Guest Author - Michelle R. Mangio
There's a good reason why Queensland is known as the Sunshine State: occupying one quarter of Australia on the eastern coastline, this tropical to sub-tropical climate state averages over 300 days of sunshine each year. It truly is an all year round vacation destination, with its star attraction being the Great Barrier Reef.
For most American Tourists, Cairns and the Tropical North is the region of Queensland most often visited. International and domestic flights connect in Cairns, and many tourists make that city - or the nearby cities of Port Douglas and Palm Cove - their base of operations. From here, you can take day trips out to the Great Barrier Reef (or longer, on cruises and live-aboard dive boats), the Daintree Rainforest, and the Tjupakai Aboriginal Cultural Center. Over 160 day trips are available in the region, offering everything from islands and reef to rainforest and wilderness.
The Daintree is the oldest rainforest on the earth: over one hundred and thirty-five million years old, home to the largest range of plants and animals on earth, all found within 1200 square kilometres. Aside from hiking trails, scenic lookouts, swimming holes, and golden beaches, a number of eco-friendly resorts and lodges, as well as cafes and restaurants specializing in local delicacies, can be found in the region. For a true adventure, a safari tour into the Cape York Peninsula is an unforgettable way to experience one of the world's last rainforest wildernesses.
Of course, what draws most visitors to Queensland is the Great Barrier Reef. One of the world's greatest wonders, reaching from Cooktown at the tip of the Cape York Peninsula in the north down past Lady Elliott island and to Bundaburg in the south, the Great Barrier Reef is an amazing stretch of coral reefs and islands, the largest marine park in the world. Viewable from outer space, it is the world's largest single structure made by living organisms. The diversity of life - including sea and bird life - is amazing, and includes many endangered species, some found only in the Reef. It would take over 1,000 dives just to see the highlights of the Reef. There are numerous options to enjoy the Great Barrier Reef, from day trips, sailing, cruising, live-aboard dive boats, snorkeling & scuba diving, to stays on one of the many Islands of the Great Barrier Reef.
For those looking for that truly tropical getaway, there are literally hundreds of tropical islands off the Queensland coast. A range of accommodations - from simple, budget-minded hotels to five-star luxurious resorts - can be found.
Townsville, also a popular destination due to its international airport, is a charming coastal city that offers acces to both the Great Barrier Reef and the Queensland Outback. One of its major attractions is Magnetic Island, the world's largest living coral reef.
Brisbane, now serviced by daily flights out of Los Angeles, is the capital of Queensland, and the perfect entry-point to enjoy the region. A casual city offering many of the amenities of the larger cities without all the congestion and hassle, Brisbane offers much to enjoy. From here you can tour the Glasshouse Mountains, the rainforests and mountain lakes of the hinterland, cruise the Brisbane River and visit the many nearby wildlife sanctuaries. The Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, the perfect place to cuddle a koala, is also located within the city limits.
To the south is the Gold Coast, Australia's most popular vacation playground with 25 miles of unpolluted golden beaches and ocean surf. Australia's most popular amusement and theme parks can be found here, including Movie World, Sea World, and Dreamworld. Scores of nightclubs, restaurants, and leisure activities abound, inlcuding infamous Surfer's Paradise.
Inland, cool rainforests and majestic mountains offer a quiet repose. For those looking for a bit of nature, you can enjoy 3000 year old Antartic beech trees, wild rainbow lorikeets, koalas, and kangaroos.
An hour north of Brisbane is the Sunshine Coast, home to unspoilt beaches, rainforests, and waterfalls. Fraser Island (the world's largest sand dune island), Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo, and Hervey Bay (one of the best places to view whales during the migration season) are all found along this coast.
Queensland has well-earned its reputation as a vacation state, and offers an amazing diversity of attractions, from outback to rainforest to reef, for any traveler looking to experience the best Australia has to offer.