Queensland, Australia is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful places on Earth. The state’s cities, beaches, reefs, and jungles make it a must-visit for anyone traveling Down Under.

We flew Hawaiian Airlines from Los Angeles to Brisbane. From the moment we set foot in Hawaiian’s airport lounge, through our connection in Honolulu, all the way to Brisbane, we were treated to tremendous hospitality.

Our journey began in Brisbane, Queensland’s capital. With a mix of old and new architecture, weekend markets, concerts, and art galleries, it is truly a year-round city dedicated to the arts. Not far from Brisbane is the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, where we enjoyed a private tour, a koala holding experience, and a chance to play with kangaroos! Holding a koala bear is an experience of a lifetime, and playing with the kangaroos and getting them to hop made us all feel like kids again! On our way back to Brisbane, we ate at a small local restaurant with stunning views of the city. Just when we thought we had seen it all, we took a helicopter flight over the city. The thrill of seeing the city and following the path of the Brisbane River was a breathtaking surprise to us all. When in Brisbane, order the seafood, any seafood, for dinner. It is some of the best (and freshest) in the world.

The next morning, we headed north to Beerwah, home of Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo. This zoo is one of the largest in the world, and seeing so many animals we cannot see here in the United States was a memorable experience. The crocodiles were HUGE! The zoo offers a private meet and greet where groups get to hold and pet different animals native to Australia such as koala, wallaby, snakes, birds, and various reptiles. One of the most unique things we saw at the zoo was their animal hospital. The hospital is not only for animals who fall ill at the zoo, but also for animals that are found hurt in the wild. They are cared for here until they can once again care for themselves and are then returned to the wild.

Our next stop was Noosa, a sophisticated little community with everything from boutique shops to restaurants to beautiful beaches along the Sunshine Coast. Noosa was very reminiscent of New York’s Hamptons communities. We enjoyed a full day of driving the Great Beach Drive, stopping at Double Island Point. Here, the beach expands 40 miles and has over 40 different shades of color. The ones that stood out the most were the beautiful pinks, yellows, and reds. Double Island Point had picture perfect views of the salt water lagoon and scenic sands, which the Aboriginal people used to color their boomerangs!

The next morning, we boarded a quick flight from Brisbane to Cairns, before continuing on to Port Douglas, and a stop at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures. We had lunch on the deck overlooking the lagoon and were able to feed the crocodiles, who seemed friendly enough. Or maybe they were just hungry! Our tour guide put food on the end of a pole which we hung from a ledge and waited for the crocs to jump up and get it. If there were two crocs in the pond, they would fight like children to catch the food! After Hartley’s, we sailed away on a luxury catamaran to watch a peaceful and picturesque tropical sunset over the Coral Sea and mountains.

One major claim to fame for Queensland is that there is nowhere else on Earth where two UNESCO World Heritage sites exist side by side, The Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest, an absolute must-do in Port Douglas. This is one of the oldest surviving rainforests on earth. We arrived at Mossman Gorge and took a walk through the rainforest with our indigenous guide who demonstrated traditional plant use, shared their legends, explained the history of cave paintings, and provided an enchanting narrative on the rainforest and its special relationship within this unique tropical environment. We cruised along the river and did some birdwatching (along with tree snake and crocodile watching as well)!

The Great Barrier Reef – how do we even begin to describe it? We boarded a boat for a two-hour ride to the reef. On the journey we were briefed on how to SCUBA dive, along with an overview of what we would see once we were in the water. The boat had activities for all ages and swimming abilities (including non-swimmers) and offered several ways to observe this amazing reef: in a semi-submersible underwater observatory, ocean walker helmet diving, SCUBA diving, or snorkeling in the coral gardens. We started with a helicopter tour. It was amazing to see how the water changes where the reef begins. You can tell just by the color- the most beautiful crystal blue. From just a few feet above the surface, we could see the reef perfectly! Then we got into the water and things got even better. We saw some of the most spectacular coral and so many different, beautiful, and colorful fish! Our guide would move her hands above the sea anemone and schools of fish would come out swimming. Being underwater was absolutely breathtaking and a true highlight of our trip!!

On our last day in Oz, we toured the town of Kuranda. We took a cable car over the rainforest canopy and were treated to magnificent views of Cairns in the distance, and plush rainforest with singing birds and calming waterfalls below. Kuranda was certainly a unique experience with some truly wondrous scenic beauty. A relaxing way to end our adventure.

Queensland should be on everyone’s bucket list. There are activities for everyone. Every experience we had made us fall in love with Australia and most definitely added fuel to our future wanderlust!

Thank you for your wonderful insight into Australia, Kayla Mason!