Queensland is a big place to explore. It’s the second-largest state in Australia, and naturally, it’s here where you’ll find a ton of diversity to discover. There are more than 1.8 million square kilometres full of unique and intriguing species, habitats, landscapes, towns and more so where should you go for your weekend getaways Qld?
Back in 1770, Captain Cook landed at what is now the town of Seventeen 1770 and claimed the entire east coast of the continent for the Kingdom of Great Britain. Fast-forward a few hundred (and fifty) years, and Queensland is positively thriving.
Cities strung along the coast – from Brisbane in the south through Townsville, Rockhampton and up to tropical Cairns – offer a mix of history, close-to-nature living and good times.
The area plays host to students and attracts families, surfers, and backpackers to explore Australia’s East Coast. Elsewhere, ghost towns tell the tale of mining fortunes boons and losses.
Lining the state just off the east coast is the Great Barrier Reef. This natural wonder boasts unimaginable marine life, corals, and almost 1,000 islands and cays to explore. Turquoise seas and white sand beaches ahoy!
Meanwhile, back on dry land, the Outback beckons. Mountains, dozens of national parks, rainforests, wetlands, and swamps lie within easy reach of the state’s towns and cities.
There are so many options across the State and there is a lot of pet-friendly accommodation in Queensland too! Let’s have a look and see what your ideal weekend getaway in Queensland could look like.
Cairns is a cool, laid-back city set in tropical Far North Queensland. Not only is it Australia’s northernmost city, but it also happens to be the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. This makes Cairns an excellent base in itself for exploring further afield.
How to get to Cairns
Cairns Airport connects international and domestic flights. It’s a quick 10-15 minute drive to and from the city centre. It makes for a straightforward destination – a holiday without the hassle.
Not only is it Australia’s northernmost city, but it also happens to be the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. This makes Cairns an excellent base in itself for exploring further afield.
Then again, if cities are your thing, there’s absolutely no reason why Cairns and its surrounding area can’t be a destination in itself. Bustling, busy, with as many beaches as live music venues, it’s a modern city with a ton of things to see and do.
Much more about backpackers and holiday-makers than business, Cairns is a chilled out place to be. That might have something to do with its tropical location and the year-round warm weather. In fact, Cairns was actually built on the site of a swamp.
Though a jumping-off point for adventuring around the area – from the Barrier Reef to the surrounding UNESCO Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Site – in town, there’s plenty to entertain just about any type of traveller.
There’s the Cairns Botanical Garden to snap photos of tropical plant life, the boardwalk (home of Muddy’s – a great place for kids) and the Cairns Esplanade with its specially made swimming lagoon, to name just a couple of cool things to do in Cairns.
Further north, the Tjapukai Aboriginal Culture Park is an award-winning educational centre where you can truly get to grips with the native people of Australia, their traditions, cultures, and millennia-spanning history.
Highlights of Cairns
- Stroll the fascinating galleries of Cairns Museum
- Flying above the rainforest canopy through the power of Skyrail
- Swimming in the seawater pool at Cairns Esplanade Lagoon
- Being wowed by traditional performances at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Culture Park
- Hitting up a weekend market or outdoor concert at the Esplanade
Where to stay in Cairns
Cairns has been undergoing quite a metamorphosis with its hotel scene thanks to the Crystalbrook Collection. The UAE based company is founded by a Syrian refugee who holidayed in Cairns and quickly seized the opportunity to get a slice of the great opportunities it presented.
For families, the Mantra Esplanade is right across from the wonderful waterpark and gardens along the waterfront and they have 2 and 3 bedroom self-contained apartments.
About 40 minutes north of Cairns is Palm Cove a very pretty, laid back beachside village that is very popular year-round and offers some stunning dining and accommodation choices such as Alamanda Cove by Lancemore and Peppers Beach Club and Spa.
The Atherton Tablelands
Where are the Atherton Tablelands?
Around an hour’s drive from Cairns – 25 kilometres northwest of the city, to be exact – you’ll find the Atherton Tablelands. This fertile plateau boasts a temperate climate, making it the ideal summer weekend getaway in Queensland to escape the tropical heat.
It’s a diverse region spanning almost 65,000 square kilometres. This means there’s a lot to pack into any trip to Atherton Tablelands!
Because of just how fertile this place is – and thanks to its climate, too – there’s an abundance of produce growing in the area. This has resulted in the Atherton Tablelands becoming something of a favourite with foodies.
