Our journey through Queensland included small towns, flat desert planes, and remote outback camping. The scenery varied from the central lowlands’ flat expanse to the lush waterfalls of Millaa Millaa. A dense rainforest, the oldest living one in the world, borders the Great Barrier Reef, the largest living structure in the world. Queensland is a place for adventure, awe, and wonder.
Lil Beaut, a 2WD Toyota Coaster, was our home and transport through this spectacular state.
To give an idea of its size, here are a few facts about Queensland. Feel free to skip to the table of contents below to find 20 places we loved.
Queensland (QLD) Size and Population
To begin to grasp the wide-open spaces and secluded wonderlands found in Queensland, comparing the size and population density can help.
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Queensland, Australia is 2.5 times the size of Texas, USA. It is larger than 13 *European countries combined.
Queensland is the second largest state in Australia with an area of 1,727,000km² (666,798.4mi²). Western Australia is the largest Australian state. Texas has an area of 696,200 km 2 (268,820mi²).
*France, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Austria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovakia, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, Slovenia, and Montenegro combined are 1,730,233km² (668,046mi²).
Queensland, Australia has a population of 5.01 million. The density of Queensland's population is only 7% of the density of Texas and 2% of the population density of *Europe.
Queensland's population is 3 people per square kilometer (7.5 per square mile).
Texas's population density is 43 people per square kilometer (111 per square mile)
*Thirteen European countries combined have a population density of 146 people per square kilometer (377 per square mile)
Texas population is 29.7 million (according to worldpopulation review).
*Comparing 13 European countries: France, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Austria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovakia, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, Slovenia, and Montenegro combined population in 2020 was 252 million (according to Worldometers).
In 2016 the cattle population of Queensland, Australia was 10.6 million. That's twice the number of humans.
20 Things to See in Queensland (QLD)
Click on the region below to see the table of contents for that area.
1) Camping in the Outback
The highway connecting the top of Queensland from east to west is called The Savannah Way. It is an iconic and destination scenic drive.
The section west of Normanton is a rough 4WD-only track. If entering from the Northern Territory in a 2WD route 66 will bypass the rougher section. The Savannah Way can then be caught by going north at Cloncurry.
The bitumen, only as wide as one car, covers half of each lane creating a paved section in the middle of the highway. Oncoming traffic can be seen far in advance. Both vehicles veer a bit to the left with only half the vehicle on the paved center when they pass.
QLD has so much free camping to offer that we created a separate post all about bush camping and the strange sounds of Outback QLD.
The small towns along the way are not only great for stocking up on supplies but also for their fascinating history. The community pools along the way are great, don’t miss Georgetown for a quick dip on a hot afternoon.
Far North Queensland (FNQ)
The majority of Far North Queensland is accessible by 4WD only. Cooktown is the end of the route for 2WD, or as most like to say the start of their 4WD adventures. Since we were in our Lil’ Beaut, a Toyota Coast bus, Cooktown was our most northern destination in FNQ.
Even with just exploring the 2WD areas, there was still so much to see.
Captain Cook spent the longest onshore stay of his entire voyage in Cooktown. Shipwrecked he gazed out over the Great Barrier reef from the Grassy Hill Lookout and felt despair. As far north and south as he could see was the reef locking him in.
Today Cooktown offers numerous trails up to the Grassy Hill lookout where visitors can try and imagine how Captain Cook felt. Instead of despair, however, most feel wonder and awe at the sites. The Great Barrier Reef is much closer to shore here in the north than it is along the southern portion.
When the sun is out the view of the reef from this lookout is gorgeous. Looking inland the river where Captain Cook anchored his ship for repairs is visible.
Many of the beaches are secluded and covered with artwork from the crabs. After the tide smooths out the sand, millions of crabs go to work clearing out their homes by making tiny sand balls and rolling them onto the beach. The result is a beach covered with designs like individual Rorschach images. Visitors can see any kind of artwork that their psyche predisposes them to.
