One could call Queensland Australia’s meditative state. At every turn, it seems, there is a new vista, another rolling landscape that forces its viewer to stop, stare, breathe in. And out. Regular sight-seeing moments turn into spontaneous jolts of reflection, of introspection.
It begins in Brisbane, the state’s capital, and the country’s third-largest city in population, to which Air Canada has launched a new direct flight from Vancouver—an easy overnight sleep in business or premium economy class. Arriving somewhat fresh in the morning is key, allowing the touring to immediately begin. Enlisting a Brisbane Greeter, a local volunteer guide, will ensure that all of the best, lesser-known spots are found. Cruising through the New Farm neighbourhood and into the popular Fortitude Valley will prove insightful; the hip James Street strip of high-end shops features Australian designer boutiques including Lee Mathews, and even Vancouver’s Kit and Ace. And while Brisbane is not the most sought-out Australian city for travellers, it is certainly coming into its own, embracing fashion, food, and art. It is home to a slew of delightful nooks and crannies as part of the city’s Vibrant Laneway Project, in which derelict alleyways are turned into pockets of greenery, cafes, shops, and public seating. Cruise through the crevices until hitting the waterfront for the first breathtaking moment, with the crisp Brisbane River water reflecting the iconic Story Bridge on the other side. Take the River Walk along, stopping for a mug of dirty chai (that, insiders know, is a chai latte with a shot of espresso).
When it is time for head to hit pillow, the Spicers Balfour Hotel is a lovely choice, its boutique size, fantastic service, and delicious onsite restaurant keeping jet lag at bay. In the morning, order a flat white at Reverends Fine Coffee down the street—it’s a necessary jolt of energy before climbing the aforementioned Story Bridge and reaching the next incredible view at 80 metres above sea level. Cars rush past underneath, and the city sparkles in the sun, offering a clear vantage point of the construction cranes poised in each direction: a signal that Brisbane is growing, evolving, and fast. Another day spent exploring, and another night, this time at Emporium Hotel, a swanky, modern take on luxury with a moody red lobby and in-room pillow menu.
But there is more to soak up in Queensland. “The thing about Brisbane is that it’s so close to everything: the beach, the reef, the outback,” says Brisbane Airport Corporation media and corporate communications manager Leonie Vandeven. And so next it is best to venture into the Hinterland, perhaps with the help of Southern Cross 4WD Tours. Being guided through Tamborine National Park by the hands of an expert reveals perhaps more than travellers bargained for, including a wildly close look at the work of the infamous trapdoor spider. But the waterfall at the end of the nature walk provides the next photogenic moment, pushing arachno-fears away with the rushing rapids.
And on that note, it is time to move further on, to Gold Coast, a city that is set to host the Commonwealth Games in 2018. Burleigh Heads beach is ideal for a stroll, and across the street from the beach is The Fish House, a spectacular spot to take in the panorama from the large open windows while munching on fresh Petuna Ocean Trout from Macquarie Harbour and heirloom tomatoes from Byron Bay. Bags can be dropped at the electric, eccentric, and energetic Qt Hotel in Surfers Paradise, where massive suite windows mean bags will literally be dropped at the sight of the hazy pink sunset and crashing water below. Cute touches abound at the hotel, from the punch kit ready for in-room mixing, to the cheerfully coloured beach sandals hanging on the back of the washroom door.
Qt’s breakfast buffet should do the trick in the morning, providing fuel for a short two-hour flight from Brisbane to Cairns, where the Daintree Rainforest features pristine and lush greenery. The Sheraton Mirage in nearby Port Douglas sits right on the iconic Four Mile Beach, and also has four acres of swimmable lagoons right on property. It is a luxury arm of the Sheraton, and excellently located near The Reef Marina, where Sailaway Reef & Island Tours offers an evening sail just as the sun sets. It is here, glass of bubbly in hand, that self-reflection hits its peak, out on the calm water, watching the sun say goodnight and leave in its place a cotton-candy-blue sky. Post-sail dinner is best at Salsa Bar & Grill, a Port Douglas favourite among the locals and even visited by Bill Clinton.
Rest up, because the Great Barrier Reef calls the next day. The world-famous marine park is only accessible by boat or helicopter, and one option for the former is Quicksilver; the large vessel takes groups of explorers to and from the reef, including snorkelling gear and lunch. Add-on activities such as scuba diving, helmet diving, and helicopter rides from GBR Helicopters conclude this tour of strikingly beautiful views. To see the reef from directly above is to understand its grand scale, and how important it is to keep intact. To then dive down under the water, among the friendly fish, is to fully experience one of the world’s greatest wonders. On the journey back, all that is left to do is sweetly sigh, and hope your camera did it all justice. At the very least, the feeling conjured by the memory will bring it roaring beautifully back.