No travel guide to Queensland, Australia would be complete without cultural tips for navigating the Australian sense of humor. True story: I had several Australian friends when I lived in Taiwan and I spent most of our friendship wondering if they even liked me!
Read on for Sandra’s advice on eating ‘bush tucker,’ getting free rental cars (I’ve done this! It’s great!), and how to travel through Aboriginal Australia respectfully.
G’Day, My name is Sandra. I have been living and working on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland my entire life and I love my state. It has been a pleasure putting together this guide of some of the things I love most about my home state.
Must Go in Queensland
Modern day dinosaurs and a big part of the tourist industry in Northern Queensland. There is a of course the famous Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast, established by the late Steve Irwin, which is a great experience, especially for families, but can run up a bit of a bill.
See The Great Barrier Reef
It almost goes without saying but it would be a crime not to mention it at all.
You can choose to snorkel, which is the best option for casual swimmers, or you can choose to do the full dive option. I’m not an expert diver but have been on some fantastic trips to Ribbon Reefs, Cod Hole and Osprey Reef. These can be reached with diving company Mike Ball or for a cheaper option Taka Dive Adventures.
For an inexpensive option, Great Adventures run a relatively inexpensive ferry for day trips, however the main drawback to easy access locations like this is the level of reef bleaching is already pretty drastic.
Experience the Indigenous Culture
In far Northern Queensland you will find some of the richer native Australian heritage sites. There is plenty of official tours such as the Rainbow Serpent Rock Art Tour and an incredible 2 day tour through the Daintree rainforest and Cape Tribulation. There is also a few ‘bush-tucker’ experiences (expanded on below)
Must Do in Queensland
Queensland is a big place. To be precise it is nearly five times the size of Japan, seven times the size of Great Britain, and two and a half times the size of Texas. However in all that space lives roughly only the population of Kentucky.
One thing to keep in mind above all else, is the distances between places. Many people get caught out by this and it is not unusual for people to run out of petrol in the middle of nowhere.
Gold Coast, Brisbane & the Sunshine Coast
In recent years the most southern areas of Queensland have become host to a booming food and cultural scene. They have all the benefits and comforts of a metropolis while maintaining the laid-back feel of beach towns, If you are an urban type you could spend a whole holiday exploring hipster cafes in the morning, lounging on the beach all day and then hitting a hot new nightspot when the sun goes down.
The Whitsunday Islands
If you’re after picturesque the the Whitsunday Islands have you covered.
The 74 island chain is located right in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef and dotted with luxury resorts. However, experiencing the islands isn’t particularly cheap. Other than a day trip, your best option is hiring your own yacht. You will find most charter companies don’t require you to have a license to skipper one of their rentals, and will offer reduced prices in the low seasons.
If you’re looking for the classic Australian beach paradise setting in Queensland most guides will send you to Airlie Beach. As beautiful a beach as Airlie is, the problem with it every other tourist knows about it too.
Dingo Beach is the local’s alternative and just a 50 minutes drive from Airlie. It’s also the perfect place to stop for lunch if you’re driving from Rockhampton to Cairns. Get a feed and cold drink at the Dingo Beach Hotel, the quintessential example of a quaint Australian local, right on the Beach front
This small town is a great off-the-beaten track option for those that want to experience a true outback town. Situated away from the eastern coast at the base of giant tip of the state, Normanton is host to many Australian heritage sites and the famous Purple Pub.
Head north to neighboring town Karumba and enjoy one of the best sunsets in Australia and enjoy some incredible prawns and fish.
Must Eat in Queensland
One of Queensland’s biggest exports is beef and the quality of the meat is among the best in the world.
The Black Angus Bar and Grill is my recommendation for an unbeatable cut. You will be paying upwards of $40 for the even the cheapest steak on the menu but that is not uncommon for quality steak restaurants in Queensland. Another good option is the Norman Hotel self proclaimed “Brisbane’s Worst Vegetarian Restaurant”
Another huge attraction of eating in Queensland is the seafood. Specifically Queensland is known as a world quality exporter of prawns and Morton Bay bugs.
