Queensland is one of Australia's 8 provinces and is the one closest to the U.S. at the northeastern section of Australia. It has 666.880 square miles, which is 11% more than the huge state of Alaska. all of Australia has some anomalies in where their major cities are located and Queensland is no exception. Its capital Brisbane is at the far southeast corner of the province and 875 miles from the next major city to the north, Townsville. Townsville is the self-proclaimed capital of North Queensland but rapidly losing that status as a result of the government's decision 15 years ago to site the international airport I flew in and out of in Cairns, not Townsville. Townsville is a 160,000 population city that has major military installations, some agriculture and port activities, and a commercial center. By contrast, Cairns 200 miles north with a population of 100,000 is a tourist mecca and Port Douglas a further 40 miles north has only 6,000 population. The main reason for tourist interest in the entire area is the Great Barrier Reef, which runs for 1200 miles from above the northern tip of Queensland to approximately the Tropic of Capricorn in the Gladstone area. There are 3 basic types of structures considered part of the reef: cays and islands which are somewhat inshore, major reefs, and outer ribbon reefs. Millions of tourists visit Queensland to see the Great Barrier Reef annually, including many young backpackers on a low budget.
I took a bus Cairns to Townsville and was lucky to have my son-in-law-to-be as tour guide. He took me to see the Strand(the beach) and Castle Hill (this huge monolith in the center of Townsville). The next morning we went to the Billabong Sanctuary to see all types of Australian animals. I am waiting for my sister to send out the photo of me holding the baby crocodile. We also saw koala, cassowarys, many different types of birds, snakes, an incredible number of upside-down bats, and an extended big croc show. Then I was on my own and I elected to take the ferry across 8km to Magnetic Island. The public bus took me another 8km to the far side of the island to Horseshoe Bay and then back. It is rugged, with hiking trails all over the island and many water activities. That evening I got to see the Aquarium Reef HQ at a Private Party hosted by the groom's parents. The next day was my daughter's wedding and I went to the Omnimax film Deep Seas at the Aquarium. Next door is the Museum of Tropical Queensland where they showed the tale of the Endeavor, which foundered on the Great Barrier Reef in 1791 above Cooktown. The restoration activities associated with that ship is 80% of the museum and it's fascinating.
The day after the wedding I went by bus to Cairns and then on to Port Douglas. I went to Cape Tribulation/Daintree Rain Forest, a World Heritage area. We started with a cable ferry to cross the Daintree River. The single most memorable event of my entire Australian vacation was eating mango ice cream at a snack bar in Cow Bay (home of the "Cow Bay International Airport", a short grass strip for small planes). The flavor was intense and the best ice cream I've ever had. At Cooper Creek we got a one hour boat trip to see crocodiles (there were 3 females sunning themselves along the route). Then we went to a private picnic(owned by the tour company) area set up to serve our group lunch and allow us to swim and canoe. It was a lagoon and lot's of fun to do both. We then reached Cape Tribulation, which is no big deal. Shortly thereafter on the way back we stopped at the Cape Alexandra Lookout, which is a big deal. It was a perfect day(all of the days except my first 2 were) and we could see 100 miles down the coast. On the road again when we neared the end of the "Cassowary Crossing Zone"(I kid you not), a large cassowary popped out to cross the road directly in front of the bus. The driver was quick to brake and avoid hitting it, since such accidents usually total the vehicle and the cassowary walks away. In Mossman we stopped at a tropical fruit stand and I bought custard apples (yum), oranges (no improvement over what we get in New Jersey) and ripe mangoes (unbelieveably tasty). Supermarket prices were about double what we paid at that stand, as Australia has a drought and farmers are hard hit.
My next day was a trip to Mossman Gorge National Park, 8 miles away but hard to get to unless you have special transportation. They have a 3 km walking circuit around the gorge with come interpretative signs. The following day I did Barron River White Water Rafting. This was a lot of fun but expensive. The guide for my group was the least experienced and she was frequently getting us in trouble. The next day I returned to Cairns for my last 3 days and then took advantage of the best travel bargain in all of Australia. There is a price war between competing bus companies from Cairns to Kuranda 16 miles away and the current rate is $2 each way. Kuranda is a World Heritage site and has a 3km walk around the village that is worthwhile. It parallels the Skyway and the currently not operative train route for the last 0.5 km. I saw the Butterfly Sanctuary with an excellent half hour guided tour. I went to the Koala Gardens, essentially a mini-zoo. My favorite was BirdWorld where they have 100 Australian and exotic species in an aviary and you can identify them as you move through.
No trip to this area would be complete with a Great Barrier Reef diving or snorkeling adventure. Since I don't dive and did not want to learn, I signed up with Reef Quest, which turned out to be $110 for 9am to 430pm 2 snorkeling runs on Norman Reef 60 km out by fast catamaran. I was worried that with dramatically different eye prescriptions my rented from them prescription mask would not work, but it did work extremely well. The first run I had some problems, but the second run was in a more colorful part of the reef and I stayed out a long time. There are literally thousands of different corals out there and hundreds of different fish. Literature on Reef Quest indicated that there was a lecture that evening on the Reef Coral and Fishes by a marine biologist. I went and got 2 hours of new information (better before my snorkeling but you can't have everything).
My final day was visiting the aboriginal village of Tjukapai. I went to see their shows on History, Concept of Dreamtime, dance performance, demonstration of seeds/plants, playing the didgeridoo instrument, tossing the spear and tossing the boomerang. My final act before going to the airport was to eat a delicious buffet lunch including Australian lamb and striped bass.
It was a great trip. I would go back right away to another part of Australia, but I think northern Queensland is the perfect place for the first-time visitor to Australia.