Queensland has welcomed a raft of new holiday experiences in 2023, including an impressive lineup of firsts: the first five-star luxury hotel knocking on Townsville’s door, the first PADI accredited adaptive dive facility on the Great Barrier Reef and the first vertical restaurant in Brisbane that takes dinner with a view to new heights. Here are just some of the new stays, experiences and tours on offer across the Sunshine State, plus, those coming in 2024 worthy of a mark in the calendar.
Sensational new stays in the Sunshine State
Turning up the luxury dial, Townsville is about to welcome an exclusive new retreat on the Great Barrier Reef, accessible by helicopter or private yacht. Enter, Pelorus Private Island. Set to open before the end of the year, the island, which is surrounded by fringing reefs, features a spacious residence with four super swish suites, making it the only luxury private island in the Townsville region. Back on the mainland, $88 million resort Ardo will be the first five-star luxury hotel in Townsville. Opening in December, Ardo promises to deliver premium accommodation, world-class dining, a deluxe day spa, and a stunning rooftop pool deck and bar with panoramic views across the Coral Sea to Magnetic Island.
Following a fresh facelift The Elandra at Mission Beach will re-launch late 2023 with the first 20 revamped villas throwing their doors open to new guests by the end of this year. A further 12 two-level apartments, each with private plunge pools, are scheduled to open in the first half of 2024. Perched atop a peninsular overlooking the Coral Sea, guests can sit back and soak up the island views enjoyed by singer, model and actress, Grace Jones, when she ushered in the resort in 2008.
Sink into a state of pure serenity at the new Essence Peregian Beach on the Sunshine Coast. Nestled on the edge of Noosa National Park just footsteps from the bustling village of Peregian and the patrolled surf beach, the new property comprises a 32-room boutique hotel and 20 architecturally designed beach homes. Meanwhile, at the southern end of the Sunshine Coast, an 80s-era lodge, the Caloundra City Centre Motel, has been fashionably transformed into Motel Caloundra. The refurbished property offers nine stylish rooms including a family room and apartment (both with two bedrooms) just a short stroll from Bulcock Beach. Owners Andrew and Lucy Pink have installed 47 rooftop solar panels to harness renewable energy sources in their quest to become the Sunshine Coast’s first net-zero energy hotel.
Escape to Binna Burra’s brand-new Tiny Wild Houses to experience the breathtaking beauty of Lamington National Park in the Scenic Rim. Nestled atop an expansive clifftop, the Tiny Wild Houses feature Queen-sized beds and floor to ceiling glass windows providing stunning vistas across the valley. The Tiny Wild Houses are designed exclusively as an adult-only experience. Also tucked away in the Scenic Rim, new boutique accommodation, The Vistas at Cedar Creek Lodges snuggle into the rainforest of Tamborine Mountain. Under an hour’s drive from the Gold Coast, the 20 bespoke suites offer cosy holidays for up to three guests each.
Back on the coast, Rolling Seas at the southern end of the Gold Coast has just opened its dreamy doors to uninterrupted views of Bilinga Beach. The private residence fuses the charm of Hellenic-style white-washed exteriors with Hamptons sophistication to accommodate up to 12 guests across two separate villas. Nearby at Palm Beach, turn back the clock and step into nostalgia at the soon-to-open Cheshire Cat Motel. Oozing an eclectic mix of 70’s Australiana and Palm Springs, the boutique accommodation is set to open this summer and has seven rooms, including a two-bedroom bungalow for a stay with just that little bit extra space.
Still chic, but more heritage in style, Charleville’s iconic Hotel Corones welcomed three Heritage Rooftop Rooms earlier this year. Reflecting the charm of the Outback, the rooftop rooms offer period furniture and access to the outdoor rooftop Champagne Bath Deck for a sunset soak and sip.
Great things are happening on the Great Barrier Reef
The second stage of the southern hemisphere’s first underwater gallery, the Ocean Sentinels at the Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA), opened in May 2023. Ocean Sentinels is artist Jason deCaires Taylor’s latest installation at John Brewer Reef off the coast of Townsville. Each of the eight sculptures are modelled off a leading marine scientist or one of the Great Barrier Reef’s most passionate advocates/conservationists and can be experienced by snorkelling or diving. MOUA is a series of large-scale underwater artworks that first opened in 2020 with the aim to connect art, conservation, science and tourism.
