pack: Hiking boots, walking shoes and light sweaters.
Getting there: Fly to Auckland, then hop onto an hour-long flight connection to Wanganui airport. It’s a long way to travel and spending a night or two in Auckland may be a wise thing to do.