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Trip Report 3 Weeks in Queensland – Port Douglas to Noosa Heads Trip Report

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In December 2010 I posted a draft itinerary for a three week trip to Queensland and sought comments from Fodors’ readers, making a number of changes to our plans as a direct result of the various responses received.

We are now back after a very enjoyable trip and here is my trip report to let you all know how we got on and maybe to help others who may be planning a similar visit. I’ll be happy to respond to any comments and to answer any questions to the best of my ability.

I have also posted some photos from trip here:
https://picasaweb.google.com/GregYeaman/ (Queensland 2011)

We flew Jetstar from Melbourne to Cairns and later from Maroochydore to Melbourne and were happy enough with the service provided given that they are a discount carrier. The flight times for the return journey were changed several times in the lead up to our departure but without significant effect for us and both flights arrived on time.

We picked up our rental car at from Thrifty at Cairns airport and drove to Port Douglas to check in to the Mantra Heritage for our first week. Our plan was to spend a week relaxing in Port Douglas, and then to spend 2 weeks driving, firstly to the Atherton Tablelands and the Undara lava tubes, and then down the coast from Mission Beach to Noosa. I had not previously travelled north of Noosa and wanted to see some of the coastal strip and also to decide which areas we would like to return to.

We chose the Mantra Heritage at Port Douglas after much deliberation and were quite happy with it, although if I was to return I would ask for a different room. Our particular room only had windows on one side and was stuffy & quite dark; the one bedroom units at the other end of the building which would have been much lighter & airy. The Heritage is in an excellent location with direct access to Macrossan Street and the pools and surrounds were very good.
http://www.mantraheritage.com.au/

We loved Port Douglas. The town is big enough to offer a range of services, cafés, restaurants etc. but retained a relaxed small town feel. There is no through traffic as the town is located on a headland so the wide & leafy streets did not have much traffic. Café Origin made great coffee and offered free Wi-Fi to customers.

I should say that throughout this trip we felt that tourist numbers were well down – due largely I think to a (false) perception that floods and cyclones had wrecked everything, but the strength of the A$ could also be a factor – so our views on how busy places were may not reflect the typical situation.

While at Port Douglas we took an all day excursion with Quicksilver to the outer reef and we really enjoyed that. This was quite expensive – although reduced by 20% to A$169 each – but we were happy to pay for a unique experience. The highlight for us was the snorkelling with countless fish swimming around us, often just inches from our masks, and the coral was lovely. They have an underwater viewing area which was better than I had expected, and we took a ride in the semi-submersible which gave similar views a bit further away from the pontoon. We saw two turtles during that ride and that was a real highlight.

Our second excursion while at Port Douglas was to Kuranda via the Skyrail gondola. We had thought initially that we would take the train up from Cairns and the Skyrail back but decided to take the gondola both ways. We enjoyed this trip, with great treetop views of the forest and brief stops at Red Peak and Barron Falls stations for pleasant forest walks and views of Barron Falls. We also enjoyed a stroll around Kuranda and followed with the 3km rainforest walk which brought us back to the town along the river to the railway station. The return Skyrail journey offered great views of Cairns and the coast. We made a quick visit to Cairns before heading back to Port Douglas, taking a quick look at Palm Cove & Trinity Beach on the way. Cairns didn’t seem to us to be anything special but the area around the swimming lagoon was very nice.

We also took a day trip from Port Douglas to the Daintree National Park. After taking the ferry we headed directly to Cape Tribulation and then worked our way south, doing short walks along the way – at Cape Tribulation, the Dubiji boardwalk, Thornton Beach and Jindalba. On our way back from Cow Bay we were delighted to have a Cassowary cross the road just ahead of us – much bigger than I expected.

In Port Douglas we enjoyed meals at Bel Cibo, and especially Bistro 3.

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    In planning this trip I had particularly wanted to see the lava tubes at Undara and, taking advantage of advice offered on this forum, we scheduled an overnight stay at Yungaburra on the Atherton Tablelands to break the journey.

    We really enjoyed our stop over at Yungaburra and clearly the Atherton Tablelands warrant a much longer visit – hopefully we’ll get a chance to return and explore more widely.

    On the drive down from Port Douglas we called at the Mareeba Wetlands which was impressive even if there were not a lot of birds there in this season. We did see some Gouldian Finches there, in an enclosure as part of a conservation program – gorgeous birds.

