It’s a great time to discover the best of Queensland, and if you’re needing destination inspiration, look no further!
The Great Barrier Reef
We are blessed to have the world’s largest coral reef system on our doorstep. It’s the gift that just keeps giving to destinations from Cape York in the north to Bundaberg to the south. This natural wonder is a collection of thousands of reefs and coral cays and hundreds of tropical islands, and when it comes to ways to explore it, the choices probably also run to triple figures.
Visitors to Great Barrier Reef waters can swim, snorkel or scuba dive; they can sail or motorboat; some choose to sightsee by chopper or floatplane; others by semi-submersible or glass-bottom boat.
At its centre is holiday hotspot, The Whitsundays. It’s a region with a rich indigenous culture that is revealed on a day trip with Peter from Whitsunday Paradise Explorer, who is a descendant of the Ngaro people. Peter’s tour includes a visit to sacred caves on Hook Island, and a Welcome to Country at nearby Sawmill Beach on Whitsunday Island.
If you feel the need to inject a bit of adrenalin into your holiday, then Ocean Rafting’s fleet of semi-rigid inflatables has been delighting visitors to the Whitsundays for over 20 years. A day of thrill riding is combined with sightseeing and the opportunity to snorkel the reef.
Magical Mission Beach sits between Cairns and Townsville, and the tropical holiday destination is fronted by blue waters that are begging to be explored. The Mission Beach Dunk Island Water Taxi delivers visitors to the shores of Dunk Island, where they are free to explore the national park on foot, or while away their day on the beach or in the water.
For a quality aquatic experience like little else, fly from the Fraser Coast, Bundaberg, Brisbane or the Gold Coast to Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort. It’s on the Southern Great Barrier Reef and is at the heart of a tiny island that’s a haven for sea birds migrating from the northern hemisphere, and for nesting turtles. Divers know it as the home of the manta ray, and as a pristine marine environment with colourful reefs and prolific sea life.
From mountain peaks to mangroves, and wetlands to desert sands… Queensland has a staggering diversity of scenery.
And while it’s our magnificent views that rightly get most of the attention, there are also secrets within the landscape, and stories of its past, that are just waiting to be unearthed.
Slip along the limestone corridors of the Capricorn Caves, near Rockhampton, to experience the extent of this ancient labyrinth. There are daily cave tours for the mildly curious, and much more challenging ones for the more adventurous – visitors who are willing to squeeze themselves into tight corners and through literal holes in the wall.
Cobbold Gorge is officially Queensland’s youngest, at a mere 10,000 years old. It’s a six-hour drive into the outback from Townsville or Cairns, and it’s the equivalent of happening upon a needle in a haystack, considering it’s a narrow slice through the sandstone conglomerate on a property that spans 130,000 hectares. There are options to motor, SUP or fly over the spectacular waterway, and accommodation options to encourage you to prolong your outback adventure.
High on a mesa, overlooking the stark plains of outback Queensland is Australia’s Disneyland for dinosaur devotees. The Australian Age of Dinosaurs near Winton is home to the planet’s best collection of large Australian dinosaur fossils. It’s a world-class palaeontology museum that includes the southern hemisphere’s busiest fossil preparation laboratory. Several exciting visitor experiences are on offer, including a behind-the-scenes look at fossil preparation; a guided introduction to the collection room, where ancient specimens are housed in climate-controlled conditions; and a tour of Dinosaur Canyon – where scenes from the prehistoric past have been recreated in life-sized dino-ramas.
Long before highrises and holidaymakers, the Sunshine Coast’s landscape of sand and sea was home to the Kabi Kabi – or Saltwater People. Their culture is acknowledged and shared by the operators of Saltwater Eco Tours, who run 2 hour guided cruises from Mooloolaba, aboard a century-old sailing ketch. It’s a tour with depth, and knowledge shared by people with a passion for indigenous culture and eco-tourism. Needless to say, the scenery makes for a spectacular backdrop.
Islands and Beaches
Name any other state in Australia that can list as many choices, when it comes to holidaying with the sand between your toes?! From Coolangatta to Cape York, and through the Gulf of Carpentaria, Queensland has a phenomenal range of beach and island experiences to tempt travellers. There’s more than one perfect place for anyone activity, be it water sports, boating, fishing, surfing or simply lounging under a beach umbrella with a cocktail in hand.
