There are some 250 national parks in Queensland, covering over 8 million hectares. We look at some of the most beloved protected stretches in the Sunshine State.
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What are the best national parks in Queensland?
- Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
- Daintree Rainforest
- Carnarvon National Park
- Noosa National Park
- Whitsunday National Park
- Springbrook National Park
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is perhaps the most famous national park of its kind. The coral gardens that populate some 2300km of Queensland coastline, from Port Douglas to Bundaberg, make up the largest reef system in the world. The flora and fauna you’ll find here are so precious that the reef was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What can you do on the Great Barrier Reef?
As you’d expect, most of the attractions in this national park are in the water. Diving and snorkelling will bring you face to face with gentle sea turtles, graceful rays, little reef sharks, and a whole host of tropical fish and brightly coloured corals.
Above the water there are boat trips that will take you out to see the larger marine species that occupy the coast, such as humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins. Of course, the islands and coastline of the Great Barrier Reef also boast some of Australia’s most spectacular beaches if you want to spend a bit of time on terra firma.
Where should I stay to see the Great Barrier Reef?
Cairns is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the largest resort town you’ll find next to the reef. If you’re after a healthy range of hotels, good dining, and access to watersports, you should base yourself here.
Closest major city: Cairns
If the Great Barrier Reef is the most famous national park in Queensland, the Daintree Rainforest is likely the second most known. This ancient tract of bushland has been a part of the Australian landscape for 180 million years. Home to the Kuku Yalanji people, this rainforest is a significant cultural site as well as a natural one.
What can you do in the Daintree Rainforest?
Up at the Daintree Forest’s tip you’ll find Cape Tribulation where the rainforest quite literally meets the sea. Expect to see gnarled trees twisting from aquamarine waters in this otherworldly place.
Down south you’ll find Mossman Gorge, where the water runs crystal clear and cold through the age-old boughs of an emerald rainforest. You can camp, and hike through the Daintree Rainforest, for an Outback experience like no other.
Where should I stay to see the Daintree Rainforest
Cairns is the main entry point to seeing the Daintree Rainforest, and if you want to blend a hiking holiday in the Daintree with the marine treasures of the Great Barrier Reef, this is definitely the place to be.
Port Douglas lies north, and this smaller town offers better access to the most northerly point of the forest, and this delightful town is filled with excellent restaurants, bars, hotels and self catering options. Best of all, they buttress up against Four Mile Beach, a wide, gold sand beach that is an attraction in its own right.
Carnarvon National Park
Set in Queensland’s central highlands, across the Great Dividing Range, is Carnarvon. This park is known for its rising cliffs, coloured gorges, dense forest and Aboriginal rock art. This is an oasis of flora and fauna within the decidedly arid part of central Queensland, and one of the most beautiful national parks in the state.
What can you do in Carnavon National Park?
This is a real back-to-nature park, and so the main activity here is hiking. There are some fantastic treks in Carnavon, but probably the most famous is the Big Day Out, which takes you along the Main Gorge track to Big Bend. The whole thing is around 20km and takes 8 hours. But there are all sorts of ways to see this park: you can go on heli-tours, safari night tours, and dark sky tours.
Where should I stay to see Carnavon National Park?
Carnavon is one of those Queensland national parks that is ideal for camping. However, there are more luxurious options, such as glamping sites or staying in one of the few bush resorts here.
Closest towns: Emerald or Roma
Closest major city: Brisbane. You can fly from Brisbane to Emerald or Roma and then hire a car. If you choose to drive from Brisbane you’ll need to account for at least 5-6 days of driving.
Noosa National Park
When you think of Noosa you’re probably picturing the quaint beachside town that encapsulates everything we love about the Sunshine Coast, but it’s also home to the scenic swathes of Noosa National Park. This Queensland national park unfolds over the headlands of Noosa, incorporating rugged coastline, sheltered coves, expansive bays and heady lookouts.
What can you do in Noosa National Park?
You cannot mention Noosa National Park without also mentioning the Coastal Walk. At around 6km and 4 hours long this walk takes you alongside the ocean to rocky outcrop known as Boiling Point lookout where you can see the waves roil below.
Next up is Tea Tree Bay, where you’ll likely see dozing koalas in the eucalyptus trees, as you make your way to the park’s most picturesque beach. Stop by Dolphin Point to spy its namesake in the waters below, push through to Hells Gates for views of Alexandria Bay, and onto Sunshine Beach for a cooling swim.
Where should I stay to see Noosa National Park?
That’s easy, Noosa! Noosa has everything you need for a comfortable stay near the park. You’ll find budget hotels, but plenty of plush ones too if you need to unwind in a spa bath after a long day exploring the trails.
Of course there are other towns all along the Sunshine Coast, such as Caloundra and Coolum if you want to stay a bit further afield.
Closest town: Noosa
Closest city: Brisbane. You can find direct flights to Brisbane from every major city in Australia.
Whitsunday Islands National Park
The Whitsundays National Park is actually encompassed by the Great Barrier Reef’s marine park. This archipelago made up of 74 separate isles, and all of them decorated with white sand beaches and pristine forests.
What can you do in the Whitsunday Islands National Park?
If you love beaches, then there are plenty to choose from here, from the celebrated Whitehaven Beach to the gorgeously secluded Hydeaway Bay. You can go sailing, paddle boarding, diving, snorkelling, and set out on whale watching trips. On land you can go hiking, sunbathing, golfing or duck into the luxurious spas littered on the populated islands.
Where should you stay in the Whitsunday Islands National Park?
Hamilton Island has the most in the way of accommodation options in the Whitsundays, but you can also stay on the mainland in Airlie Beach. Both places have airports you can fly to from major cities like Brisbane and Sydney. You’ll also be able to find luxury and mid-range hotels, as well as family friendly self-catering options.
Closest town: Airlie Beach
Closest city: Cairns is the closest city, but there are direct flights operating from Brisbane. Sydney and Melbourne to Hamilton Island Airport and the Whitsunday Coast Airport.
Springbrook National Park
Only an hour and half drive from Brisbane, straddling two states, is the Springbrook National Park. This park holds within its arms part of the ancient Gondwana Rainforest, a World Heritage area. There are trees here whose roots can be dated back some 100 million years! This rainforest is so huge it is made up of four national parks, which are Springbrook, Lamington, Mount Barney and Main Range.
What can I do in Springbrook National Park?
The best thing to do in Springbrook National Park is to hike it. There are numerous trails made for day trips, most of which lead you to some of the park’s most beautiful waterfalls. Particular favourites are the Twin Falls Circuit, the Natural Bridge Trail and the trek to Purling Brook Falls. If you’re after real adventure though, there is the Gold Coast Great Walk which is about 54km and takes around 3 days to complete.
Where to stay to see Springbrook National Park?
The townships along the Gold Coast are perfect for day trippers. Coolangatta and Burleigh Heads boast beautiful beaches, cafes, restaurants and bars, as well as numerous hotels to choose from. They are also both less than an hour to Springbrook. If you want to be closer to the park though, there are lots of campsites, and lodges, cottages and luxury sanctuaries in and around the park too.
Closest town: Coolangatta
Closest cities: Coolangatta is part of the Gold Coast. You’ll find that the Gold Coast Airport operates direct flights from all major cities in Australia. Brisbane is also nearby, and offers even more domestic flights.
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