Earlier this year the world’s first publicly accessible living coral biobank facility, the Forever Reef Project, launched at Cairns Aquarium. Dedicated to preserving Great Barrier Reef coral biodiversity, the biobank is named after of John Rumney, Great Barrier Reef Legacy co-founder, conservationist and eco-tourism leader. Visitors to the aquarium can book a behind the scenes tour of the biobank to learn about coral conservation efforts on the Great Barrier Reef and see firsthand the world’s largest collection of hard corals. Meanwhile, just a 45 minute jaunt across the water, visitors to Fitzroy Island Resort, can help care for injured turtles while also contributing to Great Barrier Reef monitoring programs and the Reef Restoration Foundation’s coral restoration work. Also in Cairns, Dreamtime Dive and Snorkel have launched a monthly citizen science initiative called ‘Reef Recovery Days’ which sees guests assist marine biologists and Indigenous guides to assemble and attach the MARRS Reef Stars at Hastings Reef, promoting new coral growth.
2023 is the Year of Accessible Tourism in Queensland, and Quicksilver Dive in Port Douglas has become the first PADI Adaptive Service Facility in the state, and the only facility of its kind on the Great Barrier Reef, to hold this accreditation. Quicksilver Dive’s state-of-the-art diver training centre and PADI Adaptive Service Facility opens the world of diving to ocean-lovers of all abilities.
The luminous waters of the Whitsundays has welcomed a new multi-day cruising experience on Explore Group’s Whitsunday Explorer. Ticking off a handful of the 74 island wonders plus iconic attractions, like Whitehaven Beach, the two-night experience includes overnight accommodation in one of 30 air-conditioned hotel sized rooms with private ensuite, all meals and a selection of non-alcoholic beverages, use of water sport equipment and the opportunity to explore further with guided excursions from the boat.
Travellers wanting to turn up the adrenaline dial should head to the Capricorn coast where Funtastic Cruises high-speed boat, The Kraken, darts across the alluring waters of Keppel Bay. Whip across the waves, weaving through sandy channels, past secluded bays, and pristine beaches. Bookings open from November.
Brisbane’s fresh foodie feasts with a twist
Having opened just last month, Vertigo is Brisbane’s first ever vertical restaurant. The elevated eatery sits four stories above the ground, overhanging the exterior of iconic Brisbane Powerhouse where guests don a safety harness before climbing into their seats, 17 metres above ground. The set menu by Brisbane Powerhouse’s Bar Alto is enjoyed by diners alongside epic views of the river and Brisbane city, before descending via the steps, or taking the ultimate leap over the side of the building via a secure dropline.
The only in-flight beer tasting experience in Australia, Straddie Brewing Co’s new BrewAIRY Tour mixes the beauty of Moreton Bay and North Stradbroke Island (Minjerribah) with craft beer. Departing from Brisbane, the private flight includes a carefully curated tasting of three Straddie Brewing Co. beers before landing at Dunwich, where beer enthusiasts spend more time tasting another tipple or two at Straddie Brewing Co., the island’s first and only brewery.
Back on solid ground, culture vultures can stretch those legs and learn about Brisbane’s Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) from its early origins in the late 1800’s to the two architecturally celebrated galleries that stand today by booking the Taste of QAGOMA: Tour and Lunch Experience. The tour concludes with a belly-filling lunch overlooking the Brisbane River at GOMA Bistro. Originally slated as a pop-up dining experience GOMA’s new Farm-to-Table is extending its tenure, where a two and three course lunch champions locally sourced produce, Thursday through to Sunday.
Experience 60,000 years of culture through new Indigenous experiences
Soul-soothing river drift operator, Back Country Bliss is expanding its Daintree Rainforest storytelling with the launch of the new Unseen Daintree Heli-Experience. Flipping the experience on its head from river drifting under the canopy to soaring high above it, guests take to the skies to experience the magnificent Daintree Rainforest from above, before landing at Yindilli Campsite where Kuku Yalanji Elder CJ shares his story and rainforest knowledge on a guided walk, finishing with a fresh barramundi cook up.
In Cairns, Mandingalbay Ancient Indigenous Tours’ new Deadly After Dark sunset experience runs every Friday, starting with a short cruise across Trinity Inlet. Local guides share stories of how the Indigenous people reclaimed country and regenerated the environment, as guests savour the punchy flavours of canapes and refreshments made from local native ingredients.
Twitchers and intrepid travellers can explore the birdlife and cultural history of Northern Cape York, Horn Island and Thursday Island on Strait Experience’s new three-day Wings and Wonders tour. The tour runs across the summer breeding months of December and January, aligned to the migration of birds from Papua New Guinea.
Escape to the great outdoors
Nature is for everyone and in Queensland’s Year of Accessible Tourism, Brisbane-based tour company, Nature Freedom has proudly launched a series of new and inclusive accessible visitor experiences for those living with a disability. Lead by Founder, Mathew Townsend, who lives with a disability himself, Nature Freedom offers kayaking, canoeing, bushwalking and other nature-based activities for people with disabilities.
