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Queensland: Reef and Rainforest

Explore reef and rainforest on this 13-day adventure in Australia’s Sunshine State

Duration

13 days

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Queensland: Reef and Rainforest

Tour Information

Renowned for its breathtaking natural beauty, the diversity of its landscapes and its shimmering coastline, the north-eastern Australian state of Queensland not only boasts the technicolour underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef system but is also where you find the stunning Daintree Tropical Rainforest. And this journey takes you to both. But first, a few interesting facts about Queensland…

As the second largest state in Australia, Queensland is seven times larger than Great Britain, yet has just 4 million inhabitants. It receives an average of between eight and nine hours of sunshine every day, hence its nickname, the Sunshine State. It has over 200 National Parks and five of Australia’s eleven World Natural Heritage areas including the Gondwana Rainforest, K’gari (formerly Fraser Island), Riversleigh Fossil fields, the Wet Tropics (within which is the Daintree National Park), as well as the Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven Natural Wonders of the World.

Queensland’s abundance of wildlife includes more than 1000 species of native vertebrates, many of them unique to the region, and this journey provides plenty of opportunities to discover its incredible variety of landscapes and biodiversity.

Mantaray swimming on the Great Barrier Reef
Manta Ray swimming near Lady Elliot Island
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We’ve partnered with Path Net Zero to calculate the carbon emissions of all our Sustainable Journeys, so you can make conscious choices about how you travel.  

This journey generates:

Where will this journey take you?

Starting in Brisbane, this 13-day Sustainable Journey will take you first to Lady Elliott Island where you’ll have two days of exploration, snorkelling or diving to witness the kaleidoscope of underwater wonders on this coral cay at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef. Then, you’ll take the overnight sleeper train to Cairns where you’ll spend two nights, allowing you to explore the Atherton Tablelands before heading to the Thala Beach Nature Reserve. Here you’ll have four full days to discover the Daintree Tropical Rainforest, go on a thrilling sailing adventure at Port Douglas and learn all about this magical coastline with a local Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal guide.  On your return to Cairns, you’ll have gained a true sense of the sheer expanse of this beautiful part of Queensland and a greater appreciation for its diversity of wildlife and nature.  

Journey Overview


Day 1 – Arrival in Brisbane
Day 2 – Brisbane to Lady Elliot Island
Day 3 – Exploring Lady Elliot Island
Day 4 – Lady Elliot Island to Brisbane
Day 5 – Embarking on the overnight Spirit of Queensland Train
Day 6 – Arrival in Cairns
Day 7 – Exploring the Atherton Tablelands
Day 8 – Cairns – Thala Beach Nature Reserve
Day 9 – Exploring Daintree National Park
Day 10 – Thala Beach Nature Reserve
Day 11 – Thala Beach Nature Reserve
Day 12 – Thala Beach Nature Reserve
Day 13 – Transfer to Cairns for your journey onward or home

What’s included?
  • Accommodation: 12 nights (2 nights in Brisbane, 2 nights on Lady Elliot Island, 1 night on sleeper train, 2 nights in Cairns, and 5 nights at Thala Beach Nature Reserve)
  • Meals: 11 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 4 dinners
  • Transport: In destination transfers, return scenic flight from Brisbane to Lady Elliot Island
  • Overnight Spirit of Queensland Train Journey
  • Atherton Tablelands private day tour with experiences and naturalist guide
  • Complimentary activities on Lady Elliot Island and Thala Beach Nature Reserve
  • Daintree afternoon and Nocturnal Tour with a naturalist guide
  • Sailaway Great Barrier Reef Cruise
  • Aboriginal culture half-day guided tour
What’s not included
  • Flights to/from Australia, or any flights within Australia (except those included in the itinerary)
  • Pre- or post-tour accommodation
  • Pre-registration, late check-out, or day use at hotels other than specified
  • Meals and beverages other than those specified in the itinerary
  • Tips and gratuities
  • Optional tours & services
  • Hotel/ airport porterage
  • Personal travel insurance
  • Items of a personal nature, such as medical or hospital expenses, mini-bar, beverages, hotel porterage, laundry service, room service, internet usage, and telephone calls.

How is this tour sustainable?

Supporting the local environment: Your stays at Thala Beach Nature Reserve and Lady Elliot Island directly support their conservation efforts and restoration work. Thala Beach Nature Reserve is a family-owned eco and wildlife retreat that has been designed specifically around its environment. Its main reason for being is the restoration of the complex forest systems on land that was previously degraded by intensive sugar cane farming. Through their habitat and biosphere improvements, combined with ecotourism practices, Thala has seen a dramatic increase in native forest, biodiversity and wildlife populations.

The Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort is also a family-run and operated eco-tourism business dedicated to protecting and enhancing the island, the Great Barrier Reef and surrounding communities. Their mission as custodians of this environment is to enable it to exist and be preserved as nature intended, while allowing you to experience it in an economically and ecologically viable way, without interfering with or having any adverse impact on the long-term sustainability of the island’s unique ecosystem. Both resorts have achieved the highest levels of eco-certification through their efforts and sharing their stories is very much part of the experience you’ll have when staying there.

Accommodation: In addition to the sterling work of the Lady Island Elliot Island Resort and Thala Beach Nature Reserve, you will also get to experience the sustainability efforts of two hotels in the Accor Group, a pioneer in bringing sustainability to the hotel industry. Focusing on local issues, the Novotel Cairns is committed to First Nations Engagement, preserving the unique ecosystems of the Yidinjdji Country rainforests in which it is located, and prioritising locally sourced, organic ingredients to support local farmers and reduce food miles. It was the first resort in North Queensland to achieve Sustainable Tourism Certification awarded by Eco Tourism Australia. The Ibis Style Brisbane has eliminated single use plastics, bid farewell to PET water bottles and installed water refill stations. They actively support local conservation efforts, have implemented an extensive energy management plan and also been awarded Eco Tourism Australia’s prestigious certification.

Food and drink: During this journey, you will sample local Australian specialities as well as a range of local produce sourced straight from the land (especially with your Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal tour guide), giving you the chance to experience different flavours and recipes of Queensland. By eating in locally owned and operated establishments you are helping support the local economy.

Local staff: Your hosts and guides are predominantly local Queenslanders, living in the destination. They own, manage or are employed by each hotel, activity provider or tour company, meaning the money paid to them goes directly into the local economy.

Sustainability challenges

Transport: One thing you’ll soon appreciate about Australia is that it is vast! Getting around in Australia is easy and using public transport is considered an integral part of any Sustainable Journey, however, due to the distances involved, a return flight on a small aircraft between Brisbane and Lady Elliot Island is required on this tour. By being there, and learning about the reef, its struggles and opportunities, you will come away with a better understanding of how conservation in action is so important for this incredible organism and what is being done to protect it… and you’ll see how you can play a part. On a two-week journey taking in the key destinations of Queensland, flying is the quickest option, giving you a greater amount of time to explore and experience each place.
The journey from Brisbane to Cairns has been booked on the overnight sleeper train, taking 25 hours. This journey enables you to see much of the landscape which you would otherwise miss if up in the air.  Within Australia’s cities and towns, you can use the local public transport networks, all of which are easy to navigate.

Detailed Itinerary

  • Day 1 - Arrival in Brisbane

    On arrival at Brisbane airport, you will be met by our driver for your private transfer to your hotel – the Ibis Style Brisbane (or similar).
    You have the rest of the day free to enjoy at your leisure. Dinner can be taken either at your hotel or in a restaurant of your choice (at your own expense). Plenty of recommendations can be given.

    Driving distance from the airport to Ibis Style Brisbane: 12 miles (19km), approx. 21 mins

  • Day 2 - Brisbane to Lady Elliot Island

    Enjoy an early breakfast at your hotel as you will be taking an early morning transfer to Redcliffe for your scenic flight to Lady Elliot Island.

    Lady Elliot Island is a coral cay located at the southern tip of the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef. Situated within a highly protected ‘Green Zone’, the coral cay is a sanctuary for over 1,200 species of marine life and is known for its abundance of manta rays, turtles, an amazing array of spectacular marine life and unspoilt coral reefs.

    For the next two nights, you will be staying at the Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort, a family-run and operated eco-tourism business that was awarded Bronze for Ecotourism at the 2023 Qantas Australian Tourism Awards. The resort has taken enormous strides in its sustainability journey, including converting the resort to renewable energy with the goal to be 100% renewable, and everyone visiting and staying is encouraged to read and commit to the resort’s Sustainability Pledge. A full buffet dinner is included at the resort.

