How to travel like a ‘Green Nomad’ in Queensland
The word ‘nomad’ has become synonymous with travel, describing people who’ve opted for a life or period dedicated solely to seeking out new destinations and experiences.
But I believe at heart we are all nomads – though our address might stay the same, we still seek out opportunities to explore somewhere new and escape reality (at least, for awhile).
The term ‘green nomad’ started floating about to describe those travellers who love the planet and want to celebrate its natural wildness. It also reflects our attitudes towards sustainability and why we should all take care to tread lightly while exploring (check out these 10 Queensland properties offering travellers all the eco-friendly fun without the carbon footprint).
But even this attitude is something that comes after we truly understand just how freakin’ spectacular this planet of ours is.
So, for those of you who’d prefer to swap skyscrapers and shopping malls for the wonders of this world – many of which are unique to our great state – read on as we wrap up the best natural sights and experiences in Queensland.
The bucket-list adventures
Home to not one, not two, but FIVE of the planet’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites (the most of any state in Australia), the sunshine state is practically a hotbed of natural phenomena.
From the largest living structure on Earth – the Great Barrier Reef – to the oldest rainforests in the world and everything in between, the diversity of what’s on offer for green nomads in Queensland is epic, to say the least.
Here are a few ways to get amongst it:
If you want to get face down, bottom up on the reef
The Great Barrier Reef doesn’t discriminate, so no matter what type of traveller you are, this big deal doesn’t have to mean big bucks (check out 12 ways to live the #reeflife on any budget).
Heck, you don’t even have to get wet to experience the reef (seriously, check out this post), but for those green nomads who want to go hard or go home (please don’t), rest assured you’ll find this underwater playground has more adventures than you can poke your GoPro at, no matter how many times you visit.
(Speaking of GoPro’s, make sure you tick off these 10 photos you MUST get on the Great Barrier Reef while you’re at it.)
If you’re happy skimming the surface, grab your mask and fins and check out the best snorkelling sites in Queensland.
Those who want to go deeper can suit up on a Discovery Scuba Dive, get their PADI dive certification (bragging rights for gaining your creds on the Great Barrier Reef a bonus), or even follow in the footsteps of the legendary Sir David Attenborough exploring his favourite Southern Great Barrier Reef dive sites.
(Psst, while you’re down there, see if you can tick off the Great Eight marine encounters, aka Queensland’s underwater answer to an African safari’s Big Five.)
If road trips are more your style
Get your favourite Spotify playlists in check, because we’ve got road trip recipes by the bucket (list) full.
It’s the must-do journey for any traveller in Queensland, so buckle up and tick off some World Heritage wonders while you’re at it along the Pacific Coast Way from Cairns to Brisbane.
4WD fiends, ditch the bitumen for sand as you traverse through UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, a World Heritage Marine Park and the largest sand island in the world on this epic beach drive set to overtake the iconic Great Ocean Road.
Further north, the untamed wilderness of the Cape York Peninsula will take you through spectacular landscapes and memorable pubs on this iconic 1200km stretch of road that connects Cairns with the northernmost tip of Australia.
For a change of scenery, chuck a 180 and head west with these Outback road trips chasing burnt orange sunsets and rich red deserts along with ancient dino fossils and hidden gems (literally, I’m talking opals, sapphires… you never know your luck!).
*Check out these posts for more road trip ideas.
If you want to slow things down
Not only a great way to keep fit while travelling, walking holidays are gaining more and more cred in the travel sphere not only for their physical health benefits but psychological as well.
It’s a chance to escape from the hustle and bustle of today’s hectic go-go-go mentality while bringing our attention back to what life really is about: us and this big, beautiful planet we call home.
So make like Cheryl Strayed and go on your own Wild adventure with Queensland’s Great Walks; travel back in time through the Wet Tropics rainforest, walking amongst the same ecosystem that stood 150 million years ago or discover the vast dunes, coloured sands and inland lakes of Fraser Island.
Those who don’t want to skip modern convenience can combine their love of nature with luxury thanks to Spicers’ Scenic Rim Trail, offering two and four-day guided walks traversing the World Heritage-listed Gondwana Rainforest before glamping out under the stars in deluxe safari-style tents.
*For more fitspo holiday ideas in Queensland check out this post.
If you’re travelling as a family
Organisation is key to planning family holidays, and lucky for you, we’ve done the groundwork so all that’s left for you to do is pack and pick your destination: reef, rainforest, island or outback.
Kill two birds with one stone and school your kids on the ancient Indigenous and natural history of the Wet Tropics with this four-day road trip. If sunshine and saltwater are calling, try this itinerary ticking off Australia’s largest sand islands in 9 days: Fraser Island, North Stradbroke, and Moreton.
Budding paleontologists can dust off 98-million-year-old dinosaur bones (and fingers crossed a pretty opal for mum along the way) on this family adventure to Outback Queensland, while mini-Jacques Cousteau’s will learn not only how awesome Nemo’s home is, but why it’s the most precious living organism on the planet with this ultimate Great Barrier Reef road trip.
Want to do the lot in one go? “Impossible” I hear you say! We beg to differ, wrapping up the best of Queensland – reef, rainforest AND outback – in a neat 10-day package in this Aussie bucket list adventure.
The lesser-known (but equally impressive) wonders
Come for the World Heritage status, stay for the jaw-dropping marvels you’ll find off the beaten tourist track.
We’ve only just scratched the surface, folks, because beneath the sunshine state’s ‘big’ guys there’s a Pandora’s Box of #earthporn adventures just waiting to be discovered, from green lakes and tropical pyramids hiding in national parks you’ve never heard of, to secret freshwater swimming holes in ancient volcanic craters.