Heron Island Resort is in one of Queensland’s most remarkable locations. It’s on a coral cay on the Southern Great Barrier Reef, where access to an incredibly diverse range of marine life is only footsteps away. Across the seasons, Heron Island hosts migrating sea birds and nesting turtles. It witnesses the winter passage of humpback whales and the arrival of manta rays. Year-round it offers spectacular diving and snorkelling opportunities.
It’s not-too-distant neighbour Wilson Island also offers the sea and the sand, as well as a more exclusive ‘alone on a secluded island’ experience, but one with five-star trimmings.
There’s another tiny island further up the Queensland coast that stays exclusive because it only allows about 30 guests at a time. Pumpkin Island is a 45-minute boat ride from Yeppoon, on the Capricorn Coast. All seven cottages and bungalows are self-contained, so guests are expected to arrange catering, or BYO their provisions. Visitors have been known to invite family or friends to join them and take temporary possession of the whole island.
Generations of families have made Minjerribah, or North Stradbroke Island, their holiday home. Even the strongest of those connections are nothing compared with the cultural bond felt by its first residents, the Quandamooka people. You can see the beautiful island through their eyes during a guided walk with Quandamooka Coast Tours. They offer a range of wonderful cultural experiences.
There are more than 70 islands sprinkled across the brilliant blue waters of the Whitsundays, and the most famous stretch of sand is Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island. Cruise Whitsundays offers half and full-day trips to the internationally-renown coastline. Its pure white silica sand is postcard perfect.
If you’re an animal lover, who enjoys some non-human interaction when you travel, then Wildlife HQ Zoo at the Big Pineapple on the Sunshine Coast could be just the ticket. There’s the opportunity to get involved with meals for meerkats, lunch with the lemurs, and tea-time for tamarins. It’s like travelling the globe, including a stop in Asia to feed the beautiful red pandas.
If you prefer animal encounters on a grander scale, then June to November is Humpback Whale season, in Queensland and there are plenty of water-based and land-based vantage points from which to watch the magnificent mammals on their annual migration. The calm, protected waters of Hervey Bay are a favourite destination for both the whales and whale-watchers. That’s why it’s known as Australia’s whale watching capital, and why it was named the world’s first Whale Heritage site. The Fraser Coast doesn’t have whales all to itself. There are several tourist operators in Southeast Queensland that offer day cruises to would-be whale watchers.
One of the most incredible nature experiences to be enjoyed in Queensland is a ranger-led turtle encounter from the Mon Repos Turtle Centre. Mon Repos is a beach just outside Bundaberg, and it is the largest nesting site for loggerhead turtles in the South Pacific. Turtle season runs from November to March and during November to January, guests can witness turtles nesting. Hatchlings emerge between late January and March.
Magnetic Island, off Townsville, is home to one of the world’s most concentrated populations of wild koalas. Take the Magnetic Island Fort Walk and you’ll not only see stunning views, but also plenty of these iconic Aussie animals.
The alternative is the classic koala cuddle at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, at Fig Tree Pocket in suburban Brisbane. You can also tick kangaroo, dingo, wombat, platypus and a range of Australian native animals off the must-see list, during a day at Lone Pine.
Another flurry of furry and feathery encounters is available at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, on the Gold Coast. The sanctuary is best-known for lorikeet feeding time, but the support acts range from reptile shows to displays featuring magnificent birds of prey.
There’s something to be said for giving routine a shake-up and setting off on an adventure. Point the compass in any direction and you’ll find a part of Queensland that answers that call.
When it comes to unforgettable experiences that involve a bit of a challenge, K’Gari or Fraser Island has plenty! There are kilometres of exposed and unpopulated coastline for four-wheel drivers to explore; isolated swimming spots perched high in the dunes, and bush sand tracks that wind through ancient forests. How about the idea of travelling the world’s largest sand island by foot? Fraser Island Hiking offers pack-free camping. Walks are self-guided, but the operator gets guests started, and sets up camp for single or multiple nights stays under the stars.