    Travel distance from Brisbane to Lady Elliott Island: 269 miles (433 km), approx.  4hrs 30 mins

  • Day 3 - Exploring Lady Elliot Island

    Enjoy a hearty breakfast at the Lady Elliot Island Resort, as you have a full day of activities ahead of you.
    Being a coral cay, Lady Elliot Island is part of the Southern Great Barrier Reef and is regarded as one of the best snorkelling destinations on the reef (great for diving too!) with an amazing array of colourful marine life. The resort offers a wide range of nature and water-based experiences and included during your stay is an orientation tour, a glass bottom boat/guided snorkelling tour, snorkel equipment (mask, snorkel and fins), guided reef and nature walks, night explorer walks, turtle treks in season, star gazing and evening presentations in the Reef Education Centre.
    A full buffet dinner is provided at the resort.

  • Day 4 - Lady Elliot Island to Brisbane

    After breakfast and a leisurely morning at the Lady Elliot Island Resort, you will bid farewell to island life and take the scenic flight back to Brisbane.
    On arrival back at Redcliffe, you will transfer back to Brisbane City and the Ibis Styles Brisbane (or similar) where you will stay for one night.  Dinner can be taken either at your hotel or in a restaurant of your choice (at your own expense). Plenty of recommendations can be given.

  • Day 5 - Embarking on the Overnight Spirit of Queensland Train

    After breakfast at your hotel, enjoy a morning of leisure before your short transfer to Roma Street Train Station for your train journey to Cairns aboard the Spirit of Queensland.
    The Spirit of Queensland is a splendid way to rediscover the luxury of time, providing an easy and more sustainable way to travel the more than 1,600km between Brisbane and Cairns in the tropical north.  The journey will take 25 hours as the train slowly skirts north along the Queensland coast.
    The train departs Brisbane at 15:45 and arrives in Cairns at 17:05 the following day. Your luxury seat converts to a comfortable bed for this overnight journey, you’ll find plenty of onboard entertainment, and dinner will be served.

    Travel distance from Lady Elliott Island to Brisbane train station: 269 miles (433 km), approx.  4hrs 30 mins
    Travel distance by train from Brisbane to Cairns: 1044 miles (1681km), 25 hours

  • Day 6 - Arrival in Cairns

    After a restful sleep, breakfast will be served and you will have time this morning to relax. So don’t forget to bring along the books you’ve been meaning to read, some card games and puzzles or download some playlists, podcasts or your favourite streaming videos.

    Through the in-seat on-demand entertainment system, you can watch a variety of programmes including movies, TV shows and music albums.
    The train journey ends in Cairns at 17:05 at which point you’ll disembark and transfer to the Novotel Cairns (or similar) where you will stay for the next two nights.

    Dinner can be taken either at your hotel or in one of the many restaurants in Cairns (at your own expense). Recommendations can be given.

    Travel distance from railway station to hotel: 0.6 miles (1km), approx. 3 mins

  • Day 7 - Exploring the Atherton Tablelands

    Enjoy an early breakfast at your hotel as you are going to be picked up at 7.30 am today for a day’s private tour of the Atherton Tablelands with an expert naturalist guide, including lunch.

    This highland region of northern Australia has a wonderful mix of rainforest, wetlands and savanna and is home to numerous birds and wildlife such as tree kangaroos and wallabies. As you gain altitude along the panoramic Gillies highway, you’ll witness this dramatic change in landscape first-hand. You’ll also get to enjoy beautiful views of Goldsborough Valley from Heales Lookout before stopping off at the following scenic spots:

    Lake Barrine: An outstanding location for nature activities, you can take one of a number of walks (tailored from 30 minutes to two hours) offering great wildlife and bird-watching opportunities, before toasting your wildlife-spotting achievements over some local tea and scones at the famous Tea House. Lake Barrine is a big highlight of the tour, where you can spot reptiles such as water dragons, birds, eels, fish and several Wet Tropics endemic species. Lunch options are brilliant and the view is pretty special too!

    Yungaburra: Another highlight of the day, spotting wild Platypus! Learn about their elusive behaviour and take as much time as you need to get the perfect photo.  A resident Tree Kangaroo family can often be seen here too.

    Lake Eacham: A chance to cool down during the hottest part of the day. You’ll get to swim in an extinct volcanic crater with pristine clear water surrounded by rainforest. If you prefer not to swim, other nature sites are available to explore close by.

    Malanda Conservation Park: This conservation park is invaluable to the elusive Mapee (Lumholtz Tree Kangaroo) which can be seen regularly in this small patch of protected forest. Malanda Falls provides a beautiful photo opportunity and several other wildlife spotting opportunities, such as the Freshwater Snapping Turtle and the Grey-headed Robin.

