Queensland, up in the north east of Australia, is also known as the Sunshine State. The first part of our road trip through this tropical area was basically just driving whole days to get out of the Outback to the coast, to refreshment. From Cairns we made a dive trip to the Great Barrier Reef, and drove up to Northern Queensland to come straight back south to escape the rain.
We got our tan on on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and visited Queensland’s capital city, before bringing out our inner child at the Gold Coast Theme Parks. Although we weren’t able to get a taste of everything Queensland has to offer (there’s just too much) here is a selection of the things we did and you too should do in Queensland.
Visit Brisbane, Queensland’s energetic capital city
We’ve dedicated an entire blogpost to our visit to Brisbane, so for an elaborate story, more information and photos on that, we refer to our blogpost “What to do in Brisbane”. Here we’ll give you a sneak preview and some highlights. Oh, and Easter weekend seems to be a good time of the year to visit, as everyone was heading out while we were heading to Brisbane on Good Friday.
One of my favourite parts of our visit to Brisbane was our walk through South Bank, ending with a (free) ferry ride to enjoy Brisbane by night. In that area south of the Brisbane River, called South Bank, the atmosphere is relaxed and the air buzzes with laughter and joy. There are tons of bars and cafés, an outdoor pool with a beach in the middle of the city, even a herb and vegetable garden called the Epicurious Garden. Don’t forget to take a selfie at the huge letters spelling BRISBANE!
Another highlight was our night at the Eat Street Markets and the Eat Street Drive-In. Before getting served by a guy on a Segway while watching Deadpool from our car, we had dinner at the Eat Street Markets. It’s a cozy food market with an arts and craft stall every once in while. We had a very nice chicken cashew nut, a mini burger, and a huge bag of popcorn, made by two friendly guys. If you’re up for some sports adrenaline with a beer in hand, go watch a rugby game in the Suncorp Stadium. Even though we knew nothing about rugby, we had a blast!
Explore the magnificent Great Barrier Reef
Almost parallel to the Queensland coast is the Great Barrier Reef, a unique Marine Park made up from 2,900 individual reefs. The great variety in fascinating marine life and beautiful coral makes for a diving and snorkeling paradise. It has over 100 islands, some with remote (and expensive) resorts, some with gorgeous beaches and azure waters, and some untouched. On top of all that amazing nature to behold, the water has a pleasant temperature of about 29°C at all times. The only drawback are the marine stingers, active from November to May. The stings of those little marine creatures can be deadly in a worst case scenario, but a stinger suit keeps you safe.
At the start of our round the world trip, back in September 2016, we learned to dive with Roctopus in Koh Tao. After another couple of days of diving in Amed, Bali, we couldn’t wait to get to Queensland for a dive trip to the famous Great Barrier Reef. We booked a 3 day/2 night liveaboard with Pro Dive Cairns, one of the cheapest options available. We got excellent value for our money and would immediately book with them again if we ever decide to go back.
Why? The food was good and plenty, the crew friendly, helpful and competent, and everything was well organized. We had a lot of fun on the boat and met some amazing people! There’s no guide on the dives, but the dive briefings are clear and detailed. We had a great time exploring some of the many dive sites of the Great Barrier Reef on our own. We saw white-tip reef sharks, turtles, sting rays, and many beautifully coloured fish. Check out our blogpost “Great Barrier Reef Liveaboard with Pro Dive Cairns” for more details and photos. It was absolutely awesome and way more beautiful in real life than the pictures from our GoPro. You should definitely go see for yourself!