    The Kookaburra Lodge motel at Yungaburra was a bargain. This was an older style motel but very clean and well maintained and in a lovely garden setting. Business was obviously slow and I didn’t have the heart to ask for the advertised senior’s discount that would have brought the daily rate to A$80.
    http://www.kookaburra-lodge.com/

    We took a stroll along Peterson’s Creek without seeing a Platypus, then drove out to the very impressive Curtain Fig tree just out of town. We called at Lake Eacham, one of the nearby crater lakes in an idyllic setting, where we watched turtles for a while from the boardwalk and then took a short lakeside stroll. From Lake Eacham we set out to see the Mobo Creek crater but found that the access track was closed as a result of damage from cyclone Yasi so we continued down a very potholed track for what seemed like a long time and ended up completing a circuit of Lake Tinaroo.

    We tried again around sunset to spot a Platypus back at Yungaburra but no luck.

    The next day we headed off to Undara with a brief stop in Ravenshoe, where Heather had done volunteering work at St Barnabas Mission many years ago. The Mission land & buildings are now part of the local state high school.

    We really enjoyed our visit to Undara. We had booked the Undara Experience which gave us lunch on arrival, a sunset tour with great views, dinner that night, en suite accommodation in a converted railway carriage, a bush breakfast the next morning and a tour of several lava tubes, followed by lunch.

    All of these were well done – although our bed wasn’t the most comfortable in the world – and the tubes were well worth seeing. This was quite a deviation from our drive down the coast but well worth it and highly recommended
    http://undara.com.au/

    Leaving Undara we returned to Ravenshoe – seeing a dingo on the way – and took the tourist road to Milla Milla through very attractive countryside. After a coffee break we took a look at the waterfall then continued on our way to Mission Beach. Our accommodation was actually at Wongaling Beach and was very comfortable although I suspect that we may have been the only tourists there in a very substantial complex.
    http://www.missionbeachresort.com.au/

    Cyclone damage was very evident all around this area but most places were open. We were a bit surprised by Mission Beach as it was much smaller than I had expected but we enjoyed our two nights here as a change from the driving of the previous days.

    The next day we had an easy 3 hour drive to Townsville. We stayed at the Robert Towns Motel, another older style motel located just out of the town centre; quite comfortable and very good value at A$110 including breakfast.
    http://www.roberttowns.com.au/

    Somehow Townsville did not live up to my expectations, which were maybe too high, based on what I had read about the Strand, the Reef aquarium, the Museum of Tropical Queensland, the Maritime Museum, and a bustling town centre. The most noticeable thing was that the main street and several cross streets were closed for road works and obviously had been for some time giving the town centre a rather desolate air. We enjoyed a stroll along the Strand and a visit to the aquarium but elected to spend our full day on Magnetic Island rather than visit the museums.

    Magnetic Island was worth seeing, if expensive to get to, and we started with the Forts walk, and then called at Horseshoe Bay which was a lovely spot (with great gelati at caffe dell’Isola). We then visited Picnic Bay for a pleasant walk along the boardwalk but the small township itself had a very desolate air – it had grown around the ferry terminal which has now moved to Nellie Bay and the town is clearly in decline. After another walk down to Arthur’s Bay we returned to Nellie Bay to catch the return ferry.

    In the late afternoon we drove up Castle Hill for lovely views of Townsville and Magnetic Island and were surprised by the numbers of people walking and running up the steep 2.3km road. Initially I thought it must be a fun run or similar event but was told it was just the normal daily traffic – Townsville people must be very fit.

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    Our next stop was Airlie Beach, which was the first town on our trip to have a busy feel, maybe explained by a focus on backpacker accommodation & activities. We stayed at the Colonial Palms motel, a little out of the town centre but very comfortable and in a very nice setting.
    http://colonialpalms.bestwestern.com.au/

    After a stroll around town we took a drive to Shute Harbour and then return to the motel for some down time – unfortunately the beautifully landscaped pool at our motel was not heated and it was very cold so no swimming. Later that day we spent some time at a tour office deliberating on whether to do a Whitsundays tour before deciding against it in view of the time spent in transit and a forecast for windy conditions. The next day was a rest day and we spent some time in town swimming in the beachside lagoon which is a great facility.

    The next two days were basically driving days; firstly just over five hours to Rockhampton, then almost as long through to Hervey Bay the next day. The drive to Rockhampton was uneventful, with a coffee stop at Mackay but not much else. We stayed at the Comfort Inn in Rockhampton – another basic motel but clean and comfortable.
    http://www.comfortinnrockhampton.com.au/

    We had a look around Rockhampton but there wasn’t much happening on a Sunday afternoon. We did take a walk in the Kershaw Gardens, which were quite extensive and nicely done, but Rockhampton didn’t seem too exciting to us.

