28th July 2017: Having always wanted to tick Australia off her bucket list, Beth, Manager at our Cheltenham branch, finally got her wish when she was swept away and taken to the beautiful Australian state of Queensland. Follow Beth as she shares with us what was waiting for her on the other side of the world...
Today my adventure begins! I’m about to embark on the trip of a lifetime to Queensland, Australia. During my career in the travel industry, I’ve been lucky enough to travel to many different countries and experience a huge range of life, culture and adventure; but never Australia. So, you can imagine the excitement as I checked in at Terminal 3, Heathrow.
Australia has always been the top of my bucket list of destinations and, having planned many trips over the years, it was now my time to visit! Flying with Qantas on the A380 via Dubai, I was given a guided tour of all the cabins before take off; 14 First Class seats, 64 Business Class seats, 35 Premium Class seats, 371 Economy Class seats.
If you’re considering a trip to Australia but concerned about the flight duration, don’t be. I can find different routes with different airline carriers including stopovers to break up the journey. Try Asia or the Middle East or perhaps try upgrading to different sectors of the flight for extra comfort; most airlines have Premium Economy, Business and First Class to choose from.
After arriving into Brisbane bright and breezy, I checked into the Sofitel Brisbane Central hotel which is centrally located and right next door to the train station. The hotel is exactly what you would expect from the five star chain; large comfortable rooms, professional service and the most superb breakfasts. My adventure began when I visited the Lone Pine Sanctuary. Founded in 1927, Lone Pine Sanctuary is the world’s oldest and largest koala sanctuary. I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to feed the kangaroos as they hopped around outside enjoying all the fuss; I even cuddled a koala! Below is a photo of me with CJ the koala. Due to Queensland laws it is the only state in Australia where you are still able to hold a koala. They do this by enrolling every working koala into a ‘Koala Union’ which allows them to work for 20 minutes a day. Before and after their shift, they’re left to do as they please, which seems to mainly involve eating and sleeping! All the koalas were super cute; I just wish I could take one home with me!
On the way back from the sanctuary I was able to stop by the Mount Coot lookout point. At 287 metres above sea level, it has the highest peak in Brisbane and its breath-taking panoramic views of Brisbane City lookout over to Moreton Bay; a must see for visitors here. This city of Brisbane itself, is full of characterful and its mix of new and old buildings blend together effortlessly. An easy city to navigate, Brisbane’s downtown resembles a grid and the new developments follow the flow of the river to Southbank. Southbank is the city’s premier lifestyle and cultural destination and its park lands are home to many restaurants, cafés and landmarks. I only wish that I could have stayed here for longer because there is so much to explore! But I had to move onto my next stop – Surfers Paradise!
As soon as I arrived in Surfers Paradise it was easy to adjust to their laid-back vibe; the long stunning beaches and relaxed atmosphere was a welcome contrast to the busier city of Brisbane. The choices of accommodation here reflect the laid-back feel. Checking into the QT Hotel, a stylish throwback to 1960’s surfer times, its kooky boutique style greeted me with bottles of homemade lemonade upon arrival and a beach scene made of chocolate treats in my room! Attention to detail can be seen across this fun hotel and the views out to the sea where spot on! My morning here was spent searching for humpback whales on the Gold Coast.
Whale watching season is May to November as the humpbacks migrate from Antarctica to the warmer waters so if you want to whale watch here, I highly recommend you visit during these months.
From here, I sailed from the heart of Surfers Paradise. The guides on board were first class and were incredibly knowledgeable and passionate. They spoke about the idea of ‘living by the rule of the ocean’ by where, if you can, always try to pick up three bits of litter when visiting as its widely known that everything eventually makes its way back to the sea. They have a 100% guarantee of spotting whales and my sailing did not disappoint as I saw three whales with one whale swimming alongside us! Such magnificent creatures; I felt so lucky!
Later that day, I headed off to watch the sunset at the Q1 Building, a super tall skyscraper in Surfers Paradise. Q1 was once the world’s tallest residential building and now has the SkyPoint observation deck offering 360 degrees view of the Gold Coast city, shore and beach. Any visitors to Surfers Paradise must go as the views are spectacular and are even more enjoyable when they're accompanied by a cocktail or two!
