Whether it was snorkelling with turtles, cruising along beaches or sampling seafood, Lynne Wallis discovered the holiday of a lifetime in north-east Australia.
I’d been in Mooloolaba on Australia’s Sunshine Coast for under an hour when I knew for certain that my list of favourite places in the world needed a rejig.
I was enjoying outside jacuzzi bubbles, facing the dazzling azure sea. The pool was overlooked by vast sub-tropical trees.
A tiny green bird was swooping down and skimming over the surface of the pool, chirruping with delight, daring to go closer and closer to the water each time. Its mate soon flew down and joined the fun.
The sun shone down on the scene as parakeets flitted noisily in the trees overhead. I was mesmerised.
The 4,350-mile-long Sunshine Coast is in Queensland, north of Brisbane on the eastern side of Australia and home to the Great Barrier Reef. Mooloolaba—the emphasis is on the loo—is a supremely laid-back seaside town.
Tea Tree Bay, a surfer's paradise, is one of many beaches in Noosa
Hinterland was our next port of call, 18 acres of rainforest where wallabies are regularly spotted and catbirds make an alarming sound that’s very like a crying baby. The Maleny Botanical Gardens are worth a visit, even if just to see Australia’s only “free-flight” aviary.
Giant macaws and a host of other breeds land on visitors’ arms and heads the moment they enter—I lost my heart in seconds to an adorable African Grey called Angel; her claws gave me a head massage I’ll never forget.
"I lost my heart in seconds to an adorable African Grey called Angel."
We headed up to what some of us called Hampstead-on-Sea—the chic, affluent town of Noosa. It’s worth getting up at dawn to see the sunrise on Main Beach and maybe even enjoy a dip. You’ll almost certainly see a few shaggy bush turkeys strutting about in the bushes behind the sand.
Tea Tree Bay is a picturesque headland in Noosa’s National Park, a favourite location for surfers. If you’re desperate to see a koala bear, this is your place—they’re well hidden in the gum trees, but their distinctive brown-grey fur gives them away if you look closely.
A bird's eye view of Lady Elliot island
The scale of the country was summed up for me by the Great Beach Drive, a 125-mile-long trip that took us two hours. I hadn’t realised that this meant driving on the actual beach, shooting past other vehicles on the vast expanse of sand, but we got used to it after a few miles.
Our driver, Glen, took us to see the coloured sands at the aptly named Rainbow Beach before driving us up to the Double Island Point Lighthouse, named by Captain Cook. The views were sublime.
It was time to head out to Hervey Bay Airport to fly out to Lady Elliot Island at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef. The coral island is a World Heritage Site and is regarded as one of the best places on the reef for snorkelling and diving.
They say the island has to be experienced three ways—from the air, the land and the sea. But it was the latter that I’ll never forget. My wildest reef dreams came true when a turtle came right up to me and nuzzled me for a scratch as shoals of yellow and turquoise fish darted past.
Our final destination was the largest sand island in the world, Fraser Island. 75 miles long and 10 wide, it’s one of two places on earth where commercial planes can take off and land on sand (the other is Burrough in Scotland).
My highlight was seeing millions of tiny blue soldier crabs heading for the ocean. Their daily march down to the water for food is done with military precision and determination. At the other end of the size scale, around 16,000 humpback whales migrate to the region to breed, each one the equivalent in size to nine African elephants.
Our trip was over. On the way home, I made the decision to put Australia at the top of my favourite destination list, even though I’d only seen one tiny part of it. I had a feeling that even if I’d been to other parts of this awesome country, Queensland would always hold a special place in my heart.
Read the full article in January's issue of Reader's Digest magazine