Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Queensland
Encompassing roughly 3,000 individual reefs and dotted with almost 900 islands and coral cays (small sandy isles), Australia's Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s most unforgettable natural treasures. Snorkelers and certified divers flock here to see the unparalleled array of marine life.
With its powder-white silica sands, gleaming turquoise waters, and fringe of lush rainforest, it’s little surprise that Whitehaven is one of Australia’s most photographed beaches. Stretching for almost 3 miles (5 kilometers) along the coast of Whitsunday Island, it’s a magnificent sight and an idyllic spot for swimming and snorkelling.
Marooned off the coast of Cairns in north Queensland, Green Island is a tropical paradise of lush rainforest, white sandy beaches, and crystalline waters. The idyllic island is part of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef National Park, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and harbors an extraordinary variety of coral reefs, exotic fish, and marine life.
Marking the southern border of Daintree National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Mossman Gorge is one of the most popular places to experience the world’s oldest rain forest. Dating back more than 130 million years, the dense forest and scenic river gorge harbor a rich biodiversity and provide a stunning backdrop for hikers and swimmers.
Winding its way through the ancient rainforests, dramatic gorges, and UNESCO World Heritage-listed landscapes of Queensland’s tropical north, the Kuranda Scenic Railway is one of Australia’s most spectacular train journeys. Running 23 miles (37 kilometers) from Cairns in the south to Kuranda in the north, the route is a thrilling one. As it passes through an impressive 15 tunnels and across 37 bridges, the railway affords panoramic views of the Barron Gorge National Park.
Soaring through the treetops of Barron Gorge National Park, the 4.7-mile-long (7.5-kilometer) Skyrail Rainforest Cableway offers an unforgettable outdoor experience. Glide over North Queensland’s UNESCO World Heritage–listed tropical rain forest and enjoy unbeatable aerial views over its forests, gorges, and waterfalls.
Off the coast of Queensland, the UNESCO-listed Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system. The portion called Hardy Reef is perhaps the most popular with visitors thanks to its postcard-perfect Heart Reef—which, true to the name, is heart-shaped.
Formerly home to Steve Irwin, also known as “the Crocodile Hunter,” the Australia Zoo is one of Australia’s largest and most popular wildlife conservation facilities. Managed by the Irwin family, whose personalities are a major part of its continued success, the zoo has a huge collection of native Aussie animals as well as creatures from around the world.
From the dramatic jungle-clad gorges, wild rivers, and tumbling waterfalls of Daintree National Park to the deserted coast of Cape Tribulation along the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree Rainforest is Australia’s largest stretch of rain forest, covering 460 square miles (1,200 square kilometers). A protected UNESCO World Heritage Site and a hiker’s paradise, the rainforest is renowned for its extraordinary biodiversity.
With its miles of sun-bleached sandy beaches, towering sand dunes, shimmering lagoons, and pockets of wild bushland, Moreton Island feels a world away from nearby Brisbane. As the third largest sand island in the world and a national park, Moreton Island makes for a perfect day trip when you want to get in touch with nature.
More Things to Do in Queensland
More than 1,500 tropical butterflies—from the electric blue Ulysses to the green and yellow Cairns Birdwing—call this world-class aviary home. Stationed in the heart of the Kuranda rainforest, the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary has been impressing visitors with both its whimsical nature and state-of-the-art laboratory since it first opened in 1987.
Interested travelers can follow free 30-minute tours that include up-close looks at the caterpillar breeding nursery. Here, you can see newly born butterflies before they’re released into the aviary and learn about the stages of development that lead to the birth of these fanciful creatures.
The sanctuary’s laboratory is another popular stop that showcases efforts to keep the aviary well stocked. While just two percent of eggs survive in the wild, more than 80 percent mature here thanks to lab experts. Catch a peek at the hard-working scientists who keep this facility thriving.
Queensland’s Barron Gorge National Park extends from the town of Lake Placid, and the surrounding lowlands, all the way to the high Atherton Tableland. The area—which is full of beautiful forests, waterfalls, gorges, and wildlife—is easily accessible from the city of Cairns and is one of the most popular outdoor areas in the region.
The picturesque mountain town of Kuranda is tucked into forest-clad hills 16 miles (25 kilometers) northwest of Cairns in Queensland, Australia. The journey to Kuranda is part of its appeal; visitors get spectacular views of lush forests and towering waterfalls, whether traveling there by train, skyrail, or road. The laid-back town is known for its outdoor markets, eateries, wildlife tours, and alternative vibe.
Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures introduces visitors to Australia’s most famous reptiles (and other native species) through an informative and educational day out. Visitors can observe crocs on a cruise through a lagoon mimicking the creatures’ natural habitat and learn how crocodiles are sustainably farmed.
The Great Barrier Reef is the Earth’s largest structure built entirely by living organisms. It runs for over 1,200 miles from its northern to southern tip, and is almost the size of the state of Montana when its various reefs are combined. One of the reefs—the Agincourt Reef—is a distant section along the reef’s northern tip where stunning biodiversity creates one of the most pristine ecosystems found anywhere along the reef.