A couple of days after our amazing dive trip with Pro Dive Cairns, we went on a day trip to the beautiful Whitsunday Islands, another part of the Great Barrier Reef. We booked with Big Fury, one of the many options for a day trip to the Whitsundays. There are two stops on the trip. The first one is Whitehaven Beach, rated one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The water is crystal clear and the sand pure and white. We walked up to an amazing viewpoint and had lunch in the shade at the edge of the forest. The second stop is a snorkel spot, where you’ll have some time to meet the marine creatures that call the Great Barrier Reef home. The Whitsunday Islands are definitely worth a visit when you’re in the neighbourhood! We were very satisfied with the service and program of Big Fury, all for a great price, thanks to BookMe. Read more in our blogpost “A day trip to the Whitsunday Islands with Big Fury”.
Even if you prefer to stay dry, you can check out the wonderful creatures of the Great Barrier Reef by visiting the Reef HQ Aquarium in Townsville. It’s the world’s largest living coral aquarium and absolutely worth a visit. We learned quite a lot on the interesting (and free) talks and tours, saw lots of beautiful fish, and even touched a living sea star! If you decide to visit, definitely attend the Turtle Talk with a visit to the Turtle Hospital. For more information on the Reef HQ Aquarium you can go read our blogpost about what to do in Townsville.
Stop for a photo shoot at some of Australia’s Big Things
All over Australia are Big Things decorating the landscape in a unique way. One of the most famous ones is Larry, the Big Lobster, proudly watching over Kingston, South Australia. In Queensland we passed by and pulled over at two of Australia’s Big Things: The (Big) Golden Gumboot and The Big Mango.
The Golden Gumboot is situated in Tully, on the Cassowary Coast. We pulled over for some pictures on our way from Townsville to Cairns. It was erected after Tully had won the rubber boot, which used to be awarded to the wettest town in Australia, a couple of years in a row. The average rainfall in this little town is 4490mm per year, with February and March (when we visited) the rainiest months. We were surprised to find we could climb the Golden Gumboot to the top, for a view over Tully. A winding stairs inside the boot takes you up, and the walls are decorated with pictures of a flooded Tully over the years. The backdrop for the picture is just perfect: a dark and cloudy sky, threatening to soak you any minute.
On the way from Mission Beach to Airlie Beach, we passed The Big Mango. It looks like a big badly painted Easter egg. Don’t know if it’s the same in other countries, but in Belgium the Easter bunny brings painted hard boiled eggs as well as chocolate eggs. In our opinion it’s not really worth a stop. Better pull over on the other side of the road, across from The Big Mango, where you can follow a little path to the waterfront for a great view over Port Denison.
Seek refreshment in the outdoor pools throughout Queensland
In most of Queensland it is quite hot throughout the year, so you’ll want to seek refreshment. We were surprised and very glad to find that most of the outdoor pools throughout Queensland are free. That doesn’t mean they aren’t well equipped, dirty or in a shady neighbourhood, on the contrary! There are toilets, showers, lockers, even lifeguards, and the surroundings are inviting.
During our stay in Townsville we spent a couple of hours in and near the Rock Pool, situated on the northern edge of The Strand. Although there was no lifeguard on duty here, and the water didn’t look clear, it was a welcome refreshment on a hot day. You can opt for a swim in the stinger-resistant enclosure in the sea as well. On our way from Mission Beach to Airlie Beach we drove through Townsville once more, and had lunch, a simple picnic, near the Riverway Lagoons. There is a nice park, the pools are big and clean, and it’s free with lifeguards on duty.
We arrived in Cairns on a Sunday afternoon, to find the Cairns Esplanade filled with sunbathers and people enjoying the live band that was playing. The Cairns Esplanade Lagoon is a free outdoor pool in a park along the waterfront, complete with lifeguards on duty. The atmosphere was relaxed and the surroundings perfect for a nice picnic on the grass. In Brisbane the public pool is in the South Bank Parklands, near the Brisbane River, surrounded by sand. A bit of a funny picture, seeing something like this in the middle of a big city.
