Be the first to stay in the Whitsundays 2.0
There’s more to the Whitsundays than its poster child – Whitehaven Beach – and in 2019 all eyes are on it, as new and refurbished luxury resorts open. After a two-year closure, Daydream Island is back – Aus$100m (£54m) better looking than before. But it’s not just new rooms, restaurants and bars to get excited about; its Living Reef has been expanded to wrap around the main resort building. Guests can visit the underwater observatory, for stay-dry views of baby shovelnose rays, or snorkel with them in a safe environment. InterContinental Hayman Island Resort reopens in July, and in April Hamilton Island will launch Heart Island – an exclusive pontoon that will enable visitors to snorkel over the iconic Heart Reef.
Paddle one of the world’s only two everglades systems (the one without alligators)
You don’t have to go all Bear Grylls to get off the beaten track; just drive to where the Noosa Biosphere Reserve collides with Great Sandy national park to discover an almost secret 60km river system on the Sunshine Coast. “The array of nature here is incredible,” says Flight Centre’s Amber Farley, who notes that the area is home to 44% of Australia’s bird species and 700 native animals. Point your kayak upstream in the Noosa Everglades to discover the “river of mirrors”, where the tannin-rich water bounces reflections of willowy melaleucas back on themselves. Whether you opt for the comfort of a cruise, or join a canoeing tour with The Discovery Group, you’ll be discovering something special.
Join humpback whale playgroup in Hervey Bay
You’ll find whale-watching tours offered wherever humpbacks cruise by on their annual migration, but Hervey Bay – tucked in behind Fraser Island – is the only place in the world where the whales actually take time out to rest and teach their newborns skills. Get a good look at the inquisitive cetaceans from the boat, before sliding into the water for one of the planet’s most emotional marine life encounters: swimming alongside these gentle leviathans. For those less comfortable with open water, you can often spot the humpbacks from the headland at Mooloolaba.
Swim in freshwater lakes on the world’s largest sand island
Unesco-listed K’gari (Fraser Island) is a freak of nature – a place where rainforest sprouts from sand, where genetically pure dingoes roam and whales frolic off the coastline. But it’s also a place where you can feel like a frontier traveller, discovering narrow beach tracks to drive and crystalline streams to float down. With more than 100 freshwater lakes and the only “highway” in the world where giving way to landing light aircraft is mandatory, this anomaly is worthy of at least a few days.
Uncover the secrets of the oldest rainforest in the world
Standing among the Jurassic wilderness of the Daintree Rainforest, it’s easy to believe in magic. While its botany pre-dates the Amazon, its Dreamtime stories will transport you to a cultural land before time. Join a local Indigenous walking tour with Down Under Tours to learn more about the traditions of the Kuku Yalanji people, then take a dip in the brisk waters of Mossman Gorge.
Live large on a luxury Great Barrier Reef island
K’gari isn’t the only island in Queensland to demand a visit. Bedarra Island, off Mission Beach, delivers all-inclusive barefoot luxury, and is capped at just 20 guests, and on Lizard Island, a Luxury Lodge of Australia, you can snorkel straight from one of the 24 beaches. If you prefer your travel experience a little more rustic, you can live out your Robinson Crusoe fend-for-yourself fantasies on Haggerstone Island, off the Cape York peninsula.
Drive alongside rainbow sand dunes
Imagine cruising along a deserted beach, windows down, dolphins leaping from clear rolling surf to your right and towering rainbow-coloured sand dunes to your left. This is the Great Beach Drive, which will take you from Noosa North Shore all the way to the World Heritage-listed Fraser Island (K’gari) on Australia’s Nature Coast. Join a day trip to discover Rainbow Beach, home to those coloured sands, and hike up to the impressive “moonscape” of the Carlo Sand Blow – a 15-hectare swathe of sand with views for days. “The wildlife spotting is incredible here, and from June to October is prime time to see dolphins, rays, turtles, birds and whales,” says Flight Centre’s Farley, who recommends a weekday visit to avoid the crowds.
Experience Attenborough’s favourite slice of the Great Barrier Reef
For a reef experience a stone’s throw from Brisbane, slip off your shoes and meet nature head first on the islands of the Southern Great Barrier Reef. Sir David Attenborough did as a youngster, and still calls it one of the “most magical places on Earth”. On Lady Elliot Island – renowned for its eco credentials – dive with giant manta rays and watch turtles haul themselves up the beach to nest. Nearby Lady Musgrave Island is a no-frills nature nirvana; farther north, Heron Island and Great Keppel Island throw up incredible dive sites, and sugary-sand beaches.
Balance beach time with brews and chews on the Gold Coast
Aside from the glorious beaches – where you can join a surf lesson, or a standup paddleboard session – the Gold Coast has an unbeatable food and drink scene. Drop in for a pint and a yarn at Balter Brewery in Currumbin, owned in part by pro surfer Mick Fanning, or seek out the world of Iku Yakitori in Burleigh Heads, where seared scallop seafood and marbled wagyu are served to disco beats. Try Kurrawa Surf Club at Broadbeach for fish and chips or a chicken “parmi”.
Check out all-new Brisbane
Queensland’s capital is undergoing a regeneration of epic proportions, with a host of designer hotel openings and lively new hangouts like Howard Smith Wharves – all buzzy riverside wine bars and craft breweries. While you’re in town, make time to check out Eat Street Northshore market, which brings together more than 70 international street food stalls; grab a drink with a view at the Emporium hotel’s rooftop bar; and explore the city’s contemporary art scene at the GoMA. Also well worth the 20-minute drive is Mount Coot-tha, a mountain lookout point with panoramic views across the CBD; bushwalks through the surrounding forest lead to seasonal creeks and waterfalls.
With this much to see and do, you might need a little help squeezing everything into your Aus adventure. That’s where Flight Centre’s travel consultants come in – designing a tailor-made trip to suit you, your travel style and your wallet.
To find out more, visit Flight Centre or call 0800 082 5922