Photographer: Bob Charlton/Getty Images
Travel

Why You Need to Visit Queensland, Australia in 18 Staggering Photos

When it comes to sublime sands, Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef have plenty to lust over, and June (through November) just happens to be the best time to enjoy its mild weather and crystal clear waters in the northern part of this enormous state. But while the world’s largest coral reef system in all its glorious Technicolor is reason enough to hop on a plane, Australia’s north east is also home to one of the world’s oldest tropical rainforests, teeming with wildlife and greenery that dwarfs you in size and age. Prepare to cover a lot of time, ground, and water in just one state.

  1. Whitsunday Islands
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    Whitsunday Islands

    Captain James Cook spotted these 74 continental islands on a scientific expedition in 1770 and named them after the Christian festival of Whit Sunday—although the Ngaro Aboriginal people, or “Canoe People,” had already inhabited them for at least 8,000 years. The islands, which lie between the mainland and the Great Barrier Reef are fringed with approximately 400 species of coral reef, which thrive in the warm, clear, relatively shallow waters. Tourism thrives here, too for pretty much the same reasons; it’s where you’ll find luxury resorts such as One&Only Hayman Island and Qualia Resort on Hamilton Island, but 66 of the islets are unpopulated and prime for a true desert island experience.

    Source: Jenny McIver (rtwin30days.com) via Bloomberg
  2. Turtle Swimming
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    Turtle Swimming

    Six of the world’s seven species of turtle can be seen at the Great Barrier Reef, and many of them, such as the loggerhead, are endangered. Visit in June and July and you might also be lucky enough to see pods of whales heading just north of the Great Barrier Reef for calving and mating season; they return along the same path back to Antarctica from August through October.

    Source: Tourism & Events Queensland via Bloomberg
  3. Cairns
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    Cairns

    From its beginnings as a gold miners settlement, Cairns is now considered the gateway to Queensland’s tropical north, with a popular esplanade and swimming lagoon, an architect-designed foreshore boardwalk, and a large number of reef tour operators. Don’t miss the heritage-listed Boland’s Centre, an Edwardian Art-Deco property dating back to 1912 (and Cairn’s first large building). Rusty’s Market between Grafton and Sheridan streets also bustles Friday through Sunday, where you’ll find over 180 stalls piled high with local exotic fruits and veggies.

    Photographer: Paul Dymond/Getty Images
  4. Dangerous Birds
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    Dangerous Birds

    The word on the Cassowary, Australia’s heaviest flightless bird, is be wary. Standing well over 6-feet-tall, they have a mean, muscly kick and one of their three toes has a dagger-shaped, 5-inch-long claw. The males in particular are protective of their young ones, since they’re solely responsible for incubating the large olive-green eggs and raising the chicks. The Cassowary is only found in the far north, in the Wet Tropics and Cape York regions, so if you’re lucky enough to spot one, make good use of your zoom lens to fully appreciate its glossy black plumage, curious tall brown helmet, vivid blue-and-purple neck, and amber eyes.

    Photographer: Mangiwau/Getty Images
  5. Lady Elliot Island
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    Lady Elliot Island

    Lady Elliot Island lies on the most southerly edge of the Great Barrier Reef (in the Green Zone) and is considered one of the best diving and snorkeling spots because of the clarity of the water in that area. You can walk around the 100-acre island in 45 minutes, but not barefoot—coral cay beaches can be hard going.

    Photographer: Bob Charlton/Getty Images
  6. One&Only Hayman Island
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    One&Only Hayman Island

    As the closest of the Whitsundays to the Great Barrier Reef, Hayman Island has been operating as a getaway since the 1950s. Things took a more contemporary turn in July 2014, with the unveiling of One&Only’s AUD $80 million ($63.3 million) luxurious redesign. Think wood-paneled beachfront villas with private plunge pools and floor-to-ceiling windows, a two-bedroom penthouse with interiors designed by Diane von Furstenberg, and all the spa treatments, gourmet picnicking, and fluttering white linen you could wish for in a private island resort.

    Source: Only&Only Hayman Island via Bloomberg
  7. Kuranda Scenic Rail Journey
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    Kuranda Scenic Rail Journey

    Snaking around forested mountains, over death-defying bridges, and past stunning waterfalls; the Kuranda railway was completed in 1891 to transport food and supplies to the miners of Herberton. It was considered an amazing feat of engineering at the time, and still is, but these days the journey is a more genteel affair for tourists, with two Gold Class carriages serving food and refreshments. The 90-minute journey departs from Cairns in the morning and returns late afternoon. In Kuranda (kurandainfo.com) you can get up close to poisonous snakes, monitor lizards, and freshwater crocodiles—basically all the creatures your gut tells you to steer clear of. At the Koala Gardens you can also hug a furry marsupial to steady your nerves.

    Source: Queensland Rail via Bloomberg
  8. Rock Art Paintings in Laura, Cape York
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    Rock Art Paintings in Laura, Cape York

    You’ll find fascinating indigenous rock art by Aboriginal people throughout Queensland—some recent, some ancient—examples in western Australia could date as far back as 40,000 years.

