12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Queensland
Queensland, the Sunshine State, is Australia's most popular holiday destination. Golden beaches, reef-fringed tropical islands, fantastic surf breaks, World Heritage-listed rainforests, rivers, reefs, and waterfalls are just some of Queensland's natural jewels. And all of these sun-soaked settings offer a multitude of outdoor adventures. The dazzling Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef offer superb diving and snorkeling. Fraser Island is a favorite for four-wheel-driving with its dunes and dingoes, and the ravishing wilderness areas along the Queensland coast are excellent for hiking, biking, boating, and fishing.
For a change of pace, Queensland's capital, Brisbane, delivers big-city attractions with a small-town feel. South of Brisbane, lies the glitzy Gold Coast with its hedonism and high rises. Traveling north along the coast from the capital, visitors will discover a string of holiday resorts, from sleepy beach towns and rainforest villages, to picturesque Port Douglas, and the tropical tourist-magnet of Cairns.
1 Great Barrier Reef
The world's largest living structure, the Great Barrier Reef is often ranked as one of the natural wonders of the world. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park extends off the northern coast of Queensland from Mackay to the northeastern corner of Australia. It protects more than 3,000 coral reefs; 600 continental islands, 300 coral cays, and many mangrove islands. The reef's astounding diversity of marine life lures divers and snorkelers from around the world. More than 1,600 species of tropical fish inhabit the reef as well as sharks, dugongs, dolphins, turtles, giant clams, and kaleidoscopic soft and hard corals. Underwater viewing stations and glass bottom boats also offer a window into this underwater wonderland.
On the mainland, Cairns, Port Douglas, and Airlie Beach are the main launching points for tours. Alternatively visitors can stay at one of the many islands within the marine park. Remote Lizard Island, the park's most northerly island, is famous for its exclusive resort.
2 Daintree National Park
A Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, Daintree National Park is the planet's oldest surviving rainforest and harbors one of the world's highest concentrations of threatened and endangered species. Located in Far North Queensland, the two main sections of the park include the crystal clear waters and lush forests of Mossman Gorge, and Cape Tribulation where tropical rainforest fringes the reef-splotched shores of the Coral Sea. The area belongs to the Eastern Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal people, and many of the park's sites hold great spiritual significance as well as providing habitat for an astounding diversity of flora and fauna. More than 18,000 plant species live within the park as well as a fascinating array of wildlife including the flightless southern cassowaries, crocodiles, Boyd's rainforest dragons, brightly hued azure kingfishers, the spotted cuscuses, and musky rat-kangaroos. Just south of the park, the resort town of Port Douglas is a popular base for arranging rainforest wilderness safaris.
3 Fraser Island
Between Bundaberg and Brisbane, World Heritage-listed Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world. Four-wheel drive adventures here explore wide windswept beaches, crystal clear lakes and streams, dingoes, dense forests, sacred aboriginal sites, and multi-hued rock formations. Seventy Five Mile Beach is the island's main thoroughfare and provides access to attractions such as the rusted hull of the Maheno shipwreck, the bubbling rock pools of Champagne Pools, Eli Creek, and the colored sandstone cliffs of The Cathedrals.
Top tourist attractions inland include the aquamarine Lake McKenzie, the rainforest of Central Station, and Lake Wabby, backed by a towering sand dune. Tiger sharks, dolphins, and whales swim in the wind-whipped waters, and the island's fauna includes wild horses, Australia's purest strain of dingo, and more than 300 species of birds. Access to Fraser Island is by ferry from Rainbow Beach and Hervey Bay. Since the island lacks sealed roads, four-wheel drive vehicles are essential.
4 Gold Coast
The Gold Coast is one of Australia's best-known holiday regions. During the last few decades, a building boom transformed the coast into a kind of tropical Las Vegas with high rises and hotels stretching from Southport, in the north, to Coolangatta, in the south. Packed with attractions and high-rise hotels, Surfers Paradise - 'Surfers' for short - is a tourist magnet legendary for its alliterative assets: sun, surf, and sand.
To the south of Surfers, visitors flock to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary and Movie World, where old film sets have been recreated by Warner Bros. To the north, in Southport, lies Seaworld. Excellent networks of roads lead to scenic lookouts in the hinterland where many wilderness areas are within easy reach, including popular Lamington National Park. Visitors can fly into the Gold Coast at the Coolangatta airport near the Queensland-New South Wales border.
5 Whitsunday Islands
Off the coast of central Queensland, the Whitsunday group encompasses 74 stunning islands strung along the Great Barrier Reef. The Whitsundays are continental islands, the summits of a coastal range emerging from the sea. All but five of them have been declared national parks and about eight are home to popular resorts. The most famous resorts include luxurious Hayman Island, tiny Daydream Resort & Spa, Long Island Resort with 13 km of walking tracks, and well-developed Hamilton, the largest of the island resorts. On uninhabited Whitsunday Island, Whitehaven Beach, with its powdery white sands and turquoise water, is considered one of the most ravishing beaches in the world. Airlie Beach and Shute Harbor are the main launching points for island excursions.
6 Editor's Pick Port Douglas
Dotted with palms and mango trees, the once-sleepy village of Port Douglas is now a charming holiday resort and a popular base for wilderness safaris and reef trips. This picturesque town lies about an hour's drive north of Cairns, along a scenic coastal road that winds between beaches and rainforest-cloaked hills. It's the closest mainland town to the Great Barrier Reef. Skirting the beautiful blond sweep of Four Mile Beach, Port Douglas has a relaxed tropical vibe with cute cafes, shops, and art galleries. From the Flagstaff Hill Lookout enjoy breathtaking views of the palm-fringed beach merging with the turquoise Coral Sea.