Known as a type of “Ribbon Reef,” the Agincourt Reef runs parallel to the line with the Continental Shelf. Exotic species such as the Maori wrasse are commonly found along the reef, and sharks, rays—and even whales—can be seen when scuba diving the reef. Even for travelers who are just snorkeling, however, there are sections of the reef only a few feet below the clear, turquoise waters. Here, in the shallow lagoons, thousands of fish inhabit a reef that bursts with vibrancy and color—and there is even the chance of encountering species like the giant purple clam. Like a galactic portal to an entirely new world, the sights, colors, and marine diversity create an aquatic wonderland off of Port Douglas unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.
Known as the “River of Mirrors,” the Noosa Everglades is one of Queensland’s most stunning natural landscapes and one of only two everglades systems on Earth. This stretch of wetlands, mangrove forests, and lakes is part of Cooloola National Park and harbors a rich diversity of flora and birdlife.
The Whitsunday Passage is the waterway that carves through the middle of the Whitsunday Islands in the heart of northwestern Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. These famous islands, perhaps some of Australia's most popular tourist attractions, are named after the passage, which was given its title by the famed explorer Captain James Cook in 1770. The area was discovered on Whitsun, a Sunday feast day held seven weeks after Easter, thus resulting in the name. However, since the international dateline has now been established, it is now said that the day Cook discovered this passage would have actually been a Monday.
Within Whitsunday Passage, there are 74 islands in total, with the largest simply known as Whitsunday Island. Most of these islands have remained uninhabited or are, at the very least, protected by a vast system of national parks. The oldest settlement in the Whitsundays is the town of Bowen, settled in 1861. Later, in 1936, the city of Airlie Beach was established and it remains, in many ways, the heart of Whitsunday Passage. Today, the Whitsunday Passage is sailed constantly by tourists on chartered boats and cruises, while including some of the world's most photographed beaches.
The largest inhabited island in the Whitsundays, Hamilton Island has some of the best beach resorts in the Pacific, right on the cusp of the Great Barrier Reef. Famed for its luxury resorts and water sports, stunning views await at every turn—pristine white sands, lush rain forest, and an endless expanse of glittering ocean.
Awe-inspiring Lake McKenzie is possibly one of the world’s most beautiful lakes. It is also one of the world’s least polluted and a swim in the crystal-clear freshwater will leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
The lake is a “perched lake,” meaning it sits atop a sand dune where the sand and humus underneath have bonded into a concrete-like base. The lake isn't connected to streams or the ocean, which means all the water is pure rainwater. The sand also acts as a filter keeping the water clear, and makes for an amazing experience when relaxing in the lake.
Fraser Island is home to forty of the world’s eighty perched lakes, and like the many other freshwater lakes on the island, Lake McKenzie relies solely on rain for replenishment.
The sand surrounding the lake is pure silica so you can wash your hair with it or exfoliate your skin, perfect if you’ve been camping for days. There are a lot of delightful picnic areas and stunning beaches around the lake, which makes it perfect for an afternoon trip or a multiple day excursion.
Forty-five minutes by boat from Cairns, Fitzroy Island has been many things — a Chinese Quarantine Station, a Mission School, a WWII coast-watch station...and today it’s all about its natural features — tropical rainforest and a fringe coral reef, part of the Great Barrier Reef system, where you can dive and snorkel in among green sea turtles, clown fish, and parrotfish.
A continental island that separated from the mainland in the last Ice Age over 8,000 years ago, Fitzroy Island covers just 4km — 97% of which is National Parkland that you can wander through on the walking trails through the forest and along the coast. The rest of the island is all about the white sand beaches, and on the sheltered western end you’ll find the island’s accommodation, a restaurant, Foxy’s Bar, and a conference and wedding venue. There’s also a diving school on the island, and options to go on glass bottom boat tours, SUP boarding, ocean trampolining, and kayaking. A relaxed walk is to the old lighthouse on the northwest point. On a clear day, from here you can look out past Cape Grafton to the Frankland Islands.
Deep in the heart of the rainforest near Cairns lies a real Spanish castle. Paronella Park was the brainchild of José Paronella, who – with dreams of building a castle and leisure gardens for the community to enjoy – began building his castle in the 1930s.
Paronella Park has undergone many constructions and reconstructions. Parts of the park have been destroyed by no less than three cyclones, a fire, and floods since José Paronella completed his park, but it has bounced back to relive its former glory. The park has won multiple awards for ecotourism, and is one of the most popular attractions around Cairns.
Visiting Paronella Park today shows off the many original and restored features of José Paronella’s dream. Extensive tropical garden, picnic areas, tennis courts, a cinema, a ballroom and more are on show, including more modern additions such as a museum. There are over five hectares of gardens in which visitors can picnic, a café offering local produce and even camping grounds.
Queensland's lush, tropical north is alive with colorful bird life, and you can experience the festive cacophony of chirps on a visit to Birdworld Kuranda. Over 60 different species of birds make their home in this enclave of forest and waterfalls, and the landscape is built to mimic the surroundings the birds would find in the wild. When walking the open-air aviary, there’s the chance a bird could simply fly up and land on your shoulder, or a curious parrot might cock its head sideways and inspect you while sitting on a tree branch. Visitors also have the chance to hand-feed birds under the supervision of the aviary staff. Keep an eye out to spot Amazonian macaws, kingfishers, and Australian black swans.
Located in the village of Kuranda, this compact wildlife park gives you the chance to have close encounters with native Australian wildlife. Free-range enclosures are surrounded by lush rainforest and play host to kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, and koalas, while freshwater crocodiles glide through a tropical lagoon.
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