Revealed: Queensland’s best hidden tourism gems
THERE are the gems scattered across the state, from the opulence of Hayman Island to the pristine beauty of Cairns's northern beaches, and then there are Queensland's glorious uncut diamonds.
As the coronavirus restrictions lift across the state and Queenslanders prepare to holiday in Queensland, it's time for a re-examination of the 1.8 million square kilometres we call home.
With my north Queensland upbringing, and the best part of the last decade travelling thousands of kilometres across the state as The Courier-Mail regional reporter, I've discovered a few hidden gems.
The following two weeks of school holidays gives Queenslanders a unique opportunity to not merely reinvigorate our economy which provides the majority of us with one of the most luxurious (relative to the rest of the world) lifestyles on planet earth.
The restriction on international and interstate travel open up the perfect opportunity for us to gaze at the map and consider what was once unconsidered, to ponder what was once implausible, to grant ourselves a licence to take the path less travelled and find out something we didn't know about the state we call home.
By all means visit Hayman when it opens in September.
You usually get champagne and canapes on the launch ride over and, even if you take the cheapest room available, that 294ha paradise at the crown of the Whitsundays will always give you an earthly glimpse of heaven.
The Gold Coast glitter strip which acts as an esplanade for one of the finest stretches of beaches in Australia still beckons, as does the more understated allure of Hastings Street in Noosa where the A-list type celebrities gather.
And the Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort at Four Mile Beach Port Douglas hasn't lost the first dash of glamour bestowed on it in the 1980s when Christopher Skase created it - a glamour later burnished by former US President Bill Clinton and Hollywood stars Tom Hanks and John Travolta who booked rooms.
But there is so much off the beaten track in Queensland that can stir the adventurer within.
The traveller who boasts of broadening horizons by trekking the back blocks of Vietnam or braving the Trans-Siberian railway might know nothing of what lies within their own backyard, and Queensland has a vast back yard.
DINGO BEACH, WHITSUNDAYS
The Whitsundays and Airlie Beach are what we might term "tourism classics'' but who in the southeast of the state knows of Dingo Beach?
It's 80km south of Bowen and if you've been on Dingo Beach at dawn you'll understand what the term "heartbreakingly beautiful'' really means as the sprawling white sands rise out of that palette of mingled blues that are the waters of the Whitsundays.
And what about Bowen itself?
HORSESHOE BAY, BOWEN
Sneer if you want but no Queenslander who ever snorkeled over the coral reefs off Horseshoe Bay, and then sunned themselves on that little beach bookended by Granite outcrops, will ever again dismiss Bowen as "that town with the salt plains out front".
In the town of Mackay only two hours south of Airlie beach you can rent a place at Blacks Beach which won't blow your budget and enjoy that entire section of northern beaches stretching past Eimeo, Bucasia and northward to Shoal Point.
You can swim in the ocean without the fear of stingers at this time of year, or drive over the Cape Hillsborough and watch the wallabies converging on the beach in the early morning light.
Then you can take a day and drive through the beautiful Pioneer Valley and have a coffee in the small town of Mirani, then motor on upward into the sky to the magical realm of Eungella.
Eungella, literally "land of the clouds'' in the local Indigenous language, hosts one of Australia's longest uninterrupted stretches of sub-tropical rainforest which attracts thousands of international visitors each year for bush walks, and is home to turtles and frolicsome platypuses in Broken River .
Then here is the entire Capricorn Coast based around Yeppoon only four hours drive further south which is often overlooked come Winter, yet provides temperatures perfect for a dip on a selection of glorious beaches.
If you live in Brisbane take a flight to Rockhampton, rent a car, drive eastward on one of our better highways then book a hotel at Yeppoon where they are usually reasonably priced.
Then explore, take a drive across the Causeway up to Kinka Beach and onwards to Emu Park and enjoy world class beaches and views.
And consider this - you have two weeks holidays, so check out of the hotel for a few days, drive back to Rockhampton and head south before hanging a right and going through Gracemere, motoring westward to Emerald, booking a room and taking a look at the Fairbairn Dam.
FAIRBAIRN DAM, EMERALD
It will probably only be at 12 per cent capacity but the sheer immensity of that inland lake will astound you and no one is suggesting you spend a slice of your four weeks annual leave gazing at water infrastructure.
Even if generations of Americans did travel to Hoover Dam on the Nevada/Arizona border to marvel at the power of American engineering ingenuity, it is accepted that Australians rarely display that brand of patriotism.
Emerald is simply the central Queensland gateway to the magnificent west and when you leave the thriving town encircled by mint green crops the following day and get onto the Drummond Range, you'll find you're enjoying the changing scenery.
Before you know it you'll be in Alpha having a pie at "Snow's Bread'' in Shakespeare Street, and you'll know you have arrived in "The West.''
From there it's onward through Jericho and onto Barcaldine and the "Tree of Knowledge'' display marking the birth of the Australian Labor Party.
Before you know it you're through Ilfracombe and then that iconic outback town Longreach materialises out of the plains and you're marvelling that it was just six hours drive from Emerald, even with the stops and the photos from the lookouts.
And in Longreach you'll be surprised at the comfortable accommodation available and the quality of the steaks at Harry's Restaurant at the Longreach Motor Inn (named after local Legend, Harry Redford, also known as Captain Starlight, a cattle rustler whose lookout you can go visit outside town) and the authenticity of the locals who seem to drawl "gidday, ow ya goin' with a certain unforced "Australianese'' which is rapidly disappearing from the landscape.
And you can do all of that in just five days and then go back to Yeppoon to resume the beach holiday before flying back to Brisbane, rested and refreshed and taking some satisfaction in knowing you've also familiarised yourself a little further with your state's history.
And there is so much more - the marvels of the Burnett inland from Bundaberg and the beauty of Bargara ten minutes out of that town where rock walls built by South Sea Islander labour fringe magnificent beaches.
There you'll find apartments with sweeping ocean views, many of them within the budget of working Queensland families.
There's the Granite Belt just a few hours from Brisbane and the wineries around Stanthorpe which began in the 19th Century when a local Catholic Priest needed wine for his Sunday services.
You can visit them on bike tours then sit in front of a log fire and enjoy world class food and wine, all locally produced.
Queensland is an extraordinary state - it's the Mediterranean and the deserts of Arizona and Miami Beach and even Ireland if you happen to be gazing at those landscapes behind the Sunshine Coast and Cairns after the summer rains.
And it's all yours for the next two weeks without customs and immigration officials to interrupt your journey.
So go and enjoy it.
Originally published as Revealed: Queensland's best hidden tourism gems