Only one week in Queensland? Do this!
Holidays are calling, the leave is approved, mentally you’ve checked-out of reality already – but where to go in Queensland for the ultimate holiday?
Pristine beaches are a must. A tropical paradise would be nice. And you’d be stoked to chill with a turtle or two on the Great Barrier Reef. Basically, you’re a bit like Queen (the band in this case), you want it all and you want it now!
But surely this all can’t be done in only a week? Well, we can only put this bluntly, but you’re wrong (like, super wrong).
Seven days, over 2,000km to cover (mostly by ✈️) and more amazing experiences than your ‘gram can keep up with – this is what the ultimate week in Queensland looks like.
Day 1: Beach days are the best days
Stop one on this action-packed sojourn across the State has to be the Gold Coast.
Why you may ask? Stunning beaches from north to south, a dining and bar scene growing by the day and a vibe that is sure to cut any thoughts of non-holiday life out of your brain.
With only a single night here, we recommend a little beauty called Burleigh Heads.
The list could go on and on but as a teaser (take a deep breath, here we go): the beach is what you see in postcards, Burleigh Hill is perfect for sunrise, traverse the hill and you land at Tallebudgera Creek (a haven for stand up paddle boarding, head to the southern side of the creek to hire a board), the restaurant offering is top-class (do yourself a favour and have a bug roll at Rick Shores) and Black Hops Brewery on Gardenia Grove serves up some seriously delicious beer. And inhale.
If that somehow didn’t convince you, have a look at our ultimate guide to the Gold Coast.
Day 2: Not the Brisbane you thought you knew
From the Coast, you can catch public transport all the way to Brisbane via tram connections to the train line, arrange a private transfer or hire a car for the 60km drive up the M1 Highway.
Queensland’s capital is changing quicker than Adam Levine’s outfits during a half-time show (don’t worry, we’re keeping our shirt on!).
A raft of new hotels has opened in the past 18 months, supported by incredible dining precincts such as the Brisbane Quarter (home of the W Hotel featuring Three Blue Ducks, Heritij and Persone) and the game-changing Howard Smith Wharves (HSW).
Located under the iconic Story Bridge, HSW includes the massive Felons Brewing Company (named after the four felons that discovered the Brisbane River), the over-water bar Mr Percival’s, ARC dining and wine bar (headed by the supremely talented Alanna Sapwell) and Grecca (headed by Jonathan Barthelmess, owner of Sydney’s The Apollo).
As well as progressively dining your way across the city, be sure to check out some of our favourite things to do in Brisbane.
And if you need a little more inspo, here’s our cheat’s guide to Brisbane.
Day 3: Turtle time
When it comes to awe-inspiring, mind-blowing locations, Lady Elliot Island, the most southern island on the Great Barrier Reef, is right towards the top of that list.
The 45-hectare coral cay off the coast of Bundaberg is accessible only by plane, with Seair Pacific operating routes daily from Bundaberg, Hervey Bay, Gold Coast and you guessed it, Brisbane (Redcliffe).
The 80-minute flight is an absolute treat itself, with spectacular views of the islands off Brisbane and in whale season (June – October) there’s a high chance you’ll spot a majestic humpback.
Upon touching down you have one task – get into the water ASAP.
Lady Elliot Island has two main sides for snorkelling, the eastern lagoon which is tidal and perfect for less-confident snorkellers (it’s also loaded with turtles!) and the western side which is teaming with coral bommies and larger marine life including manta rays, turtles and a myriad of creatures you didn’t know existed. Don’t fret if you can’t choose, there’s time for both.
Day 4: To the tropics
We’re only three days down and you’ve already left footprints on beaches, visited Queensland’s capital and explored the Southern Great Barrier Reef – we told you this was going to epic.
Today we’re heading north to Cairns and beyond in Tropical North Queensland (multiple flights daily from Brisbane). If you landed on the Gold Coast instead of Brisbane at the start of your journey, you can swap day one and two in this guide as flights to both Lady Elliot Island and Cairns depart from the Gold Coast.
Cairns is the gateway to the Northern Great Barrier Reef, this is true, but it’s also home to so much more.
Like a good Choose Your Own Adventure book, you can make the next move by picking from an array of different activities, including:
- 11 action-packed adventures including white water rafting
- Hiking nearby mountains including the tallest in Queensland
- Cooling off in swimming holes with the locals
- Living your best life in a hammock on a Great Barrier Reef island
- Connecting with Indigenous culture from Cairns to Cooktown
If you don’t divert and stick with the main storyline, it’s time to head further north and base ourselves at Cape Tribulation.
The best way to explore Tropical North Queensland is by hiring a car and driving the stunning Great Barrier Reef Drive, stopping off at Palm Cove (for palm trees and stunning beaches), Mossman Gorge (for a swim and a short walk) and crossing the Daintree River by ferry before ending in the closest thing to tropical paradise, Cape Tribulation.
Cape Trib is the perfect place to disconnect – to forget about your worries and just enjoy the finest nature has to offer. You don’t have to take my word for it, check out this local’s guide to the region.
Day 5: What do fish and horses have in common?
If you get the change to score a window seat on your flight from Brisbane to Cairns, take it, and keep an eye outside to witness the landscape and diversity of the natural environment change. Now, remember this when thinking about the Great Barrier Reef.
Stretching a ridiculous 2300km along the Queensland coastline (roughly the size of Japan, no biggie) ensures the Great Barrier Reef, like the terrain from Brisbane to Cairns, is extremely diverse depending on where you visit, making multiple trips really worth your while.
Joining the crew at Ocean Safari, head out on a zippy half-day tour departing Cape Trib to Mackay and Undine Reefs to meet the local turtles, eagle rays and giant clams to name a few.
After your morning snorkel, it’s time to swap the horse-power of the boat for actual horse power, cantering through the rainforest, onto the beach and even into the waters of the Coral Sea on horseback with Cape Trib Horse Rides. Epic with a capital E.
Day 6: From one natural wonder to the next
You’ve explored one of the region’s UNESCO World Heritage sites, now it’s time to immerse yourself in the second, the Daintree Rainforest.
Pack your bags, because for your last night we’re going to lift the luxury level, staying in a treehouse in the heart of the rainforest at Silky Oaks Lodge.
You may not want to leave (and be sure to have dinner at Silky Oaks, the menu is sensational), but for the rest of your day, there is a gigantic rainforest to explore. Luckily, we’ve pulled together 33 of the best activities for the Daintree Rainforest and nearby Port Douglas. You’re welcome.
For this evening, book a sunset tour on the Daintree River Wild Watch with Ian ‘Sauce’ Worcester to witness the rainforest come to life.
Day 7: Is it that time already?
Your trip is sadly coming to an end. For your final day, be sure to tick off any nearby experiences you’ve missed before heading back to Cairns, or maybe just stop off at a deserted beach along the drive back home to enjoy that last piece of freedom.
Seven days, four regions, beaches, rainforests, foodie heaven and the Great Barrier Reef – that’s where to go in Queensland for the holiday to end all holidays.