Sun-drenched beaches, lush rainforests, uninhabited islands, remote outback and the stunning Great Barrier Reef make up the sunshine state of Queensland. Come along as we unearth some of Brisbane’s hidden gems before venturing further afield to wander hinterland towns, walk with an Aborigine, relax on isolated sands and sail through turquoise seas.
Brisbane – Sustainable Souvenirs, Edibles & Ideas
Just north of the Central Business District (CBD) along the banks of Breakfast Creek, Brisbane locals get a slice of country life without leaving the city. The Northey Street City Farm is an urban farming cooperative based on the principles of permaculture—an ecological and sustainable approach to agriculture, design and living. Wander through its bounty of 1,500 exotic and native fruit trees, shrubs and groundcover, or attend one of the Saturday sustainable-living workshops to learn about cheese making, bamboo harvesting, solar cooking and more. On Sundays, legions of locals stroll under the shade of the sprawling Moreten Bay Figs (a type of banyan tree) while shopping and nibbling on farm-fresh Australian delights at Northey’s outstanding organic market. But the market isn’t just about food—artisans, craftspeople and healers also sell locally made and ecologically sustainable products as part of Northey’s vision for a holistic economy.
Brisbane – The Local Scene
The city’s West End teems with art, multicultural character and an alternative urban vibe. An impressive array of vintage and designer shops, bookstores, cafés, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and markets offer a bevy of intriguing fare. On Saturdays, the farmer’s market in Davies Park showcases vendors of all varieties, while a monthly Vintage Market at 56 Russell Street evokes Australia’s yesteryear. To start your day, drop in for a meal at Mondo Organics, a local favorite. The delectable offerings may entice you to sign up for a course at the Organics Cooking School or spend an evening in a wine-appreciation session. You can also head west across the Brisbane River to the Brisbane Botanic Gardens in the Mount Coot-tha Forest. The outstanding display of Australian flora and fauna make it a refreshing oasis. Take a guided tour with one of the volunteers and relax on the lovely open-air deck of the café. Top off your day at the Brisbane Lookout and its scenic Summit restaurant. Fabulous views of the city are amplified at night by Brisbane’s twinkling lights.
Brisbane – New Out of Old
Less than a mile south of downtown in the suburb of Woolloongabba, you can head off the beaten trail for a fascinating foray into Reverse Garbage. Promoting resource reuse and environmental sustainability, this employee-run cooperative salvages high-quality industrial discards from Brisbane businesses to sell at a low cost. Discover the wonders of recycling with a tour, educational talk or a walk through intriguing exhibitions like “Salvaged Wearable Art.” You can also attend waste-focused art workshops that range in content from how to make and bind books to crafting jewelry and bags out of scraps. The Reverse Emporium gift shop and gallery promotes a changing array of local artists and designers who up-cycle all kinds of materials. Browse through thousands of odds and ends in this hodge-podge superstore and pick up interesting refashioned souvenirs like a backpack made from tire tubes, old tiles turned into a new mosaic or doorknobs used as bookends. Besides diverting resources from the landfill, Reverse Garbage will also give you plenty of do-it-yourself ideas to bring home.
Brisbane – Feed the ’Roos & Cuddle Koalas
Many native species inhabit the vast land Down Under, but Australia’s best-known creatures are surely the kangaroo and the koala. For a chance to interact with them, plan a visit to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Established in 1927, this Aussie gem is the oldest and largest of its kind in Australia, housing a host of furry friends. Feed, pet and frolic with the kangaroos in their field enclosure. Get the ultimate thrill as an animal keeper hands you a koala to hold and hug. Dingoes, wallabies, opossums, lizards, Tasmanian devils, bush turkeys, platypus and native birds like the emu also call Lone Pine home. While the koalas take center stage, don’t miss the lesser-known sheepdog trials. The unique herding and shearing show lets you see how outback sheepdogs respond to their master’s whistles, calls and hand signals as they work hard to round up the herd.
To make the most of your day, take the Mirimar Cruise from Brisbane’s South Bank Cultural Centre pontoon and travel down river to the sanctuary. Relax onboard as you listen to a narrated history of the area and its historic riverside homes before reaching your destination.
