Like much of Australia, Queensland is a place that embraces both the glorious (if sometimes crowded) coastline and the emptiness of the Outback. Queensland is a sprawling state of incredible, varied scenery, peopled with eccentrics and wrapped in tall tales. Its most celebrated attraction is the underwater glories of the Great Barrier Reef—but there is much else to be seen and marvelled at.
Glittering sandy beaches fringe most of the coastline, and a string of islands and coral reefs lies offshore. In the far north, from Townsville to Cape York, you can wander in rainforest and experience the wide open spaces of the Outback; in the south of the state, the beaches and theme parks of the Gold Coast provide contrasting lures for visitors and locals alike.
Please see Where to Go for links to destinations we are building out and ones in the pipeline.
Winter (June, July and August) is high season in Queensland. The ocean can be chilly—at least to Australians—but its temperature rarely drops below 22 degrees Celsius. April to October is peak visibility time for divers on the Great Barrier Reef. Summer is hot and sticky across the state.
The monsoonal Wet season is from November or December through March or April, bringing heavy rains, high temperatures, extreme humidity, and sometimes cyclones to coastal North Queensland, from Townsville north. But “the Wet” gives an incredible chance to see this region during a time when it deserves its alternative name: the “Green” season.
April to November is the best time to visit the Great Barrier Reef, although southeast trade winds can sometimes make the seas choppy. December to March can be very hot and humid, particularly in areas such as the Whitsundays, Cairns, and Port Douglas.
Queensland is a vast state – around two and a half times the size of Texas – so the time you take to discover all it has to offer could be long. Most travellers will only visit a portion of it, but at a minimum, I’d suggest taking a couple of weeks to do the highlights, if you have the time.
Realistically, the time factor will limit most visitors to seeing their personal highlights – and for most people that will include the Great Barrier Reef. Allow at least a week, no matter which “gateway” to the reef you choose. International visitors are likely to enter Queensland through the capital, Brisbane, or the northern gateway city of Cairns. Each of these cities deserves a few days of your time, as both have much to offer.
If your travel plans include a taste of the Outback, add another week to even scratch the surface.
Winter (June, July and August) is high season in Queensland because the temperatures are pleasant and mild. Summer is hot and sticky across the state, which keeps many visitors away. But most accommodation is air-conditioned (although it always pays to check), so it’s usually not to hard to keep cool.
April to October is peak visibility time for divers on the Great Barrier Reef, and the ocean temperatures rarely drop below 22 degrees Celsius, even in winter.
For my money, the loveliest time of year to visit is September/October.
Local Events & Holidays include:
Royal National Show Day (third Wed in August), Brisbane only
Labour Day, first Monday in October
National Holidays include:
January 1: New Year’s Day
January 26: Australia Day
March/April: Good Friday and Easter Monday
April 25: Anzac Day
December 25: Christmas Day
December 26: Boxing Day
On national public holidays, banks, post offices and liquor outlets may be closed or open for limited hours. There are also additional holidays in other states and territories.
To check the local time in Queensland, click here.
Australia has several time zones, and some states observe Daylight Saving during summer months. Queensland is not one of them!
Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST) covers Queensland, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, and Tasmania. Central Standard Time (CST) is used in the Northern Territory and South Australia, and Western Standard Time (WST) is the standard in Western Australia. When it’s noon in Queensland, New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria and Tasmania, it’s 11:30am in South Australia and the Northern Territory, and 10am in Western Australia.
All states except Queensland, the Northern Territory, and Western Australia observe Daylight Saving Time (DST) during spring and summer. At 2AM on the first Sunday in October clocks are advanced one hour. On the first Sunday in April at 2AM, clocks shift back one hour to standard time. However, not all states switch over to daylight saving on the same day or in the same week, so it pays to check if you are travelling at these times.
Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in $AU.
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $20 per person
$$ => Tickets $21-70 per person
$$$ => Tickets $71 per person
$ => Rooms less than $200 for a double
$$ => Rooms $201-300 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $301 for a double
$ => $1-$35 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$ => $36-$80 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $81 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $20 per person
$$ => Tickets $21-$50 per person
$$$ => Tickets $51 per person
Fly the Friendly Skies
Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.
But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.
Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.
That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their “friend” or subscribe to their e-mailings.
Have Car, Will Travel
Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping, and the major companies like Hertz, Budget, Avis and Europcar all operate around Australia, alongside smaller local companies that are worth investigating.
There are also name-your-own-price sites, like Priceline, where you tell ’em what you want to pay and they hook you up with a car rental company who can fit the bill. There are some great deals here, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental.
Ride-sharing company Uber is relatively new to Australia and is currently under scrutiny by state governments where it operates. In Queensland, it operates in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast (with Cairns preparing to follow). It also currently operates in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula and Geelong in Victoria, Adelaide, and Perth.
