Former world number one Pat Rafter has swapped touring the pro tennis circuit to touring his home state of Queensland with his kids Josh (10) and India (7). The US Open champion (and just about the nicest guy to pick up a tennis racket) tells suitcases&strollers about his recent family holiday to far northern Queensland, Australia travelling with his children swimming in the Great Barrier Reef, chilling in Cairns and sharing a meal with a croc. Here are his travel tips to Queensland with kids.

What is so special about North Queensland?

It’s so easy to have a great break in this part of the world.  It’s very relaxing and there are some great experiences for the whole family. The people are laid back and friendly and as a visitor you can’t help but soak up that vibe as well.

What’s so great about the Great Barrier Reef?

The experience is different every time you visit.  No day is the same on the Reef so you are assured of seeing and experiencing something different every time.  We went out with Quicksilver cruises and it’s so interactive. The whole family can really get involved with the snorkeling tours and chatting to staff about the marine life.

Which is your favourite rainforest? 

We loved visiting Mossman Gorge. There is so much natural beauty and the connection with the indigenous culture is really interesting. It makes you appreciate what we have right on our doorstep.

Did you come across any wildlife experiences in North Queensland?

Well, I came close to a 20-foot salt-water crocodile during feeding time at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures [wildlife park]! That was certainly an experience. The kids loved the interaction with koalas, reptiles and bird life at Hartley’s as well.

What is North Queensland's best kept secret?

The fantastic dining experiences in Port Douglas. So much to choose from and they rival some of the best big city restaurants!

If you only have time for one part of northern Queensland, which would you choose? Cairns, Palm Cove or Port Douglas?  

It’s hard to choose [a favourite part] – to get the most out of the region I would really make sure you visit Cairns, Palm Cove and Port Douglas. Cairns has a buzzy vibe because it is the gateway city, Palm Cove is really laid back and relaxing and Port Douglas has a great village feel to it with markets, restaurants, bars and shopping.

What is the most surprising or unexpected part of North Queensland?

I had only been to Cairns before I visited the region last year and it was a surprise to see how just half an hour out of Cairns in Palm Cove the landscape and feel of the place totally changed. Then half an hour up the road again in Port Douglas it changes again. That’s why I really recommend that people experience it all.  

[Love tennis? To find out how to do a tennis grand slam with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story Australian Open Tennis With Kids.]

What was your kids' favourite part of North Queensland?

They loved their day on the reef but also enjoyed the kayaking at Palm Cove. And let’s face it, kids love a resort pool so they amused themselves for hours at Mantra PortSea where we stayed in Port Douglas. 

How long do you need to really see the area properly? 

Give it 5 days at least to really do it justice.

When is the best time of year to visit?

We were there in September and it was perfect conditions weather-wise. But I’m told the winter months are spectacular – while the rest of Australia is freezing, it’s beautiful sunny days in North Queensland.

Where do you recommend as a family-friendly place to stay?

The Mantra resorts in Cairns, Palm Cove and Port Douglas really offer a great family experience. They are all self-contained apartments so you get that extra space and convenience of being able to do your own things at meal time.

What are your top 3 recommendations for things for families to do in far North Queensland?

A day on the Great Barrier Reef, a visit to Mossman Gorge and a visit to Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures

To find out more about how you can encourage your kids to play tennis (and holiday at the same time), read the suitcases&strollers story Tennis Camps