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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Queensland.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Queensland.
Australians call Queensland ‘The Sunshine State’ for good reason – with 300 sun-filled days a year, it’s the spiritual home of the Aussie beach holiday, with thousands of swimmable areas dotting its breathtaking coastline. Stretching nearly 7,000 kilometres, Queensland’s coast is only just shy of the distance between New York and Los Angeles! From its southern cosmopolitan shoreline where you’ll find the international playground of the Gold Coast, to the tropical northern extremities of the shimmering Cairns beaches, and the chic and stylish beachside attractions of Noosa and the Sunshine Coast, there are countless activities to experience and fabulous towns to explore, all set against a backdrop of brilliant days, balmy nights and a deeply entrenched beach culture.
Diving into the Great Barrier Reef
While many may extol the virtues of her pretty shores, others will argue that the real star of Queensland is actually just off her coast. A visit to this northeastern state simply wouldn’t be complete without a dip into one of the great natural wonders of the world – the Great Barrier Reef, home not just to some of the world’s best diving and snorkelling, but also more than 900 islands some of the best luxury resorts in the country. No matter how many images you’ve seen or stories you’ve heard, nothing compares to a personal encounter with this spectacular miracle of nature. Stretching some 2,300 glittering kilometres up the Queensland coastline, from the town of Bundaberg to virtually the tip of Cape York, the Great Barrier Reef is world-renowned as the only single living structure visible from space. Come November, the entire Great Barrier Reef erupts into life with spawning coral. This usually happens on the weekend after the full moon, and it’s an amazing sight to behold, wherever on the reef you happen to be.
As one of die world’s largest coral reef systems, the Great Barrier Reef is home to thousands of marine species, including dugongs, turtles, dolphins, whales, more than 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 types of molluscs. Not just restricted to underwater critters, there are also about 200 species of bird dial thrive (and depend) on the reef for survival. Its sheer size means there are virtually dozens of different ways to experience this incredible wonder, with tour operators operating in towns up and down the Queensland coast (including Bundaberg, Airlie Beach, Townsville and Cairns). You can fly overhead and sail directly on top of it, or even sleep on it – yes, sleep on it – if you like.
But snorkelling or diving those clear turquoise depths offers a magic all of its own, giving you an intimate look at the kaleidoscopic colours, unbelievable array of marine life and crystal clear waters which stretch seemingly into infinity. In some parts of the reef you can dive with green turtles or manta rays, while others offer the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to swim with rare dwarf minke whales. Be sure to tick off your scavenger list of the reefs Great 8: giant clams, turtles, down fish, manta ray, potato cod, Maori wrasse, sharks and whales. Fat, friendly potato cod appear every day at the famous Cod Hole, expecting treats from visiting divers. The coral here is arguably some of the reef’s best, too.
Want a truly unique experience? How about a dive into a shipwreck? The historical SS Yongala shipwreck has become the adopted home of hugely colourful marine life, and is definitely something to add on to your bucket list. Get here by boat from Townsville, or through various other day trips available for charter.
Nestled in 20.000 verdant sub-tropical hectares of ancient Gcndwana rainforest in the Lamington National Park, just behind the Gold Coast, you’ll find the award-winning O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat Villas & Lost World Spa. This magical place has beckoned travellers from all over the world since it first opened its doors in 1926. On a serious quest for indulgent “us time” we could think of no better location to spend a two-day romantic sojourn.
After a late Friday afternoon check-in at the main retreat we were directed to an enclave of 48 private, luxurious eco-villas, each offering a rainforest or valley view. With fresh, modern and comfortable decor, a full kitchen and double bedroom with en suite, our villa was a luxurious home away from home. We made a beeline for our balcony (complete with Jacuzzi) to savour the glorious sunset as we enjoyed complimentary chocolate-dipped strawberries and sparkling wine.
The retreat’s main dining room is the heart of the resort. Here, guests can indulge in hearty country breakfasts and delicious dinners prepared by the head chef and his team. The O’Reilly’s Mountain Cafe is the place to enjoy lunch, while The Rainforest Bar (open daily from 4pm) serves light dinner and/or pre-dinner drinks.
For something truly spectacular, be sure to pre-arrange a sunset outing to Moonlight Crag: a specially built cantilevered deck overlooking the Lost World and western McPherson Ranges. We looked out, mesmerised, glass of bubbles and camera in hand, as yet another magical sunset took our breath away. It was truly a perfect prelude to the exclusive candlelit degustation dinner that awaited us back at the retreat.
We were on a high as we recounted the day while attacking with gusto a delectable assortment of small meals, our favourite being roasted duck-leg confit with herb risotto and citrus glaze. Each dish was paired with a matching wine, and the meal ended with an indulgent chocolate dessert.
Of the dozen or so island resorts amid the emerald and turquoise waters of the Great Barrier Reef, this one, located farthest north, is the most beach-endowed. With just forty homestead-style bungalows, a justly famous Blue Lagoon, and twenty-four secluded white-sand, palm-fringed coves, there’s a good chance you’ll have a beach to yourself – and reason to stay for a few weeks to check them all out individually.
Uninhabited save for resort staff and guests, Lizard Island is a 2,500-acre national park, and the descendants of the 3-foot-long monitor lizards – after which Captain James Cook named the island in 1770 – can be found sunbathing on the palm-studded green lawn in front of your bungalow. Being so far offshore and nearer the outer reef, Lizard has some of the clearest and bluest waters and some of the best diving of the islands.