For thousands of years, Burleigh Heads was inhabited by the aboriginal people before the European settlement. The Jellurgul area, named after the tribe who used to live here, was where I would start the next part of my trip; a two hour walkabout through the sacred sights to reach the highest point here, Tumgun Lookout.
Our private guide started the tour with an ancient sage smoking ceremony and ochre anointment where we could decorate our faces with the paint. As we made the climb, I stepped over the roots of aged trees which, for many years, were used to make boomerangs as well as pushing through pandanus palms; fibres of which had unbelievably made the strongest of nets for fishing. The views from the Tumgun Lookout were amazing and, because it was a clear day, you could see as far down the south coast as Coolangatta.
My tour was combined with an afternoon visit to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. Established 70 years ago, the sanctuary has developed so much over the years it now covers 27 hectares. It's the ultimate holiday adventure for families and, once you have paid your admission, you can easily spend a day here. As well as discovering the native animals, you can also zip wire, feed crocodiles, walk a dingo or try a segway safari.
My two favourite activities here were definitely feeding the lorikeets and visiting the animal hospital. Lorikeets are small parrots with rainbow coloured feathers and are the heart of the sanctuary as they’re the reason the sanctuary was established in the first place. Many years ago in the 1940’s, a flower grower wanted to stop the lorikeets from ravaging his crops and so began feeding them twice a day. This led to the location becoming a popular tourist spot, with people travelling from afar to see theses colourful birds feed. This tradition has continued, and now at 8am and 4pm every day, visitors of the park can take part in the frenzy – it really is feeding time at the zoo!
Here, I stood with a plate of milk as the bird descended in their droves flying onto the plate as well as my hands, arms and even my head, as the excitement of teatime become all too much!
Before leaving, I popped by the animal hospital to see the good work the sanctuary does. The history of the sanctuary is similar to the above in that it also started off small when staff began helping sick and wild animals from local area. Now, they treat thousands of poorly animals from far and wide, for free. Funding is solely from the generosity of the public.
It was time to say goodbye to Brisbane and hello to Hamilton Island. We boarded a small aircraft where I was lucky enough to get a window seat, allowing me nonstop views of many uninhabited islands of paradise between the two. Hamilton is the only island in the Whitsundays with its own airport, so it could be argued that its the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. The island has an exclusive feel to it and, as I strolled through the airport, I could see the marina ahead of me; filled with more yachts than I had ever seen!
Onward to the Reef View Hotel where I had a large, comfortable room with that all-important sea view. The Reef View Hotel is in a terrific location and would suit all, including families. However, if you fancied something different or more luxurious, you might want to try the nearby Beach Club; an adult only oasis with a beachfront location, beautifully furnished bedrooms and private lounge. Couples staying here are greeted with a glass of champagne; it seemed the ultimate couple getaway. For larger families or multi-generational family holidays, I would recommend the Yacht Club Villas. These premium accommodation villas are on the waterfront and each is just a short walk away from the iconic Hamilton Island Yacht Club.
Later that afternoon, I boarded the MV Hamilton Star and enjoyed a sunset cruise complete with dinner. This very glamorous vessel was the perfect way to enjoy the sunset as we sailed towards the reef; the champagne and canapés were also very welcome.
The meal which followed was definitely one of the finest I have ever eaten. The setting was perfect; beautifully made up tables with crisp white linen tablecloths, attentive waiting staff and three delicious courses, I didn’t want to leave!
No pre-booking of transfers are required for Hamilton Island. There’s a free bus service which runs from the airport and around the island so you can hop on and off. It’s also a great way to explore.
Great Barrier Reef
Experiencing one of the wonders of the natural world was amazing. I had glimpses of the reef from the flight into Hamilton but now I was about to sail closer and enjoy two hours of snorkelling! Sailing with Reef World, their relaxed and professional staff fill you with confidence, which is great if you’ve never done anything like this before. They assess your snorkelling ability beforehand then you get to try out your flippers snorkel for size.
If you’re nervous or not a confident swimmer, don’t let this put you off as the staff are available to take people out on little boats to the fish, use floats and get into the water with you. They also assess your ability in the water beforehand so your mind is perfectly at ease. This is one of the costlier of excursions but you can’t come this far and not treat yourself! Arriving at the reef, we had full instruction of how best to use the equipment and off I went. We were guided to better parts of the reef and I could see amazing colours of different fish and the beautiful coral.
