Backpackers could spend an entire gap year debating which Aussie state is the greatest and never agree on an answer. We’re willing to bet Queensland would always come out near the top. After all, if it’s good enough for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, it’s good enough for us!
Australia’s north-eastern state boasts almost 7,000km of glittering coastline to explore, as well as a host of the coolest cities and most famous sights in the country. Putting together a complete list is almost impossible, so we’ve narrowed it down to seven of the absolute best things to do in Queensland when you visit.
Live it up on Fraser Island
Fraser Island is the undisputed highlight of any Queensland trip and a backpacking rite of passage. At over 75 miles long and up to 13.5 miles wide, it’s the largest sand island in the world, and the only place on the planet where rainforest grows successfully on sand. In fact, the whole island is World Heritage listed, making it a vital part of Australia’s natural and cultural heritage.
One of the best ways to experience it is to hire your own 4WD vehicle and drive along the epic 75 Mile Beach – you can probably guess how it got its name! There’s nothing else in the world quite like cruising along the sand, following the ebbing line of the sparkling ocean, and waving to intrepid fishermen as you pass them by.
If you need a break from driving, stop off along the beach at the Maheno Shipwreck. Way back in 1935, the ocean liner SS Maheno was caught in a cyclone and washed up onto the beach. It has remained there ever since, the hulk slowly rusting away, providing a unique landmark for anybody touring the beach. Due to safety concerns people are not allowed inside the wreck, but it still makes for an Instagram backdrop like no other.
Before you leave Fraser Island, you have to visit some of its famous lakes. The island is home to over one hundred freshwater lakes, each offering exceptional views and some of the most relaxing, cleanest swimming spots in the world.
Dazzling Lake McKenzie is the most popular, with its wide expanses of pure, crystalline water and picture-perfect white sand beaches. The smaller Lake Wabby appears like a green jewel wedged into the side of a towering sand dune, while the deep water and circular beach of Basin Lake, surrounded by forest on all sides, makes it feel like a secluded oasis in the middle of the wilderness. See how many lakes you can tick off the list!
Dive the Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is one of Australia’s – and the world’s – great natural wonders, making it one of the best scuba diving spots. Delving deep into this underwater world gives you the chance to swim with whales, dolphins, turtles, rays, and countless species of fish, as well as the colourful corals themselves.
Seek out an ethically responsible tour operator, strap on your snorkel, and see what marvels you can find.
Sail around the Whitsunday Islands
Not far off the shore of mainland Queensland you’ll find paradise on Earth. Think we’re exaggerating? Book yourself onto a Whitsundays boat tour and you’ll quickly be overwhelmed by the sheer beauty on display.
Whether you choose to lie on deck and enjoy the jaw-dropping scenery, grab yourself a stinger suit and go snorkelling in the warm water, or soak up the sun on the perfect white sands of Whitehaven Beach, chances are you will never want the journey to end.
Go surfing on the Gold Coast
The Gold Coast is world-renowned for its surfing, and even a fleeting visit will soon demonstrate why. There are so many beaches to choose from, catering to all levels of ability, from the aptly named Surfers Paradise to acclaimed Coolangatta and Nobby Beach.
If surfing isn’t your thing, you can try jumping on a jet boat, tackle the towering SkyPoint Climb, or go one further and experience the greatest view possible by soaring over the Gold Coast in a plane – before skydiving out for a dramatic landing on the beach!
Explore Daintree Rainforest
If you get tired of the beach (yeah, right!) you can always venture a little way inland to explore Daintree Rainforest, the heart of the oldest tropical rainforest on the planet. Carefully protected and unspoiled by artificial structures, guided tours lend awe-inspiring insight on the natural wonders of Australia, as well as offer the chance to get up close and personal with some of Australia’s most iconic wildlife, including bandicoots, sugar gliders, crocodiles, and the prehistoric cassowary.
Meet the local wildlife
Did we say iconic wildlife? Queensland is home to some truly extraordinary Australian animals on both land and sea.
Every visitor to Australia wants to see a kangaroo, and getting up early to head to Cape Hillsborough near Mackay is the perfect spot to watch whole families of them feed and frolic along the beach as the sun rises over the ocean. Queensland is also one of only two Australian states where you’ll find koalas. Taking the ferry to Magnetic Island is your best chance of spotting one in the wild, but numerous sanctuaries and zoos guarantee a meeting (and selfie) with these furry little fellows.
Queensland is also a great destination for seeing astonishing marine life. We’ve already mentioned the Great Barrier Reef, but you also shouldn’t miss Hervey Bay on the Fraser Coast, the whale watching capital of Australia. The area offers perfect conditions for humpback whales to stop off on their migratory route for up to 10 days at a time to teach their newborn calves crucial survival skills. As well as providing ample opportunity to see the whales, this also gives you the chance to witness truly unique behaviours.
We can’t move on before mentioning turtles. Every January to March on Mon Repos beach, tiny hatchling turtles make a mad dash to get their first taste of the ocean. You can also swim with sea turtles all year round at Lady Elliot Island and Lady Musgrave Island.
Learn about Queensland’s Indigenous history
Queensland offers unrivalled insight into Australia’s long history, as it’s the only place where both of the country’s Indigenous cultures meet and continue to flourish. Exploring Queensland means walking in the footsteps of over 40,000 years of Aboriginal and Torres Strait cultures, and their descendants keep their traditions and customs alive here today.
There are loads of different ways to explore Queensland’s Indigenous culture. QAGOMA museum in Brisbane and the Cairns Regional Art Gallery offer captivating exhibitions, while travelling to Birdsville, Betoota, and Bedourie allows you to see Aboriginal and Torres Strait artwork decorating the natural landscape.
If you really want to immerse yourself in Indigenous culture, hands-on experiences in Tropical North Queensland will teach you to spear hunt, prepare tasty bush tucker, and learn the cultural stories that have passed down from generation to generation.