Backpacking in Queensland, Australia

Complete guide to the Sunshine State

Queensland is one of the most famous and most visited states in Australia, located in the north-east of the country. If three colours could sum up Queensland it would be the gold of the golden, sandy beaches at Surfers Paradise and Coolangatta; the green of Daintree National Park, colourful and lush all-year-round; and the blue of the crystal blue waters at the Great Barrier Reef. In essence, it is one of the most beautiful states in the whole of Australia.

Also, sites such as Fraser Island and the Whitsundays draw tourists in their millions. Or it could be the 300 days of sunshine a year that Queensland gets. Whatever it is, Queensland really does have a lot to offer backpackers and travellers alike.

Queensland is a place for Work and Play. It boasts of the fastest growing economy in Australia and has the lowest cost of living in comparison with the other states. In essence, it’s not only a great place to travel but a great place to work…

Introduction to Queensland

Queensland is one of the most famous and most visited states in Australia, located in the north-east of the country. If three colours could sum up Queensland it would be the gold of the golden sandy beaches at Surfers Paradise and Coolangatta; the green of Daintree National Park, colourful and lush all-year-round; and the blue of the crystal blue waters at the Great Barrier Reef. In essence, it is one of the most beautiful states in the whole of Australia.

Also, sites such as Fraser Island and the Whitsundays draw tourists in their millions. Or it could be the 300 days of sunshine a year that Queensland gets. Whatever it is, Queensland really does have a lot to offer backpackers and travellers alike.

Brisbane, the state capital, is a buzzing and vibrant city. It is fast becoming one of the most desirable places to live in Australia and it’s not hard to understand why. With a booming music scene, cafes on every corner and a cosmopolitan vibe, ‘Brisvegas’ still holds its original laid-back attitude and charms locals and tourists alike.

One of the reasons why so many tourists visit Australia is to see the weird and wonderful wildlife. At Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary you get to see crocodiles, koala’s, kangaroo’s in the freedom of the rainforest. There aren’t many cages here! Shows are put on daily and it is an educational experience to learn about Australia’s wildlife, but don’t think its all learning!

If you’re into adventure sports and extreme activities then they are oodles of opportunities for abseiling, base jumping, bungee jumping, horse riding, scuba diving, snorkelling, surfing and white-water rafting.

Queensland contains almost everything that lures visitors to Australia from the green to the gold. The white sandy beaches, the shimmering seas, the backpacker hot-spots and much much more. All you have to do is make sure that you see it all…


With its sunny sub-tropical climate and relaxed atmosphere, Brisbane is the gateway to the Great Sunshine Way, the Southern Queensland region and all its wonders. Built around the Brisbane River, this modern city showcases architecture and lifestyles geared to the outdoors and enjoyment of sunshine. It is a place where feeling alive comes naturally. Fresh experiences, fresh adventures and a fresh approach to life – this is what Brisbane is all about.

Things to do in Brisbane

Take a hint from the locals and spend your days outdoors:

  • Browse the weekend craft and gourmet markets.
  • Cruise the Brisbane River and hop off at any one of the wharfs and piers along its banks.
  • Climb the Story Bridge and experience a world-first when you abseil down this iconic urban structure.
  • Enjoy a swim at South Bank, home to Australia’s only inner-city beach.
  • Have a relaxed day in the sun and enjoy a picnic in the City Botanic Gardens with its Mangrove boardwalk.

It’s little wonder why Brisbane is Australia’s most liveable city.

Dining & Nightlife

Brisbane has a fine reputation for dining out, having developed its own unique cuisine that matches the climate perfectly. Its chefs also have access to some of the country’s freshest and tastiest seafood, tropical fruits, vegetables, meats and organic produce. International cuisine is served throughout the city and the riverbank is the perfect spot for a light and sunny lunch or atmospheric dinner. For something a little different take a tour of the XXXX Brewery – enjoy a couple of ice-cold ales and lunch at the home of Brisbane’s famous local brew.

For those who love to party, sprinkled throughout the city downtown area, are cool, sophisticated bars, boasting the very latest in design and decor, as are energetic pubs, nightclubs and intimate live music venues. Fortitude Valley is a shopping haven with boutique shops and colourful markets, cosy cafes and delicious eateries. At night, ‘The Valley’ becomes Australia’s only designated entertainment precinct with award winning bars and clubs offering up a vast selection of live gigs, featured DJs and thrilling events.

