Make It Count in Tropical Queensland
Full of vast outdoor spaces, culture and heritage, wildlife, and adventure, Queensland is the bucket list trip you've been dreaming of.
This is a feature from Issue 12 of Charitable Traveller.
You’ll want your first long-haul holiday after the pandemic to give you something truly special. How about the world’s largest barrier reef, animals found nowhere else on earth, and a culture that dates back 65,000 years?
Perhaps you spent the long months of lockdown dreaming of wild open spaces and adventures to stimulate your senses. Well, it’s all there waiting for you, where world heritage rainforest and reef meet, in Queensland.
If this vibrant Australian state has been on your bucket list for years then now is the time to go, and if you’ve visited before, you can be sure of an extra warm welcome. Feel the tropical sun on your skin this winter while you spot kangaroos and crocs, snorkel with colourful giant fish and wander through a rainforest that dates back to the time of the dinosaurs.
If you’re after a touch of luxury, you’ll be pleased to hear Queensland had an abundance of stunning lodges, hotels, and villas in the state, so you can return to fine dining and crisp sheets at the end of the day of encountering the state’s cities, outback, and coastline.
And while you’re getting ready for Queensland to renew your senses, why not make your trip of a lifetime count for someone else besides? Let Charitable Travel’s experts arrange your perfect Queensland adventure and you can choose a charity close to your heart to benefit from a donation worth 5% of the cost of your holiday at no extra expense to you.
Great Barrier Reef
Like a mini world of its own, Queensland embraces lush rainforest, sand islands, the red earth of the outback and turquoise waters. The state is the only place on earth where two natural Unesco World Heritage Sites meet, Australia’s Wet Tropics, spreading down to the Great Barrier Reef on Queensland’s spectacular coast. Daintree, the world’s oldest tropical rainforest, is part of the Wet Tropics and dates back millions of years. Pre-historic plant species still grow here and David Attenborough was inspired to call it ‘the most extraordinary place on earth.
Among the thick foliage, you can try spearfishing or river rafting and have your stress melted away in a luxury spa. For a different Tropics perspective, you can take the Kuranda Scenic Railway from Cairns through Barron Gorge National Park, stopping to view waterfalls on the way or join the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway soaring right over the tree canopy up with the cockatoos and parrots. The scale is no less spectacular under Queensland’s turquoise waters where the world’s largest coral reef system, the Great Barrier Reef, is about the size of 70 million football pitches.
The state is the only place on earth where two natural UNESCO World Heritage Sites meet, Australia’s Wet Tropics spreading down to the Great Barrier Reef
Dive right in, snorkel, sail or kayak the reef. You can even sleep the night out on the ocean or partake in coral restoration. Queensland has five of Australia’s 11 natural world heritage sites; besides the Wet Tropics and Barrier Reef, the ‘famous five’ include the Gondwana rainforests, K’gari (Fraser Island), the world’s largest sand island, and the fossil mammal site at Riversleigh where 200 previously unknown species were discovered. All the heritage sites are easily accessible; just a short drive from Surfers’ Paradise you could be trekking the bush of the Gold Coast Hinterland. From Brisbane, you can head into the mountain ranges of the Scenic Rim and stay at a vineyard planted on the volcanic soil of an ancient caldera.
Cairns, meanwhile, is a gateway to both rainforest and reef. For a deeper connection with the land be sure to seek out the stories of its Aboriginal and Straits Islander custodians on specialised tours.
Daintree National Park
Queensland is Australia’s second-largest state, seven times the size of Britain, so naturally, there are plenty of open spaces ranging from Brisbane’s Botanic Gardens to the vast outback and with over 200 national parks waiting to be explored. In the east you can take to the water and sail between the white sand Whitsunday Islands, perhaps staying at a luxury hotel here and using it as your base for exploring the barrier reef. The recent George Clooney and Julia Roberts movie Ticket to Paradise was filmed in Queensland and much of the action took place at the luxury Qualia resort on the Whitsundays’ Hamilton Island.
Queensland’s Outback is a place of pioneers. You can learn more about one of the world’s oldest airlines at the Qantas Founders Museum at Longreach and take the chance to walk out on the wing of a Boeing 747. In the same town, immerse yourself in early ranching life at the Stockman’s Hall of Fame and Outback Heritage Centre – you can even take a flying stagecoach ride. Heading back into pre-history, discover Jurassic treasures on the Australian Dinosaur Trail that links the towns of Winton, Richmond and Hughenden. Visit fossil preparation labs, have a go at digging for bones and see footprints from the site of the only recorded dinosaur stampede.