Maleny – Idyllic Hideaway in Dairy Country
Approximately 90 minutes north of Brisbane, the tiny town of Maleny offers all the attractions that lure locals out of the city, plus an eclectic mix of arts, crafts and farming. Although only 35 minutes from the Sunshine Coast beaches, Maleny is where locals prefer to dive into swimming holes and frolic under waterfalls in the Obi Obi River. Verdant rolling hills and rainforest serve as the backdrop, while cooler temperatures keep things comfortable. Check into one of the many guest cottages in the area and start exploring. Visit the Maple Street Co-op supermarket or stop in at Maleny Cheese to enjoy a cuppa (cup of tea or coffee) while watching the employees make cheddar, brie, feta and yogurt. Browse through local artisan shops and choose from all types of eateries. For a morning or afternoon pick-me-up, the Swiss Crust Bakery brews excellent coffee to complement its scrumptious baked goods. In the Maleny Botanic Gardens, visitors can wander pathways rimmed with azaleas, roses and rare cycads or sip tea in a gazebo with views of the volcanic Glass House Mountains. If you really want a rural experience, stay at Wittacork, a local dairy farm where guests can collect eggs, feed goats and milk cows. Two national parks and Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo in nearby Beerwah make excellent day trips from Maleny.
Great Barrier Reef – The Blue Lagoon Existence
There are plenty of accommodations around Australia’s best-known natural marvel, but Haggerstone Island is something special. Located 372 miles north of Cairns in the largely uninhabited Northern Great Barrier Reef, it’s a Robinson Crusoe dream come true. Roy and Anna Turner’s 28-year odyssey began when they sailed a 70-ton barge to the island loaded with timber, fruit trees, chickens and an old tractor. The couple spent the first two years living in a tent with no running water while they built their vision. Reachable only by air and boat, the virgin campsite turned luxury escape is a secluded marvel stocked with all the elements of island paradise: lush jungle, white-sand beach, lagoons, untouched reefs and aquamarine seas. Three handcrafted timber huts, a treehouse, a central pavilion and a thatched-roof house complete the scene. Without cell phones, TVs, computers or even mirrors, visitors can spend the day spear-fishing, snorkeling and diving, or bushwalking, beachcombing and bird-watching. By night, dine by candlelight on fresh coral trout, steamed oysters or lobster cooked over the open fire, seasoned with citrus and herbs from the garden. Unimpeded stargazing completes the day.
Longreach – A Gallop Through the Scrub in an Outback Outpost
The Australian Outback is the rough-and-tumble territory of folklore and legend. This vast and remote region of arid land spans much of the country, including Queensland. Big skies, isolated terrain and a chance to spot emus and kangaroos in their natural habitat call adventurers to the outpost of Longreach. From Brisbane, you can drive the 823 miles or ride the rails on the overnight Spirit of the Outback. In Longreach, the Qantas Founders Museum recounts the history of Australia’s flagship airline—Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service (QANTAS)—along with the story of its daring founders and pilots. Amidst challenging beginnings, Qantas established its first airstrip and hangar here, both viewable at the museum along with flight simulators and a collection of airplanes. Visit the nearby Stockman’s Hall of Fame and Outback Heritage Centre, which showcases Australia’s greatest explorers, stock workers and Aborigines. To grab hold of the Outback spirit, gallop through the scrub on the horse-drawn Cobb & Co. stagecoach, which follows the early mail trail. Visitors can also take the Thomson River Cruise at sunset to enjoy dinner around a campfire.
Cooktown – Walkabout with an Aborigine
More than 50,000 archaeological sites in Australia attest to the roots of its native people, who date back over 40,000 years. Without a written language, Aborigines have passed on their traditions, wisdom and rites through art, music, dance, storytelling and walkabouts—spiritual field trips across the land. If you travel the coast north to Cooktown (Australia’s first nonindigenous settlement), you’ll have a chance to experience the life of the Aborgines through the eyes of Willie Gordon, elder and traditional story-keeper of the Nugal-warra clan. While guiding his guests on a gentle four-hour bush walk through the spectacular landscape of his ancestral home, Willie shares fascinating stories and animated personal accounts of his life, people and folklore. He’ll take you to rock sites and caves in the hills above Cooktown (where his grandmother was born) and reveal the history of the cave paintings. Sharing his vast knowledge of the land, he’ll explain the significance of plants, landforms, insects and animal tracks—even encouraging you to try a green-ant snack.