The botanical garden is filled with orchids and other local fauna and is worth an afternoon visit.
3) The Daintree to Cape Tribulation
The oldest continually surviving tropical rain forest in the world is like a walk back in time.
4) Great Barrier Reef & Port Douglas
We chose to scuba-dive in the Great Barrier Reef from Port Douglas. Due to the proximity day trips are available to the reef. Further south, dive trips are generally multi-day livaboard trips. Click below to find out what diving on the greatest reef where sharks and deadly creatures abound.
We love audiobooks for road trips and we prefer to find stories set in locations we will be visiting. That is how we discovered Candice Fox and her Crimson Lake crime fiction series. We loved the books so much that we couldn’t wait to explore Cairns near the fictitious town of Crimson Lake.
For those of you not into crime fiction, Cairns is still worthy of a visit. In town, we enjoyed Flecker Botanic Garden is a beautiful way to spend the afternoon. Barron Gorge National Park just north of Cairns is a great place to camp. The Stoney Creek Track is a fantastic hiking option and is a stunning place to cool off in the clear pool below the waterfalls.
Just south of Cairns don’t miss a stop at the Barron Falls Outlook.
6) Atherton Tablelands
The Waterfall Way through the lush Atherton Tablelands is a multi-day journey. Some suggest 2-4 days. We took a couple of weeks to fit in more hikes and include the surrounding falls like Tully Gorge. The tableland rests above the tropical east coast and is part of the great dividing range of Australia.
A map and list of waterfalls can be found on the Atherton Table website.
7) Platypus in Yungaburra
Yungaburra is part of the Atherton Tablelands but I have given a separate highlight for the chance to see a platypus. Watching a platypus in the wild was high on our list of things to see.
Platypi are such a unique creatures. They are semi-aquatic, egg-laying mammals with bills like a duck’s, and tails like a beaver’s, and the male platypus is venomous.
The stream that runs through Yungaburra is known for its local population of platypi. We determined to walk alongside the stream every day until we saw one. Thankfully we saw an entire family on the first day and had the opportunity of following them on the path as they made their way downstream.
8) Mission Beach
If you missed seeing a Casuary in the Daintree, Mission Beach is the next best opportunity.
9) Wallaman Falls
As water cascades from the cliff top Wallaman falls is changed by the wind sometimes becoming a mist watering the surrounding cliff. When the sun is shining rainbows dance in the mist. The hike down into the gully is quite steep but worth the hike. Be sure to take swimmers for a dip at the bottom.
10) Paluma State Forest
The Paluma State Forest is just north of Townsville. The rainforest is a welcome respite from the heat. and offers hikes, waterfalls, and waterholes.
We enjoyed a full afternoon along Crystal Creek sliding down the smooth rock surface. The natural water slide led down into a swimming hole with crystal clear water.
There are great lookouts along the hike up to Birthday Creek Falls that are a must see.
11) The Whitsundays
The easiest way to see the best beaches in the Whitsundays is by taking a tour. We generally take very few tours preferring to see things on our own, but this was definitely worth the cost.
The area around Whitsunday can be expensive, but there is free camping in Proserpine. Proserpine even has a free Olympic-sized pool. Be sure to stock up on supplies and fill up your fuel tank in Proserpine not only to save yourself some money but to also support this generous town.
12) Finch Hatton Gorge
Finch Hatton Gorge offers a stunning walk through the sub-tropical rainforest with ferns that dwarfed us.
The Araluen Cascades flow beside the Wheel of Firewalk. The clear water is an inviting place to take a dip. Some even jump off the small cliff nearby, but there are large boulders in the water so jumpers beware.
Just one hour towards the coast is Cape Hillsborough National park. The forest walk along the coast here is filled with butterflies. The beach has large volcanic rocks. When the tide is low Wedge Island can be walked to. Camping is available along the tidal river.