    Cathedral Fig Tree: One of the most incredible trees you’ll see in your life! This ancient fig tree is an epic rainforest survivor with a very complex ecosystem surrounding its lifecycle.

    Departing Tablelands, time permitting you may stop at the Mountain View Hotel for a beverage and lovely views of the Little Mulgrave River, and possibly a drive through Gordonvale to view the Sugar Refinery.

    You’ll arrive back in Cairns between 5:00 pm – 5:30 pm so will have the rest of the evening at leisure. Dinner can be taken either in the hotel or at a restaurant of your choice, at your own expense.

  • Day 8 - Cairns – Thala Beach

    Enjoy a leisurely breakfast at your hotel as you have a free morning to either relax or wander around Cairns and have lunch (at your own expense), before a 14.00 transfer to the Thala Beach Nature Reserve where you will stay for the next five nights.

    Thala Beach Nature Reserve is a family-owned eco and wildlife retreat located on a private headland between Cairns and Port Douglas. Boutique timber bungalows built high on stilts within the forest canopy are sensitively positioned amongst the resort’s 145-acre property. Thala has achieved the highest accreditation of eco-certification through sustainable practices and environmental sensitivity.

    Over a period of 30 years, the owners have shepherded the re-establishment of complex forests on land that was once devastated by extractive farming. With the return of the forests, wildlife populations have exploded and around 120 butterfly species, almost 200 bird species and an estimated 50 agile wallabies inhabit the area. Frogs, lace monitor lizards, sugar gliders, echidnas, spiders and geckos are in abundance too.

    Located a 45 minute drive north of Cairns Airport and a 15 minute drive south of Port Douglas, Thala is the only beachfront reserve along this stretch of coast.

    Sitting spectacularly atop a peninsula with breathtaking views of untouched coastline, it provides the perfect location to explore the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest and over the next few days you’ll be able to experience a range of complimentary experiences such as nature/wildlife walks, star gazing nights, a Coconut Odyssey tour and specialist talks from local experts.

    The star gazing nights are a must! The Thala night sky is free from light pollution and filled with millions of stars. Surrounded by the sounds of the rainforest and ocean you can enjoy an introduction to the beautiful Southern Constellations from an experienced and passionate guide. View many fascinating stars & planets using telescopes and binoculars at the unique outdoor observatory.

    Your evening is free to enjoy dinner (at your own expense) at Osprey’s Restaurant in the reserve or arrange transport for the 15-minute drive into Port Douglas where you have a choice of restaurants.  Recommendations can be given.

  • Day 9 - Exploring Daintree National Park

    You can have a leisurely breakfast at Thala as this morning is free to enjoy before a very special afternoon and evening tour. At 1.30 pm you will be met by your nature guide for the scenic drive north. Observe the changes in habitat diversity along the way as you get closer to the Daintree Tropical Rainforest, often referred to as simply the Daintree, where many wonderful experiences await you.

    Solar Whisper Wildlife Cruise: Embark on a one-hour cruise along the beautiful Daintree River, spotting wildlife on a quiet, clean solar electric boat with zero environmental impact. Get closer to nature… hear, smell and experience without noise and fumes. Afternoon tea is included prior to your departure. This cruise has a 99% success rate for spotting crocodiles, excellent bird-watching opportunities and other wildlife such as snakes, frogs, fish and bats.

    Daintree Rainforest National Park: Enter the lands of the local Kuku Yalanji people while taking in the beauty of the pristine rainforest, cool streams, towering mountains and captivating freshwater valleys. This living museum is an area of ancient tropical rainforest spanning 120,000 hectares, making it the largest tropical rainforest in Australia. You’ll walk numerous tracks to witness the complex ecosystems in this World Heritage Area and perhaps be able to take a swim during the summer months.

    Cape Tribulation Beach: This famous valley resembles a giant amphitheatre with a semicircle of hills dominated by Mount Sorrow (850m) and Mt Hemmant (1000m). From several lookouts the afternoon lighting on the beach is gorgeous and you’ll want to spend some time exploring this glorious part of the coastline.

    Dinner at Whet Restaurant: Combining the natural wonder of the surrounding jungle with a unique and casual atmosphere, Whet is located right in the heart of Cape Tribulation. Aptly named to “whet your appetite”, this is where you can enjoy a delicious range of cuisine as part of the tour.

    Night spotting in the Northern Daintree: A wildlife tour in Far North Queensland is not complete without a night walk. Much of the local wildlife has adopted a nocturnal lifestyle to avoid to tropical heat of the day. Perhaps the most unique part of this experience is to observe nocturnal wildlife in the Wet Tropics.

