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Our television episode on Queensland was videotaped in the fall of 2005.  Since then, television personality and Australia Zoo proprietor Steve Irwin died in an untimely accident at the Great Barrier Reef.  We mourn his loss.  Regrettably, Harriet, the 175 year old turtle at the Australia Zoo featured in this episode, died in the spring of 2006.

-- Susan McNally, producer/writer, Smart Travels—Queensland


Introduction top

image loading...Primordial rainforests, pristine beaches and coral reefs: this corner of the Australian continent offers an outdoor adventure like no place on earth.

Next up, Queensland, Australia on Smart Travels.

Queensland, the northeast chunk of Australia, encompasses nearly a quarter of the country's landmass. And, oh, what a land. The Great Barrier Reef, one of the natural wonders of the world, stretches for 1250 miles along the coast. The Sunshine Coast and Fraser Island present an almost unearthly tropical paradise with pristine beaches, crystal clear lakes and abundant wildlife. And close to the northerly most tip of Queensland, a one hundred and thirty five million year old rainforest is home to some of the rarest plants and wildlife in the world. A trip to Queensland is a once in a lifetime chance to explore a natural world virtually unchanged for millennia.

Queensland is synonymous with sun, sand and sea. It's the place for exotic outdoor adventures, for diving, snorkeling, sailing, swimming, and trekking. From wild dingoes on Fraser Island to baby crocs in the rainforest, wildlife abounds. Crikey, mate, this place has it all.

Queensland is the quintessential outdoor experience—but its vast beauty is spiced up with a little danger. You are never quite certain what strange animal might hop or slide by—when a croc might surface next to the boat, or where that death adder is lurking. The rain forests reverberate with wild calls, birds fly in a frenzy over remote cays, and great primordial lizards scramble through the woods. Queensland keeps you on your toes.


mapsOur whirlwind tour of the region starts north of Brisbane at the Sunshine Coast and Noosa including a hop to magical Fraser Island. We then fly north to Cairns and explore the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest.

Much of the glorious coastline south and north of Brisbane is well developed. The southern Gold Coast resembles Miami, while the northern section, known as the Sunshine Coast, is wilder, and more pristine.

The unspoiled Sunshine Coast is vacationland for Australians, with its tropical waters, creamy white beaches and little bays and coves.


Noosa top

noosaThe trendy town of Noosa is the gem of the Sunshine Coast. Noosa is everything a resort should be—sweet, blue water, long sand beaches, and lots of surfing.

Noosa surfing really rocks. First Point has some of the best waves. The National Park just around the corner has large swells for nice long rides. There's nothing like stuffing yourself in the curl of a wave and then dressing it up with a noseride.

Think I've gone troppo or gone tropical as the aussie's say to mean crazy? No I'm not nuts and I'm not going surfing. But I'm delighted to watch Wavesense lessons here on the Noosa beach.

noosaSwimming and body surfing caught the popular imagination in Australia in the early 1900's. It wasn't until 1914, when Hawaiian surfing legend, Duke Kahanamoku, visited Australia that the art of standing on a surf board really took off here.


Take your first step toward learning to surf at www.wavesense.com.au.


Australia Zoo top

zooWhen the Europeans arrived in Australia, the first thing the aborigines reportedly told them was "go away." It seems Australian wildlife is saying the same thing. For all the cuddy koalas, there are some nasty, deadly creatures here. Forget about the sharks, consider box jellyfish and their agonizing sting, saltwater crocs that'll bite you in half, and spiders that can make your flesh melt away.

To get up close to some of Australia's famed creatures, a visit to the Australia Zoo not far from Noosa is the safest bet. Television personality, Steve Erwin runs this family owned zoo, which is really more of a wildlife park. The staff shows great respect and love for the animals. Don't miss Harriet, a 175 year old turtle that Darwin brought back from the Galapagos Islands.

zooAustralia drifted away from the super-continent, Gondwana, about 40 million years ago. Ever since, the animals evolved in isolation. Thus some of the world's rarest wildlife thrives here today.

The kangaroo has roamed this land for 15 million years. Fossils suggest that giant kangaroos some 10 feet tall once existed and may have become extinct because of climate changes. The kangaroo is a marsupial. After birth, the tiny baby climbs up the mother to her pouch where it remains until it is too big to fit.

The Koala, another Aussie icon, is also a marsupial. They can often be spotted during daylight hours, resting in a eucalyptus tree. They are only active about 4 hours out of the day to conserve energy.

