You may think you have an idea of what Queensland is all about, but this sub-tropical wonderland is definitely a more-than-meets-the-eye destination. Here we unearth 15 of nature's must-do hidden holiday gems that could soon be part of your own treasured memories.
1. While the Great Barrier Reef needs no introduction, the ways in which you can experience this incredible technicolour underwater world are boggling in their scope. For a breathtaking birdseye overview of the vastness of this natural aquatic wonderland, feel your heart pump as you soar above the reef by helicopter or seaplane. If you want to get closer to the mysteries below the surface, then an intimate snorkel or scuba excursion affords a precious glimpse into the other-worldly realm of the unique marine life found here. Where you rest your head after all that exhilaration, too, runs the gamut from high-end luxury to simple eco lodgings. To truly be at one with the reef, how about a night moored offshore? At Hardy Reef, you could partake in a spectacular overnight experience at Cruise Whitsundays Reefworld either on-deck (Reefsleep) or, for the lucky few, a below deck all-inclusive experience (Reefsuite).
2. Spellbinding is how we'd describe spending time in the Daintree Rainforest; perhaps it's because it's the oldest in the world and as such holds a multitude of tales in its canopied depths. The Traditional Owners of this feat of nature are the Kuku Yalanji people and on an Aboriginal tour with Walkabout Cultural Adventures, you will learn some of the ancient rainforest's secrets through the stories and knowledge of your Aboriginal guide. Go back even further in time, dating back to Gondwana, at The Daintree Discovery Centre to fully appreciate just how ancient and rare your surroundings are. When you're ready to sink into relaxation mode, a treatment or a stay at Daintree Eco Lodge is a beautiful combination of luxury and sustainability in the heart of this very special place.
3. When you immerse yourself in Springbrook National Park's pristine slice of natural history, you'll be walking among vegetation that includes roots dating over 100 million years. Even the short walks here will leave you breathless; at the Purling Brook Falls, stop and behold 100 metres of cascading water falling into a lush rainforest valley, lined with palms tree ferns and stream lilies. On the way there, look out for ancient lepidozamias, colourful hakeas and dazzling wildflowers. For full immersion, get to know the forest by night while set up in a gorgeous permanent safari tent at Nightfall Luxury Camping.
4. At Lamington National Park, two former volcanoes, which last erupted about 20 million years ago, afford more breathtaking views. At the lookout over Morans Falls, one of more than 500 waterfalls in the park, you can see evidence of this explosive history in the layers of ancient volcanic lava flows. At the top of the falls, reward yourself with a picnic and take a moment to absorb the ancient beauty. The isolated peace of Binna Burra Lodge is a great spot to collect your thoughts and contemplate the day. Or stay with the historical theme at the 94-year-old family-friendly O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat.
5. A dense forest oasis of emerald green waters rimmed by red sandstone walls awaits at Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park, right near the border of Queensland and the Northern Territory. One of the best way to experience those mirage-like waters at this remote hidden gem, is by canoe. The Indarri Falls separate the upper and middle gorges and can be accessed by an hour's paddle upstream for unprecedented views. You'll want to stick around for a while in these parts; stay at the eco-sensitive camping park Adels Grove and you could be catching barramundi just metres from your tent.
6. Cobbold Gorge is the youngest of Queensland's gorges to visit, with a mere 10,000 years under its belt. But that's definitely not to say its attraction is any less; its uniquely narrow sandstone formations and 30-foot cliffs make for a jaw-dropping paddle board trip. Or for a completely different perspective, chopper charters will give you a sweeping overview of this mesmerising slice of Queensland Outback. For those who have a head for heights, make sure you check out Australia's first fully glass bridge, spanning a 13-metre gap and a 19-metre drop that lets you gaze into the cool spring-fed water below. After all that excitement, the good news is that nearby Cobbold Village is a cosy hidden outback oasis, with all you need to stay sated and rested in between excursions.
7. According to Aboriginal lore, the eleven mystical rugged volcanic peaks of the Sunshine Coast's Glass House Mountains are all related to each other. This majestic "family" make quite the sight, and if you have the stamina to take on some of the hikes available, the views just get more and more remarkable. Of course, there is the option to take a bit of a shortcut and see it all from a birdseye perspective in a chartered chopper. When it comes to accommodation, choose wisely and the views just keep on giving; stay in architect-designed Glass On Glasshouse, so named for its cottages' two walls of floor-to-ceiling glass with spectacular mountain views. Or choose from a range of budget options at the superbly situated Glasshouse Mountains Ecolodge.