Here a few freaks of nature that are just as #boss as the above but lesser-known on the traveller’s trail:
Queensland’s best-kept secret | The Noosa Everglades
Hiding just 30 minutes north in the Cooloola section of the Great Sandy National Park, the Noosa Everglades is a 60km river and lake system that lives a unique existence as one of only two Everglade environments identified on the planet (the other is the well-known Everglades National Park in Florida).
Thanks to 65% of its catchment being protected by the national park, its inclusion in the Noosa Biosphere and its proximity to the World Heritage-listed Fraser Island, it’s remained one of the purest and most undisturbed natural environments in the world.
The best way to explore is to get paddling, so if you’ve got your own kayak or canoe, sweet! If not, hit up Kanu Kapers who offer guided and self-guided day tours, as well as camp ‘n’ kayak safaris for those who want to stretch their time a little longer.
Modern day Jurassic Park | Hinchinbrook Island
Okay, so you won’t actually find any dinosaurs – living or lost – on Hinchinbrook Island, but you’ll be tricked into thinking otherwise after laying eyes on the cloud-covered mountains and untamed wildness of Australia’s largest national park island.
Completely uninhabited with a max. of 40 people who can explore at any one time, Hinchinbrook is where CastAway fantasies come to life; where it’s more likely to run into a dugong than another person. (Seriously, the Hinchinbrook Channel, which separates the island from the mainland, is renowned for its variety of mangroves and dugong populations.)
While many are unaware of this hidden spot off the coast of Tropical North Queensland, those in the hiking world need no introduction, as it’s home to one of the best multi-day hikes in Australia, the 32-km Thorsborne Trail – covering a smorgasbord of changing landscapes from eucalypt and banksia forests to mangrove and paperbark country.
If paddling’s more your adventure forte, Coral Sea Kayaking offers a 7-day guided expedition exploring the east coast of the island and camping out on its white sandy beaches, before venturing across to the Family Islands group to snorkel fringing reefs. (Here’s a sneak peek of what to expect.)
The ‘Green’ Canyon | Carnarvon Gorge
You’ve heard of the USA’s Grand Canyon, right? Well, welcome to the Aussie version – the sandstone wilderness of Carnarvon Gorge.
Located around 700km north-west of Brisbane in the semi-arid heart of Central Queensland, the national park offers hikers more than 21km of walking tracks to play with, thanks to the towering white sandstone cliffs which have formed this spectacular steep-sided gorge and its many lush side gorges.
You’ll want three days at least out here to explore all that’s on offer, from moss gardens and cathedral caves to Aboriginal rock art and the world’s largest ferns.
For more info on what to see, where to sleep, and how to see the gorge without a raising a sweat, check out this guide.
It wouldn’t be a wrap up of the best natural experiences if we didn’t include our furry, scaly and downright magnificent animal friends!
Queensland is a massive playground for some of the world’s most unique wildlife, and while there are plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal with some of our awesome locals at one of our world-class zoos and sanctuaries, there’s also a fair chance you’ll spot ‘em in the wild too; the trick is knowing when and where to look.
Note: Remember that these are wild animals and should be treated as such. Please do not feed them and ensure you keep a safe distance at all times.
In the water
If turtles are numero uno on your wildlife bucket list, then you’re in luck. Turtle sightings are guaranteed on the Southern Great Barrier Reef, with the piece de resistance of all encounters being the miracle of life that unfolds every year from November to March when over half of the entire concentration of nesting loggerhead turtles in the Southern Hemisphere come to the shores of Mon Repos near Bundaberg to lay their eggs.
Speaking of babies, humpback whales undertake a 10,000km migration every year from Antarctica to have a babymoon holiday along with our coast. While sightings are in fine form throughout Queensland during whale season from July to October (check out these 7 hot spots), it’s in Hervey Bay – aka the whale watching capital of Australia – where the action really kicks off.
But humpbacks aren’t the only (whale) stars of our coastline – one of the most exclusive wildlife encounters in the world happens just off the coast of Cooktown between May and August each year, when dwarf minke whales congregate in the remote Ribbon Reefs, and nowhere else. Not only can you see these curious animals in the flesh, but you can look them in the eye sharing the same (water) space as them!
Keen to dive in with more giants of the ocean? Head to Lady Elliot Island, the home of the manta ray and one of the best places in the world to swim with these kites of the sea. Each year it attracts a staggering population of up to 450 mantas who feed around the island, aggregating in larger numbers during the winter months.
(Psst, here’s another 7 reasons why choosing LEI for you next green nomad holiday is a good idea).
For something a little off-kilter, head inland from Mackay to the crystal clear waters of Eungella National Park to meet one of the world’s most elusive animals – the platypus. Your best bet is dawn or dusk to spot these shy and unusual mammals in the wild, but oh, is it worth the early start/patient wait!
Want to get even closer? Rainforest Scuba is the only place on earth where you have the chance to swim with these duck-billed cuties.
Is there anything more Australian than a kangaroo, on the beach, at sunrise? This scene is played out almost every morning at Cape Hillsborough near Mackay, so make sure you’ve got your camera ready to snap these hoppers as they scour the tide for mangrove seed pods, seaweed and the coral sand dollar.
While koala cuddles are one of the biggest perks when visiting our zoos and sanctuaries, if you want to spot our snoozy friends in their natural habitat, head to Magnetic Island off the coast of Townsville, home to the largest wild colony of koalas in Queensland, or keep your eyes peeled along the walking tracks of Noosa National Park.
Bird’s the word on the Cassowary Coast in Tropical North Queensland, home to – you guessed it – the cassowary, one of the closest living species to dinosaurs and the second heaviest bird in the world. These guys can grow up to two metres in height and sport some unique features (blue face and two red wattles and can be spotted on the reg at Etty Bay near Innisfail and Mission Beach.