    At 9:30 pm you’ll depart the Daintree for the short 30-minute drive back to Thala Beach.

  • Day 10 - Thala Beach Nature Reserve

    Today you’ll stay within the reserve, so enjoy breakfast before joining in some of the complimentary activities on offer:

    Coconut Odyssey: On Australia’s only coconut tour, not only do you get to drink and eat from the very young green coconut to the little-known ‘Coconut Apple’ – you will also learn the truth about the health benefits of coconuts. The ‘Tree Of Life’ has astonishing advantages from helping to reduce body fat and lower cholesterol, to building the immune system. A tour that helps you lose weight without exercising!

    Nature and Garden Walks: You will be guided through 145 acres of native flora by Thala’s team who delight in sharing their extensive knowledge and passion for the environment. Amongst rare Littoral rainforest clinging to the sandy dunes and the soft shade of eucalypts, you will enjoy the scamper of native fauna.

    Bird and Butterfly Walks: The local bird and butterfly expert will thrill you with the variety of species to be found at Thala and their extraordinary, vibrant colours. An early start to hear the first chorus of Thala’s birds in full song is a wonderful way to welcome a new day. A number of local experts can take you for full-day birding expeditions through a wide variety of habitats. Pick up a bird sighting calendar and see if you can add to the extensive number of varieties spotted so far.

    Oak Beach: A private access beach for you to enjoy, Oak Beach consists of approximately 2km of pristine sand lined with coconut palms and sheoak trees. Thala Beach Nature Reserve occupies the forest-clad headland at the northern end of this beach.
    For lunch, you might want to book a Thala picnic basket, consisting of your choice of platters – cheeses, charcuterie or seafood with a variety of local fruits.

    Your evening is free to enjoy dinner (at your own expense) at Osprey’s Restaurant in the reserve or arrange transport for the 15-minute drive into Port Douglas where you have a choice of restaurants.  Recommendations can be given.

  • Day 11 - Thala Beach Nature Reserve

    Enjoy breakfast at Thala before your transfer to Port Douglas for the thrill of a full day’s pure sailing adventure on board the Sailaway VI, a luxury Lagoon 560 sailing catamaran.

    Sailaway holds Advanced Eco Tourism Accreditation, is a Climate Action Leader and has won the National Sustainability Award for Best Practices. Sailway works in partnership with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to monitor the Reef through the Eye on the Reef programme and is one of five Marine Tourism Operators participating in the Coral Nurture Program. Through this partnership between tourism and science, coral planting is introduced into localised stewardship to help ensure sustainable reef ecotourism. This involves out-planting corals in order to boost live coral cover at reefs that have experienced a fall in cover and also help ensure reef sites with existing high coral cover stay healthy.

    Your full-day experience of the Great Barrier Reef will be a snorkelling and sailing tour to the Low Isles, where you’ll get to relax on the white sandy beach and, accompanied by a marine biologist, snorkel over the magnificent coral gardens in the blue lagoon and swim with turtles. You’ll also get to enjoy a trip on a glass bottom boat with reef interpretation provided by the skipper and explore the nature and history of the Low Isles on an Island Heritage Walk with an expert guide.

    On board, you’ll also get to enjoy delicious morning and afternoon teas and a buffet lunch.

    Your evening is free to enjoy dinner (at your own expense) at Osprey’s Restaurant in the reserve or arrange transport for the 15-minute drive into Port Douglas where you have a choice of restaurants.  Recommendations can be given.

  • Day 12 - Thala Beach Nature Reserve

    After breakfast at Thala, you’ll spend the morning with a local Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal tour guide who will take you along the coastal habitats. Along the way, you will learn about this special landscape, the different foods and medicines utilised from nature, sample some bush tucker, collect shellfish and try traditional Aboriginal hunting practices. Have a go at spear throwing and, if you are lucky, you might catch a mud crab.

    Your tour will finish in the early afternoon, after which you’ll return to the Thala Beach Nature Reserve where you can enjoy the remainder of the day at leisure.

    Your evening is free to enjoy dinner (at your own expense) at Osprey’s Restaurant in the reserve or arrange transport for the 15-minute drive into Port Douglas where you have a choice of restaurants.  Recommendations can be given.

  • Day 13 - Transfer to Cairns for your journey onwards or home

    Enjoy your final Thala Beach breakfast, as sadly, your tour of Queensland comes to an end today. After breakfast, you will be transferred back to Cairns airport for your onward travel.

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