Arts & Culture

Hosting everything from big name Broadway shows and international art exhibitions to community festivals and music fiestas, Brisbane boasts a vibrant calendar of art and cultural events. New Farm and ‘The Valley’ both feature boutique galleries and the famous Brisbane Powerhouse regularly stages captivating shows.

South Bank is home to the city’s Cultural Precinct with the Queensland Museum, Queensland Art Galleries, Gallery of Modern Art, Queensland Performing Arts Centre and ScienCentre. View award-winning installations by day and enjoy a meal and drink by the riverside by night.

Outside the City

Brisbane is the perfect starting point to discover the other regions of the Great Sunshine Way, with easy access to the Sunshine Coast, Fraser Coast and Southern Queensland Country. Dotted throughout the region you will discover artisan wineries with award-winning wines to sample and scrumptious lunches to enjoy. Whether it is the heritage listed Scenic Rim or the country hospitality of the Country Valleys, go beyond Brisbane and you will discover grand scenery and friendly locals.


Cairns is one of Queensland’s main gateways to the Great Barrier Reef. It’s a vibrant, tropical city framed by the spectacular twin backdrops of rainforest mountain ranges and the sparkling Coral Sea.

Don’t leave Queensland without getting a little crazy in Cairns. Picture pristine World Heritage rainforest, local wildlife, sparkling rivers, panoramic views out to the Great Barrier Reef. Now team it with Bungy Jumping, jet boating, 4WD Safari sky diving and white-water rafting and you’ll start to get an idea of what Cairns has to offer.

Things to do in Cairns

Cairns is like Disneyland for adults. If you like adventure activities then you’re in the right place. Make sure you:

  • Bungee jump just outside the city with AJ Hackett.
  • Dive and snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef.
  • Skydive at 14,000ft at Mission Beach.
  • White-water raft down the Tully River at Tully.

It comes as no surprise that Cairns is one of the most loved cities by backpackers. You’ll love it too…

Dining & Nightlife

You’ll find numerous restaurants, bars and hotels lining the Esplanade, all offering beautiful waterfront views. Thousands of visitors flock to the Esplanade to enjoy the alfresco dining and relax in the beautiful surroundings of this modern city.

Art & Culture

The city’s streets reflect architecture that is a comfortable blend of traditional Queensland style and contemporary designs.

Make sure to visit the Reef Casino to view its unique rainforest simulation and wander through the Cairns Regional Gallery to see exceptional art and exhibitions that focus on Indigenous works.

Gold Coast

The Gold Coast experience is fun, excitement and diversity with 70 kilometres of the world’s best beaches, 100,000 hectares of world heritage listed rainforest, and more things to see and do than any other destination in the Southern Hemisphere. Golf courses, award-winning restaurants, night clubs, theme parks, cascading waterfalls, boutique wineries – all of this and more in Australia’s famous for fun capital:

Things to do in the Gold Coast

The Gold Coast is all about the beaches. Being blessed with so much coastline means there is plenty of on-water action. You can:

  • Chill on the beach such as Burleigh Heads, Kirra, Main Beach and Surfers Paradise.
  • Try you hand a surfing.
  • Jet Ski safaris and Jet Boat rides race around the islands of the Gold Coast Broadwater.
  • Kayak through the calm waters accompanied by dolphins and turtles.

If you want beaches, surfing and water activity then you can’t go wrong with the Gold Coast.

Outside the City

Hinterland Discoveries

Journey through a patchwork of rural plantations, vineyards, farmland and livestock estates on the way to more than 100,000 hectares of National Parks and reserves, with miles of enchanting bushwalking trails. The Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage area includes expansive rainforest reserves including Lamington National Park and Springbrook National Park.

The Gold Coast’s Hinterland is just half an hour from the world famous Gold Coast beaches, it is speckled with wineries, local food producers and health retreats that offer the perfect environment to while away an afternoon, evening or weekend.

Theme Parks

Travellers of all ages and inclinations will encounter an array of exhilarating worlds brought together in Australia’s theme park capital. Home to more attractions than any other destination in the Southern Hemisphere, the Gold Coast has the fastest, the longest, the highest and the most exciting thrill rides in the country. Unique animal experiences are another feature of the theme parks, including kangaroo feeding and koala cuddles.


Halfway between Brisbane and Cairns, the relaxed tropical city of Mackay is close to pristine beaches and the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands.

