The Sunshine State is a great destination any time of year. Here is our pick of the top stops along the coast.
Australia’s second largest state by area, Queensland (website: www.tq.com.au) is one of the country’s most popular destinations. From Brisbane in the south to Cairns in the north, its coast (where most of the attractions, man-made or natural, are concentrated) stretches over 1,700km (1,077 miles). Pristine rainforest, golden beaches and some of the most beautiful underwater life in the world await, making this gem of a state a real traveller’s paradise.
Australia’s fastest growing city is a vibrant place, and with seven hours of sunshine per day on average in winter, it’s an ideal place to relax and get into the holiday mood. You can do just that at the Southbank Parklands artificial lagoon (website: www.visitsouthbank.com.au): located on the Brisbane River, on the site of the 1988 World Expo, it is now packed on weekends with families enjoying a dip or relaxing on the sandy beach.
Or jump on a city Cat ferry and check out the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary (website: www.koala.net), always a hit with younger visitors, before enjoying a meal at the Breakfast Creek Hotel (website: www.breakfastcreekhotel.com) – a local institution famed for its huge steaks.
Brisbane is home to the Castlemaine Brewery (website: www.xxxx.com.au), so you know what to order to wash that meal down. If you want to relax afterwards, the Brisbane Botanic Gardens at Mt Coot-tha have Queensland’s best collection of subtropical trees and plants.
Renowned for its beautiful setting, Noosa (website: www.tourismnoosa.com.au) has always attracted the rich and famous. One of the Sunshine Coast’s premier resorts, it has plenty to offer, including excellent surfing, shopping and fine dining.
It is also home to Noosa National Park, the most visited national park in Australia. Australia Zoo, Steve Irwin’s ‘Crocodile Park’ (website: www.australiazoo.com.au), is also nearby – it boasts 20 hectares (50 acres) of pristine bush and houses over 750 wildlife species, several of them endangered… not to mention the crocs of course.
Check out the world’s largest sand island (website: www.frasercoastholidays.info) to spot a dingo or two (this is one of the few places where you’ll see them roam free), feel the wind in your hair as you drive along Seventy-Five Mile Beach (in a 4×4 only!), and maybe stop on the way to snap the rusting Maheno Shipwreck, before taking a dip in one of several fresh water lakes.
The island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, is home to no fewer than 354 species of birds – a birdwatcher’s delight.
Animal lovers should head for Bundaberg (website: www.bundabergregion.info) for one of nature’s most touching spectacles. Every year between November and March, turtles come to nest on the local beaches. Watch them bury their eggs in the sand after sunset. Six to eight weeks later tiny hatchlings will scramble for the ocean and start on a long journey that will eventually begin the turtle life cycle all over again. Cute or what?
Great Barrier Reef
Nobody fails to be gobsmacked by the sheer beauty and size of the Great Barrier Reef (website: www.greatbarrierreef.org), one of the world’s great natural wonders. Stretching for 2,000km (1,200 miles) along the Queensland Coast, the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem is so big it can be seen from space.
This truly unique environment is home to a mind-boggling 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 types of molluscs. From reef sharks and manta rays to colourful parrot, damsel and clown fish, from sea turtles to starfish, the warm waters are teeming with a bewildering variety of sealife.
Snorkel or dive (many local diving schools teach the basics to beginners in less than a week), but whatever you do, remember to preserve this fragile ecosystem for future generations.
If you’d rather be on the water than in it, or indeed if what you’re after is just relaxing on an immaculate white sandy beach, make sure you take time to explore the Whitsundays (website: www.whitsundaytourism.com), the sailing destination par excellence.
There are 74 pristine islands to choose from, the most famous one being Whitehaven Beach (the photo that graces a thousand tourist brochures!). Want to get away from it all? It doesn’t get much better than this.
Cairns and the north
If time allows, spend a couple of days in Cairns (website: www.tropicalaustralia.com.au), the gateway to Northern Queensland (and Backpacker Central) before heading north towards Cape Tribulation, which is as far up along the coast as most visitors venture.
The Kuranda Skyway Rainforest Cableway (website: www.skyrail.com.au) is a good place to start, offering a bird’s-eye view of the lush vegetation that covers most of the region. The Atherton Tablelands, the Daintree Forest and Cape Tribulation are all home to endemic and/or endangered species (including several frogs, bats, possums and the impressive cassowary) and beautiful waterfalls (these are the tropics after all), so pack good walking shoes and take a hike.
You can stop in Port Douglas, a pretty seaside resort with a charming old town, on the way back, and watch the sun set on this tropical paradise.