Whiz through the Bunya Mountains, 200km north west of Brisbane, and kick up the dirt on 18km of fresh mountain biking tracks with the Bunya Mountains Mountain Biking Trails now open to the public. Trails vary in difficulty and length, from 1.3km to 6.3km, with three trails dedicated to mountain bikes only, and one shared with hikers. Each trail passes lookouts and picnic areas for pitstops with a view.
Make tracks in 1770 and Agnes Water, swapping the beach for the bush on the new BushTracks guided walking Tour at Traveller’s Rest 1770. The tour takes place at the brand-new Bushland Boardwalk, a 386m walkway that meanders through native bushland where visitors learn about the plants, birdlife and biodiversity of the area before finishing the walk with tea and snacks. The Bushland Boardwalk is accessible for wheelchair users thanks to the flat, step-free walkway.
Spotlight on wellness
The Gold Coast’s newest wellness destination, Native State, located in the heart of Kirra Beach on the southern end of the coast, aims to rejuvenate the mind, body and soul. The facility takes a holistic approach to wellness, serving as a bathhouse and studio gym. Designed to relax and restore, Native State offers a variety of health therapies (saunas, steam room, heated vitality pool, cold plunge pool and meditation room), alongside guided fitness classes (such as yoga, breathwork and meditation) and a variety of higher-paced activities designed to get the body moving (including circuit classes, strength and conditioning sessions, and cardio training).
Relax and recharge on K’gari (formerly Fraser Island) on the new K’gari Exclusive Retreat with fitness coach Christian Miranda by Journey Retreats. The five-day, four-night fitness and wellness retreat is all inclusive staying at Kingfisher Bay Resort with ferry transfers to the island and healthy and fresh meals provided, wellness sessions targeting mind, body and soul, 4WD and hiking trip to Pile Valley and Lake McKenzie, bushtucker tasting and sunset cruise. Upcoming retreat dates are 16 – 22 January 2024.
From December 2023, visitors to Cunnamulla in Outback Queensland can absorb the benefits of bathing in its artesian basin at the Cunnamulla Hot Springs. Featuring three free-flowing pools of varying temperatures on the banks of the Warrego River, travellers can take a moment to soak between the hot pools and a chilled plunge pool or choose from a range of therapeutic activities.
New tourism on the horizon in 2024
The highly anticipated entertainment and leisure destination, Queen’s Wharf, is set to open in a staged approach starting in early 2024. Introducing dozens of food and beverage venues, various retail outlets, public artworks and the restoration of nine heritage buildings, Queen’s Wharf will also welcome 6-star Rosewood Hotel, the hotel’s first Australian property, The Star Grand (5-star) and the Dorsett Brisbane (4.5-star). Bringing these elements together and making a visual impact on the city’s evolving skyline is the recently completed Sky Deck sitting atop of the architecturally designed arc towers at an imposing 90 meters above the river.
SOL Elements is a breath-taking wellness destination coming to Mount Tamborine at the Gold Coast hinterland in early 2024. SOL Elements taps into the traditional Japanese Wabi Sabi philosophy, where visitors are encouraged harness the feeling and flow of the natural environment in the interest of self-care and slow living. Communal facilities include onsens, float therapy rooms, cold plunge pools, a Himalayan salt cave and infrared saunas, with the added touch of self-care rituals including breathwork and clay treatments.
A new citizen science pontoon on the Southern Great Barrier Reef is imminent with the construction of Lady Musgrave Experience’s ‘Reef Sanctuary’ pontoon. The launch of the second pontoon off Lady Musgrave Island is set for 2024, bringing citizen science to the fingertips of Lady Musgrave Experience visitors and data collection scientists. The education hub is being purpose built to offer advanced educational experiences where visitors can join wildlife ecologists and marine biologists as they conduct data collection and monitoring, participate in Marine-Biologist-for-a-Day activities and Reef Keeper program research, coral adoption and transplanting programs and reef health surveys.
Further north, High Valley Dawn Permaculture Farm, near Yeppoon, is already operating as a popular tourism attraction and will introduce 12 tiny house cottages in late 2023 and throughout 2024. In Tropical North Queensland, Rossville Retreat, 20 minutes south of Cooktown at Cape York Peninsula, have completed the first stages of new bush lodges set to open in May 2024 in time for the touring season. Each safari-style glamping tent is eco-friendly and comes with its own ensuite bathroom and private garden area.
With a plethora of new experiences, stays and tours across Queensland waiting to welcome visitors this summer, be sure to stock up on even more fresh holidays ideas by visiting queensland.com.
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