Queensland is Australia's take on paradise. Warm, laidback and heartbreakingly beautiful, its sweep of pristine beaches, luxuriant jungle and ethereal peaks conjure a southern Shangri-La.
Seven times the size of Great Britain and two and a half times the size of Texas, Queensland is a geographic behemoth. No other Australian state matches its natural diversity, an impressive collection of 27 bioregions supporting over 1000 ecosystem types, from rainforests and wetlands, to savannas, dry tropics, rangelands and the coast. Five of Australia’s eleven World Heritage-listed natural sites are found here, including the world wonder that is the Great Barrier Reef. Punctuating these spectacular landscapes is a string of vibrant cities and laid-back towns, from sophisticated Brisbane and wham-glam Gold Coast, to the sultry, laid-back chic of Noosa and Port Douglas.
In short, Queensland is one, huge, adrenalin-pumping playground. Should you snorkel the inimitable Great Barrier Reef, ride waves in Caloundra, or sand-board dunes on Fraser Island? Then again, you could always sail across azure Whitsunday waters, seek glow worms in a Gold Coast Hinterland rainforest, or glide silently through the Noosa Everglades. The possibilities are virtually endless, from furious, fast-paced thrills to reflective, restorative interludes. Of course, if it’s all just too overwhelming, Queensland's heavenly beaches are the perfect place to do sweet nada.
On Your Plate & In Your Glass
Enviable produce, bold chefs and artisan producers are sharpening Queensland's culinary cred. Hatted restaurants, on-point cafes and rambling farmers’ markets underscore Brisbane, a city now also exploding with polished microbreweries, wine bars and specialist cocktail dens. Standout eateries are adding fresh buzz on both the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, the latter region now also famous for its craft-beer boom. Not that it’s all ales, sours and saisons. Queensland’s Granite Belt is Australia’s most experimental wine region, pouring everything from luscious Saperavi to amphora-fermented Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne blends. Come thirsty. Come famished.
Contrary to the jokes bandied down south, Queensland and culture are not mutually exclusive. Brisbane is the state's undisputed arts epicentre, home to a string of Australian masterpieces, the nation's largest gallery of contemporary art, not to mention a cracking live-music scene. World-renowned street artists reinvigorate walls in Brisbane and Toowoomba, while tenors bellow at Ballandean's annual Opera in the Vineyard festival. Most unique, however, is Queensland's rich indigenous cultures, which offer extraordinary insight into this ancient land through art, dance and guided tours across the state, from Currumbin to Cooktown.
Queensland: Voted Top 10 Region as Best in Travel 2022
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Queensland.
One of of Australia's most photogenic and hyped beaches, Whitehaven is a pristine 4.3 mile-long (7km) stretch of blinding sand (at 98% pure silica, some of the whitest in the world) framed by lush vegetation and a brilliant blue sea. From Hill Inlet at the northern end of the beach, the swirling pattern of dazzling sand through the turquoise and aquamarine water paints a magical picture. How do I get there? Whitehaven beach is just a half-hour catamaran trip away from Hamilton Island. Helicopter and seaplane tours are available for those in search of the perfect aerial shot. Also offering good snorkelling, Whitehaven beach tours are available from nearly all Airlie-based operators. Can I stay overnight on Whitehaven Beach? You can be lulled to sleep by the ocean if you hire a boat and anchor just off the beach. For those who'd prefer dry land, camping options are available on the southern side of Whitehaven Beach. Book ahead via a national park camping website to ensure you're not disappointed.
These Heritage-listed gardens, begun in 1873, are a beautiful escape from often-sweltering Rockhampton, with tropical and subtropical rainforest, landscaped gardens and lily-covered lagoons. The formal Japanese garden is delightfully restful, there's a cafe, and the small, well-kept zoo has koalas, lion-tailed macaques, Asian small-clawed otters, dingoes, chimpanzees, a walk-through aviary and more. Tickets and Information Admission to the gardens (open 6am to sunset) and the zoo (open 8am to 4.30pm) is free. Guided tours are available for a fee and must be booked in advance. The cafe is open 8am to 5pm and there is ample space available for a picnic if you'd prefer. Domestic animals are not permitted within the gardens.
The largest of the paradisaical group to which it gives its name, Whitsunday Island is ruggedly forested, and surrounded by clear teal waters and coral gardens. Its most visited site is the dazzling 7km-long Whitehaven Beach – one of Australia's finest – visited by pretty much every sailing/snorkelling tour from Airlie Beach but still managing to seem uncrowded. The more intrepid will also enjoy the Hill Inlet lookout (for epic lagoon views) at the north end of Whitehaven Beach.
In the southeast corner of Daintree National Park, 5km west of Mossman town, Mossman Gorge forms part of the traditional lands of the Kuku Yalanji people. The gorge is a boulder-strewn valley where sparkling water washes over ancient rocks and passes through dense rainforest. Taking a Dreamtime Gorge Walk with an indigenous guide is the best way to explore. Otherwise, it's 4km by road from the visitor centre to a viewpoint and swimming hole; depending on conditions, swimming may not be permitted.
About 12km south of Laura look out for the badly signposted turn-off to the Split Rock Gallery, the only rock-art site open to the public without a guide. The sandstone escarpments here are covered with paintings thought to date back 14,000 years. If there are no tour groups around, it can be quite a surreal experience to walk the path up the hillside in silence, solitude and isolation, before coming upon the various other-worldly 'galleries' in the rock faces.
One of the loveliest beaches in Queensland: pristine, squeaky white sand, teal waters and a naturist section at the north end.
Riddling the Berserker Range some 24km north of Rockhampton, this vast cave complex is one of the Capricorn Coast's foremost attractions. Technically not subterranean (they were formed by water working on the limestone of an ancient reef, thrust upward by tectonic pressure) they contain cave coral, stalactites, dangling fig-tree roots and little insectivorous bats. The most popular (one-hour) tour showcases their remarkable acoustics with a classical-music recording in Cathedral Cave, and is suitable for all ages and most fitness levels.
Should you sunbake on a sandy beach, saunter through a rainforest, or eye-up a Nepalese peace pagoda? You can do all three in this 17.5-hectare park overlooking the city centre. Its canopied walkways lead to performance spaces, lush lawns, eateries and bars, and regular free events ranging from fitness classes to film screenings. The star attractions are Streets Beach, an artificial, lagoon-style swimming beach (packed on weekends); and the near-60m-high Wheel of Brisbane, delivering 360-degree views of town.
Extending from Lake Cootharaba north to Rainbow Beach, this 54,000 hectare section of national park offers wide ocean beaches, soaring cliffs of richly coloured sands, pristine bushland, heathland, mangroves and rainforest, all of which are rich in bird life, including rarities such as the red goshawk and the grass owl. One of the most extraordinary experiences here is driving along the beach from Noosa North Shore to Double Island Point, around 50km to the north.