If you thought you knew Queensland, then think again. In the 311 days* since international travel came to a fast stop on March 20, 2020 and domestic holidays felt like a game of disruption, the Queensland tourism industry has used the down time to gear up for a brighter future, adding dozens of new experiences to Australia's own back yard. Now with a fresh year ahead, here's 41 more reasons to put Queensland on the 2021 must-do list.
The Gold Coast
There's more to Australia's favourite playground than 57 kilometres of sparkling white beaches and soaring skyscrapers. The Gold Coast is all grown up with this expanded list of things to do.
When JW Marriott Hotels & Resorts debuted in Australia on December 20, 2020 following a complete top-to-toe revamp of its former Surfers Paradise digs, a hotel “lock down” became something to look forward to. Thanks to the Family by JW Program, onsite fun has put kids in the hotel kitchen with sushi and smoothie making classes while the whole family can play pretzel with yoga sessions by the pool.
Closer to the airport – so close in fact it's just a one minute walk - the new Rydges Gold Coast rolled out the welcome mat late last year with guests quickly reserving a roost at the Salty Fox Rooftop bar to bask in the 360 degree views of the runway, the rolling waves and the lush green hinterland hills.
Not wanting to be left behind in the makeover stakes, two Gold Coast classics have undergone major renovations, including the indulgent wellness getaway, Eden House Retreat and the family friendly Paradise Resort. High up in the Gondwana Rainforest, O'Reilly's Campground has launched 17 powered safari tents and 24 camping sites Binna Burra Sky Lodges and Rainforest Campsite reopened following the devastating fires of 2019. Binna Burra has added Reflection Benches right next to the campfire to give guests reason to look back in order to move forward.
Got kids? Then escape to the Gold Coast's ArtVo, a trick art gallery that puts even the maddest munchkins in a better frame of mind. Meanwhile, normally the confines of families, Aquaduck has turned amphibious fun into grown up sunset drinks with a progressive 90-minute Secrets Scandals and Sunsets tour that matches the grandest canal mansions with tales of highflyers, hijinks and secret celebrities.
If a coldie on the Goldie is right up your holiday alley, then there's six different Hop On Hop Off Brewery Tours to “study” the local craft beer culture and greet a Gold Coast brewer. Speaking of cool kids, book a new distillery tour at Granddad Jacks and for $30 grab a G&T and learn how “one hard assed New Zealander” became the legend behind the Gold Coast's first Craft Distillery. Befitting of any scallywag, this gin joint can be found in an old surfboard warehouse two minutes from bustling Burleigh beach.
Celebrate flying again and pay A$3700 for a once-in-a-generation Go Balloonings VIP package. This is your ticket to an exclusive charter balloon flight for two, pick up in a pink stretched hummer, champagne and a five-star buffet breakfast at the beachside Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort.
Cairns & Great Barrier Reef
It's the only place on the planet where two World-Heritage listed sites meet – the Daintree Rainforest in the Wet Tropics and the Great Barrier Reef. Despite challenging times, this bustling holiday region has continued to roll out the experiences; starting with a $55 million upgrade to the T2 Domestic Terminal.
Bed down at the all new 311-room Flynn, the third hotel in the Cairns Crystalbrook Collection which opened in November. Described as the wild child, Flynn has a mission to entertain with two glass swimming pools that literally “hang” over the restaurant-come-night market and a 1970s inspired Whiskey and Wine Bar.
It's no secret that visitors to Cairns love the underwater action. Now tweens can join in thanks to Divers Den's new Scuba Kids program allowing children aged 8 to 11 (i.e. those who can't wait until the official scuba age of 12) the chance to use scuba diving equipment in a PADI-approved facility.
All ages are welcome to head underwater at Cairns Aquarium's new Aquarium by Twilight experience. This after-hours tour takes a deep dive into the diverse underwater reef ecosystem and explains how it changes after dark; all while guests enjoy a progressive three-course dinner.
Back on terra firma, set the compass due north for the spectacular Great Barrier Reef Drive and discover 30 different fresh and tasty local producers with the newly launched Daintree Food Trail. Alternately, sip on the summer flavours of mango, finger lime and ruby grapefruit at local Wolf Lane Distillery. Three Wolves kickstarted Cairns city's bar scene when they opened their namesake bar in a laneway, followed by Flamingo's Tiki Bar, and now the gin bar at the Wolf Lane Distillery.
For a true Dreamtime experience, cruise out across Trinity Inlet from Cairns and discover a new “paradise by the sea” on a Mandingalbay Yidinji Eco Cultural Tour. This three-hour Indigenous experience begins with a Welcome to Country and is followed by a bush tucker and cultural tour.
In June 2020, the magically named Sunshine Coast inched closer to our interstate friends thanks to a boosted Sunshine Coast Airport and a new runway long enough to welcome more direct flights (including international flights from New Zealand).
Here, pillows of all shapes and star ratings have popped up over COVID including Montville House, a six-suite French provincial guesthouse luxuriously positioned on 22 acres of landscaped grounds and Domic, a rental home that made headlines when it opened with arguably Queensland's most expensive beachfront fees. For a cool $45,000 a week guests to this uber lush retreat – which means Dome in Russian - are nestled so deeply into the sand dunes next to Noosa National Park, they are hard to find.