Instead of visiting specific restaurants, the best way to experience the freshest seafood on offer is to visit fish markets like The Fish Factory or Morgan’s Seafood Market in Brisbane or the Rosslyn Bay Fish Market further north.
Unless we’re talking about sausage rolls or Vegemite, there isn’t all that many uniquely Australian food experiences.
Bush Tucker Tourism is an exception to this. The tours are a fascinating mix of food and cultural. You will be shown the food preparation techniques of Australia’s first people, all of which were passed down from generation to generation over thousands of years. Highly recommended for those that want to see a snapshot of Australia that is hidden from most.
Cultural Tips for Queensland
The Sunshine State
Queensland is an outdoor state. Even in the heart of winter Brisbane sees average highs of 21 degrees c (70 in fahrenheit). The resulting attitude is a very laid back one with people spending a lot of time at the beach, in parks and drinking outdoors at bars.
This can really be a fantastic way to experience the spirit of the state, however be aware Australia has some of the worst UV levels in the world and although you may see plenty of locals with bronzed bare chests and in bikinis, also know that 2 in every 3 Australians will get some form of skin cancer at some time in their lives. Even if you are from a warm climate, make sure you cover up and go for the SPF 50+ sunscreen.
I have heard people from out of Queensland say that the further North in Australia you go the more ‘Australian’ the people get.
That may sound a little confusing to a foreigner, but I will try and unpack it.
People from Queensland can be very blunt by nature. Mining and farming a major industries in Queensland, so there is strong working class base to the population. There is a strong tradition of giving people a hard time or ‘taking the piss’ being seen as a form of affection. If you don’t take yourself too seriously you won’t have a problem, but it is worth noting as people from many cultures can often find the approach a bit confronting.
The Indigenous People
The further north you plan to go the more you will have to be familiar with the culture of Australia’s first people.
Many of the cultural considerations to take are a bit too subtle and complex to flesh out here but it would be highly recommended to do some extensive research if you are planning a trip through Aboriginal Australia. Here is a good place to start.
Cheap travel tips for Queensland
Travel and accommodation
In a state so big, getting around can be one of the biggest challenges.
If you’re planning to be in the state for a short holiday (around 1 to 3 weeks) the best tip is to hire a campervan. It will cost you between $50 to $80 a day for a two person camper (depending on your desired level of comfort). However the massive benefit is the amount you will save on accommodation. Campervan sites will cost you $20 a night (or $40 for a powered site) as well as a bunch of official free sites, truck stops and designated rest areas.
The real tip though is that there is really no reason to ever pay for accommodation in a campervan. It is illegal to sleep in a non designated area, but you would be extremely unlucky to actually be caught as long as you applied some common sense when you chose your spot.
Another options for those with a flexible itinerary is Transfer Cars a company that sources rental car companies that need cars moved between locations. You can rent a car for nothing or next to nothing as long as you get it to a specified destination by a specified date. In some cases even fuel is provided
Registering with Australian House Sitters or one of the other similar options is great for those looking to stay in an area for longer periods of time and with flexible itineraries.
Shop at markets
With so many great fresh produce and seafood markets up and down the coast you can eat great local produce every night for a fraction of restaurant prices. This is another great reason to rent a decent campervan, as the better quality ones will give you your own diner on wheels.
Working for board/working holiday
There is a broad range of nationalities that can apply for a working holiday visa in Australia, which can be useful for budget travel even if you aren’t planning to work that much.
This is because there is a clause in the working holiday visa that lets travellers extend their visa by a year when they undertake 3 months of rural work in specified industries. This usually takes the form of farmwork or fruit picking and has led to a culture of what is known as WWOOFing (Willing Workers on Organic Farms). This is essentially the practice of working for free room and board.
Apart from Brisbane, the entire state of Queensland is classified as ‘rural’ for visa purposes, so you will find these arrangements pretty much anywhere you want to go. It is a great way to meet like-minded people for long term travellers.