Ultimate guide to the Best of Queensland

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Queensland has so much to offer travellers looking to experience the real Australia – from coast to islands, rainforest to the seabed, we’ve curated your ultimate guide to the best of Queensland

When the federal government announced a $1.2 billion tourism rescue package recently and a slew of half-price flights starting from April 1, it triggered a pressing problem, ‘where to go and what to do?’

Queensland has all the answers you need!

For Victorians, the stimulus package will see 50% discounted flights from Melbourne to three Queensland destinations including Gold Coast, Cairns and Sunshine Coast. Travelers departing from Sydney can add the spectacular Whitsundays to these three havens thanks to low-priced flights to Hamilton Island and Proserpine Airports.

So, clear your diaries, tap into those ticket savings, and start planning your Queensland getaway.


Cassowaries can be seen in the wild around Mission Beach and the Daintree Rainforest - if you’re lucky! Image Fiona Harper

Cassowaries can be seen in the wild around Mission Beach and the Daintree Rainforest – if you’re lucky! Image Fiona Harper

SYDNEY/MELBOURNE TO CAIRNS AND GREAT BARRIER REEF

There’s no denying it, Cairns is like a foreign country in the winter months. There’s the balmy climate, a rainforest that’s said to have inspired the hit movie Avatar, and the biggest reef system in the world. Bed down at the all-new Flynn Hotel overlooking The Esplanade or pull up a perch at the rooftop bar at the Cairns Oaks Hotel to weigh up these tour options:  

Best for Couples in Cairns:

We love kids, but everyone needs some grown-up time. Thankfully, Sailaway in Port Douglas has an adult-only half-day sail to the Low Isles that hits the “pick me” button. Think tiny atoll dusted with swaying palms encircled by a fringing reef that jags a hit list of marine creatures in every colour of the rainbow. Add a 1.00pm departure for a late sleep in and this could just top the list. Travellers wanting to upgrade to a full-day out could consider an outer Reef trip on Passions of Paradise departing from Cairns, or sign up for Hot Air Balloon Cairns for a dawn float over the Atherton Tablelands.

Back in the heart of Cairns, take time to uncover some funky laneway art, hidden bars, and cafes with a conscience with Cairns Urban Walking Tours. Georgia Babatsikos also hosts food-lover tours to Rusty’s Markets and a Cairns history tour.

Best for Families in Cairns:

At Rainforestation in Kuranda, kids can tour an Aussie wildlife park then join the Pamagirri Mini Mob to gain an insight into the culture of Australia’s First Nation. Costing $45 per child, the experience includes a didgeridoo lesson, a didgeridoo painting session, and a Pamagirri Rainforest Walkabout tour. The experience bumps into the park’s Dance Show extending the fun to almost three hours.

For a family trip to the outer Great Barrier Reef, choose Reef Magic Cruises and take a moment to consider a day in the life of Eric Fisher. A Master Reef Guide and phD student passionate about teaching the next generation about the Reef, some days Eric can be seen shepherding kids around the massive Marine World platform which comes with eagle-eyed lifeguards and a lot of stability for little ones yet to find their sea legs.

Not ready for a long boat trip, sign up for Big Cat’s re-engineered glass bottom boat that cruises around Green Island. The boat’s massive windows offer little ones big coral views. Elsewise, stick to Terra Firma and visit the marvelous Cairns Aquarium. Here mini Attenboroughs can look into deep reef lagoons, without getting wet, and as captivating guides tell the story of the reef.

Best for solo travelers in Cairns:

It’s true. Beer makes better friends. And with HeliTours five-hour Heli Pub Tour, bets are you’ll make them faster than it takes to pour a Great Northern. This breathtaking chopper crawl crosses lush rainforest and volcanic lakes to lob into four of the finest taprooms in the tropics. Take a sole charter for around $4000, or team up with five friends happy to interrupt hydration time with 60 minutes of flying time.