13) Rockhampton to Yeppoon
Just outside of Rockhampton is the Mount Etna National Park with limestone caves and unique rock formations. The hikes are have great views of the surrounding landscape. There are various signs to read with more information about the geology and one pipe set up to view a specific geological formation. I looked through the pipe and only saw two frogs huddled together inside. It was one of my favorite views of the day.
Yeppoon, not much farther over to the coast, has my favorite community pool in Australia. The negative edge pool overlooks the ocean and there are little islands within the pool with palm trees. No one else was in the pool when we were there. A few times I had to swim quite some way to find Trin. It is a massive pool.
14) Great Sandy National Park
One of the primary features of the Great Sandy National Park is Frasier Island where a tall rainforest grows in the sand. It is also home to many freshwater lakes and colored sand.
The Great Sandy National Park also has wonderful trails and sites to see from the mainland.
South East Queensland (includes the Darling Downs)
15) Pine Forestry area and Brumbies
A swath of land in NSW near the coast is being utilized for sustainable forestry. It’s quite amazing to see the process and hear about the care and thought put into our ecological system. According to the Sustainable Forest Management, of the 134 million hectares of forest in Australia, 98% is classified as native forest.
I would rather see products made of biodegradable wood as opposed to plastic. Of course, the best would be to reduce consumption – we throw so much away.
The swath of land here is used over and over with trees continually replanted. An expert forester gave us a tour and told us that young pine trees, since they grow rapidly from the seedling stage, are removing massive quantities of CO2 and releasing lots of O2. As the tree ages, the rate slows. The trees are then harvested and the process begins again.
A pack of wild brumbies roams the forestry land here. Be sure to try and catch a glimpse of them running free.
Noosa National Park juts out from the coast giving beautiful views of the long beautiful Alexandria Bay. The rocks cliffs form a rock pool at fairy point creating a nice swim hole. The hike is worth a stop to spend a day and explore.
17) Australia Zoo
Is there any more reason than “Steve Erwin” to visit the Australia Zoo? I loved watching the Crocodile Hunter with Steve and Terri Erwin. A trip to the Erwin Zoo felt like a bit of homage to his legacy.
His family carries the same love for animals that he did. It was a bit surreal to sit in the stadium and watch the crocodile show.
Generally, I prefer to see wildlife in their natural habitat or in a rescue center. However, this “zoo” felt more open and natural than just animals in cages. It covers 700 acres and the animals have room to roam some of them mingling in the fields where they can graze.
18) Glass House Mountains
At the top of Mount Ngungun Trin and I stared in wonder at the strange landscape before us. In 1770 Lieutenant James Cook saw this view and described the landscape as “remarkable with the hills resembling glass houses.”
Ancient molten activity forced liquid rock upwards just below the surface of land whose traditional owners were the Jinibara and Kabi Kabi people. As time passed the magma cooled and cracked. Soil surrounding tessellated hexagonal columns eventually washed away. What stands today are singular formations spread apart. Each one standing alone. The climb to their tops is steep and rough.
Aboriginal people see Mount Beerwah as the pregnant mother and the other hills as her children. To them Beerwah is sacred and they do not climb her. We took the trail that circled the base of Beerwah to see each spectacular side. We climbed the nearby Coonowrin hill. Each lookout along the way displayed unique views of the “glass” hills dotting the landscape.
The lookouts stand on the hardened volcanic remnants that once moved below the surface. They now stand forever hardened in stone, the breeze whispering stories of this ancestral home.
19) Gold Coast
The Gold Coast is south-southeast of Brisbane (Brissy) the capital of Queensland. This is the place for beach lovers who also enjoy shopping. Trin and I don’t enjoy shopping and we prefer mountains but the Gold Coast was beautiful. The skyscrapers right on the beach are a sight to see.
20) Springbrook National Park
Springbrook is filled with waterfalls and hikes. During our visit a fine mist was in the air making the forest feel mystical. The mist was beautiful in the forest, but no so much at the “Best of all Lookout.” When we arrived at the lookout all we could see was white mist. We joked that maybe the lookout name was sarcastic.
After exploring Queensland keep the adventure up in the other states and territories.