You’ll find everything here – from farmer’s markets selling locally-grown food, to coffee plantations where you can learn how your cup of Joe came to be, from berry to beverage.
For the best in markets, head to Yungaburra. Set on the Gillies Highway, this town is home to heritage buildings, cool cafes, arts and crafts, and farmers’ markets. It’s certainly one to mark on the map if you find yourself exploring the Atherton Tablelands for a weekend.
Elsewhere, there’s Kuranda. This rural town, dubbed “Village in the Rainforest”, sits 700 metres above sea level and is surrounded by lush rainforests, wetlands, and savannah.
It’s the place to go for wildlife and nature, with top sights including the awesome Rainforestation Nature Park, Koala Village, Butterfly Sanctuary, and a scenic railway that climbs its hills.
Kuranda has been a popular tourist destination since the 1900s because of its cooler climate. It also happens to be filled with diverse wildlife and some supreme natural beauty spots!
If you’re a keen swimmer, you’ll be happy to note that there are plenty of places you can stop off for a dip as you drive around.
There is a selection of natural slides and creeks in the rainforests, with options to swim in lakes in places such as Lake Eacham or Lake Barrine.
Highlights of the Atherton Tablelands
- Riding the very cool Kuranda Scenic Railway
- Visiting the Mareeba Wetlands for a fantastic array of birdlife
- Sampling coffee directly from the source in Yungaburra
- Experiencing indigenous culture at the Rainforestation Nature Park
- Refreshing yourself with a swim at Lake Eacham and Lake Barine
- Visit the amazing Crystal Caves in Atherton – very popular with the kids!
- Have a picnic on the shores of beautiful Tinaroo Dam.
Where to stay on the Atherton Tablelands
Yungaburra is one of the most popular places to stay as it right in the heart of the Tablelands, home to good cafes and restaurants and is a very pretty town.
Great Barrier Reef Islands
The Great Barrier Reef needs no introduction. It’s the most extensive coral reef system in the world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park – which, if you were wondering, covers an area about the size of Japan.
While parts of the reef can be visited on day trips, there are plenty of islands where you can spend some time soaking up the serenity of it all. Any one of them would make the perfect weekend getaway Qld.
There are about 900 islands, not all of which you can stay on (obviously).
Fitzroy Island, with snorkelling opportunities right off the shore, is 45-minutes by boat from Cairns. It actually makes up its own national park: Fitzroy Island National Park. There’s accommodation here.
Bedarra is a luxury offering – the sort of place you can really slip into another world. Set in the Family Islands National Park, it’s an exclusive place. Think coconut palms and not doing much of anything except lapping it all up.
In terms of laid-back, Orpheus Island is a great idea. But if you like beaches, Lizard Island and its 24 beaches is an even better idea; this is also the jumping-off point for Cod Hole, one of the best diving spots in the Barrier Reef.
The Whitsundays make up a more comprehensive, family-friendly destination. A haven for yachts, too, there are a number of islands – such as Hamilton Island – where you can soak up all the wonders of the Barrier Reef. Here, it’s all about pure white beaches, reefs, and resorts.
The list of veritable paradises here goes on and on.
Highlights of the Great Barrier Reef Islands
- Going (almost) full Castaway on Wilson Island
- Glimpsing the abundant marine life at Cod Hole
- Swimming with turtles and manta rays near Lady Elliott Island
- Kayaking around the calm seaways of The Whitsundays
- Camping beachside on Fitzroy Island
Lady Eliott Island
Where to stay on the Queensland Islands
Where not to stay! With so many islands to choose from narrowing it down is pretty tricky. The best thing to do is decide on the part of the reef you want to visit or the mainland town you want to access it from and then choose an island in that area.
In the Whitsundays Hamilton Island is always popular as it has an airport, with luxury hotels and retreats found on Hayman with the new Intercontinental and Long Island with the wonderful Elysian Retreat. For families Daydream island caters very well.
You can also sleep out on the reef at Reefsuites which is also Australia’s first underwater accommodation.
The Daintree and Wet Tropics
If you’re looking to explore a slice of pristine rainforest in Queensland, look no further than the Daintree Rainforest. The word here is unspoiled.
A region of natural wonder hugging the northeast coast of Queensland, it spans 1,200 square kilometres, making it the largest on the continent.
In fact, the Daintree Rainforest is one of the oldest surviving continually existing rainforests in the world. It grows right down to the coastline, making it a unique mixture of tropical forest, beaches, and offshore reefs.