Down at ground level, see the world’s oldest rainforest by joining Nicholas and Annemaree Haley from Daintree Safari for one of their off-the-beaten-track tours through the Daintree Rainforest. Who knows, you may just get to spot a cantankerous cassowary. Elsewise, crank up the speed with Raging Thunder Tully River Rafting, and try to spot more spectacular rainforest – between the frothing fun – in the Tully Gorge National Park.

For a more tranquil liquid adventure with a sustainability story to boot, Wavelength Reef Cruises sets the bar high, yet low. Certified to take 100 people to the pristine outer Great Barrier Reef, the boat carries just 28 passengers allowing plenty of flipper space. While on board, learn how Wavelength boss, John Edmondson’s own patented Coralclip® devices are helping nurture the Reef. Virtually impossible to spot, these unseen clips secure living coral fragments to the one-time bald spots on the reef. It’s worked. At every flip of the fin, yellow butterfly fish outshine the sun; white-tipped reef sharks swagger like Jagger; damselfish dart; turtles meander; and ‘Nemo’ clownfish wiggle.


North Queensland beaches come lined with palm trees and are bathed in sunshine year-round. Image Fiona Harper

North Queensland beaches come lined with palm trees and are bathed in sunshine year-round. Image Fiona Harper

SYDNEY/MELBOURNE TO GOLD COAST

It comes as no surprise that the Gold Coast tops the list as the most intended destination to visit in Queensland this April with 51% Australian respondents putting it first*. For couples, families and those flying solo, there’s no shortage of bookable attractions. Try some of these:

Best for Couples on the Gold Coast:

Celebrate flying again and shell out A$3700 for a once-in-a-life Go Ballooning’s Go Ballooning’s VIP Package to book a charter balloon flight for two, pick up in a pink stretched hummer, champagne and a five-star buffet breakfast at the beachside Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort. For a change of scenery, head inland and go chase waterfalls with Southern Cross 4WD Tours. This half day Natural Springbrook Tour – among several to choose from – ventures into the magical and ancient Gondwana Rainforest, one of the few places on earth brimming with plants and animals that have remained unchanged from their fossilised ancestors.

The Gold Coast may seem like a paradise of ever modern, ever reaching, ever sparkling skyscrapers all clamouring for front row seats to the beach, however beneath this new city of 600,000 residents, the country has always been home to eight different tribal groups connected by the one Yugembeh language. Take a two-hour walking tour around the iconic Burleigh Headland with Jellurgal Aboriginal Cultural Centre to understand the first history and culture of the region. At $20 per child and $39 per adult, the tour is good value for money.

Alternately, take the story teller’s hand and join Spirits of the Red Sand at night. This roving theatre show re-enacts a series of true and sometimes gritty events from early settler history and is told through the eyes of descendants of the land. Sit down to a hearty chargrilled buffet after the show to chat with the cast and crew of this powerful experience. Book online and receive 25% off a family pass.

Best for families on the Gold Coast:

Got kids? Then a Gold Coast theme park is a no brainer. Dreamworld offers rides to for practically every member of the family from the joys of ABC World and LEGO Land through to the white knuckle Tail Spin. Even Sea World has upped the thrill level launching Vortex, a colossal new ride that twists, turns and then spirals 18 metres back to sea level in their new Atlantis precinct.

But if super-sized fun is what the family wants, then set sights on whale watching. Both Sea World Cruises and Spirit of the Gold Coast Whale Watching are gearing up for the annual humpback migration and a chance to view some of the 20,000 majestic creatures as they breach offshore and in front of a spectacular Gold Coast skyline.

Best for solo travelers on the Gold Coast:

Get back to the Gold Coast’s aquatic roots and join a number of small group tours to either kayak, SUP, Surf, Jetboat or Jetski one its many waterways. The most tranquil activity may be a paddle across the Broadwater on a Half Day Dolphin and Stradbroke Island with Australian Kayaking Adventures , but the crowd favourite could be the Jet Ski Safari Tour and the chance to blast along the untamed mangrove estuaries and sub-tropical shores of south Stradbroke Island. Leaving Surfers Paradise, this is a self-drive escape and no experience or licence is necessary.