The Whitsundays – Sailing the Coral Seas
The pristine Whitsunday Islands are a paradise of virgin splendor tucked inside the Great Barrier Reef. Of the 74 mostly uninhabited islands, 32 are protected as national parkland and have remained virtually unchanged since Captain Cook discovered them in 1770. Explore this swimming, snorkeling and diving haven on a multiday cruise aboard the Pacific Sunrise.
Leaving her days as a film starlet behind, the traditional timber ship now navigates the islands with a handful of guests and an idyllic itinerary. Visitors rise with the sun to see turtles feeding in Tongue Bay and sail past craggy islands, fringing coral reefs and frequently frolicking dolphins. Anchor at secluded coves to snorkel or dive with an onboard instructor amidst an outstanding variety of coral and fish. Relax on the 4.5-mile pure white sands of Whitehaven Beach—considered one of the world’s most spectacular—and take a bush walk on Whitsunday Island. Spend time onboard listening to the captain on the ship’s bridge, reading a book in the library or socializing over cocktails and gourmet meals. A first-class crew and air-conditioning in the cabin suites ensure a comfortable journey.
Gold Coast – Australia’s Vigilant Heroes
The spectacular oceans and beaches of Queensland make it easy to see why some of the world’s best swimmers and surfers hail from Australia. The southeast Gold Coast is home to a bounty of coastal gems that include Surfer’s Paradise, Main Beach and Broadbeach—famous for their cosmopolitan flair. Australia also has some of the world’s most dangerous ocean conditions, so lifeguards must be in top form. To see the best in action, head south on the Gold Coast Highway in April 2013, when the beach communities of North Kirra and Tugun host the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships, known as The Aussies. In the largest event of its type in the world, life-saving clubs from across the country compete in over 300 events for state and national titles. North Kirra will serve as the primary venue for water, craft and beach events, while Tugun plays host to the surfboat competition, featuring crews racing oar-driven boats in heavy surf.
Travel Tips: Australia
With its sunny, tropical climate and warm Australian spirit, Queensland beckons you to explore its natural wonders. To fully enjoy the bounty of this state, read our 10 Travel Tips and get versed in Aussie speak, water know-how, what to wear and more.
Besides a passport, you’ll need a visa to enter Australia. Fortunately, the government has made it easy. Americans and Canadians who wish to tour the country can apply online for an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA), which is electronically linked to your passport. The ETA Tourist Visa lets you travel in Australia for up to three months within one year of the issue date. Besides your passport and an email address, you’ll also need a credit card to pay the $20 U.S. service charge.
Brisbane Rental Bikes
Brisbane (the capital of Queensland) has introduced public bike rentals available at kiosks throughout the city. Great bike paths downtown and along the Brisbane River make this a fantastic way to explore. Pick up a bike at a kiosk and return it to any other. Daily ($2 Australian) and weekly ($11) rates—approx. equal to U.S. dollars—are reasonable, but you’ll need to subscribe online in advance. Keep in mind that Brisbane also has a helmet law. You can buy a helmet when you subscribe, bring your own or look for a bike that has one in the basket.