Then there's my favorite, the croc. Saltwater crocodiles or "salties" can grow to be 22 feet in length and weigh over a ton; some live to be 80 years old. They usually feed on fish and turtles. But for a real treat will grab a pig, wallaby or you!

zooSalties have been known to snatch people right off the beach. But no worries mate, there have only been 14 croc killings in Australia in the past 27 years. If you are grabbed, the experts advise you not to try to pry the jaws open, but rather play dead and let the croc stash you for later. Right.


Plan your day at the Australia Zoo by visiting www.crocodilehunter.com.

You can also take your own virtual inventory of Australia's unique wildlife at australian-animals.net.


Dilly Bag Dreamtime Place top

aborigineAustralia's indigenous people recognized the special beauty and abundance of Queensland some 40,000 years before the Europeans arrived.

Not far from Noosa in the town of Edmundi, the Dilly Bag Dreamtime Place is a shop selling art, artifacts and didgeridoos by Aboriginal descendent Michael Connoly.

The Europeans who arrived in the late 1700's were baffled by the Aboriginal people's lack of personal property, absence of hierarchy in the tribe, and their nomadic way of life. They failed entirely to grasp the deep spiritual connection between these people and the land and the complexity of their civilization. Australian Aborigines are considered to have the oldest continuous living culture on the planet.

aborigineThe didgeridoo is the most famous of the aboriginal musical instruments. A wind instrument typically made from bamboo, the didgeridoo produces a low, vibrating hum.

Aborigines used didgeridoos in formal ceremonies, rites and often at sunset.

No one know how many, but huge numbers of aborigines were wiped out by European diseases.


Frasier Island top

frasier beachMiles of windswept beach, clear blue inland lakes, enchanting rainforest and multicolored sand, Fraser Island is preserved as a World Heritage sight and is one of the most remarkable islands on the planet.

Over the centuries a river of sand flowing from as far away as the Sydney area, has drifted northeasterly to create this, the largest sand island in the world. And it is far from barren. Some of the oldest plants, largest ferns, and rarest trees inhabit this paradise.

The tree is resistant to worms and ideal for marine applications.


Frasier Geography top

frasierThe sandy soil is the mother of invention. Some trees store nutrients in their trunks, others have above ground roots, still others feed off nitrogen from insects.

The beach rolls on for 75 miles&it is a sweeping beauty of a beach with plenty of opportunities for solitude, but the beach is also a road for the 4WD vehicles that are necessary here.

frasierSwimming in the ocean at Fraser is dangerous due to swift currents and sharks. Along the beach, multicolored dunes with eroded cliffs endure the sea winds.


Frasier's Perched Lakes top

lakeForty perched lakes dot the island. These lakes are formed when leaves and other organic matter, build up and harden in bowls created by the wind. The staggeringly blue water is high in acidity and low in nutrient levels so it cannot support much life, other than acid frogs.

Lake McKenzie with its white sand beaches is the most beautiful and a swim here an unforgettable experience.


Dingos top

dingoHumpbacked whales cruise the waters off Fraser and dingoes, or wild dogs trot along the beach. Contact with human food has made them aggressive. People should keep their distance and never feed them.


Frasier Island's Namesake top

shipwreckAborigines inhabited Fraser Island for tens of thousands of years. They called the island K'gari after a female deity who was enchanted into sand. Today's namesake is Mrs. Eliza Fraser, wife of the captain of the brigantine "Stirling Castle." She was shipwrecked here in 1836 and captured by aborigines. The captain and some of the crew were murdered, but Eliza survived for two months before being rescued. She wrote a book about her misadventure and toured the carnival circuit in England.


Kingfisher Bay Resort top

The Kingfisher Bay is Fraser Island's dream resort. Ecotourism is increasingly important here as Australians struggle to balance tourism and preservation. At Kingfisher Bay, luxury and style mingle with eco-friendly design, energy efficiency, waste management and environmental programs.

Built with local materials and designed to blend into the environment, the resort even mimics pristine Lake McKenzie with its swimming pool. A boardwalk weaves past fresh water ponds to the wide beaches on the bay side of the island. The resort provides ranger-guided tours of Fraser in a rugged bus. As remote as it is, King Fisher serves up fine Australian cuisine in its restaurants. A drink poolside at day's end, the sun setting over Platypus Bay...some of the island's joys are simply indescribable.


Find out more on Kingfisher Bay at www.kingfisherbay.com.


Cairns top

flightA two hour flight from Brisbane, the town of Cairns is gateway both to the Great Barrier Reef and ancient rainforest. We are near the very tip of Queensland, the place where the road ends at the edge of a continent.