Top tourist attractions include the Wildlife Habitat and the Bally Hooley Sugar Train, an old steam engine chugging through the cane fields to the sugar mill at Mossman. Other adventures on offer include safaris in all-terrain vehicles to Daintree National Park, fishing trips, northbound expeditions through the rugged landscape of the Cape York Peninsula, and boat trips to Cooktown and the Great Barrier Reef.
In a superb location, between the Great Barrier Reef and the dark hills of the Atherton Tableland, Cairns is one of the most popular tourist towns in Far North Queensland. It's a town of palm-fringed streets, parks, and colorful gardens with a friendly, laid back feel. Beautiful beaches radiate out along the coast from Trinity Bay to Port Douglas, and the 5 km long Cairns Esplanade runs along the bay. Top attractions in town include the Flecker Botanic Gardens with more than 100 species of palms and the Cairns Historical Society Museum.
Cairns is an excellent base for day trips and longer tours in the Atherton Tableland, to the southwest, with rainforest reserves, waterfalls, and the charming mountain village of Kuranda. The Kuranda Scenic Railway or the Skyrail cableway offers spectacular views over the surrounding countryside and the World Heritage-listed rainforests of Barron Gorge National Park. Cairns is also a favorite launching point for visits to the reef and nearby islands. A variety of boats, high-speed catamarans, hydrofoils, and helicopters whisk visitors there daily.
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A trip to Kuranda, a charming rainforest village on the Atherton Tableland, is as much about the journey as the destination. From just outside of Cairns, visitors can take the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and fly over World Heritage-listed rainforests and the beautiful Barron River and Gorge. Alternatively, the Kuranda Scenic Railway chugs through the rainforest past rugged peaks and waterfalls. The journey ends in the little station at Kuranda, about 25 km northwest of Cairns, which is almost hidden by tropical plants and palms. Kuranda's main attractions are its artsy shops and colorful market selling souvenirs and local crafts.
Walks can be arranged on request from Kuranda to the wildly romantic Barron Gorge National Park. At Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park by the Caravonic Lakes, visitors can learn about Aboriginal culture and enjoy frequent native dance performances. Those wishing to take the scenic self-drive route to Kuranda will also enjoy the journey.
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9 Sunshine Coast
Stretching from Caloundra to Noosa Heads, the Sunshine Coast is the second great tourist and holiday area in southern Queensland, after the Gold Coast. The landscape here varies from sandy bays bounded by steep cliffs and natural bush to quiet coastal rivers. Popular with Aussie holidaymakers, the Sunshine Coast is less commercialized and quieter than the Gold Coast. Noosa Heads is one of the most popular resort areas, and Noosa National Park is a must-see with scenic walking tracks and sleepy koalas slouched in eucalyptus trees.
A short drive from Noosa, visitors can shop at the popular Saturday Eumundi Markets. South of Noosa lie the smaller beach resorts of Coolum Beach, Peregian Beach, and Sunshine Beach. In the hinterland, visitors can explore Glass House Mountains National Park, a cluster of volcanic plugs rising out of the coastal plain, as well as the charming mountain villages of Montville and Maleny. Maroochydore is the region's bustling commercial center and the location of the Sunshine Coast airport.
10 Lamington National Park
About a 2-hour drive south of Brisbane, Lamington National Park is a World Heritage Area and one of the state's most popular national parks. On the Lamington Plateau of the McPherson Range, amid the remnants of an ancient volcano, the park contains spectacular scenery with steep gorges, more than 500 waterfalls, tropical and subtropical rainforests, and beech forests in the higher elevations. Nature buffs will be in heaven here. More than 190 species of birds live in the park, including bowerbirds and colorful flocks of parrots. Red-necked pademelons, a small kangaroo-like marsupial, frolic at the rainforest fringes and the shy platypus swims in river rock pools. The park is also a haven for hikers with more than 150 km of walking trails.
11 Townsville and Magnetic Island
Townsville, the largest tropical town in Australia, is an excellent base for excursions and tours, particularly to beautiful Magnetic Island. The town lies on Cleveland Bay at the foot of Castle Hill, a 300 m high granite crag. Townsville owes much of its charm to its many parks and private gardens filled with luxuriant tropical flowers. The Queen's Park in Warburton Street is one of the town's oldest public parks. Adjoining are the Queen's Gardens, a botanic garden established in 1870. Along the Strand waterfront, visitors will find historic buildings, restaurants, swimming areas, water sports, parks, and playgrounds.
The Great Barrier Reef Wonderland is a magnet for visitors, with an underwater tunnel of acrylic glass where visitors can view the coral reef and marine life up close. In the same complex visitors will find the Omnimax Theatre, which shows 3D films, the Museum of Tropical Queensland, and ferry terminals to Magnetic Island. Townsville has a large airport linking it with all parts of Australia.
Brisbane, Australia's third largest city and capital of Queensland, offers a more relaxed pace than the larger capitals in the country's southeast. The city straddles the Brisbane River and is bounded on the east by the sea and on the west by the Great Dividing Range. Visitors love the city's sunny climate and its luxuriant parks and gardens. Top sightseeing attractions in the city include the Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mt Coot-tha, with more than 2,000 species of plants, and Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, one of the few places where visitors can touch and feed the animals.
At family-friendly South Bank Parklands, visitors will find riverside walking and biking trails, lush gardens, shops, and restaurants. River cruises are also popular. One of Brisbane's best known tourist attractions is the Kookaburra Queen, an old paddle steamer, which cruises down the Brisbane River, while the River Life Adventure Centre offers adrenalin fuelled water sports on the river. Visitors can also shop at the Queen Street Mall, climb the Story Bridge, explore the exhibits at the kid-friendly Queensland Museum, browse the Gallery of Modern Art, and enjoy beautiful city views from Mt Coot-tha Lookout.