Queensland, the second largest state of Australia. Home to ancient rainforests, fabulous tropical beaches, sand islands and coral reefs. Saltwater crocodiles and deadly stingers, too. Australia’s Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast. It’s a unique place to visit, and you can be sure to return home with spectacular memories. We share our favorites.
So this state, named in honour of Queen Victoria and often referred as “Sunshine State”, was probably the strangest we visited in Australia. (Okay, we were quite conventional with our first-timer itinerary: road tripping along the Eastern coastline – Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.) Especially whimsical tropical Northern Queensland – where you don’t need to be afraid of sharks, because crocodiles eat them. And where the water is so warm and pleasant – dangerous jellyfish likes it as much as ourselves.
Just kidding? No. Nature can be dangerous, and tropical places can be just as dangerous as exciting and beautiful they are. But with some knowledge and care, you will survive. There are people who live there after all. There are tourists who visit and enjoy their visit, like us. In case you need more encouragement and reassurance, here’s our basic guide on how not to get killed while travelling in Australia. So, no worries, mate, as the locals say.
Two weeks road trip in Queensland
But let’s get back to the beauties of Queensland. Because we found jaw-dropping beauties. Vibrant colors. We found places that are unique on our planet. We also found the most beautiful tropical beach in the world. (We admit that further investigation might be needed in that topic. One can never visit enough tropical beaches.) And we hugged a koala!
Though two weeks were not nearly enough to see everything we wanted, we had lots of memorable moments. Like breaking down with our campervan. 😛 By the way, two months wouldn’t have been enough to see everything either. So let us share our best experiences with you. (No, the story of that wicked campervan won’t be included.)
Walking in the Daintree Rainforest
Daintree is the oldest tropical rainforest in the world! Estimated to be about 160 million years old, it’s older than the famous Amazon Rainforest. In Daintree you can bump into plant species that already existed when dinosaurs roamed the planet. (No dinosaurs though. That’s in the Jurassic Park.) Its flora and fauna is incredibly diverse.
But it’s a tough place. Full of life, but every form of life is struggling for survival. Trees are killing each other. (They won’t kill you though. But don’t touch plants you don’t know. Least eat them.) It’s one of those very rare places on Earth where rainforest meets the reef.
Its fabulous beaches could be a perfect theme for any postcard. However, they are not for swimming. Saltwater crocodiles love the Daintree, too, they can often be seen at the estuaries and nearby beaches. We saw one when walking on the beach – this is a positive experience here, by the way. We kept our distance from it.
Several lookout points and easy tropical walks gave us access to Daintree National Park. Check out our 2 days itinerary for more details!
Snorkeling and diving at the Great Barrier Reef
Visiting the Great Barrier Reef was one of our biggest travel dreams. One of the reasons we wanted to visit Australia in the first place. And it didn’t disappoint. Life under the water is just as diverse, colorful and exciting as in the lush green rainforest. It’s very different though. It’s quiet and tranquil down there. It’s like entering into another world.
We took part in an amazing full day trip to the Outer Reef. We spent long hours snorkeling, and also tried diving for the first time. Read this post if you’re curious about all the details or plan to organize a visit to the Great Barrier Reef for yourself.
Boat trip to Whitsunday Island
Ever since we’ve seen a picture of Whitehaven Beach (on Instagram, of course, where else?), we knew we wanted to see it with our own eyes. Are those blue and turquoise shades really that incredible? Is the sand really that white? Another dream for Australia – another dream fulfilled. And it’s that beautiful. Even more. It’s the most beautiful tropical beach we’ve ever seen.
Whitehaven Beach is located on Whitsunday Island, an uninhabited, unspoilt sand island off the coast of Queensland. Actually, the Whitsunday Islands are a collection of 74 islands in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. Whitsunday Island is just one of them, though it’s the largest and most famous one.
We visited it on a full day boat trip, you can read more about it here!
A self-organized getaway to Magnetic Island
Magnetic Island is one of the few inhabited tropical islands in Queensland. It can be accessed by regular ferry that connects the island with the city of Townsville on the mainland. Taking advantage of this easy access, we organized a day trip to Magnetic Island for ourselves.
What we found was an unspoilt island with all the amazing colors of the tropics, and sandy beaches barely visited by anyone. Magnetic Island is a place to chill out, soak up the sun and all the beauties surrounding you. The only thing we felt sorry for is that we only spent a day there.
Read more about our visit to Magnetic Island (and all the places we’ve seen or wanted to see there) in this post!
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
We had lots of random wildlife encounters in Australia. Still our visit to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane was one of the highlights of our trip. Unlike its name suggests, it’s not only koalas that we could see there, but most of the Australian animal species – like wombats, platypus, dingoes, different species of kangaroos or Tasmanian devils.
But, of course, we started at the koalas. There are lots of them, and mummies and babies have their own little nursery. Even though koalas spend most of their lives sleeping, some of the joeys were always up to something, and we watched them for hours. Then came the attraction of the day: holding a koala in our arms!
When we finally said goodbye to koalas, we realized there’s an area where we could feed and pet kangaroos. Another couple of hours passed. No wonder, we didn’t have much time for sightseeing in Brisbane in the end.
So we planned to spend a full day sightseeing in Brisbane. We started in Lone Pine so that we could hug cute and fluffy koalas first, but then we ended up spending more than half of our day there.