The Mackay region is an inviting blend of secluded beaches, elusive wildlife and rural communities. A gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. This beautiful region enjoys a glorious year-round climate — perfect for snorkelling, exploring rainforests, sailing the Coral Sea or just relaxing by the beach.

The City

Mackay is full of interesting shopping, dining and entertainment options, colourful markets and a lively arts scene. Artspace Mackay is the city’s award winning regional art gallery and museum. Its diversity offers the chance to experience the works of local artists and learn about the region’s heritage past.

Discover the newly established Mackay Region Botanical Gardens, observe the fascinating and rare flora of the Central Queensland Coast bio-region, wander through its cultural precincts and learn about local history and exciting projects on the horizon for the gardens. Locals and visitors alike love the impressive Mackay Marina Village. Within five minutes drive north of the city centre, a meal or drinks at one of a growing number of restaurants lining the marina esplanade is a must for anyone visiting the city. Dine alfresco to soak up the sunshine, whilst enjoying superb views across the marina and nearby islands.

Outside the City


The Pioneer Valley marks the gateway to the spectacular wilderness area of Eungella National Park, the longest and oldest stretch of subtropical rainforest in Australia. Broken River near Eungella is the ideal place to view the shy platypus or head for fresh water swimming holes at Finch Hatton Gorge. Many animal and plant species discovered here are found nowhere else in the world.

Great Barrier Reef and Islands

Brampton Island offers a real island experience with its 11 kilometres of walking tracks on this popular tropical haven. Other islands in the region include the Newry Island Group, with six national park islands offering great fishing, snorkelling and bird watching as well as a small resort and camping facilities. The Cumberland Group of islands include Keswick, Scawfell, Carlisle and St Bees which is perfect for a secluded island experience and only accessible by private vessel. Situated between Mackay and the Whitsundays are the Lindeman Group of islands renowned as home for the Club Med Lindeman Island Resort.

Sunshine Coast

The Sunshine Coast’s golden beaches stretch for over 65 kilometres, broken only by an occasional headland or the clear waters of a river estuary. But there is more to the region than its stunning sands. Secluded coves, rainforests, waterfalls and quaint mountain villages, all set within a dramatic landscape of beaches, sugar and pineapple farms and bold volcanic peaks. There is so much to explore within this regions of the Great Sunshine Way.

Things to do on the Sunshine Coast

Beyond the rolling surf and the resort towns lies a Sunshine Coast hinterland of lush green landscapes. There you can:

  • Visit historic towns and villages, natural treasures within national parks, pristine lakes and waterfalls and an enticing mix of rustic charms and country-style.
  • Indulge in some country hospitality in cosy B&Bs, rustic cabins and stylish retreats.
  • Peruse Eumundi Market, Australia’s biggest and best art, craft and produce market, held every Saturday and Wednesday in the heart of the charming historic town of Eumundi.

Coastal Towns

Coastal townships like Caloundra, Maroochydore, and Noosa are synonymous with the traditional Australian beach holiday. Offering a heady mix of beaches, restaurants, boutique shops, night clubs, parkland and a variety of accommodation styles, these towns provide the perfect holiday, whatever your style.


Caloundra is a wonderful part of the Sunshine Coast region with headlands, a number of beautiful beaches, a Marine Park with international significance and the stunning Glass House Mountains visible from the balconies of most accommodation in Caloundra. Caloundra offers a truly relaxed pace and is especially popular with families and couples desiring a safe and secure holiday environment. Swim at one of Caloundra’s patrolled surf beaches, surf with the locals at Moffat Beach, enjoy boating or water sports on Pumicestone Passage, dine at one of the many water front cafes and wander the coastal path and say hello back to the locals.


Maroochydore is a popular family holiday spot along the Sunshine Coast, but is equally popular with surfers who come for its famous break at Alexander Headlands. Spend the day on wide stretches of beach or simply float along the calm waters of the Maroochy River.


Noosa is the hive of all style and sophistication on the Sunshine Coast. Wander down Hastings Street, the place to be seen, and sip a latte under the shade of a large fig tree. Indulge in the luxury of 5-star resorts, hotels and rainforest hideaways. Sunbathe on warm golden sands or surf the waves of Noosa’s famous break. There’s also the Noosa National Park which provides an amazing coastal rainforest setting of rainforest boardwalks, scenic views over secluded beaches and private coves and the chance to even spot koalas in their natural habitat.

The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest reef structure in the world and stretches over 2,000 kilometres along the Queensland coastline, so vast that it can be seen from outer space.

Protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, this area is larger than Great Britain and harbours 400 types of hard and soft coral, sea creatures, brightly coloured fish and turtles, and surrounding it are numerous exotic islands.

The coloured coral expanses just below the surface of the warm, tropical waters are home to a magnificent array of sea life.

Do a day tour and go snorkelling or diving. Or stay dry and view the coral and fish through underwater observatories. Take a sailing catamaran, a fast wavepiercer or a more intimate dive vessel to experience this world up close.

Meet naturalist and marine biologists who can share their insights on this incredible natural place. Or get a bird’s eye from a helicopter or seaplane. Join an extended dive trip or stay on an Island of the Great Barrier Reef.

Some islands have resorts, ranging from ‘family friendly’ to exclusive hide-aways. Others are uninhabited paradises where you can pitch a tent under the stars on the beach and hike through rainforest covered hills.

Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef region is also an unforgettable taste experience. The local beef, seafood and tropical farm produce provide the basis for great Australian dishes. From top-notch cuisine to the simplest alfresco blackboard menu, Queensland serves it up fresh daily.

This is one of the great holiday destinations of the world – make sure you enjoy it too!

The Whitsundays

In the heart of Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef lie the Whitsundays; 74 islands floating like jewels in the tropical warm waters of the Coral Sea. From your very first sunset, you’ll lose yourself to its beauty in unique places such as:

The 74 Island Wonders that are mostly uninhabited provide the perfect setting for a day of exploring or simply relaxing on the secluded beaches and coves. Of the resort islands, there is a choice ranging from world-class luxury to budget hideaways. Resort islands in the region include Hayman, Hamilton, Daydream, Lindeman, Long and South Molle.

Once the sun sets on Airlie Beach, another ambiance embraces the town. You’ll find a thriving energy from the bars and nightclubs where backpackers and travellers party together well into the night. This energy is both contagious and irresistible, often encouraging travellers to stay longer than expected.

The Whitsundays offer something for everyone, from a fun-filled, adventure-packed family holiday to a luxurious romantic escape for two. Explore this incredible diversity from the bow of a sailboat, cruise through the islands and disembark at a resort, or drop anchor for a quick snorkel or dive and fall asleep at night to the gentle rocking of the waves under a canopy of stars.

Sailing the Whitsundays

Imagine sailing around a stunning seascape of clear blue waters, past pure white beaches, tropical islands with the vivid colour of the Great Barrier Reef at your bow. Whether you’d prefer to laze on the deck of a yacht and watch as the sun sets over the islands, or wish to escape it all and experience several days onboard, falling asleep to the sound of waves lapping against your vessel, there’s an island sailing experience just waiting for you.


‘Bareboating’ is the term used for ‘skipper yourself’ charters and a variety of operators in the region offer a choice of yachts, catamarans and motor launches of varying sizes. While you don’t require a licence to get the most out of your bareboat experience, it is recommended that at least one of your party has sailing experience. With everything you will need onboard (bedroom, bathroom, fishing & snorkelling gear) your perfect sailing experience awaits you.

Crewed Charters

Spend a few days of sailing adventure onboard a tallship or climb aboard an America’s Cup legend, classic yacht, hi-tech catamaran or a performance racing yacht. Mouth watering food, great company, comfortable accommodation and a stunning seascape of islands and reef fuse with the experience of actively participating in hoisting sails or being at the helm of a graceful sailing classic.

Overnight Sailing

The Whitsundays offers the whole spectrum of sailing adventures for visitors to experience, whether it be charting your own course on a bareboat (skipper yourself) yacht or being part of the action on a crewed charter, ocean racer or a tallship. Alternatively, lie back and relax onboard a luxurious yacht.


Townsville is a vibrant region that encompasses beautiful coastal towns, rainforests, rugged Outback and country terrain. The Great Barrier Reef sprawls to the east, the Outback beckons to the west, islands and rainforest entice to the north while sugar cane and mango farming communities tempt in the south. The opportunities for exploration are endless and they all invite you to some unforgettable experiences.

Things to do in Townsville

Surrounded by a rich hinterland of tropical rainforests and waterfalls, the town of Townsville is in the heart of historic gold mining towns, the outback, islands, and of course, the Great Barrier Reef. Notable must-dos include:

  • Enjoying a day trip from Townville out to the Great Barrier Reef.
  • Viewing the city and Magnetic Island from Castle Hill.
  • Taking a sunset stroll along The Strand, Townsville’s outstanding beachfront promenade.