Rides are ordered through a smart phone app, it’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.
Hopefully, your trip to Australia goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?
Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.
Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:
Trip Cancellation – About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.
Medical – Whether you break a leg or need a blood transfusion, you will likely incur costs far higher than you might pay in other nations. And what if you have an accident that requires transport to a major medical center? Air ambulances alone could set you back $15,000 to $30,000.
Trip Interruption – For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.
Travel Delay – Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.
Baggage – Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.
Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travelers.
Do I need travel insurance?
If your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), it’s probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. Standard medical and travel insurance is advisable for travel to Australia. Divers including the Great Barrier Reef or other Australian diving destinations should also ensure they have the appropriate insurance.
How do I choose an insurance provider?
Do your homework – check around.
The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregates like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.
Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).
If you have pre-existing health conditions – Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.
Credit card insurance – If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.
The travel insurance business is expanding and evolving rapidly. As “shared space” lodging options like VRBO, Airbnb and Homeaway become more popular in the travel and leisure market, so does the need for insurance for both property owners and travelers.
For more information, visit the US Travel Insurance Association.
Australian dollars come in $1 and $ coins, and $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 notes. Each is a different colour, so they are easy to tell apart. Other coins are 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents and 50 cents. The $1 and $2 coins are gold, all the others are silver.
Prices sometimes end in a variant of 1 or 2 cents (for example, 52 cents or $1.78), a relic from the days before 1-cent and 2-cent pieces were phased out. In these cases, prices are rounded to the nearest 5 cents, so 52 cents rounds down to 50 cents, and 78 cents rounds up to 80 cents.
If you get money from an ATM, you may incur charges (often $2 or $3 per transaction). Check with your bank before you leave home to find out which, if any, Australian banks will allow you to get cash without an extra charge. Many grocery stores, gas stations and major retail outlets let you get a limited amount of “cash out” when paying for your goods – this is an easy way to get cash while on the go.
Credit and debit cards are accepted widely throughout Australia. Visa and MasterCard are universally accepted in Australia; American Express and Diners Club are less commonly accepted, so it pays to check first. Always carry some cash, because some traders won’t take cards for purchases under $10 or $15.
Don’t forget to call your debit and/or credit card company before you travel to inform them of your planned itinerary. If you don’t do this in advance, you risk having your card denied/declined when you try to use it in a destination far from home. You should also call your company immediately to report loss or theft. The numbers to call are usually on the back of the card – which doesn’t make sense if they are lost or stolen. So make a note of them and store them where you’ll have easy access.
Recently, companies have been issuing cards with embedded chips that prevent counterfeit fraud. Banks and merchants that don’t offer the chip-and-PIN technology are beginning to be held liable for fraud. Check with your bank and credit card company for details on your specific cards.
Tipping is always appreciated, but is not widely practiced or expected in Australia. It is usual to tip around 10% to 15% or round up to the nearest A$10 for a substantial meal in a restaurant, but certainly not mandatory. Some taxi passengers round up to the nearest round figure in a cab, but it’s okay to insist on every bit of change back. Tipping hotel porters and housemaids is sometimes done, but no one tips bar staff, barbers, massage therapists and spa employees or hairdressers.
Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between $10 and $40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, bug repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery and chemist shops (pharmacies/drugstores) will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.
The main road between Brisbane and Cairns is the Bruce Highway, a mostly two-lane highway which follows the coastline. Smaller roads will take you to other towns, and most are sealed roads. If you plan Outback travel, make sure you check that your rental car is allowed on unsealed road (most are not).
For recorded road condition reports, call 1300 130 595.
Queensland Rail operates two long-distance trains along the Brisbane-Cairns route, a 32-hour trip aboard the Sunlander or about 8 hours less on the high-speed Tilt Train.
Queensland has long known the benefits of covering vast distances by train, and its iconic Outback trains are a fantastic way of seeing the countryside as you travel through it—in comfort. The most luxurious is Spirit of the Outback, which runs the 1300km from Brisbane to Longreach via Rockhampton (where you can also join it if you’re travelling in Central Queensland). The trip takes about 25 hours from Brisbane, or 14 hours from Rockhampton.
The Inlander runs from Townsville to Mount Isa, taking 22 hours to cover the 977km journey. The Westlander takes you from Brisbane across the Great Dividing Range through the lush green of the Darling Downs, and on to the Outback town of Charleville. The 777km trip takes about 17 hours. The Savannahlander is a classic 1960s rail motor that takes four days to travel through the heart of Queensland’s far northern Gulf country between Cairns and Forsayth.
This is the fastest way to get around, bearing in mind that the distances in Queensland are great. Qantas, Virgin Australiaand the budget carrier Jetstar serve most coastal towns from Brisbane and Cairns.