State of Grace: From Brisbane to the Whitsundays, coasting through Queensland brings boundless natural rewards

By Neil Dolby
Jan 10, 2024

Queensland is perhaps the most beautiful and varied of Australia’s states, and its vast coastline, in particular, has so much to offer. This area is perhaps the personification of the ‘Lucky Country’, with the most appealing sights and pastimes spotlighting the glorious natural advantages of the great outdoors.

The state capital of Brisbane, located in the fastest-growing area of Australia, is blessed with year-round sunshine. Ultimately it is a wonderful place to visit, sandwiched between the world-famous Gold Coast to the south and the charming Sunshine Coast, while further north are the idyllic island getaways of K’gari and the Whitsundays.

Brisbane is named after the state’s longest river, and near the Central Business District is a bend in the Brisbane which was the fishing ground of the Turrbal and Jagera peoples, the area’s traditional custodians. North Quay was home to a penal colony during the country’s inauspicious British colonial beginnings. Times have moved on, however, and Brisbane is now a smart, ultra-modern city with an ever-expanding range of skyscrapers sprouting up to add to the unforgettable skyline.

Brisbane browsing

The architecturally acclaimed Riverside Centre and Riparian Plaza dominate the Riverside Precinct, which features a slew of bars and restaurants overlooking the Brisbane River. The popular Aquila Caffe Bar is a great place to have a wholesome breakfast of eggs or an acai berry bowl and watch the ferries ply the river or eye the climbers on the top girders of Story Bridge. It is possible to join the adventurers on this iconic bridge (see to claim the best views of the skyline.

Another popular place to eat is Sage On Ann, with its Turkish eggs or zucchini and asparagus tart for breakfast and lunchtime draws of wild mushroom risotto and beef massaman curry. The Port Office Hotel dining room serves superb steaks, plus excellent vegetarian dishes and seafood. Dining at the Howard Smith Wharves offers sublime views of the river.

Many of the interesting sites and attractions in the city centre are within close proximity so they can be viewed via a leisurely stroll. Along the Rocks Riverside Promenade is the Victorian-era, copper- domed Customs House, a colonnaded construction that provides a striking contrast to the towering skyscrapers. The Anglican St John’s Cathedral was constructed on and off for 100 years, beginning in 1906, and boasts a wondrous vaulted ceiling made entirely of stone. The Old Windmill on the edge of Wickham Park is Queensland’s oldest surviving building; dating back to 1828, it was built by convicts who were then forced to work its treadmill as a form of punishment.

Brisbane City Hall, located in King George Square, hosts the Museum of Brisbane with its superb contemporary art display. Its clock tower affords brilliant views of the city, whose detailed history is also recorded in the museum. One of Australia’s largest maritime museums is in Brisbane – the Queensland Maritime Museum. Queensland Museum, located in the cultural hub at the northern end of South Bank Parklands, holds the World Science Festival Brisbane every March (15 to 24 March this year). A festival of a different sort follows soon after: the Brisbane Comedy Festival, to be held from 26 April to 26 May 2024, is sure to raise more than a few laughs.

Gold Coast rush

From Brisbane, it is easy to explore other parts of Australia’s magnificent East Coast. A car drive to the south reveals the glittering Gold Coast with its golden beaches and colourful theme parks. The chic boutiques and trendy cafes of Main Beach attract the wealthy and stylish, while further along the sandbar at Marina Mirage, luxury yachts vie for attention with designer boutiques, cafés and restaurants. Mariner’s Cove Marina, next door, also has good dining options as well as watersport activities.

As the name of its most famous seaside resort attests, the region is a surfing paradise with excellent breaks all along the coast, many surf schools are introducing the uninitiated to the marvels of standing on a surfboard. Surfers Paradise itself, situated just south of Main Beach, is known for its tasty waves, and rather more controversially, its bikini-clad meter maids. A must-do is ascending to Level 77 of SkyPoint for breathtaking vistas stretching from Brisbane to Byron Bay.

Sun and scenery

North of Brisbane is the Sunshine Coast, where splendid sights can be ticked off during a full day’s outing by car from Brisbane. Take the tourist route for fabulous panoramic glimpses of the Glass House Mountains and access to walking trails along the craggy, eroded volcanic peaks.

A short drive north of here is Australia Zoo, made famous by the late Steve ‘The Crocodile Hunter’ Irwin, where many mammals, birds and reptiles live within natural Australian and recreated Asian habitats. The Edge Restaurant in Montville offers pasta, steaks, salads, seafood and spectacular views across the hinterland to the Pacific Ocean.

Head to the sand

Considered a must along the East Coast is a three-day four-wheel-drive adventure on the world’s largest sand island – K’gari, or Fraser Island. Access is by ferry, and it is possible to hire a 4WD in Brisbane, in the adjacent Hervey Bay, or at Kingfisher Bay Resort – the award- winning ecotourism resort that is a focal point of the island. K’gari is a breathtaking mixture of rainforests, pristine freshwater lakes and streams, and sand dunes accessed along seemingly endless tracks.

Natural wonders are aplenty, from the amazingly clear night sky to a 120-kilometre stretch of uninterrupted sand (Seventy Five Mile Beach) flanked by dunes and the Pacific, to translucent blue lakes of magical beauty. Take a swim at Eli Creek and float down the stream on the freshwater that spews out of the creek. The rusty relic of a passenger liner, the Maheno, that ran aground in 1935 adds a surreal touch to the beach.

Back on the mainland, Hervey Bay is a beautiful seaside resort with an endless beachfront esplanade. There are fantastic opportunities daily to get up close to majestic humpback whales – or dolphins outside of the peak whale-watching season.

Whitsunday wonder

Another popular Queensland destination is Airlie Beach. Located more than 800 kilometres north of Hervey Bay, it is known for its picturesque marina and as a staging post for sailing, cruising, diving and kayaking adventures to the Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef beyond. A ferry from the port delivers visitors to Hamilton Island, which also has an airport with flights to Brisbane or Cairns on the state’s northern coast.

Spanning 74 isles, the Whitsundays are considered one of the world’s most beautiful archipelagos with adorable secluded bays and coves, deserted beaches and world-class hiking. Notable among the stunning beaches on Whitsunday Island itself is Whitehaven, where azure blue waters lap the pure white silica sand.