Although they speak English and share many expressions with the British, Aussies (Australians) have their own lingo that keeps things interesting:
- Arvo = afternoon
- Biscuit = cookie
- Brissy = Brisbane (pronounced Bris-bin); also known as Bris Vegas
- Buggered = very tired, fatigued
- Bush/scrub = countryside, wooded areas, desert outback
- Chips = french fries
- Entrée = appetizer (main course = main)
- Lift = elevator
- Mozzie = mosquito
- Pie = meat pie akin to pot pie; eaten for lunch
- Road train = big truck pulling multiple trailers
- Sheila = a woman
Secret Show at Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo
Located an hour north of Brisbane near the small town of Maleny, the fabulous Australia Zoo embodies the late Crocodile Hunter’s passion for wildlife conservation. It’s a testament to his life’s work and a highly recommended day trip for up-close encounters and learning about Australian wildlife. Get there around 9:30 a.m. and try to see all the shows. The hidden treasure is the tiger show, which is usually not advertised, but takes place around 1 or 2 p.m. Inquire when you arrive
Watch for Wildlife
Many exotic animals call Australia home, some of them deadly. As a general warning, respect the wildlife, don’t feed the animals and keep your distance. As cute as kangaroos are, they have a potent kick—the same goes for cassowaries. If you see aquatic creatures on shore, remember that they may be there to avoid sharks and crocs rather than to seek human contact. In the outback, it’s a good idea to wear covered shoes and watch where you walk. Stop, move slowly and make wide detours to get around wildlife—animals usually only attack if disturbed or threatened. To learn more, read the Queensland Park and Wildlife Service safety tips.
Try a Snag & Some Vegemite
Grilling is hugely popular in Australia. Besides steak, seafood, lamb, veal and snags (sausages), you’ll also find crocodile, emu, ostrich, wallaby and even kangaroo thrown on the barbie (barbeque). Another specialty of the country is Vegemite. The Australian version of peanut butter is used on breakfast toast, crackers, lunch sandwiches and even as flavoring in stews. A highly concentrated yeast extract with vegetable additives, it’s one of the world’s richest sources of Vitamin B. Aussies love Vegemite so much that many of them travel with it in their suitcase.
Casual Clothes & Sunny Climate
Be sure to pack your sunnies (sunglasses), bathers (swimsuits) and thongs (flip flops) for tropical Queensland. Expect warm and sultry weather in the Whitsunday Islands and on the coast. The northern regions and rainforests get hot, humid days, warm nights and tropical downpours between November and April. Temperatures in the desert outback are much more extreme and can reach 120°F (49°C) in the summer and plummet to below freezing on winter nights. It’s a good idea to pack casual shirts, shorts, skirts, pants, a hat and a sweater. Queensland is not a formal place—a smart-casual outfit is standard for restaurants, hotels and clubs.
On the Road in Oz
Cars travel on the left side of the road in Australia, which may take some time to master. Besides that, it’s fairly easy. Just remember that traffic in the roundabouts has the right of way, and motorways around Brisbane (M1/Gatway, M2/Logan) have tolls. Somewhat deceptive on a map, Australia’s rural roads have very long stretches between towns and service stations. Some may be narrow and unpaved, subject to flooding or lacking cell-phone coverage. Before embarking on a road trip, consult the locals for advice. If you head into the isolated outback, you should be prepared with a suitable vehicle, ample supplies and a plan in case of emergency.
Beach & Water Safety
If you swim, snorkel or surf, you’ll find paradise in Queensland—but be careful. Swim between red-and-yellow flags posted at patrolled beaches where lifeguards are familiar with the tidal currents and hazards. Blue flags mark areas reserved for surfing. Read beach safety signs, follow warnings and stay out of the water at night and when red flags are out. If you run into trouble, call out and raise your arm until a lifeguard arrives. Queensland is home to freshies and saltys (freshwater and saltwater crocodiles), so be “croc wise” and follow the tips from Queensland Park and Wildlife.
Should I Tip?
Tipping isn’t the norm in Australia and isn’t expected in hotels or service industries such as spas and hair salons. Although service bills may include a 10% goods and services tax (GST), you’ll rarely find a mandatory service charge. Tipping 10%—or higher for exemplary service—has become more common in upscale restaurants throughout the country, as well as in metropolitan areas such as Melbourne and Sydney. It’s not obligatory, so use your discretion. In a cab or a bar, you might round up to the nearest dollar, or tell the driver or bartender to keep the change.
Bring the Right Gear
Whether you’re on a Safari in the outback or on a stroll through Adelaide, it’s always a good idea to be prepared with the right clothing & gear. Visit our Men’s, Women’s, Luggage & Travel Accessories collections to make sure you’re outfitted for any Australian excursion.