Poet John Masefield once wrote, “All I need is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,” and standing on just such a ship, cruising the Great Barrier Reef with the Whitsunday Islands drifting past me, it is hard to disagree with the sentiment.[Not a valid template]
The Whitsundays are known the world over for some of the most amazing sailing, diving, and snorkeling on the planet, and the views aren’t half-bad either. The sparkling, crystal clear, blue water laps at white sandy beaches, while rocky peaks reach high above the Pacific Ocean. The occasional dolphin or sea turtle breaks the surface just to set the scene, while cool ocean breezes bring a hint of salt to the air.
Discovered in 1770 by Captain Cook, this chain of 74 islands is sprinkled across the sea near Queensland, just off Australia’s east coast. But the Whitsundays aren’t the only draw for those looking for a little adventure down under. Queensland is a place that prides itself on offering something for every outdoor enthusiast, and the options start offshore on the Reef and work their way inland all the way to the top of Bartle Frere, the tallest mountain in the region. In between you’ll find amazing beaches, tropical rainforests, and the highlands of the Great Dividing Range, not to mention the wide-open spaces of the Australian Outback.
Queensland is massive in size, covering more than 715,000 square miles, making it roughly two-and-a-half times the size of the state of Texas. Because of this, the climate varies greatly with coastal areas remaining temperate throughout the year thanks to the ocean breezes. Inland, it is warmer and more arid, while northern Queensland is tropical in nature and home to the famous Daintree Rainforest, a World Heritage Site that is a refuge to a number of unique plant and animal species.
The Daintree has continually existed in that part of Australia for more than 110 million years, making it the oldest rainforest on the planet. This lush playground offers up excellent opportunities for outdoor adventure with zipline tours, canopy walks, and jungle excursions by 4×4 all on the menu. But the best way to experience the rainforest, in my opinion, is by trekking into the bush with an Aboriginal guide. The Aboriginal tribes have lived in the region for tens of thousands of years, and their connection with the land is both physical and spiritual which leaves a unique and lasting impression on visitors.
For a completely different experience, adventure seekers can leave the lowlands behind and challenge themselves on the slopes of Mount Bartle Frere. At 5,321 feet in height, Bartle Frere isn’t exactly a Himalayan giant, but it is a challenging day hike that offers significant vertical gains and a surprisingly steep approach to the summit which is often shrouded in clouds. On a clear day however, climbers are rewarded with great views of the coastal region to the east and the tablelands to the west. Round trip to the summit and back takes roughly 10-12 hours.