    The next day was another big driving day; not as far but a more demanding drive and a lot of road works, probably due to the recent floods. The Queensland Police even thought to give me something for my birthday – a speeding fine!

    We had booked one night in Hervey Bay and once again we were happy with our accommodation which was clean, comfortable and good value, but I have never seen so many signed instructions – don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t park here, penalty applies, . . . I thought it might make a good board game; “you have entered the motel with wet feet, go back three spaces”, “you have had a guest after 9:00 pm pay $60”, etc.
    http://www.shellybayresort.com.au/

    Hervey Bay was quite a large town with all services but didn’t strike me as a destination in its own right. We stopped here as a prelude to a visit to Fraser island and the next day we drove to River Head to catch the ferry for the Kingfisher Bay Resort.

    We left the car in the compound at River Head and were driven by bus to the ferry and from the dock to the resort. Kingfisher Bay resort was really well done – a large resort, with a lot of accommodation, and a large central area with reception, restaurants, and pools, but built to blend into its surroundings. The only negative for us was that some services were limited as a result of low occupancy. For example, the café hours were reduced and the buffet restaurant was not open at all during our stay.
    http://www.kingfisherbay.com/

    We spent the afternoon in the beautiful heated pool and also took a walk along one of the paths through the scrub in front of our unit to the beach for some lovely sunset views. Dinner in the Seabelle restaurant was superb.

    For our only full day on Fraser Island we had booked the all day Beauty Spots tour in a fwd bus which left the resort about 8:30 am and returned around 4:00 pm. This was the most expensive excursion of our trip and was certainly enjoyable but we spent a lot of time in the bus for a fairly limited number of highlights. Ely Creek, 75 Mile beach, the Maheno shipwreck, and Lake McKenzie were all well worth seeing – none of the famous Fraser island dingoes deigned to make an appearance.

    The following morning we took the ferry back to River Head, collected our car, and headed south for Noosa Heads. We stopped at Maryborough for our morning coffee and had a stroll around the town which had some lovely buildings including some beautiful “Queenslanders”. We then decided to detour via Tin Can Bay which proved to be a big mistake, mainly because there were extensive road works most of the way and we spent a lot of time just sitting waiting for the “go” signal.

    We arrived at Noosa as rain started to fall and we had the only regular rainfall of our trip over these last few days – although it didn’t really have too much of an impact.

    We stayed at a privately managed apartment within the Sebel complex in Hastings Street and we were very happy with it – spacious, modern, large covered balcony overlooking a nice heated pool, and easy access to the town.
    http://www.noosa.com.au/accommodation/hastingsst/laguna-on-hastings.html

    Our two days at Noosa were intended to be for relaxing and we spent the time around the pool, strolling along the boardwalk and around town, lunch with friends from Brisbane, thoroughly enjoying our stay.

    The next day we drove along the coast road and stopped at Peregian Beach for breakfast, than again at Coolum Beach for a look around, and on to Maroochydore, before heading back to Sunshine Coast airport to drop off our rental car and to catch our plane home.

    We had a great trip and were blessed with good weather for almost the whole time. As far as meeting our goal of determining which places we would return to I think it comes down to Port Douglas & Noosa. Both places are serviced by direct flights, are large enough to support a stay of a few days – I’m not very good at just relaxing – but also offer opportunities for spending time in their surrounding regions. For example I’d love to spend more time around the Atherton Tablelands.

    Having decided that we love snorkelling, the other thing that we would come back to Queensland for would be a visit to Lady Elliot Island and to the turtle conservation centre near Bundaberg.

    I’ll be happy to respond to any comments or questions about our experiences on this trip. Once again, thanks very much to those who gave comments and advice when we were in the planning phase.

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    Thanks for the trip report.

    Sorry that the Platypus did not perform for you. Some of my guests had them from the suspension bridge at 10 in the morning on Sunday. When you come back to Yungaburra let me know and we might be able to meet up.

    I agree that Undara is well worth the effort of the extra miles.

    Glad the police acknowledged your birthday. ;-)

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    Hi Greg
    Thanks for your interesting report. It's really nice when people we've helped (or tried to help) come back with feedback on their trips. I'm glad you had such a good time & hope you'll come back for a look at some of our other areas.

    Was particularly interested in your comments about the Atherton tablelands & Undara. I should be up there today, but other things intervened & the trip had to be postponed, so am even keener to get there now.

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    HI Bokhara2 & AlanJG,

    I have used this forum quite a lot with trip planning, mainly on the Europe board, and I appreciate the help that is routinely available. I am always happy to return with my feedback, to acknowledge that help, and maybe to assist others in their planning.

    Alan - I'd be very happy to meet up if we get back.

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