Back on earth, vintage lovers can now make a beeline for Loea Boutique Hotel, a revamped riverside motel that has a second – and very chic - lease on life complete with vintage food truck van-come-reception and old school cruiser bikes for hire.
Meanwhile, campouts in nature just got easier for southerners with the recent launch of Starry Nights, two 75 sqm safari tents serenely set in the hinterland foothills, as well as 17 glamping tents at Habitat Noosa. This lakefront eco-camp is a fabled springboard for the bird-filled Noosa biosphere and 100km of some of the country's best hiking trails.
The Sunshine Coast was made for families and kids can now go Next Level at the Sunshine Plaza and experience Australia's largest adventure ropes course with 148 new aerial challenges including 13 ziplines between 30-130m long. Over at Saltwater Eco Cruise budding sailors of all ages can feel the grit of a 100-year old timber ketch underfoot as a master storyteller from the Kabi Kabi people narrates the punchline to a 10,000-year old creation story. This is two hours of laid back fun that dates back hundreds of generations.
Finally, adults can raise a beer glass to the circular economy at the new Sunshine Coast Craft Beer Exbeerience Tour and tuck into local-grown produce as they learn how the grain used to brew the beer is passed to local farmers, who feed it to the cattle, which may or may not be right there on the plate. That's one burp for sustainability.
Brisbane, Queensland's Capital of Cool
Brisbane continues to claim its title as Australia's New World City with a list of new adventures and a burst of dining outlets, most anchored around the much-loved river and assessable on foot.
Masterchef fans will want to experience the eponymously named Emily Yeoh Restaurant and sample Malaysian and Cantonese fare from the TV chef's family recipes. Meanwhile over in Fortitude Valley - Brisbane's headquarters of fun- City Winery launched a chef-led Fireside Experience for just 20 people, while the team behind Salt Meats Cheese opened a new late-night Italian eatery called Eterna. But the buzz is all about Agnes, a warehouse style venue where Head Chef Ben Williamson flames up Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine over open woodfire.
Extending the city's reign as THE nation's capital for live gigs, Brisbane's historic art deco music hall, The Tivoli, this year launched a four-course experience called 'Commune: At The Tivoli' complete with world-class sounds (curated by you). Perhaps the most anticipated venue to open, however, is Will & Flow, an overwater bar that marks the very first venue of the magnificent and city-changing $3.6 billion Queen's Wharf project right in Brisbane's city centre.
There's plenty of new adventures to burn off that good nosh. Now in its 80th year, Brisbane's Story Bridge Adventure Climb has added the world's first Cantilever Lean Out plus a plank walk to its lineup of bookable fun. Climbers will seemingly levitate 80m above sea level or step out for 360-degree views of Queensland's capital city.
Elite Helicopter's new Mountain Bike tour starts with a stunning heli flight to Hidden Vale Adventure Park for the best three hours on two wheels. The world-class bike trails can be washed down with a memorable meal at the luxurious Spicers Hidden Vale. Nearby ramblers will love the five-day 50km guided Scenic Rim Trail that follows an old logging track deep into Gondwana Rainforests and past dramatic peaks and escarpments of the Main Range National Park. Each day ends with a hot shower and cool beverage in the superior comfort of a Spicers' bush cabin.
Want to know where Brisbane – and Australian - history started? Back in Beenleigh, delve deep into the heart and significance of our story with a new Welcome to Country ceremony at Spirits of the Red Sand and enjoy interactive theatre, ancient rituals and sounds of traditional song and dance.
Noted for its calm seas and 74 island wonders, nothing says 'hello paradise' more than a stay at the revamped Coral Sea Resort followed by an Ocean Dynamics' Taste of the Tropics Sunset Dinner Cruise. Unless it's a small group tour to explore the Ngaro Sea Trail with a direct descendent of the Ngaro people. The Whitsunday Paradise Explorer's new Cultural Tour visits significant sites at South Molle, Whitsunday and Hook Islands and walks the trails of the Ngaro People who lived on the land for more 9,000 years.
Speaking of the Great Barrier Reef, a list of new experiences in Queensland during wouldn't be complete without once mentioning the Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA) located half way between the Whitsundays and Cairns. Underwater sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor created a series of magnificent installations – including 20 life-sized sculptures of locals and a giant greenhouse - submerged in the gem-toned waters to highlight art, science, culture and conservation. For the first time, water lovers can team a snorkeling or diving trip to MOUA with a visit to the spectacular John Brewer Reef, one of the most vibrant reef bommies on Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
So, there you have it, Australia. Queensland is Good to Go! with a year's worth of new and renewed experiences to fill any type of holiday.
*311 days from March 20 to January 25, 2020
Image selection (mandatory credit as per file name of each image): https://www.dropbox.com/sh/j8pvxbzs0bswncb/AAANHQYzUUVbPuHybzGsfbj4a?dl=0
Editor's note: For the latest information on COVID-19 travel restrictions in Queensland, click here.