    Source: Tourism & Events Queensland via Bloomberg
  9. Cairns Botanic Gardens Visitors Centre
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    Cairns Botanic Gardens Visitors Centre

    This award-winning center created by Charles Wright Architects is a design highlight in Cairns, its undulating mirrors blending in with the leafy surroundings. It’s a gateway to the city’s beautiful botanic gardens and the Tanks Art Centre, an innovative space housed in three WWII-era oil storage tanks.

    Source: Charles Wright Architects via Bloomberg
  10. Great Barrier Reef
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    Great Barrier Reef

    If something on earth is visible from space, chances are you should add it to your must-see-before-you-die list. Stretching over 2,000km (1,242 miles) along Australia’s east coast, the Great Barrier Reef is an UNESCO World Heritage Site with over 2,600 individual reefs and 900 islands. While there are some excellent coral reefs around the islands, if you want to view the big one, you’ll have to dive or snorkel from a boat or one of the large pontoons just off the reef.

    Photographer: Peter Lik/Tourism & Events Queensland via Bloomberg
  11. Cobbold Gorge
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    Cobbold Gorge

    Among many of the stunning natural attractions in the Gulf Savannah region of northwest Queensland is Cobbold Gorge, an outback oasis that can only be visited as part of a guided tour. Explore it by flat-bottomed, solar-powered boat to fully appreciate the soaring 100-foot-high sandstone cliffs. It’s a tight squeeze, at some points the cliffs are only six feet apart.

    Source: Drew Hopper/Australian Geographic (australiangeographic.com.au/travel/destinations/2015/04/undara-lava-tubes) via Bloomberg
  12. Qualia Resort’s Great Barrier Feast
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    Qualia Resort’s Great Barrier Feast

    A dish by Brae Restaurant’s Dan Hunter, one of the celebrated chefs who have appeared at Qualia Resort’s Great Barrier Feast on Hamilton Island. The luxury resort celebrates Queensland’s rich culinary pickings with regular foodie events such as Talk and Taste.

    Source: Hamilton Island via Bloomberg
  13. The Australian Football League
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    The Australian Football League

    Kade Kolodjashnij of the Gold Coast Suns kicks during an Australian Football League match against the Western Bulldogs at Cazalys Stadium, Cairns last season. If you fancy experiencing the fast and furious game of Aussie Rules, the teams meet again this July at Cazalys. First timers should expect a stadium packed with passionate fans, and a game that combines aggression and acrobatics in equal measure. The AFL 2015 season runs through October 3.

    Photographer: Chris Hyde/Getty Images
  14. Atherton Tablelands
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    Atherton Tablelands

    Morning mists roll over the green pastures of Atherton Tablelands, a 45-minute drive inland from Cairns. The area is in the tropics but the altitude creates the right conditions for dairy farms, and the grazing cows and verdant, gentle hills can come as a surprise. The fertile region is where you’ll also find Australia’s oldest coffee plantation as well as tropical fruit and macadamia nut growers; basically all the ingredients you need for exotic ice-cream (try the family-run Emerald Creek Ice-Creamery on Kennedy Highway, east of Mareeba).

    Photographer: Sandy Carroll (facebook.com/SandyCPhotography) via Bloomberg
  15. Audi Hamilton Island Regatta
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    Audi Hamilton Island Regatta

    Even the most determined landlubber couldn’t fail to be impressed by the sight of 200 yachts competing against the backdrop of the Whitsundays. In August, Hamilton Island hosts Australia’s biggest offshore regatta, the Audi Hamilton Island Regatta.

    Source: Hamilton Island via Bloomberg
  16. Castle Rock
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    Castle Rock

    Park ranger Eddie Thomas poses at Castle Rock, another Aboriginal rock art site near the Chillagoe-Mundana Caves National Park, which is known for its sandstone ravines and limestone formations.

    Source: Drew Hopper/Australian Geographic (australiangeographic.com.au/travel/destinations/2015/04/undara-lava-tubes) via Bloomberg
  17. Mossman Gorge
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    Mossman Gorge

    Take a cooling dip in freshwater swimming holes and dry off on one of the huge granite boulders at Mossman Gorge in Daintree National Park. The rainforest covers 900,000 hectares (3,475 square-miles) and is between 60,000 and 135 million years old. It contains 430 species of birds, 13 of them found nowhere else on the planet. To truly appreciate the significance of this World Heritage-listed site, organize a guided walk from the native Kuku Yalanji Mossman Gorge Community.

    Photographer: Peter Lik/Tourism & Events Queensland via Bloomberg
  18. Betty’s Beach
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    Betty’s Beach

    Betty’s Beach is a secluded spot near Whitehaven Beach, a 4-mile strip beloved of photographers. There are few destinations that offer such a pure aquamarine seascape—that specific Whitsunday blue is caused by fine sediment suspended in the water that reflects the light. At low tide the pristine waters create swirling patterns in Whitehaven’s white quartz-rich sand, which is much finer than the other islands’ beaches.

    Photographer: Lauren Bath (instagram.com/laurenepbath) via Bloomberg