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Whitehaven Beach, Australia

The kids are alright, mate

Queensland offers a remarkable range of landscapes, exciting activities and extraordinary wildlife. You can trek through a rainforest, spot a platypus, cuddle a koala or snorkel at the unmissable Great Barrier Reef.

Mission Beach

There are some beautiful palm-fringed beaches in the Mission Beach area, and wildlife galore. This is one of the best places in Australia to spot cassowaries. There are fewer than 1,500 of these huge, strange looking flightless birds left in Australia, and 40 of them live in the Mission Beach area. Cassowaries live in the surrounding forests, and are beautiful – but can be dangerous, so if you do see one, give it a wide berth.

Look out for wallabies around town too. There’s a huge population in the area, and in the evening they can be seen grazing on the residents’ lawns.

Cassowary, fan palm

Top: Whitehaven Beach; above left: cassowary; right: fan palm

Wade into the sea to take the water taxi from Mission Beach to Dunk Island – a tropical island, perfect for building driftwood dens on the beach and playing Robinson Crusoe.

In 1878, Dunk Island became home to Edmund Banfield – a Townsville journalist who had been given just a few weeks to live. He decided to live out his remaining days on the secluded island – and lived there happily for 25 years.

It’s a 30-minute walk through the forest to idyllic Muggy Muggy beach. On the way you’ll pass Dunk Island resort, destroyed by Cyclone Yasi in 2012 and currently being rebuilt.

Play: The Licuala State Forest has several marked trails of different lengths. The Fan Palm walk is an easy 1.3km loop through the rainforest, with dense vegetation including huge fan palm leaves. Or try the Lacey Creek trail, a lovely walk through tropical rainforest, with lots of tiny lizards scuttling across the path, and look out for saw-shelled turtles in the pools of the creek.

Stay: Mission Beach Resort offers comfortable and spacious family rooms, grouped around four different swimming pools and within five minutes walk of the beach.

Places to visit in Queensland, Australia

Above, left to right: Lacey Creek; Dunk Island; curtain fig tree

Magnetic Island

Magnetic Island, a 40-minute ferry ride from Townsville, has several beautiful sandy bays and lots of bush-walking tracks. It’s called Magnetic Island (known as “Maggie” by locals) because Captain Cook’s compass played up a bit as he was approaching the coast here.

Magnetic Island is a great place to see wildlife. There are kayaks to rent at Horseshoe Bay, and if you’re lucky while sea kayaking you may spot a sea turtle – or even a humpback whale! Just down the road, at Bremner Point, a large population of rock wallabies has become so used to people that they’ll stick around to be hand-fed chunks of carrot and apple – and pose for photos.

There are wild koalas living on the island – but as with all koalas they are notoriously hard to spot. Try the Forts walk and look out for sleeping bundles of grey fur hiding in the branches of the eucalyptus trees. The stunning views from the top of the trail are, meanwhile, guaranteed.

Play: Bungalow Bay is a wonderful animal sanctuary that cares for sick, injured and rescued indigenous animals. Book onto an interactive ranger-led tour, and kids (and adults!) will get to handle a crocodile, snakes and cockatoos – with a chance to cuddle a koala too. At the end of the tour a local flock of wild brightly-coloured lorikeets swoops in to feed from your hand.

Stay: The Grand Mercure Apartments are close to the ferry terminal at Nelly Bay, and offer top quality accommodation with fully-equipped kitchens. Some apartments have fabulous sea-views from the bedroom, bathroom and balcony.

Places to visit in Queensland, Australia

Top row: echidna and lorikeets at Bungalow Bay; bottom row: kayak from Horseshoe Bay; baby rock wallaby at Bremner Point

Hervey Bay

Hervey Bay is one of the best places in the world to go whale-watching, with thousands of humpback whales passing through and resting in the sheltered waters here on their annual migration to and from Antarctica.

The whale-watching season stretches form July to November, with August being one of the best months for a successful trip. At this time of year, the whales hang out on their way south having had their calves in the warm waters of the Great Barrier Reef.

Several tours operators set off from the marina, offering a range of trips of different lengths and on different sized boats. Whalesong runs a half-day trip, or if you prefer a full day, try Freedom – the morning tea of fresh cream profiteroles and home-baked scones is divine. For our full review of the trip with Freedom, click here.

By law, boats are not allowed to motor any closer than 100m to the whales – though if the whales then choose to come closer themselves, that’s absolutely fine. The whales often do come closer and you may see them swimming under the boat, spyhopping (that’s when the whale comes vertically out of the water, head first), flipper slapping – and if you’re very lucky, breaching.

Play: Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island, is just across the water from Hervey Bay and can easily be visited on a daytrip. Fraser Explorer Tours whisks you around the island on a 4WD bus, travelling along rough sandy tracks and onto Seventy-five Mile Beach. Here you’ll find the Maheno shipwreck – washed ashore by a cyclone in 1935 – and Eli Creek, where you don your swimsuit and let the current pull you gently downstream. You can’t swim in the sea on Fraser Island – it is home to Australia’s highest concentration of deadly sharks – but there are swimming opportunities in the centre of the island at beautiful Lake McKenzie.

Stay: Emeraldene Inn is a great-value, eco-friendly resort on the edge of town. There’s a swimming pool and a wealth of interesting birdlife in the lush greenery that surrounds the spacious family rooms. Friendly owner Rob can help organize whale watching and Fraser Island tours for you.

Places to visit in Queensland, Australia

Above left: Maheno shipwreck; right: spyhopping humpback whale

More ideas:

Spot a platypus. These elusive creatures are extremely hard to see in the wild – but the Atherton Tablelands, near Cairns, is one of the most likely locations to find them. A walk along Peterson Creek, Yungaburra, is fun even if you don’t see a platypus swimming in the river – there’s a swaying suspension bridge to cross, and the area is also home to another rare Australian creature, the tree kangaroo. The Atherton Tablelands contains areas of ancient rainforest full of tropical palm trees and tree ferns – and one of the world’s most extraordinary trees, the curtain fig. Curtain Fig National Park is just south of Yungaburra and leads you along boardwalks through the rainforest to an incredible curtain fig.

Cruise the Whitsundays. The Whitsunday Xpress leaves from Airlie Beach and offers a daytrip visiting the stunning Whitsundays Islands, including stops for snorkelling and a bush walk. The highlight of the trip is a lunchtime barbeque on Whitehaven Beach – regularly voted one of the most beautiful beaches in the world – with plenty of time for swimming. There’s a large population of huge lace monitor lizards at the beach, and if you’re lucky you may see humpback whales from the boat.

Hand-feed wild dolphins. A pod of wild Indo-Pacific dolphins has been visiting the marina at Tin Can Bay since the 1950s, when an injured dolphin swam into the bay and was looked after by fishermen. It was fed and protected until it recovered, and returned regularly to visit the humans who had helped him, bringing along his offspring. The dolphins that visit today are the descendants of that original injured dolphin, and visitors can get in the water alongside them and hand-feed them fish.

Places to visit in Queensland, Australia

Top row left: Whitehaven Beach; right: lace monitor

Bottom row left to right: Lake McKenzie; kookaburra; pelican at Tin Can Bay

Green Adventures August 2015

Travel with kids in Queensland