The Great Barrier Reef top

reefIts easy to get in the mood for an underwater adventure in Cairns. Many different diving and snorkeling trips can be arranged here. This is one of the closest spots to the reef - the inner reef is only about 20 miles off shore.

The Great Barrier Reef draws divers from around the world to explore its underwater universe. The outer reef offers the most dramatic scenery for divers, but the inner reef won't disappoint and it's a much shorter trip.

Day trips to the inner reef like this Ocean Spirit excursion often consist of a dive or snorkel, a meal and a visit to an island or a cay.

reefThe Great Barrier Reef, the largest living structure, is composed of 3000 individual reefs. It stretches for 1250 miles and is as wide as 168 miles in some places. It is so large that the reef can be seen from the moon. The tiny coral polyp created this massive structure. When coral dies, it leaves behind a limestone skeleton that becomes the caves and chasms where thousands of fish and marine life thrive. The reef is constantly growing, dying, changing. Pollution is a constant threat to the reef's survival.

To dive or snorkel here is to enter another kingdom with strange shapes and colors, Nothing beats the thrill of joining a school of fish or stirring up a manta ray from the ocean depths. Six of the world's seven species of sea turtles make the reef their home. These resilient creatures have remained virtually unchanged for over 100 million years. So mesmerizing is the underwater experience here that it's difficult to return to dry land.

reefBirds rule on Michaelmas Cay where we've stopped. Some 30,000 sooty and bridled terns nest here as do the common noodle and brown boobies. August through December are the best months for diving or snorkeling at the reef. Most of the sharks here are harmless. Jellyfish are a hazard, but wetsuits greatly reduce the risk.


To find out how you can explore the reef, check out: www.tropicalaustralia.com.au.


Red Ochre Grill top

red ochre grillIf you want to nibble on Australia's exotic wildlife, the Red Ochre Grill in Cairns is just the spot. The restaurant's New Australian Cuisine uses abundant, and until recently untapped, traditional native fruits, berries, game meats, and seafood. Emu, kangaroo, and croc all make it on the menu.


Daintree Rainforest top

daintreeThe final wonder of my trip and the most ancient of all is the Daintree Rainforest. One hundred and thirty five million years old, this rainforest contains species that mankind has yet to discover.

This is also my last chance to get chomped by a croc, paralyzed by a spider or struck down by the world's deadliest snake. Even the plants give you a start here with their ingenious defenses.

rainforestThe Wait Awhile vine is covered with small spikes that grab and rip at your clothing or skin. Giant vines curl their way around tress, strangling them, fan palms stretch out across the path, and enormous basket ferns take hold in the crook of a tree. Down Under Tours is a safe, eco friendly way to visit the Rainforest. Guides demonstrate aboriginal cures and rites and point out the limitless flora and fauna.

DaintreeA silent glide along the crocodile infested Daintree River keeps you on the edge of your seat. Wildlife abounds: loraqueets feast on berries and kingfishers perch in trees. Salties can often be seen along the shore. The temperature at which a crocodile egg is kept determines the sex of the baby. If the egg is kept at 31.6 degrees Celsius it will be male. Any other temperature and the baby will be a female. In any case, they have equal rights when it comes to snapping off your leg.

crocCroc spotting on the Daintree is hit or miss. For a sure bet, Hartley's Wildlife Farm not far outside of Cairns will satisfy all needs for lurking salties and snapping jaws.


Guided adventures in Daintree: www.downundertours.com.


Paradise top

The Daintree Rainforest runs right down to the ocean and culminates in glorious Cape Tribulation beach. The beach was named by Captain James Cook in 1770 when his ship, the Endeavor, ran aground here after striking the Great Barrier Reef. As places to be shipwrecked go, this one is right up there.

From the underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef to sand swept Fraser Island, Queensland's wonders are emblazoned in my mind. In this ancient, lush land, human life is but a blip in time. Exotic creatures, and flora, vast vistas and pristine beaches all combine to make this great chunk of a continent a dream destination.

crewI've gone totally troppo in paradise. Funnel spiders and crocs be hanged, nothing can keep me away from Queensland. From this Pacific Rim wonderland, I'm Rudy Maxa. See you next time.



Interested in planning your vacation Down Under?
Start your trip at



Take your first step toward learning to surf at www.wavesense.com.au.

Plan your day at the Australia Zoo by visiting www.crocodilehunter.com.

You can also take your own virtual inventory of Australia's unique wildlife at australian-animals.net.

Find out more on Kingfisher Bay at www.kingfisherbay.com.

To find out how you can explore the reef, check out: www.tropicalaustralia.com.au.