Cod Hole, a hot spot just 12 miles away, has long been a must-do diving site; dozens of giant potato codfish expect to be stroked and fed by hand – which may explain why they grow to 6 feet in length and weigh more than 400 pounds.
Things really jump on this otherwise relaxed and informal island when the black marlin are running, and 1,200-pound catches are not rare. Fishermen from all over the world descend on the island from August to November, and at the annual Black Marlin Classic in October, they reminisce about the seven world and two Australian records (as of this writing) that have been set here.
Unlike many of the other islands near the Great Barrier Reef, Heron Island is a coral cay – literally part of the reef itself. To see the reef, all you have to do is walk down to the beach and bend over.
The island’s only resort organizes reef walks during low tide, and there’s also diving and snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters that teem with multicolored fish and coral. The coral spawns each November, when the polyps emit billions of pink-and-purple bundles of eggs and sperm. It’s like being inside a pink snowstorm, and the phenomenon attracts divers from all over the world. Situated on the Tropic of Capricorn and only about 30 acres in size (of which half is a national park), Heron is more a summer camp for naturalists and divers than a glitzy reef resort.
Hundreds of green sea turtles come in October and November and lay their eggs. They hatch in January and February. The humpback whales migrate north in June and July, and swim with their calves in October.
Sitting on its own private 900-acre island – one of the seventy-four Whitsunday Islands in the sapphire waters of the Great Barrier Reef – Hayman is one of the world’s most opulent resorts. Of the many island resorts off Queensland’s Golden Coast, it has no rival in natural attractions and manmade amenities.
Travelers with the wherewithal come here for the isolation, lush tropical landscaping, choice of five restaurants, smiling service, otherworldly network of saltwater and freshwater swimming pools, and a priceless location just 27 nautical miles from the Great Barrier Reef. With the relaxed elegance of a very posh private club, Hayman offers a maximum of 400 guests a roster of water sports, one-day-or-more rental of a 40-foot Beneteau yacht, a 5-mile wilderness trail – even a nightclub. At the rarefied height of the resort’s accommodations are the Lagoon Wing’s eleven penthouse suites, each individually decorated with priceless antiques and artwork in Art Deco, Moroccan, or Japanese themes.
The North Queensland Penthouse, an Australiana fantasy of a colonial homestead on the range (complete with butler service), will help remind you where you are.
The Australians call it the Eighth Wonder of the World, but that may actually be an understatement. The Great Barrier Reef is the only living organism on the planet that’s visible from outer space. Stretching for more than 1,200 miles at between 10 and 50 miles off the coast of Queensland, it’s not in fact one coral reef but an association of 2,900 smaller reefs, with some 300 stepping-stone islands sprinkled among them.
The largest marine preserve in the world, it’s home to a stupefying profusion of sea creatures, including 500 species of brilliantly colored hard and soft coral, 1,500 varieties of fish, and 4,000 kinds of mollusks.
You can sail it, snorkel it, and fly over it, but only by diving the depths of this extraordinary realm can you really grasp its diversity. Luckily, there’s no shortage of agencies promising you the ultimate reef experience. Quicksilver is a high-tech, wave-piercing, turbo- powered catamaran that makes the ninety-minute trip to an anchored glass-bottomed platform, where you can swim, snorkel, or scuba dive; or travel in a semi-submersible vessel and listen to your guide’s running commentary explaining the underwater extravaganza outside your window.
Those wanting a more prolonged experience can opt to spend four days aboard the luxurious mini-cruise ships Coral Princess or Coral Princess II. The 115-foot ships offer snorkeling, guided coral-viewing excursions in small glass-bottom boats, reef fishing, and evening presentations by trained marine biologists. If you’ve always dreamed of learning how to scuba dive, the ships’ qualified PADI instructors will have you logging your first underwater hours.
Most people think the Great Barrier Reef is the last word in deep-sea diving, but beyond it the waters of the lesser- known, less-dived Coral Sea may be even more wonderful. Highlights of this pristine wilderness of crystal-clear waters and uninhabited coral atolls include huge perpendicular drop- offs and 200- to 300-foot visibility. Imagine giant clams up to 7 feet across, 300-pound groupers, and innumerable turtles and sharks, along with an outstanding variety of hard corals and reef fish of all descriptions.
Some live-aboard trips include a visit to the wreck of the Yongala, a 363-foot wonder said to be home to the greatest concentration and diversity of marine life in the world – a mind-boggling underwater experience.
On the world’s largest sand island, you can swim in forty freshwater dune-surrounded lakes, walk through the ancient Valley of the Giants rain forest, join rangers to track down some of the island’s 350 species of birds, or just enjoy the uninterrupted 75 miles of broad coastal beach – the world’s most beautiful highway.
Rent a jeep from the island’s award-winning ecotourism hotel, the Kingfisher Bay Resort, and realize those macho dreams of Man Against the Outback. With the Pacific Ocean on one side and 40-foot cliffs patterned like Gothic towers on the other, spend the day cruising the beach without another vehicle in sight. You’ll feel like Lawrence of Arabia at Sandy Cape, on the island’s northern tip, where huge sand mountains roll down to a vibrant blue sea.
Come August, the hotel’s Kingfisher I catamaran is the perfect vehicle to sail amid the 2,000 migrating whales that return annually on their way south to the Antarctic.