How to get to the Daintree and beyond
If you’re ready for a road trip with a difference, this unusual and beautifully beguiling mix of different ecosystems is best explored with your own set of wheels.
Getting to Daintree is a simple matter of getting yourself on the Great Barrier Drive from Cairns, one of the most iconic roads in the country. You get to watch the scenery change from urban to rainforest in a matter of 100 kilometres or so.
For a place to base yourself, you may want to consider Daintree Village. It’s a rural town surrounded by the rainforest, set on the south bank of the Daintree River; it’s got cafes, a friendly atmosphere, and some incredible nature. What more do you need?
If you’re looking for something even more far-flung, then camping at Cape Tribulation – a popular ecotourism destination – may be more your thing.
Highlights of The Daintree
- Learning all about the local wildlife at Daintree Discovery Centre
- Taking a cruise at Cape Tribulation in search of estuarine crocodiles
- Having a cuppa at Daintree Tea Company on Tribulation Road
- Walking the Mardja Botanical Walk through the rainforest
- Simply driving along the super scenic Great Barrier Reef Drive
Where to stay in Queenslands Wet Tropics
Daintree Wilderness Lodge is a beautiful place to enjoy this part of the world and is completely surrounded by the rainforest.
Not far from there is Daintree Ecolodge who have individual lagoon villas and great inclusions.
Fraser Island has the not so small accolade of being the world’s largest sand island. Just off the coast of Hervey Bay, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed island is home to only 180 residents. But more famous than its tiny population is its ancient rainforests that seem to love growing in the dunes.
Combine this with sand formations, gleaming beaches, and a plethora of freshwater lakes, and Fraser Island has the potential to be your next favourite weekend getaway Qld.
How to get to Fraser Island
After catching a ferry (50 minutes from the mainland), it’s time to take you and your car to hit up the island’s 120-kilometre beach highway. Here you can spend your time stumbling across breathtaking sight after breathtaking sight.
The wreck of the S.S. Maheno is a famous landmark of Fraser Island. It’s an interesting sight to see the rusted old ship in such an otherwise pristine setting – lapped by turquoise seas – and makes for a great photo op.
There is no end to the beautiful beaches here. You can spend time lounging in the shallows or shaded on the sand. If you prefer your water less salty, then the incredibly blue Lake McKenzie – filled with rainwater – will certainly be your cup of tea.
It’s the perfect place for children to swim, being shallow with no currents. There’s also Lake Wabby, the deepest lake on the island, with cooler depths to dive into.
Highlights of Fraser Island
- Walking the 90-kilometre Fraser Island Great Walk between Dilli Village and Happy Valley
- Staying the night under the stars at one of the island’s many campgrounds
- Hiring a 4WD and cruising along the white sands of the beaches themselves
- Taking a guided night tour to see the nocturnal creatures who live in the rainforests
- Clapping eyes on migrating humpback whales
- Swimming and picnicking at Lake McKenzie
Further reading : A complete guide to Fraser Island
Where to stay on Fraser Island
Kingfisher Bay Resort
Kingfisher Bay Resort is the main resort on the island and the best place to stay for first-timers and people with limited time.
Located on the western side of the island, the resort offers a range of nature-based activities, such as swimming, bushwalking, fishing, or water sports and there is an Eco-Rangers club for the kids too. There is a variety of accommodation styles including self-contained beach houses, cabins and hotel rooms.
There are 3 restaurants and 3 bars and you can also enjoy the Tastes of Australia experience which explores native food and flavours.
Eurong Beach Resort
On the other side of the island is Eurong Beach Resort which is located on Seventy-Five Mile Beach.
It’s well located to visit the southern lakes, which include McKenzie and Wabby, as well as the rainforests around Pile Valley and Central Station.
Facilities include a well-stocked general store and bottle shop, a bakery and coffee shop, as well as a restaurant, bar and a large swimming pool.
Accommodation at Eurong Beach Resort is designed to suit all budgets and ranges from modern, self-contained, one and two-bedroom apartments to backpacker dormitories.
Self-contained Fraser Island Accommodation
There are also a number of privately owned beach-houses and cabins on the island such as The Bungalow in Eurong and Orchid Blue in Orchid Beach, right at the top of the island, which sleeps up to 16 people.