Outside the City


To the south, Bowen, home of the famous mangoes, is an attractive township fringed by eight beaches. You may see turtles come ashore at Bowling Green Bay near Townsville, or glimpse cassowaries at Lumhotz national park and around Mission Beach.

Island Paradises

Amaze at the sheer size and abundant marine life of the Great Barrier Reef, or take some time out to experience one of over 20 idyllic tropical island hideaways such as:

  • Hiking the Thornsborne Track Hinchinbrook Island National Park.
  • The exclusive luxury resort on Orpheus Island.
  • Magnetic Island, which offers a blend of both experiences. Magnetic Island is a haven for native wildlife and is home to Northern Australia’s largest colony of koalas living in the wild.

You’ll definitely find an island to suit your tastes.

Great Tropical Drive

Immerse yourself in the World-heritage wonders of North Queensland between Townsville and Cairns along The Great Tropical Drive. Starting from Townsville, you can experience a variety of self-drive trails that wind their way from palm-fringed beaches, to ancient rainforests and the golden outback of North Queensland.


There’s Saunders and Balgal beach while Crystal Creek and Paluma offer cool retreats. North and closer to Ingham, Jourama Falls and Australia’s highest sheer drop waterfall at Wallaman are spectacular after rain.

Explore Undara Volcanic National Park, where you’ll find the world’s longest lava tube system. On the other end of the spectrum is the town of Tully, nestled amongst rainforest-covered mountains. Visit Paronella Park, site of a spectacular Spanish-style castle built in the 1930s.

Costs in Queensland

There’s never a firm answer to the question “how much money will I need?” but it’s possible to work out a rough budget for yourself. Australia represents many varied opportunities for lightening your wallet, but here’s a rough idea of what to expect.

Most travellers budget AU$1,600-AU$2,300 (£1,000-£1,500) per month, depending on what type of traveller you are, how often you are drinking (this is where a lot of money magically disappears) and how many activities you do.


In Australia the majority of travellers spend the night in hostel dorms. Prices maintain the same throughout the whole year but availability becomes much more difficult over public holidays, especially Christmas, New Year and Australia Day. It’s advised to book in advanced for these time periods.

The average price for a shared dorm room (mixed) is around AU$20 (AU$15-AU$25). New, flash hostels may be anything up to AU$35. If you’re driving, campsites are an excellent alternative. Pitches cost around AU$30 with facilities, and that’s split between your group.

Food and Drink

The two main supermarkets in Oz are Coles and Woolworths. Coles ‘smart buy’ and Woolworths ‘basics’ are what you’ll be buying, and a weekly shop can cost about AU$60 per week.

Eating out is cheaper than the UK, with a main costing anywhere between AU$12-20. There are lot of backpacker deals on eating out, and you can pick up the occasional meal for as cheap as AU$5.

Alcohol prices are the same as the UK, though good wine is much, much cheaper. Backpackers always steer towards cask wine, also known as ‘goon bags’. They cost AU$15 for 4 litres of wine (if you can call it that) – it’s an acquired taste…

Tap water is safe to drink, and keep a bottle or two to hand for emergencies – it’s very easy to get dehydrated.


Australian nightlife is hectic, so be prepared to spend a lot if you’re a clubbing fan. Always look into other things other than just clubbing. It’s often a lot of fun to simply explore your surroundings at night. Surfers Paradise might be a bit too commercial for you but its neon glow looks particularly spectacular from the beach in the dark. Failing that, there’s always the pub…

Australia has a big drinking culture, and you should never find yourself too far from a bar. Beer measures are slightly different in Oz – pints don’t exist in a lot of places. Instead, depending on the state, you get half-pints, ‘glasses’ (around seven fluid ounces) and ‘schooners’, which hold three-quarters of a pint. Unless you’re British or Scandinavian, booze is going to seem expensive.

Tours and Activities

Hostels are a fantastic place for information on tours and activities. They also offer some of the best deals and if you’re travelling on your own then it is a great way to meet like-minded people. However, Tourist Information Centres are even better. They are always welcoming and offer unbelievable deals that under-cut the hostels.

Obviously, the quickest way of losing money when travelling is by doing every activity and tour on offer. It’s a great idea to plan what you want to do before you get there. You’ll find yourself bombarded by different tour posters in every hostel you stay at. Always ask if there are deals on, or whether it is cheaper to book in a group. You’ll be surprised at how often this works.

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