Queensland has more than its fair share of natural beauty. It’s famous for UNESCO World Heritage List heavyweights like the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest but it doesn’t stop there. There are scores of lesser-known islands and beaches just as worthy of your time. There are endless options for driving and hiking trails through rainforests and up mountains. The stark beauty of the Outback contrasts with a scattering of cosmopolitan cities and laidback beach towns.
I was born and raised in Queensland, one of the most beautiful regions on earth. I loved it when I lived there but when I moved away I realised just how special a place like Queensland is and how much more I have to see. I hope that these photos inspire you to carve out some time to get to know the sunshine state too.
Seventy-four islands make up the Whitsundays archipelago in northern Queensland but you can only stay on a few. Hamilton Island has the broadest range of accommodation options. The luxurious Qualia Resort attracts the A-Listers, while the range of affordable apartments makes it accessible for the rest of us.
It’s also a popular day trip from Airlie Beach. You can visit the island on its own or as part of a cruise to the other Whitsunday Islands with Cruise Whitsundays. The recently refurbished marina is a little too cutesy for my liking but the clear water at Catseye Beach is my idea of heaven.
It’s easy to see why Whitehaven Beach is the crown jewel of the Whitsundays and is considered the best beach in Australia. Whitehaven is a freak of nature a million years in the making. Whitehaven’s beach is composed of silica, which makes the beach a bright white without getting too hot in the Queensland sunshine.
It’s squeaky clean, thanks to careful conservation efforts and no development on the beach. Since you can’t stay on Whitsunday Island, Whitehaven is never too crowded.
Green Island on the Great Barrier Reef
The UNESCO World Heritage Listed Great Barrier Reef needs no introduction. Somehow Green Island, a coral cay in the middle of the reef, has flown under the radar. I’ll never forget seeing Green Island for the first time. It was love at first sight, as we approached by boat on a day trip from Cairns. Green Island is fringed by a bright white beach, covered in rainforest and dunked in a shallow part of the Great Barrier Reef. It’s exactly my idea of the perfect tropical island.
You can snorkel the Great Barrier Reef straight from the beach, hopping in and out of the water as little or as often as you please. Admittedly, the coral and wildlife on this part of the reef is not as diverse as it is in the much deeper Outer Ree, but it is still beautiful. I’m more of a beach lounger than a serious swimmer but the water here is so beautiful that I had to drag myself out at the end of the day.
Port Douglas is a more sophisticated (and expensive) alternative to Cairns. The major drawcard for Port Douglas is Four Mile Beach, which makes me want to pack up my life and move to the tropics.
“This is the deadliest patch of river in the world. If you fall in I will dive in to save you.”
This was my introduction to the Daintree River as I sat in a boat that I decided at that moment, was nowhere near big enough. Full of bullsharks and crocodiles, the Daintree River is not somewhere for dangling your hands or feet in – but it sure is pretty.
Daintree Rainforest & Mossman Gorge
Inside the Daintree Rainforest is the beautiful Mossman Gorge. We visited with an eco guide, who took us to the only watering hole in TNQ that he knew was safe to swim in. Tropical North Queensland is crocodile territory, but this part of the creek was too cold even for crocs!
Lesson: If it is too cold for super tough crocodiles, it’s pretty freaking cold.
The Daintree Rainforest is the oldest in the world. Like the Daintree River, it didn’t last this long by being a pushover. Marvel at its toughness and beauty on a guided walk with an eco-guide.
How many other places in the world can you see two UNESCO World Heritage Listed sites at once?
At Cape Tribulation, the Great Barrier Reef meets the Daintree Rainforest. It’s a one-of-a-kind beach. You might not want to swim though, as humans aren’t the only ones who go ga-ga for Cape Tribulation – it’s home to a few crocodiles. For the best view of Cape Trib, check out Mt Alexandra Lookout (pictured).
The secret is out. Brisbane is officially cool. Lonely Planet confirmed something that locals have known for years. Spend a few days in town enjoying the subtropical climate and the laidback lifestyle. This is my hometown, so I am a little biased, but I am yet to meet anyone who has been to Brisbane recently who hasn’t fallen a little bit in love.
The one caveat? You have to know where to go. Apart from Southbank Parklands, Brisbane is not easy for the unprepared tourist. Lucky you know of a certain blog with a soft spot for Brisbane 😉
Moreton Island is the third-largest sand island in the world, which means finding your own private beach is easy – if you have a 4WD. You’ll also need another friend in your convoy to tow you out when you get bogged in the sand.
Tangalooma Resort is popular if you’re coming over car-less and want to feed dolphins. Without a car though, you’ll have to be happy with busier beaches.
You’ve heard of the Slow Food Movement and the Slow Cities movement but have you ever been to a Slow Island?
Stradbroke Island qualified as the world’s first Slow Island, reflecting the community’s commitment to the environment, a relaxed lifestyle and local business. It’s a 20 minute ferry trip from Brisbane, so it’s an accessible day trip if you’re short on time – but I’m warning you, you won’t want to leave.
It’s a 20 minute ferry trip from Brisbane, so it’s an accessible day trip if you’re short on time – but I’m warning you, you won’t want to leave.
Cairns is a popular base for visiting the Great Barrier Reef, Kuranda and Cape Tribulation. It’s a tourist hot spot but it’s easy to see why – laidback, warm & sunny (except during the wet season!).
The new lagoon is the perfect spot for relaxing between adventures ( or for nursing a backpacker bar-inflicted hangover).
Southern Queensland Country
Queensland is best known for its coastal beauty but this doesn’t mean you should forget the countryside. It’s the only region of Queensland that gets beautiful Autumn foliage, making it perfect for a day trip from Brisbane as the temperature drops.
Sunshine Coast Hinterland
The beaches of the Sunshine Coast are hard to beat but my favourite part of the Sunshine Coast are the Glasshouse Mountains. You can climb a fair few of them, but the best spot for taking them all in is at Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve.
“Maggie” is a chilled out little island just off the coast of Townsville, the second-largest city in the state. I visited last year during a one-night stopover in Townsville and made a beeline for Horseshoe Bay.
We had the beach to ourselves, ate fish & chips for dinner by the beach as the sun set and then hopped on the ferry back to Townsville. Finding some peace & quiet has never been easier!
Kuranda Scenic Railway
Just outside of Cairns is the mountain-top village of Kuranda, shrouded by thick rainforest.
Kuranda is cute but the journey is even more beautiful than the destination. You can go to and from Kuranda by the Scenic Railway or the Skyrail. The railway is an engineering marvel, built by European migrants in 1891. The track cuts through the mountains with 15 tunnels and 37 bridges, all built without modern machinery. It’s a hot and sweaty ride in summer. Because the train has stayed true to it’s 19th-century roots there is no air-conditioning. Luckily, the views over the rainforest and waterfalls are definitely worth it!
I was terrified the entire time but I loved the jaw-dropping views from the Kuranda Skyrail. My fear of heights aside, floating above the rainforest as we made our way up the mountain was one of the most memorable journeys of my life.
An hour south of Brisbane, the Gold Coast is just as popular with locals as it is with international tourists. Recently, it has been shedding its party town reputation. Small businesses that cater to more discerning locals and visitors are driving a cool change for the Gold Coast.
The view from the Top of the Rock in New York was incredible, but nothing compares with the view from Skypoint on the Gold Coast. I’ve visited multiples times and can easily spend hours up there every time.
Have you been to Queensland? Would you like to?