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Sunshine, Sunset

The Sunshine State

From wildlife to wondrous reefs, ancient rainforests to the world's oldest continuous culture: Sarah Gordon offers five reasons why Queensland should be next on your travel list

With its sweeping white-sand beaches and the colourful coral of the Great Barrier Reef, lush rainforests and amazing wildlife, Queensland is a veritable paradise. Add in buzzing cities and a laid-back and carefree attitude, and it’s easy to see why so many travellers are captivated by this tropical corner of Australia.

This state offers experiences like nowhere else on the planet, whether you want to sleep under the stars floating above the largest reef in the world, walk meandering trails through the world’s oldest tropical rainforest, enjoy a castaway experience on a pristine island or plunge below the waters to spot turtles, rays and even works of art.
  
Whether you’re fascinated by Aboriginal culture and history, awed by the wonders of nature or want to combine lively cities and beautiful beaches, you’ll find your place in Queensland. Here are five reasons to visit the Sunshine State.

A Reefsuite at Reefsleep, Australia’s first underwater accommodation


Sensational seas

The world’s largest coral reef system unfurls beneath the turquoise waters of Queensland. A biodiverse wonder, there are so many ways to explore the riches of the Great Barrier Reef, and every visit helps with its conservation.

Do you want to paddle the waters in a kayak or on a stand-up paddleboard? Perhaps you’d rather dip below the waves to snorkel or scuba dive? A flight over the reef reveals its vast scale, while a glass-bottomed boat offers the chance to spot darting fish, majestic rays and turtles in comfort.

One way to become fully immersed in the spellbinding reef is with an overnight stay onboard the new Lady Musgrave underwater pontoon. Visiting from Bundaberg, head to the underwater observatory to view the coral and marine life by day, or join a group of 20 for an overnight stay, falling asleep with the ultimate underwater view.

More unusual overnight reef experiences await. When you cruise the Whitsunday Islands' crystalline waters, you have the choice of staying overnight at Reefsleep, enjoying a starlit dinner, sundowners and an overnight stay on an exclusive permanent pontoon. Or why not upgrade to a Reefsuite? Australia’s first underwater accommodation gives you a front-row seat to the amazing marine life at Hardy Reef, just off Airlie Beach.
  
Discover knowledge passed down over tens of thousands of years with Dreamtime Snorkel, a reef cruise with Aboriginal guides, who provide a deeper cultural understanding of the ecosystem and its heritage.

Or you can even spot artwork amongst the waves. Head to the Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA) at John Brewer Reef, to explore a sculpture park created by the world’s leading underwater sculptor, Jason deCaires Taylor.

Fascinating art by underwater sculptor, Jason deCaires Taylor


Wildlife wonders

With more than 1,000 National Parks, forests and other protected areas nestled within the state borders, there is plenty of opportunity to experience Queensland's rich and diverse nature.

From sundown at Lamington National Park in the south to the Great Barrier Reef in the east and deserts in the west, experience ancient rainforests, colourful coral reefs and ochre desert plains.

Dive into the crystal-clear waters of the Great Barrier Reef and swim alongside sea turtles and a multitude of colourful fish, or spot humpback whales at Fraser Coast, just north of Brisbane.

Or venture into the ancient Daintree Rainforest and witness Australia’s largest flightless bird, the cassowary, and saltwater crocodiles along the banks of the Daintree River.

Or if you’re looking to mix with the locals, head to Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park, where you can stay overnight and wake up for stunning sunrises, often accompanied by kangaroos and wallabies.

Sunrise on Cape Hillsborough beach


Adrenaline-fuelled adventure
  
From mountain bike trails to rainforest waterways, hiking to discovering dinosaur bones in the outback, Queensland is a haven for explorers.
South East Queensland’s Main Range National Park is a great place to start.

The two-to-six-day Scenic Rim Trail is a hiking route that takes in mountain peaks, ancient rainforest and volcanic plateaus surrounded by fascinating flora and fauna. You can stay in luxurious eco-lodges throughout your adventure and may even meet koalas and kangaroos on your way.

Alternatively, walk, float and snorkel through the Daintree Rainforest, the world’s oldest tropical rainforest. With Backcountry Bliss Adventures, your watery tour will have you on the hunt for turtles, water dragons and platypus.

Looking for a new perspective? Experience the 10-million-year-old Cobbold Gorge from above along a new glass footbridge. Cruise along the length of the gorge on an electric boat, or opt for a guided stand-up paddleboard tour for total nature immersion.

Dinosaurs once wandered the outback in Australia and in Queensland you don’t have to dig far to find fossils, bones and remnants of its prehistoric past. See the footsteps left behind by a prehistoric stampede and discover vast skeletons in the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History in Winton, the palaeontology capital of the outback.


Local lifestyle, rich culture
 
Brisbane offers an amazing lifestyle, a rich culture and some incredible alfresco dining 

Live like a local in Brisbane and enjoy Australia’s most exciting city of the moment. Brisbane is Australia’s fastest growing capital, combining glitzy skyscrapers with an amazing lifestyle.

Kayak down the Brisbane River or cycle through the city. Watch the sunset while sipping on expertly crafted cocktails at a rooftop bar, or sample the best local cuisine by fine dining al fresco under a starry sky.

Mingle with the down-to-earth locals at entertainment hub Howard Smith Wharves, or the soon-to-open Queens Wharf, where food, music and community are brought together.

Head to the Sunshine Coast and delve deeper into Australia’s indigenous culture with Saltwater Eco Tours, a unique marine experience on board a heritage-listed vessel. Combine culture, maritime history, local food and live music for an unforgettable experience.

Venture up the coast to Cairns, where the Daintree Rainforest and Great Barrier Reef meet. Here Aboriginal guides will share their history and culture with you as you explore Kuku Yalanji country, discover bush foods and medicines from the rainforest.

Venture into the ancient Daintree Rainforest


Incredible events
  
Experience the never-ending energy of Queensland with a host of live events.

Not only will several FIFA Women’s World Cup matches be played in Brisbane in 2023, the British and Irish Lions Tour will also come to Queensland in 2025. And in 2032, Brisbane will take centre stage once again to host the Olympic Games.

Alternatively, time your visit to coincide with one of Queensland’s annual events. Dive into Australia’s rich cultural history at the Yarrabah Music and Cultural Festival in 2023, and experience Aboriginal music, visual arts and cultural flavours.

Sample some of Australia’s most diverse cuisine and freshest seafood at one of the state’s famed food festivals. Bring an appetite to Brisbane Good Food & Wine Show in October, and sample tasty bites from hundreds of stalls. Learn from the best as chefs take the stage and demonstrate delicious recipes.

Get a backstage pass to local farms and wineries at Scenic Rim Eat Local Week, set over nine days in late June and showcasing local chefs and producers. Take a tour, meet producers or harvest your own vegetables before grabbing a seat at the harvest festival lunch.

And if you’re looking to enjoy one of Queensland’s favourite pastimes, every year, Noosa hosts a surfing festival where pros, amateurs and even dogs can be spotted catching the waves over nine days.

With its diverse nature, Queensland offers unforgettable experiences like nowhere else. After experiencing the cosmopolitan cities, explore the rich marine life of the Great Barrier Reef, pristine beaches, ancient rainforests, incredible wildlife, dinosaur footprints and Aboriginal culture that make this state a paradise on Earth.



First published in the Mail Online -  January 2023

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