In Queensland’s Northwestern corner the classic red landscapes of Munga Thirri National Park (Simpson Desert), can be accessed by a four-wheel drive from Birdsville. Start your adventure by watching the sunset from the town’s largest dune, and the town even hosts an annual horse race and the world’s most remote music festival! Queensland’s huge vistas are not only found on land. Far from the light of cities, the Outback gives you a rare chance to see the whole dazzling Milky Way. Learn more from professional stargazers at the Cosmos Centre and Observatory in Charleville, or hear Aboriginal interpretations of the night sky around a campfire. There are further immersive adventures to be had exploring the world’s longest lava tubes at Undara Volcanic National Park, taking a paddleboard through dramatic Cobbold Gorge or taking the Great Walk across sand island K’gari. And some nights you’ll simply want to kick back in front of a drive-in movie. All these glorious landscapes enjoy eight to nine hours of sunshine every day so you can imagine how transformative a holiday in Queensland can be.
Culture & Heritage
Australia boasts the world’s oldest living culture and Queensland offers plenty of memory-making opportunities to discover more about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage. There are also plenty of opportunities to spend your time in the cities enjoying contemporary art or live performances. The state capital Brisbane is naturally Queensland’s modern cultural centre. Your first stop should be the South Bank for museums, galleries and nightlife. Check out what’s on at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre ahead of your visit and don’t forget the smaller music venues amid the city’s craft breweries and rooftop cocktail bars. Sister attractions Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern art (QAGOMA) are also on the South Bank and you can check out street art in this area and the Fortitude Valley district. In Queensland’s north, Cairns is the centre of the state’s indigenous art scene and hosts an important dedicated annual fair.
Though of course, nothing beats seeing ancient indigenous art in its original settings, and northwest of Cairns, Quinkan Country has multiple rock art sites where you can join guided tours of paintings over 15,000 years old, some depicting supernatural spirits. A spectacular immersion in indigenous culture in the same area is offered by the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival, held biannually in the town of the same name, which features up to a thousand performers from multiple communities. Laura is on the Cape York Peninsula at the northernmost tip of Queensland and the 274 islands of the Torres Strait lie off-shore.
In Queensland's North, Cairns is the centre of the state's indigenous art scene and hosts an important dedicated art fair.
Visit Horn Island and Thursday Island, home to the Gab Titui Cultural Centre, and take a tour to lesser-visited communities, and the Strait Islands also have sites related to World War II and pearl diving history.
With many fine indigenous-led ours and experiences available across the state you could listen to ancient stories rooted in the very landscapes around you, or find yourself taking part in a healing ceremony or foraging for bush tucker. There is also plenty to learn about environmental protection from the land’s traditional custodians, so look out for tours relating ancient wisdom to conservation and forge your own deeper connection with nature.
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
Sure, you can seek out obvious thrills in the theme parks of the Gold Coast but seeing a mob of kangaroos or a saltwater crocodile in the wild is also bound to set your pulse racing. You may spot blue-faced, flightless bird the cassowary, or an elusive tree kangaroo (yes, they’re a thing) in Daintree National Park and other parts of the Wet Tropics, while the outback is the best place to up your chances of seeing regular kangaroos. ’Roos and Wallabies also gather at dawn and dusk on the beach at Cape Hillsborough National Park, giving you the perfect chance to snap some envy-inducing photos.
Ever heard of a Bilby? It’s Australia’s most endangered marsupial and you can meet some of the cute critters in the outback town of Charleville in South-central Queensland. You don’t have to go deep into the bush or outback in search of Queensland’s spectacular wildlife, however. Koalas can be most easily seen in Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary on the Gold Coast or Brisbane’s Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. The state capital is also home to Australia Zoo, which is owned by the family of ‘crocodile hunter’ Steve Irwin.
It’s even possible to take a whale-watching tour from Brisbane. In fact whales can be spotted all along Queensland’s East coast between June and November and responsible tour operators can take you to swim with them off the Fraser and Sunshine Coasts. The ‘home’ of whale watching is Hervey Bay, 285km north of Brisbane and opposite K’gari, the huge sand island, which is itself a top spot for dingoes and other wildlife. Here, in the calm waters, mother humpbacks teach their calves survival skills.
If, on the other hand, meeting inquisitive dolphins just off a beach sounds like your dream holiday experience, build a trip from Brisbane to Moreton Island into your plans. Of course, Queensland’s chief marine delights are out on the Great Barrier Reef, accessed on diving and snorkelling trips including departures from Cairns or the Whitsunday islands. This record-breaking natural wonder is home to an abundance of underwater life, so you could be communing with anything from Nemo-style clownfish to giant clams, sharks and rays. You may even spot a rare dwarf minke whale.
Six of the seven marine species of turtle are found on the Southern Great Barrier Reef – and you may not even need a snorkel to spot them. On land, Heron Island, accessed via Gladstone and Mon Repos, on the Bundaberg coast are among places where you may be privileged to witness green and loggerhead turtles laying their eggs or hatching over the summer months.
This is a feature from Issue 13 of Charitable Traveller.