8. The oldest lava tube cave system in the world, and one of the longest, Undara Volcanic National Park, in Cairns and Great Barrier Reef, has many drawcards. On a Sunset Wildlife tour, watch that blazing sun descend while you indulge in a glass of bubbles and some delectable cheeses. Then head underground into the caves and if you stand right at the entrance and hold your ground you'll be amidst hundreds of thousands of microbats swarming out to feast on insects, avoiding the snakes that lurch out of trees to catch them mid-flight; it's definitely worth banishing any apprehension to stand among this amazing phenomenon. Accommodation here is also wildly unique: you can sleep in a converted train carriage, or get pampered on the slopes of an extinct volcano at Mt Quincan Crater Retreat.
9. Oft touted as one of the most special places on Earth, K'gari (Fraser Island ) on the Fraser Coast is the world's largest sand island and holds World Heritage status. Get daring and let your hair down by exploring the 75 miles of beach and rainforest in a 4-wheel drive. You're definitely going to want to stop, though, to test those azure waters. For an effervescent experience make it at the Champagne Pools, so named for the bubbling waters caused by the crash of waves over volcanic rock. Not to be missed too, is the iconic Lake McKenzie. This unique 'perched' lake, with its astounding clarity, contains only rainwater; sand and organic matter at the base of the lake prevent it from draining away. Pure white silica sand feels as beautiful on your toes as it does to gaze upon and if you're up at dawn, you'll be treated to dazzling hues across the water. When you're done, Kingfisher Bay Resort is not only the perfect spot to rest your head but a bit of a water wonderland and a great place to brush up on your bush tucker education.
10. The waters of the Noosa Everglades are so clear and calm, they've been nicknamed the "river of mirrors" for the perfect reflections of trees and sky. One of only two everglade systems on the planet, you can explore this magnificent network of unspoiled waterways and wetlands by eco cruise or kayak. Glide over the tea tree-infused tannin waters to marvel at the unparalleled ecosystem, home to over 40 per cent of Australia's bird species and many of Australia's most iconic creatures. Such a unique spot deserves some special accommodation and the award-winning eco-friendly Habitat Noosa delivers in spades.
11. Close your eyes and imagine the most perfect beach and you'll likely be conjuring up Whitehaven, regularly voted one of the top 10 beaches in the world. Located in the iconic Whitsundays, this heavenly patch is all silky pure silica sands and crystal blue waters that beckon for a dip. At the northern end of Whitehaven Beach, stop at the Hill Inlet Lookout to watch as the changing tide creates a breathtaking mosaic of white sand and blue hues. This veritable slice of paradise can also be explored by sail, chopper, seaplane or kayak.
12. Whether you want to take it in as part of the five-day, four-night Cooloola Great Walk or take a guided or self-drive trip, Carlo Sand Blow, on Rainbow Beach, is not to be missed. The distinctive "moonscape" sand mass covers more than 15 hectares, and overlooks the soaring coloured sands of Great Beach Drive and the coastline from Double Island Point to Inskip Peninsula and the southern tip of Fraser Island. Spectacular at any time of day, for the most dramatic views, opt for sunrise or sunset if you can.
13. At Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort, situated at the southern-most tip of the Great Barrier Reef, you'll find a coral cay that is home to an abundant array of wildlife all year round, but in May to June manta rays aggregate here in huge numbers so you're almost guaranteed a mighty manta experience. Of course, you could just stay in the shallows at low tide to spot creatures such as octopus, sea cucumbers, crabs, moray eels, epaulette sharks, abalones, sea hares and sea slugs just footsteps from the shoreline. And let's not forget the 105 different species of seabirds, land birds and shorebirds who choose this island to nest.
14. A Hervey Bay, named one of first Whale Heritage sites in the world, is a whale-watching experience is like no other. In fact, this Fraser Coast destination has been recognised as one of the world's best whale-watching destinations, the only place where humpback whales stop on their annual migration from Antarctica to the Great Barrier Reef. It's a humbling experience to observe these gargantuan creatures in their natural habitat. The calm protected waters here are the perfect kindergarten to teach their offspring how to whale. Visit from July to November for your best chance to experience this incredible sight and the opportunity to swim with these majestic marine mammals.
15. Rare and wonderful are the perfect words to describe a Mon Repos Turtle Encounter tour at Mon Repos Conservation Park in the Southern Great Barrier Reef. From November to January, these endangered marine animals are nesting in the largest concentrations on the eastern Australia mainland. And if you visit from January to March you might see the little cuties hatch and hustle down the beach. Rare and wonderful indeed.
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