Cruise passengers are a discerning lot – and they have their sights set on the Sunshine State’s stunning, 6,973-kilometre coastline. Several cruise lines ply these waters, including P&O, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Carnival and Silversea, bringing passengers to our cosmopolitan cities, unrivalled reefs, awe-inspiring rainforests and adventurous activities.
And new attractions are being added to itineraries. P&O this month began visiting Gladstone, while Townsville is a new addition for Silversea this year. Here’s a closer look at the Queensland ports of call attracting the eye of the cruise crowd.
The Queensland capital is gaining attention for its sandstone buildings and character Queenslander houses dotted along the winding Brisbane River. The Gallery of Modern Art, fashion boutiques, restaurants, bars and superb parks are also on the list of drawcards.
Brisbane is also a great jumping-off point for shore tours to the Gold Coast hinterland, beaches and theme parks. But one shore tour on nearly all itineraries is Lone Pine Sanctuary, where you can cuddle a koala or hand-feed a kangaroo.
Another newish addition to itineraries, Moreton Island is the third-largest sand island in the world. Visitors can take a scenic helicopter flight over it, toboggan down it, or snorkel the wrecks around it.
Moreton is adventure central, with quad-biking, parasailing, four-wheel-driving, paddle-boarding and hiking to be had. Another key attraction are the wild dolphins, which can be hand-fed at Tangalooma Island Resort.
With its glorious beach and boutiques, Mooloolaba is the spot for sun, sand, shopping and seafood, not to mention swimming, snorkelling and diving. Get up close and personal with sea creatures and still stay dry at Underwater World Sea Life, or take a trip to Australia Zoo for some crocodile action. The beautiful Sunshine Coast Hinterland is also easily accessible, with its jade green forests, quaint mountain villages and eclectic art galleries.
Gladstone sits in the middle of the Southern Great Barrier Reef, and boasts secluded beaches and national parks. A new addition to its itineraries, P&O is offering four-wheel-drive tours of Kroombit Tops National Park; scenic flights over the beachside village of 1770; and trips to the historical inland town of Calliope. Visitors to Gladstone can explore the reef with a short hop to Heron, Lady Musgrave and Fitzroy islands.
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The Whitsunday Islands – all 74 of them – are a place apart. The silica sands and aquamarine waves of this part of the world are the stuff dreams are made of.
Cruise ships tend to make stops at Airlie Beach on the mainland, as well as Hamilton Island, and use them as a starting point for reef adventures, including visits to the world-famous Whitehaven Beach. Visitors can also go sea kayaking, take a glass-bottom boat tour, sailing, snorkelling and diving. There are nature walks on tropical islands, as well as quad-biking and horse-riding to try; and markets and high teas for the more sedate traveller.
Luxury line Silversea added Townsville as a stop on its world cruise for the first time this year, offering a city tour that takes in the Strand beachfront promenade, the museum, casino, aquarium and historic Flinders Street, as well as a day trip to the Billabong Sanctuary, where you can hold a koala, see kangaroos and even feed a crocodile. Snorkel along the reef or dive the SS Yongala wreck; take a trip across to laidback Magnetic Island or witness the wild beauty of Hinchinbrook Island.
Cairns is the hub of Tropical North Queensland, with reef, sun and wildlife experiences galore, not to mention city highlights from bars and restaurants to shopping and markets. Begin your reef adventure from Cairns marina, with scuba diving, snorkelling, boating, island day trips, jet-boat rides, overnight cruises and game fishing on offer. Or why not take a scenic flight over the Great Barrier Reef? If you turn your attention inland, you can take the Skyrail over the rainforest canopy to the village of Kuranda on the Atherton Tableland, returning by scenic railway.
A little further north from Cairns is Port Douglas, with top eateries, Sunday markets, and classy golf courses. Sail away to the captivating coral lagoon of the Low Isles, where you can snorkel with colourful tropical fish and turtles.
For a freshwater alternative, head inland for drift snorkelling in the crystal-clear Mossman River or take a dreamtime walk in Mossman Gorge. Go ziplining in the World Heritage-listed Daintree National Park, or horseback riding on a secluded beach.
Heading further up Cape York, you come to the quaint historic township of Cooktown. It is the site where Captain James Cook beached the Endeavour for repairs in 1770.
You can visit the eerie Black Mountain, which rises above bright green eucalypts. Or take a walk with Aboriginal elder Willie Gordon to see his ancestral rock art sites and the Emu Cave. A cruise along the Endeavour River, amid mangroves and rainforest, will present you with views of saltwater crocodiles and myriad native birds.