Townsville and Magnetic Island
Set on the coast of northeastern Queensland, over 1,100 kilometres from Brisbane, Townsville makes up the largest urban area north of the Sunshine Coast. It’s a fun place to spend some time, especially in winter and Magnetic Island is considered by many to be one of Australia’s best-kept secrets.
Long frequented by backpackers and holiday-makers, Townsville a great spot to “refuel”, stroll along The Strand, take in some city comforts, admire 19th-century buildings and make full use of its pedestrian-friendly credentials.
From Townsville its a 20-minute ferry ride to the shores of Magnetic Island.
Practically untouched, the island – known colloquially as Maggie – boasts no less than 23 sandy beaches, with excellent snorkelling and diving spots.
For less watery pursuits, there are around 24 kilometres of walking paths lacing across the 52 square kilometres of the island.
The central hub of activity on the island is Horseshoe Bay; this is the spot to come if all you feel like doing is watching the world go by with a cold drink or two.
If you are feeling active, however, and you didn’t get to hike on the island, then back in Townsville, you should head to Castle Hill. It’s the highest point in town and makes for a great vantage point out across the city-and-seascape – once you’ve spent 40 minutes hiking to the top, that is.
Highlights of Townsville
- Strolling along the Strand with other Townsvillians
- Viewing the whole region from the top of Castle Hill
- Hiking the intriguing Forts Walk on the island for some WWII history
- Indulging in a great pub meal – Townsville is famous for them!
- Doing a day trip to Magnetic Island or even a few days
Where to stay in Townsville
In terms of luxury, The Ville is the stand-out these days having had a great makeover transforming it from a typical 80’s style Sheraton to a modern Plantation Style haven on the water. All rooms have great views and the pool and swim-up bar are fantastic. It’s also very affordable all things considered!
For something a little different and quite special The Little Bush Hut in Nelly Bay is tranquil rustic luxury for 2 and is pet-friendly too!
Mackay and The Whitsundays
The Whitsunday Islands – or simply just the Whitsundays – are a chain of 74 different islands and cays strung out along the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. The location alone, no matter what the islands look like (beautiful, by the way), is enough to warrant dozens of weekend getaways from Brisbane.
Mainly uninhabited, the islands are home to dense rainforests crisscrossed by hiking trails and, more often than not, ringed by pure white sand beaches. Some islands are inhabited and make for great places to kick back and take it all in.
Hamilton Island – the largest inhabited island and one of the most popular – has pristine beaches, coral to explore, offshore islands to kayak to, and a number of spots around the island – all reached by golf buggy. It’s all car-free. You’ll also get to spot wildlife like koalas and kangaroos just going about their business here.
Just a short ferry ride to the northwest of Hamilton, you’ll find the Molle Island Group – more specifically, Daydream Island.
This tiny island is just one kilometre long and 400 metres wide but has a lot going for it. Wallabies freely roam the island, and there’s an outdoor aquarium with around 80 different types of marine life from the Barrier Reef itself.
The area is also popular with sailing enthusiasts who visit the island because, well, it’s stunning.
For sheer luxury, there’s Hayman Island. Though privately owned, this northern island of the Whitsundays is open to members of the public. It’s part of the Cumberland Group of islands and is crowned by a luxury resort built in the 1950s.
The seclusion of the island offers a chance to truly escape city life and unwind in a supremely serene location.
Just across the water to the south is the much larger Hook Island. Largely uninhabited, it’s popular place for tours, which bring people to snorkel in the crystal clear waters of Maureen’s Cove and Luncheon Bay.
Highlights of Mackay and The Whitsundays
- Unwinding in the upscale seclusion of Hayman Island.
- Exploring the living reef on Daydream Island.
- Taking a tour over to Hook Island for some uninhabited wilderness.
- Kicking back on the beach on family-friendly Hamilton Island.
- Wildlife-spotting as you tour the island on a golf buggy.
- Visit incredible Whitehaven Beach – often voted the best in the world!
Where to stay in Mackay and the Whitsundays
In Mackay we love Riviera Mackay with its funky, modern decor and rooftop terrace.
In The Whitsundays Hamilton Island is the place to base yourself if it’s your first visit and you can fly direct as they are the only island with a commercial airport. Whitsunday Apartments and Reef View Hotel are where most people stay although if your budget runs to it then Qualia Resort is one of the best in the country.
On Long Island, Palm Bay Resort is wonderful as is beautiful Elysian Retreat, a recent addition to the luxury option in the area.
