Want to make your friends jealous this winter? Tell them you’re going to North Queensland, and casually mention the balmy weather, palm trees and swimmable seas. Snorkel or dive the Great Barrier Reef, set sail in the Whitsundays and trek back in time in the primeval Daintree Rainforest. Drive the Savannah Way to the remote Gulf Savannah. This tropical paradise is truly at its best from June to September, when the temperature averages 25 degrees Celsius and the turquoise waters are stinger free.
From sunny Cairns, you’ll find a range of mid-winter digs. Get golden beach frontage in tranquil Mission Beach, soak up the low-key tropical glamour of Port Douglas or indulge in true resort luxury at Palm Cove. Along with Cairns and the backpacker havens of Airlie Beach and Cape Tribulation, these are all great bases for exploring North Queensland’s most famous attraction - the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef.
Learn the diving basics on a day course or get your PADI certificate in a week at dive schools stretching from Cairns to Townsville.You won’t forget gliding past hypercolour coral, triggerfish with polka-dot bellies and bannerfish with jailbird stripes. Do a snorkeling trip or stare at the silent, spectacular world from a glass-bottomed boat. From Cairns, you can take a scenic sea plane to Green Island or land for lunch on a secluded sandy cay.
Further south, try sailing the 74 idyllic, mostly uninhabited islands of the Whitsundays. Relax in a resort on Daydream, Hamilton, Hayman or Lindeman Islands. Bushwalk through rainforest on South Molle or Long Islands, fly over spectacular Heart Reef and write your name in the famous white sand of Whitehaven Beach.
With reef and resorts covered off, try trekking the rainforest. See Carmen Miranda butterflies and parrots in the jungle-like scenery of Kuranda, just a scenic hour and a half train ride from Cairns. Or drive north to the World Heritage-listed Daintree, Australia’s largest chunk of rainforest and home to a diverse range of plants and animals.
From the Daintree, you can four wheel drive north to Cape Tribulation, where reef and rainforest meet. For more nature-based adventure, head further north to the accessible wilderness of the Cape York Peninsula. Bushwalk, birdwatch and spot rare native wildlife in the lush wetlands and forest of Lakefield National Park and Black Mountain National Park. Camp or sleep in lodges and spend your days four wheel driving, fishing and visiting ancient Aboriginal cultural sites.
Get fit on some of the 150-plus walking track winding through Queensland’s Wet Tropics. Trek past waterfalls and fern-fringed swimming pools in Wooroonooran National Park, near Mission Beach. Spot some of the 170 different bird species that have been recorded in Eubenangee National Park. Or walk through Misty Mountains rainforest on the traditional trails of the Jirrbal and Mamu Aboriginal people.
With the coastline covered, explore the wonders lying inland. Hire a car and head off on the Savannah Way, which stretches from Cairns to the Northern Territory border. Dine and wine in Mareeba. Marvel at Millstream Falls, Australia’s widest waterfalls and lose yourself in the caves of Undara Volcanic National Park, the world’s longest lava system. Fossick for gold in historic Croydon and Georgetown. Spot crocodiles in the wetlands around Normanton and discover hidden gorges and Aboriginal rock art in Boodjamulla National Park
OK, maybe you should hold back a little when showing your friends your holiday shots. We all know where they would have liked to be this winter.