From the Rainforest to the Reef: What's New and Affordable in Queensland, Australia

by  Rosemary McClure | Jan 29, 2018

From hugging a koala in Brisbane to new cafes on the Gold Coast, here's what's hot in Queensland.

Queensland, Australia is where you'll find some of the most unique natural sights in the world, from koala-bear-filled rainforests to the Great Barrier Reef. Here's what's new and what to see as you're checking this incredible destination off your bucket list — and what it all costs.


What's new: In Brisbane -- the sunny, sophisticated capital of Queensland -- life revolves around the Brisbane river. Hip new restaurants and clubs line its shores, and nightlife opportunities and great dining options are on every corner. Spend time absorbing its happening vibe at places like the newly opened Riverland, with sweeping waterfront views, five street kitchens, and a beer garden. And for a different kind of vibe, don't miss Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, where you can hug Australia's favorite marsupial, the koala, and meet other Australian critters such as kangaroos, wallabies, platypus and Tasmanian devils. Also new on the hospitality scene is FV by Peppers hotel, which offers one bedroom apartments, complete with full kitchen facilities and balconies, in the popular Fortitude Valley for around $140 per night. Other new hotels on the scene in 2018 are Adina Apartment Hotel BrisbaneW Hotel and Emporium 2 South Bank.

What it costs:  Motels start at about $75 per night, with high-end downtown hotels ranging up to $400.

Money-saving tip: Jump on a bus for free in downtown Brisbane. And glide along the river on the free City Hopper ferry service.

Great Barrier Reef

What's new:  Journey to the Great Barrier Reef for amazing sea adventures and a look at one of the world's most stunning natural wonders. Expect innovative programs, funded by the government, to protect the coral from the effects of bleaching caused by climate change. Visitors find an underwater paradise teeming with marine life and more than 400 species of fish and coral.

What it costs: Day trips to the reef range from about $120 to $200. Hotels in Cairns (pronounced Cans) start at about $75.

Money-saving tip: Stay in Airlie Beach, which has inexpensive backpacker-style accommodations and is closer to healthy sections of the reef where the coral is brighter. Wn traveling with a group, look for spacious, nicely decorated, multi-bedroom apartments with kitchens and ocean-view terraces at Mirage Whitsundays, with rates at about $150 per night. Or try the Mantra Club Croc for rooms that start at about $105 per night. 

Gold Coast

What's new: The Gold Coast is on a healthy food kick and well on its way to being the national frontrunner in this segment of the dining scene. Try BSKT Cafe to see where it all began, then check out Kiss the Berry or Greenhouse. Of course, the region's star attraction is still the world-renowned stretch of sand at Surfers Paradise and at other prime surf beaches in the area; try Broadbeach, Burleigh Heads and the Southern Gold Coast to avoid the crowds.

What it costs: The Gold Coast is home to everything from hostels to houseboats, family resorts and backpacker haunts. Luckily, you can find places like Vibe Hotel Gold Coast for rates that start at $91 per night.

Money-saving tip: Spend your time getting to the know the region's beaches and steer clear of its pricey amusement parks.

Whitsunday Islands

What's new:

If you're looking for brilliant coral and fish, visit the Whitsunday Islands, gateway to some of the most colorful regions of the Great Barrier Reef. You'll find lots of changes on the resort scene: many renovated after a tropical cyclone hit in March, 2017, and look better than ever. Take a cruise to the reef or hop on an Air Whitsunday seaplane for a panoramic look at the region by air, then land on the water and spend a day on a private beach.  

What it costs: Camping is available on a few islands, or look for low-cost hotels in Airlie Beach, where rates start at $75 per night.

Money-saving tip: Skip the multi-day sailing trip in favor of a day trip to the Great Barrier Reef, which will keep your costs down and still allow you to see the reef.

Daintree Rainforest National Park

What's new: Visitors see Mother Nature at her finest at Daintree Rainforest National Park, the world's oldest tropical rainforest and the inspiration for the lush canopy, ancient ferns, and emerald-green vines seen in the movie Avatar. You'll get a look at the region's Aboriginal culture, too, on Juan Walker's new Walkabout Cultural Adventures tour that focuses on Kuku Yanlanji ancestral country and allows guests to participate in tribal hunting and fishing. Other things to try: Hike or zip-line through the jungle, cruise the waterways of the Daintree River looking for crocodiles, and visit Cape Tribulation, where the rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef, both World Heritage-listed sites.

What it costs: Budget-conscious travelers can take a self-guided walk on rainforest boardwalks and stroll deserted beaches, both for free. Stay in a simple lodge, such as the Daintree Rainforest Retreat for as low as $71 per night, or a plush treehouse in the forest, such as Silky Oaks Lodge, for $444.

Money-saving tip: Several free, wheelchair-accessible boardwalk loops are available in the Cape Tribulation section of the rainforest. Pack a lunch and dine on the trail.

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