Town of 1770/Agnes Water
The seaside communities of Seventeen Seventy (aka 1770) and Agnes Waters are located at the very southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. With equal parts beauty and heritage to their names, this slice of Queensland is very much worth your time.
The Town of 1770 is famously named after the year (1770) that Captain Cook and the crew of the Endeavour landed in Queensland – on this very spot, in fact. Today, 250 years on, adventures still await. There’s plenty of exploring still to be done in the solitude of this gleaming coastline.
Keen surfers shouldn’t forget their boards. The rolling surf breaks here are well known, and there are plenty of waterways for kayakers to meander along, too.
It’s a fantastic place for wildlife. This also happens to be a prime spot for whale watching, with humpback whales visible when they migrate from the Antarctic. You can also catch sight of dolphins playing in the water.
Located at the southern end of the Barrier Reef, this part of the world makes for a great jumping-off point for exploring further afield into the world of coral to the north – or for discovering one of its many, many islands.
Also a coastal town, Agnes Waters has a population of around 2,000 people and is a laid back place for a weekend getaway in Queensland. One of the best things about this place is its incredible beach that runs for around five kilometres, backed by dunes dotted with trees and scrub.
- Hitting the water via a kayak or a spot of stand-up paddleboarding
- Spending the day alongside locals at Chairman’s Beach, a popular spot
- Booking yourself on one of the area’s super fun amphibious tour buses
- Walking the Paperback Forest Boardwalk on the outskirts of Agnes Waters
- Making sure you’re in town to attend the 1770 Festival in May
Where to stay at Town of 1770/Agnes Water
Accommodation is still fairly limited in this area so it pays to plan well in advance especially for beachfront properties.
Most of the accommodation is in Agnes Water including Edges on the Beach who have great self-contained villas as do Pavillions on 1770. Agnes Water Beach Club and Sandcastles 1770 Motel and Resort are two other good options.
Unsurprisingly there are more beach-houses and shacks for rent and there are a number of very interesting and unique places. Drewhouse Pods are in the Sunrise at 1770 complex and have been featured in Vogue Magazine.
For groups, Bicentennial Oasis is a great house that sleeps up to 8 guests on acreage and it’s also pet friendly. Shutters1 is also great for families and groups and is right on the beach.
Couples should check out 1170 Getaway which is probably the most luxe accommodation in the area and is in a great location.
Nestled in the extreme southeast of Queensland, in the West Moreton Region, you’ll find the Scenic Rim. This area is nearly surrounded by UNESCO-listed national parks, Outback, and mountain ranges, with the Queensland capital of Brisbane to the north.
If you’re staying in Brisbane, it’s an excellent place for a weekend getaway; Scenic Rim is an easy hour’s drive from the city itself making a very popular weekend getaways Qld.
The main town of the region is Beaudesert. From here, you can jump off and explore the majestic scenery of this area. If you love natural beauty and food, there’s something for you here. It won’t take long for you to get into this place.
Foodies should make plans to stop off at places like Scenic Rim Brewery in Mount Alford, Witches Falls Winery at the top of Tamborine Mountain, and the Kooroomba Vineyard & Lavender Farm (a double whammy of bucolic beauty of good wine).
For those who like things more active, there are, of course, so many opportunities to explore further. Tamborine Mountain, for example, offers some captivating trails through eucalyptus forests that lead to waterfalls.
Those who love climbing should make a beeline to the dramatic and craggy Moogerah Peaks National Park, known for its non-bolted traditional climbing routes; Lake Moogerah, on the other hand, is a haven for kayaking surrounded by astounding nature.
Highlights of the Scenic Rim
- Getting to grips with the canopy along O’Reilly’s Tree Top Walk (free of charge!)
- Admiring the subterranean glow worms at Cedar Creek Estate in Tamborine Mountain
- Taking your pick of wineries and soaking up the dramatic scenery
- Stopping at any number of small towns, such as Boonah, for their arts and crafts
- Glamping at somewhere like Nightfall Camp in Lamington National Park
Where to stay in the Scenic Rim
There is a wide range of places to stay in the Scenic Rim ranging from all-inclusive luxury to cheap and cheerful cabins.
Spicers Peak Lodge is one of the most beautiful luxury lodges in Australia and offers all-inclusive suites in their magnificent mountain top lodge as well as luxury Glamping on their 8000 acre property.
Another highly sought after spot to stay is the award-winning Ketchup’s Bank Glamping. They offer luxury tents and private ensuites and is perfect for couples looking for relaxation, isolation and amazing views.