Backpackers love Australia. And we love them. I’m Australian born and raised and still spend a few months of my year here in sunny Queensland, taking the rest of the year to travel for my blog, The Travelling Light. But in all my travels, I still see Australia’s natural beauty and wide, open spaces as incredible and unique in the world. It’s the perfect place to go rogue for a few months backpacking.
So you meet a lot of interesting travellers in Queensland. Pretty much every backpacker I’ve talked to who’s visiting Australia is doing a similar thing – rent a van for a few months and trail up or down the East Coast, seeing all of the natural wonders this area has to offer up-close. The Whitsundays and Airlie Beach in North Queensland are firmly on this well-worn trail, so you’re likely to meet lots of fellow travellers when you stay in the hostels of Airlie Beach or you’ll meet them frequenting the bars and beaches, and of course, snorkelling or diving the Great Barrier Reef. It’s one of the world’s most treasured natural sites, so obviously it goes without saying, you must see our glorious reef!
Stick around past the standard couple of days and you’ll have time to discover another side to the Whitsundays too. It’s an area full of many natural wonders, lesser-known than our infamous reef, so you’ll no doubt experience that thing Australia is so good at – natural beauty and wide, open spaces. Here’s my secret things to do in the Whitsundays…
Swim at Cedar Creek Falls
This natural watering hole is only a short drive inland into the bush from Airlie Beach, the perfect spot for wild swimming. There are turtles in the clear blue-green water that will happily swim alongside you, the cliffs looming large overhead. And if you’re lucky and it’s been raining, the falls will be cascading down around you from the cliffs too. The water’s chilly but I prefer to call it ‘refreshing’, especially as it can get very hot around here year-round. This is pure Australia, a natural swimming spot framed by big, brushy trees with no one around.
Canoe at Airlie Beach
There’s all the big, white, shiny boats and yachts trucking out ship-fulls of people from Airlie Beach. But you can choose to have your own adventure on a handmade, four-person canoe with sails – they call it an outrigger. If you choose to sail out for a half or whole day to the islands, you can jump off this little boat into the clear, blue waters the Whitsundays are famous for. If you stay in closer to Airlie Beach you can catch an amazing sunset with some bubbles and snacks as the sun goes down. You’ll be accompanied by someone from the company but the rowing is up to everyone! I recommend booking through Whitsunday Sailing Outrigger.
Spend a Day in Bowen
Bowen is just a little town about an hour’s drive North of Airlie Beach but it’s oh-so-beautiful, untouched, a classic Australian town. It’s known for its amazing mangoes, giant pink granite boulders and its clear, swimmable, blue waters. Upon driving into Bowen you will notice some giant white letters set into one of the hills announcing the town, ‘Bowenwood’, mimicking the famous Hollywood sign. Clearly this town’s got a sense of humour!
You’ll find some magnificent old buildings in the middle of town too, you might even recognise some from Baz Lurhmann’s ‘Australia’, which they filmed here. Another little surprise we found was the fish and chips shop right in the fishing port, cooking up the day’s fresh catch and serving it on the deck looking over the boats.
Sunrise at Coral Beach
We woke up in the dark on my trip here to catch the sunrise at the deserted Coral Beach, a 15 minute walk through the bush from Shute Harbour, not far from Airlie Beach. I was with a bunch of photographers, and photographers who live for sunrises and sunsets! One bonus of travelling with these guys was that they checked out the direction the sun would rise in, the landscape it would bathe in light upon rising, and judged this spot at Coral Beach the very best vantage point to watch it all unfold from. So you know you’ll see some beauty here. Check the times for sunrise here, and plan to set out on foot from Shute Harbour car park about an hour before the sun comes up. Just one word of warning, there is serious danger of crocodiles in the water here so whilst I’m told the dry land is perfectly safe, do not swim here at any time of day. Ever!
Camp on Whitehaven Beach
So admittedly I did not camp here but I wish I did and one day I will. Unfortunately there are no hostels here but during a daytrip over to these white sand beaches the tour operators let us in on a little secret – you can actually camp here overnight if you plan in advance and get the proper camping permits.
On this island, part of the Whitsundays Islands National Park, there are no bars, restaurants, shops or resorts, only nature. There are plenty of daytrippers while the sun is up but at night, seven campsites hold a maximum of 36 people on the entire island so it’s just you and your very few fellow campers and the stars at night. I want to be one of these campers! Book your permit here.
Hike Conway National Park
Conway National Park is lush and green and dark under all the foliage – perfect shade for the hot days North Queensland loves to serve up. You’ll find a few beautiful wild swimming spots to cool off in along the way too. The walking trail through this National Park is not too arduous at all, it’s mostly flat and really proves that hiking is just another name for walking. If walking is too much for you (and after Airlie Beach’s nightlife it might be on some days!) Whitsunday Segway Tours offer guided Segway rides that will see you breeze through the leafy green corridors on wheels.
For more secret travel spots around the world, check out www.thetravellinglight.com
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