The alternative to roughing it is to visit Kingfisher Bay Resort. The resort is nestled in nature on the western side of Fraser Island, and it has accommodation to suit any group size, including Resort Hotel Rooms, King Accommodation and Family Villas. There’s a selection of onsite restaurants at which to dine, and ranger-guided tours departing daily.
Another adventure island is Magnetic Island. Holiday packages on the rocky outcrop that’s a stone’s throw from Townsville can include running and mountain bike experiences, or a variety of on-water activities. Magnetic Island Sea Kayaks outings include both accredited eco-tours in search of nature and more leisurely sunset paddles that simply take in the views.
So many great Queensland adventures involve a climb or a challenging hike, and Southern Queensland Country has plenty of both to offer. Girraween National Park, outside Stanthorpe, is a stand-out bushwalking location, and hikers who really want to put themselves to the test, can take on The Pyramid. It’s quite the scramble up the massive granite dome, but the payoff is spectacular views and a great sense of achievement.
A bareboating self-skippered holiday in the Whitsundays is bucket list-worthy. No formal sailing qualifications are required, not even a boat licence. Go Bareboating! is one of several operators that offers all the tuition, before setting crews on their way. There’s a special sense of freedom associated with this kind of liveaboard experience.
Surfing is a popular adventure activity, and Queensland has some brilliant point and beach breaks. Don’t worry if you’re a complete novice, because there are surf instructors up and down the coast who are itching to convert you. The waves on the southern end of the Gold Coast have a reputation for being some of the best in the world. On a good day, the stretch from Double Island Point to Rainbow Beach turns on Australia’s longest wave. Noosa National Park is a world surfing reserve that is known for its epic longboard break.
What’s that saying: it’s all about the journey, not the destination? Well, Queensland is a road-tripper’s delight!
That might mean hooking up a caravan to go touring; driving west through the heart of Outback Queensland; following the spine of the Great Dividing Range on Australia’s Country Way; or taking on all (or part) of the Pacific Coast Way, that connects Brisbane to Cairns. If that last suggestion appeals, then here are a few of many stopover ideas on the drive north, that might be overlooked if you’re focussed on major town centres.
With access to a four-wheel drive, the Great Beach Drive is a lovely way to begin. It connects the Sunshine Coast and the Gympie region with Fraser Island, foregoing the bitumen for sand, and passing scenic highlights like Teewah and Rainbow Beach.
Bundaberg and its surrounds are always worth a stop, if only for the year-round selection of fresh local produce that the region grows – and the beverages that it’s well known to brew.
Just north of Mackay is a waterfront caravan park that has much more going for it than just pretty views. Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park and its neighbouring national park have mobs of resident kangaroos and wallabies that like to greet the dawn each day, on the beach. It makes for awesome photo opportunities when there’s a glorious sunrise.
Just outside Ingham, on the road between Townsville and Cairns, is the spectacular Wallaman Falls. It’s Australia’s longest single drop waterfall at a whopping 275 metres. There are walking trails around the falls as well as a 3.2km return hike to its base.
If you’ve made it to Cairns, then here’s the temptation to go further. The road from Cairns to Port Douglas is one of Australia’s most scenic coastal drives, and the journey is made more enjoyable behind the wheel of something special from Cairns Luxury Car Hire. There’s rainforest to the left, and the Coral Sea to the right along what’s called the Great Barrier Reef Drive. A first stop might be Nu Nu Restaurant at delightful Palm Cove. You’ll know you are in the north after a visit to Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures. There are so many other spots on the drive to stop and take it all in, including Rex’s Lookout and Ellis Beach. Then a wonderful accommodation offering among the many in the tourist town of Port Douglas is the five-star Pullman Sea Temple Resort.
So, if you would like to take a drive; reconnect with family and friends; or escape outdoors and immerse yourself in the diverse natural wonders in Queensland’s backyard; then start your planning at Queensland.com. Look for the Good To Go stamp on the website that assures travellers that a tourist operator has the required COVID SAFE documentation. You now have the freedom to explore the parts of Queensland, about which you may have only ever dreamed.