(Try to) Spot some platypus
During our road trip through Queensland we drove up to Port Douglas, the most northern city we’ve been in Australia. Our visit was planned a bit unfortunately though, in the middle of an extremely rainy week. It wasn’t looking to get any better the following days, so we decided to not waste our time and drive back down to Mission Beach after spending the night. Like the friendly lady from Tropic Breeze Caravan Park in Port Douglas suggested, we took the long way instead of the coastal way like we came. That trip took us to the Yungaburra Platypus Viewing Platform she had marked on the map she gave us. Unfortunately we were a bit early and didn’t see any platypus through the pouring rain. We arrived around 14h, while you have a better chance of spotting small platypus in the wild between 15h and 19h in the evening, and between 4h and 8h in the morning.
A couple of days later, on the way from Airlie Beach to Mackay, we made a detour via Eungella National Park for lunch. We did the Broken River Platypus Walk and had lunch at the end of the path, next to the river, hoping to spot some platypus. We went to all three viewing platforms along the walk, but didn’t see any platypus. Probably because we were early once again. We did see a bunch of little turtles though!
Enjoy the great views to be found all around Queensland
On that same trip from Airlie Beach to Mackay, where we didn’t spot any platypus, we stopped at the Sky Window Circuit. It’s situated along the winding road to Eungella National Park, and leads to an amazing view over Pioneer Valley. There are mountains on either side (that’s why they call it a valley), with patches of trees streaming from the valley walls, a road winding in the middle, some fields, and a couple of houses. The Sky Window Circuit is a short loop, and definitely worth a stop!
Somewhere between Port Douglas and Mission Beach, you’ll find the Curtain Fig Tree. It’s a fig tree from the strangler fig species, which grow upon and “strangle” a host tree with their areal roots that drop to the ground to feed. In this particular case, the fig tree fell into a neighbouring tree, which makes for the curtain effect. There’s a wooden boardwalk leading to and around the Curtain Fig Tree, so you can study it from every angle. When passing by, make sure to stop here!
The road between Townsville and Cairns is called The Great Green Way. There are sugarcane fields everywhere, and occasionally a banana plantation as well. The views reminded us of Amed, Bali. The Hinchinbrook Lookout is a viewpoint along that road where you should definitely stop, as you’ll have a great view over the Hinchinbrook Island and the Hinchinbrook Channel. Unfortunately we had cloudy and rainy weather, so our photos aren’t great, but imagine what they could have looked like with a little sunshine. The same view, but from a better angle (without high voltage power lines in sight) is a short walk away from there, at the Panjoo Lookout. Watch out for a slippery path when it is or has been raining.
For views with less nature and more city, we recommend driving (but you can walk as well) up to the Castle Hill Lookout. Even on the rainy Saturday morning we were there, the view was amazing. We also went up to the Skypoint Observation Deck to see Surfers Paradise and the Gold Coast beaches by night. The view was stunning! Entrance to this viewpoint on the 77th floor of the Q1 Building is not free. General entry for one adult is $24, but we bought a 7-day pass for both Dreamworld and WhiteWater World ($85.50 per adult) in which entrance to the Skypoint Observation Deck was included.
Bring out your inner child at the Gold Coast Theme Parks
Gold Coast is the place to be in Australia for thrill-seekers like ourselves. There are three theme parks and two waterparks to choose from. We didn’t choose though, but just visited them all. Our favourite waterpark was Wet’n’Wild, our favourite theme park Movie World. We had tons of fun during the five days of being a child again in Gold Coast! For tips about tickets and a short overview of the different theme parks, you can check out our blogpost “The Best Gold Coast Theme Parks”. Enjoy!
If you’re wondering about the gap between Mackay and Brisbane on the map: we covered that distance in three days of driving about 300 km per day. We didn’t make any noteworthy stops during those days.
So what to do in Queensland? Its most popular and most amazing feature is without a doubt the Great Barrier Reef. Our dive trip with Pro Dive Cairns to the GBR was definitely one of our favourite parts of our time in Queensland. In second place we’d put the Gold Coast theme parks. We just can’t get enough from those thrill rides!