What did we do with only a couple of hours in Brisbane? And why is it on this list? We visited South Bank Parklands, a giant urban park with free public pools surrounded by palm trees, creative open spaces and playgrounds, a rainforest walk and nice views of the city’s skyline. This park itself would put Brisbane on this list, because it’s one of the best urban parks we’ve ever seen!
Then we took the free Cityhopper ferry to get more views of Brisbane’s city center from the river. It’s like a hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus – only it’s a ferry and it’s totally free. How cool is that? Very cool. Like Brisbane itself. Even though we didn’t see much of it, we immediately felt that it’s a city where we’d happily move. It’s modern and pretty and full of life! The climate is warm all year, and it’s so close to the fabulous beaches of the Sunshine Coast. Could we ask for more?
Hiking and bathing in Noosa National Park
The Sunshine Coast. Home to some of the most beautiful beaches of Australia. (And the only place in Queensland where we experienced a real tropical downpour. Because life is funny.) Noosa National Park was our longest and favorite stop on the Sunshine Coast. This park is a mix of turquoise bays, perfectly sandy (and surprisingly abandoned) beaches, scenic coastal walks and eucalypt forests. What not to love?
We’ve already written about Noosa in this post – all the hikes, beaches and the famous “fairy pools”.
Visiting Burleigh Head National Park
Burleigh Head National Park on the Gold Coast is another place where we could combine scenic walks with stunning beaches. The Oceanview Track is a 1.2 kilometres long walk from the Southern to the Northern entrance of the park. It offers nice views of the coastline. In addition, Echo Beach is located at the Southern entrance, while Burleigh Heads Beach is not far from the Northern entrance. So we could start and end our walk with some beach fun.
Echo Beach was the one we liked more, because it’s less busy, and it’s quite an interesting beach located in an estuary. Burleigh Heads Beach on the other hand is buzzing with life and rewards with distant views of the Gold Coast skyline in the background.
Hiking to Australia’s highest waterfall
Australia’s highest waterfall is also located in Queensland. In Girringun National Park. We were quite confident that it’s worth a detour from the coastal route. I mean, it’s a waterfall – and we’re crazy about waterfalls. Especially about one in a tropical setting.
268 meters high Wallaman Falls can be seen from the viewing platforms right by the parking lot. And it impressed. In addition, there’s a lovely rainforest trail that led us down to the very bottom of the falls. From there we could really appreciate the size of Wallaman Falls. Read our hiking guide for more information on how to get down there.
Waterfalls of Wooroonooran National Park
Talking about waterfalls, Wallaman Falls is not the only impressive one. We found two more in barely pronounceable Wooroonooran National Park. Josephine Falls is just a short walk (about 15 minutes) from the parking lot, and we actually spent more time swimming than hiking there. Yes, you better have swimsuits with you. Because no matter how cold that emerald green swimming hole under the waterfall is, it’ll tempt you to jump in. Moreover, there’s a water slide made of completely natural materials:
Then came a 2-3 hours long rainforest hike: the Nandroya Falls circuit. We passed giant trees and several waterfalls along the way until we reached 50 meters high Nandroya Falls. As we started this hike quite late in the day, and also took a long break at Nandroya Falls, we ended up finishing it in the dark. Not exactly what we planned.
But we learned our lesson. It gets dark sooner under the large trees in the rainforest. It gets dark very suddenly, too. And it gets noisy. The rainforest wakes up after sunset, it gets filled with sounds. Insects, bats, frogs, butterflies. The lights of our headlamps were only enough to see our next step, otherwise the deep darkness absorbed all the light. It was a surreal experience.
|Hiking essentials: Nandroya Falls circuit|
Swimming holes in the rainforest
It was strange to realize that locals in tropical Northern Queensland swim more in the hidden swimming holes in the rainforest than in the ocean. It was especially shocking for me, because the ocean is so pleasantly warm, and these swimming holes are usually cold. Who would choose cold over warm? Not me. Well, unless there are crocodiles or deadly stingers in the warm water.
You ask whether there are no crocodiles in the swimming holes. Well, it depends. First of all, there’s a sign if there’s any danger. Australia is full of warning signs. On the other hand, you should only swim in crystal clear pools where you can see everything under the water. That was the advice we got.
There are several popular swimming holes. One we already mentioned is at Josephine Falls. Another one we liked is in Tully Gorge National Park, and it’s called Alligators Nest. Despite its scary name, there are no alligators there. Only stonefish, one of the most venomous fish species ever known. 😛 How do we know? The usual: warning sign. How can we recognize stonefish? It looks exactly the same as any stone at the bottom of the stream. Easy. To avoid stepping on any stonefish, we wore our snorkelling shoes when getting into the water.
But the most popular swimming hole is at Mossman Gorge, in Daintree National Park. No crocodiles, no stonefish. Just the lush green rainforest and the clear emerald stream. Just have fun. 🙂
Driving Captain Cook Highway
The most amazing scenic drive in Australia might be the Great Ocean Road, but that doesn’t mean there’s no other pretty coastal routes. Indeed, there is – like Captain Cook Highway. It starts in Cairns and ends in Mossman, and it winds alongside the Queensland coastline. If you head to the Daintree, this is the route you take anyway, so we encourage you to have some time to enjoy it. We often stopped at the lookout points that offered panorama of the coast and the distant mountains.
Would you visit Queensland? Which places seem to be the most interesting there?
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