If a Coldie on the Goldie is right up your holiday alley, choose one of the seven different Hop On Hop Off Brewery Tours to “study” the local craft beer culture, or head to Granddad Jacks and for $230 make your own gin as you learn how “one hard assed New Zealander” became the legend behind the Gold Coast’s first Craft Distillery.

As the sun sets and the party clock starts, get on board Aquaduck. Normally the go-to for families, Aquaduck has introduced a progressive 90-minute Secrets Scandals and Sunsets tour Aquaduck offering tales of highflyers and headlines as you cruise past some of the Coast’s millionaire mansions. After that, fire up the night and book a Surfers With a Twist (S.W.A.T) bus tour for you and up to 30 mates to party like a VIP at the hottest Gold Coast Nightclubs.


The Gold Coast’s beaches are world famous, but there’s plenty more to see and do once you step away from its golden sands. Image Fiona Harper

The Gold Coast’s beaches are world famous, but there’s plenty more to see and do once you step away from its golden sands. Image Fiona Harper

SYDNEY/MELBOURNE TO SUNSHINE COAST

Roll up the beach towel and spend the savings from the 50% discounted flights to explore the other side of the Sunshine Coast. Inland from the buzzing coastline are dozens of tiny hilltop villages, waterways and rolling pastures that fuel the region’s fresh produce.

Best for Couples on the Sunshine Coast:

What do you do when you’ve done just about everything? You visit Sunreef do the Swim with the Whales tour. Yes, you heard it right. Grab a rope off the back of the dive boat and take the chance to eyeball whales on a three-hour nature-based experience operated under a strict Code of Conduct that protects both whales and swimmers. Outside the humpback highway season, try Sunreef’s snorkel tour to Mudjimba Island. 

Lovers of the land – and small group tours – should consider the Sunshine Coast Tour Company to cover off the gems of the hinterland. See the charms of quaint country towns, walk through rainforests and forget what that silly song, and do go chasing waterfalls.

Best for families on the Sunshine Coast:

Get off the bitumen and push the family road trip boundaries with a Great Beach Drive Tour . The 4WD tour travels across a pristine sandy highway between Noosa and Rainbow Beach, stopping at the world-famous Coloured Sands. Here, you’ll get an insight into how the Gubbi Gubbi people used some of the 40 different shades of sand to create artwork.  

Speaking of Gubbi Gubbi people, over at Saltwater Eco Cruise budding sailors of all ages can feel the grit of a 100-year old timber ketch underfoot, as a master storyteller narrates the punchline to a 10,000-year old creation story. The two-hour sailing trip offers laid back fun and dreamy views of the mansions that line one of Mooloolaba’s most popular waterways.

Best for solo travelers on the Sunshine Coast:

Adults can raise a beer to the circular economy at the Sunshine Coast Craft Beer Exbeerience Tour and tuck into local-grown produce as they learn how the grain used to brew the beer is passed to local farmers, who feed it to the cattle, which may or may not be right there on their plate. On the subject of plates, the Sunshine Coast has a smorgasbord of cooking schools perfect for solo travelers, including the delectable Asian-influenced Spirit House at Yandina, the equally delicious Spicers Tamarind Cooking School Spicers Tamarind Cooking School in Maleny, and Life’s A Feast in Noosaville.  

For a dose of calming nature, head to the Noosa Everglades, Australia’s only Everglades system and one of only two in the world (the other being in Florida). Take an overnight adventure and paddle over slow-moving waterways and tropical mangroves with Kanu Capers to camp out in the Great Sandy National Park. Both Kanu Capers and Everglades Eco Safari also offer half-day tours through this pristine wilderness.


Saltwater Eco Tours offer an insight into Indigenous Australia’s connection with the sea. Image Tourism and Events Queensland

Saltwater Eco Tours offer an insight into Indigenous Australia’s connection with the sea. Image Tourism and Events Queensland

SYDNEY TO WHITSUNDAYS (HAMILTON ISLAND & PROSERPINE AIRPORTS)

Noted for its calm seas and 74 dreamy island wonders, a trip to the Whitsundays could be just the tonic to get over the 2020 blues. Both Hamilton Island and Proserpine Airports will benefit from the 50% discounted flights putting these tours closer to any budget.    

