Queensland opens to Sydney and Victoria from December 1. The rush to the sunshine state will be hectic – and Queensland's most famous destinations will likely be overrun. But some of these popular places have secret spots next door.
Can't Get A Bed In… Noosa: Consider Mary Valley
You won't find anywhere to stay in Noosa this Christmas – and there's slim pickings for the rest of the school holidays. Wouldn't it be nice if there was somewhere close by that no-one knows about… but where you can still drive to Noosa in 45 minutes?
Oh… there is. Mary Valley, Queensland's second best kept secret (behind the recipe for XXXX, should you want to know it). This is Queensland's food bowl – so there's great food all over the valley (and even a winery, check out Dingo Creek Vineyard). The whole place was nearly dammed 11 years ago, before Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett stepped in. Just as well too. There's historic country towns across the region, with great heritage pubs to eat at ((Kenilworth Hotel). The best produce is served up at Kandanga Kitchen though if cheese is your thing, lactose-up at Kenilworth Dairies. Just because you're not in Noosa doesn't mean you can't find water; spot a platypus on a dawn kayak with Ride On Mary. Everything in Mary Valley is bordered by state forest, so take a hike, or a horse ride (adventuretrails.com.au).
Best of all, you'll find a bed out here, and a nice one at that. Stay on 10 hectares with views over the valley at Amamoor Lodge
Can't Get A Bed In… Port Douglas: Consider Atherton Tablelands
Millaa Millaa Falls. Photo: Katie Purling/TEQ
When visitors come to Cairns there's two places they usually go beyond the city: Palm Cove or Port Douglas. But if you're struggling to get into either this Christmas, there's another option. It's an hour's drive to Port Douglas, precisely the same amount of time it takes to get to the Atherton Tablelands.
And the bonus is you'll stay cool. The Tablelands are up to a kilometre higher than the coast, so it's five degrees cooler. And don't worry about missing out on the water – the Tablelands teem with it. The region is home to some of Queensland's best waterfalls – accessible along the Waterfall Circuit. You'll find Australia's widest single-drop waterfall, Millstream Falls, and Queensland's most photographed waterfall, Millaa Millaa Falls. And there's volcanic crater lakes like Lake Barrine and Lake Eacham, where you can swim, kayak or paddle-board.
Lake Eacham Photo: Philip Warring/TEQ
And don't fret about the animals you'll miss seeing in the ocean; here you'll find platypus, endangered Lumholtz tree-kangaroos and 327 of the 430 bird species found in the Wet Tropics area.
Lumholtz tree kangaroo Photo: TEQ
What you'll find here that you won't find in Port Douglas is farms. The region is one of Australia's two coffee-growing areas, check out the best at Skybury Café & Roastery, there's 2000 farms with the best produce available at lively markets, the best are at Mareeba and Yungaburra.
And there's rooms available all over. Only the pretty national trust village of Yungaburra attracts any headlines, the rest, like Malanda, Millaa Millaa and Atherton, are still relative secrets. Why not stay in a treehouse with a view over the whole region at Mt Quincan Crater Retreat.
Can't Get A Bed On… The Gold Coast: Consider Gold Coast Hinterland
Sunset drinks on the balcony at Binna Burra. Photo: Jesse LindemannTEQ
There's 57 kilometres of beaches – but everyone in Victoria and Sydney's been hanging out to get here. There is a secret destination not far away (and if you're keen for the beach, you can drive there in 45 minutes).
The Gold Coast Hinterland is where Gold Coast locals go to escape the heat. It's also home to 25 000 hectares of the oldest rainforest left on Earth protected in three World-Heritage listed national parks, home to over 500 waterfalls (where the water's cooler than the ocean).
Sleep within the forest in the oldest eco-retreats in Australia. O'Reillys Rainforest Retreat (within Lamington National Park) is well-known, but Binna Burra on the other side of the park flies under the radar; stay in safari tents, with pademelons for neighbours.
O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat. Photo: Jesse Lindemann/TEQ
Families looking for adventure options can go beyond Dream World, Movie World or Sea World (though they're barely 20 minutes away). Try Australia's fastest and highest zip-line tour (you'll fly at 70kmh) within the Gold Coast's largest adventure attraction at Thunderbird Park . Or go tandem hang gliding off Mt Tamborine, or walk along a platform 30 metres above the rainforest below.
O'Reilly's Tree Top Walk, Lamington National Park. Photo: TEQ
There's tiny mountain villages that are secrets even to Gold Coast locals, with communities of accomplished artists. There's artist galleries and studios you can visit on a tour (pineappletours.com.au)
Oh, and did we mention there's Australia's best-kept secret wine region up here: you'll find the best wine at Witches Falls Winery. Stay next door at Witches Falls Cottages, next to Australia's oldest national park.
Can't Get A Room In Palm Cove… Consider: Cairns (and its northern beaches)
Trinity Inlet Photo: Brandon Gifford/TEQ
Yep, that's right, Cairns. It mightn't sound like a secret, but it might be this summer. That's' when Cairns relies on international travellers escaping the northern winter: 55 000 visitors a day arrive, most of them international. This year, none of them can come.
And most domestic travellers avoid summer – or escape to smaller beach-side destinations, like Palm Cove. While the city itself doesn't have a swimmable beach (there is a man-made lagoon), it's just a 15 minute drive to Cairns' over-looked Northern Beaches. Each beach has its own character, and characters (these include names you've probably never heard: like Yorkeys Knob, Trinity and Holloways Beach). They're where you'll find some of the area's best cafes and restaurants, like Boaties Bar & Grill and Coco Mojo.
Queensland's most famous knob is Yorkeys Knob.
Don't be put off by the Wet Season, rainfall arrives in dramatic, short burst in the afternoon - and summer is actually the best season for visibility on the Great Barrier Reef (when winter trade winds stop blowing). There's over 30 boat companies operating Great Barrier Reef excursions from Cairns. Sample everything from day snorkelling cruises to live-aboard dive boat charters.
Cairns has a great café and restaurant scene. Hatted restaurant, Tamarind, is arguably North Queensland's finest, and Ochre is where you'll find the best example of gourmet Indigenous bush cuisine in Australia. There's a bona fide café scene, epitomised at The Chambers Café, set in a 1920s bank building. There's three new hotels to stay at in the Crystalbrook Collection; sample the newest, Flynn.