Passage Peak & Mission Beach
My day started with a 5 am hike to the highest point on the island Passage Peak to see the sunrise. The hike was a 5 km round trip following a wooded trail. I’m so glad I did it! There's many walks to choose from here, so if you don’t fancy a steep hike, there’s plenty of easy-going routes, many of which have audio points to help with direction if you get lost. If you can manage a walk on rough terrain, I’d highly recommend you try this as you’re definitely rewarded for your hard work with outstanding views out to sea and surrounding islands.
Not long after this, my adventure continued as I took a short flight to Cairns where I spent my next two nights at Mission Beach.
Mission Beach was a real treasure, the setting was so unique and very different to what I had experienced before. Initially I didn’t think that there was much here but I soon realised that the beauty of Mission Beach is that it’s a tropical getaway.
I stayed at the Castaways Hotel which is a lovely, comfortable four star and low-key hotel blessed with it own deserted, tropical beach. Half of the hotel complex is set in rainforest rooms and the other half offer sea view rooms. Mission Beach is a hideaway giving you access to the rainforests and to the Reef but amongst its remoteness you can still get an ice cold Corona for just five Australian dollars!
That evening, I took a rainforest walk at Tulley Gorge where I was wowed by its breathing sights and sounds. The contrast here was incredible; the difference in the wildlife and way of life from the cute and fluffy locals I had previously met had now been replaced with cane toads, snakes and spiders!
Platforms help you to walk around the deep gorge here, but you can also hire mountain bikes and a kayak through its rapids is a very popular choice.
Awoken again at 5 am, this time due to jet lag, my annoyance was short lived as I awoke to the views of the most dramatic and colourful sunrise I think I have ever seen. For an hour, I was fascinated by the colours and coastline in front of me as I sat on my terrace; stunning! Soon after, I was off for my last boat trip and to a different section of the reef. This time it was stripped back from the larger and glitzy number I had experienced at Hamilton Island.
I took a water taxi from the beach to board the Reef Goddess, a much smaller vessel which held around 40 people. The laid-back approach here was evident and snorkelling here was a much more individual experience as there were less people. I was captivated by the beauty of the fish and coral beneath me. Definitely in my top 10 experiences, I was so close to the fish and coral. I even saw a turtle swim by! I could’ve stayed here forever.
If you’re trying to visit the Great Barrier Reef on a budget, use Mission Beach to do it. Trips to the reef are cheaper and, in my opinion, just as good as others. Accommodation, food and drink will also cost less here.
Cairns, Skyrail Rainforest and Kuranda Railway
My journey was almost over and I headed back to Cairns to stay in the Pullman Cairns Hotel; a lovely and grand hotel in a central location, just a short walk away from the redeveloped marina and waterfront area.
Not ready to go home just yet, I explored the Kuranda Railway and rainforest which took just 20-minutes via shuttle transfer. To get to the railway I took the Skyrail Rain forest Cableway; a 7.5-kilometre scenic cable car which runs above the Barron Gorge National Park in the Wet Tropics of Queensland’s World Heritage Area.
The rainforest here is over 350 million years old and is the oldest, continuously surviving rain forest in the world. Here you can choose an enclosed gondola or an open canopy; I choose enclosed as its a long way down! The rainforests go on for miles and the size of some of the trees are enormous. When I arrived at the top, I was welcomed to a beautiful village which was home to a range of eateries, plenty of shops for boomerangs and didgeridoo souvenirs and some of the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted.
My time here ended with a beautiful rail trip which was reminiscent of the 1900’s as the carriages rattled along the tracks. With one last photo opportunity, we stopped off at Stoney Creek Falls to watch the amazing cascade waterfall.
Upgrade to the Gold Class service on the Kuranda Railway which will give you premium seating with prime views and refreshments served through the hour and a half journey.
This trip was truly a trip of a lifetime, and met my expectations, and more! It was definitely worth the flight and I would say to anyone who has opportunity of travelling to Australia or is considering a trip - do it! I can tailor-make the perfect trip, make recommendations, look to enhance your experience and plan with you. My time here offers only a snippet of what the country can offer you but if you are looking for adventure, culture, wildlife and scenery then Queensland is for you!