The second largest state in Australia, Queensland covers the continent’s northeast, with a coastline stretching nearly 7,000km. The capital, Brisbane (named after the river on which the city is positioned), is a thriving metropolitan city flanked by the surfing beaches of the Gold and Sunshine Coasts. Here, you’ll find everything from 5* restaurants, to contemporary museums, to beautifully preserved 19th century architecture. Over 1,600 miles north lies the city of Cairns, known as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and tropical Daintree Rainforest. Over the years, Cairns has become a major tourist destination, with tons of water-based activities such as snorkeling, diving and sailing, to name a few.

More than its cities, Queensland is known for seemingly unending stretches of awe-inspiring landscapes. From white sandy beaches to dense rainforests and beyond, the region is chockfull of staggering vistas and natural wonders. The Sunshine Coast offers prime coastline, with pockets of beach ranging from 3-14 miles, as well as numerous national parks to explore. Here, the Glasshouse Mountains rise dramatically out of the surrounding coastal plains. These mountains hold a special place in aboriginal spirituality and creation myths.

Right off the coast, islands dot the Pacific Ocean. Fraser Island, a stone’s throw from the mainland, is the world’s largest sand island. It features a fascinating range of microenvironments including rainforest, eucalyptus woodland, mangrove forest, peat swamps, sand dunes and coastal heaths. Plus, the aboriginal human heritage dates back 5,000 years. The Whitsunday Islands are the most well-known of the Queensland islands. Today the Whitsundays offer premiere island lodging; however, it’s important to note that the islands were originally home to the Ngara and Gia people. Embrace this otherworldly landscape on chartered yachts or spend a few days getting to know the islands, with snorkeling, kayaking, picnics and more.

Continue north to arrive at the Daintree Rainforest, the largest continual tropical rainforest in Australia. One of the most complex ecosystems on Earth, Daintree is the hub of numerous environmental and conservation efforts. Jungle surfing or zip lining through the canopy is one way to discover the ancient flora that covers the forest – or slow it down on a cruise along the river or a guided forest walk with the land’s traditional owners, the Kuku Yalanji. Learn about their traditions, and how they have used the rainforest for food, medicine, shelter and spiritual sustenance for more than 9,000 years.

Despite an abundance of competition, the crown jewel of Queensland remains the Great Barrier Reef. One of the seven natural wonders of the world, this reef is technically considered the planet’s largest living organism. Composed of over 2,900 individual coral reefs and 900 islands, covering an area of approximately 133,000 square miles, it’s a sight to behold. With longstanding ties to aboriginal culture, the reef is also a hotspot for serious snorkelers and divers who want a close-up look at its spiritual beauty, not to mention astounding biodiversity. The Great Barrier Reef hosts thousands of marine species!

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Lara Ray