Best for Couples in the Whitsundays:

Nothing says ‘love in paradise’ more than gentle sail across the Whitsundays Passage. Dip your toe in a wind-swept adventure on Taste of the Tropics Sunset Dinner Cruise with Ocean Dynamics or take the day out on the strictly grownups Lady Enid . This 72-foot graceful old girl puts romance back into the sails by offering uninterrupted beauty, lavish meals plus the chance to either swim at Whitehaven Beach or snorkel the fringing reefs around Blue Pearl Bay or Stonehaven. 

For that iconic gram of the Whitsundays, starry-eyed couples will wisely channel savings from their 50% off interstate flight into a signature Panorama Tour by Air Whitsundays Seaplanes. The tour offers a thousand loved-up moments as it circles above Heart Reef, a fairy tale-pretty and heart-shaped natural coral formation, before stopping to snorkel at Hardy Lagoon and picnic on dreamy Whitehaven Beach.

When it comes to out-of-the box poetic places to stay, you can’t go past Reef Sleep, an overnight adventure that culminates in a cosy camp 80km out at sea. Venture out with Cruise Whitsundays for a day of reef adventures, then hang back overnight (with a dozen or so other couples) as the sun sets on the Coral Sea. Each of the tents are scaled for romance with Queen-sized beds and canopies that open to the remote night sky. 

For a special island experience just for couples, Elysian Retreat on Long Island is just the spot for eco warrior who enjoy luxury while minimising their environmental footprint. With just a handful of elegant beachfront bungalows, outdoor bathrooms, private decks complete with daybeds and hammock swings are a private sanctuary you’ll be reluctant to leave. Add complimentary yoga classes on the pool deck, massage treatments, a gorgeous restaurant where the menu changes daily dependent upon what’s in season and staff who can’t do enough and Elysian is an eco retreat

Best for families in the Whitsundays:

Immerse the kids in a buccaneer style outing with the lure of Derwent Hunter’s Eco Pirate certificate, earned when kids help the captain steer the vessel or hoist the sails. Built in 1946, the Derwent Hunter is a 22m timber Tall Ship and the last Australian vessel built to work by sail. Tours to the Northern Bays of the Whitsundays include two snorkelling stops, start from $525 for a family of two adults and three children.

If the kids are going through a “wild” phase, then set your sights on the Whitsunday Crocodile Safari to get up close to crocodiles and other native animals in their natural habitat on Proserpine River. Jump on board an open wagon train and then cruise the estuaries and wetlands looking for “Boofhead” and his pre-historic estuarine mates. The full day tour includes a barbecue lunch washed down by Billy Tea and fresh cooked damper. 

Best for solo travelers in the Whitsundays:

Calling all seafaring adventurers, Salty Dog offers the best sea-kayaking adventures in Australia including half day, full day or six- day expeditions over this idyllic playground. The emphasis is on combining fun with paddle power and the chance to trek some of the lesser-known islands.

If the notion of getting “shipwrecked” on Whitehaven Beach’s pure white silica sand pushes your adventure buttons, then baton down the hatches for Summertime, a charming timber ketch handcrafted in 1945, and carrying enough kayaks on board to allow all 16 passengers tackle a blue-water safari. The beautifully restored ketch adds old time charm and appeals to younger adventurers.

Unless it’s a small group tour to explore the Ngaro Sea Trail with a direct descendent of the Ngaro people. Whitsunday Paradise Explorer’s new Cultural Tour visits significant sites at South Molle, Whitsunday and Hook Islands and walks the trails of the Ngaro People who lived on the land for more 9,000 years.

About the author: Fiona Harper is a Queensland-based travel writer – follow Fiona at Travel Boating Lifestyle


Elysian Retreat on Long Island is a Whistundays eco resort almost entirely run on solar power. Image Fiona Harper

Elysian Retreat on Long Island is a Whistundays eco resort almost entirely run on solar power. Image Fiona Harper

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