Whilst we don't claim to have visited absolutely every inch of Australia, we've seen more than our fair share. We've ridden the highways, rattled along the tracks, powered through the deserts, up the mountains, through the valleys and roamed deep into the Outback.
The information provided here is intended to give you the knowledge you'll need to stay safe in Australia, plus a little personal account of the main areas of the country.
Advice and information - Queensland
Starting at the top and working our way south, Cape York is proper 4WD country, not a place to be attempted by the faint hearted for sure! Most riders go north to Cooktown from the end of the surfaced road at Cape Tribulation, then head off into the depths of the peninsula from there. It's wild and remote so make sure to plan properly and stay away in the wet season, as most of the roads are impassable at one time or another.
Cape Tribulation is set in the heart of the ancient and mysterious rainforest. It's well worth taking the time to find out more about this fascinating ecosystem. There are trails throughout the area and the Daintree rainforest visitor centre has a wealth of information about the plants, birds and animals that inhabit the forests. It's incredible how densely life is packed together and how it changes as you move upward through the canopy.
The visitor centre has a tower with platforms at many different levels, so you can see how the parrot species and other bird and plant life changes as you climb in height. Information leaflets and boards at each level tell you what to look for and how the original inhabitants of the region used each unusual resource.
Head to the coast and you'll find the forest is unbroken right down to the beach. Paradise, castaway style forests and beaches. Deep green mountains topped with bulging white clouds, slope down to coconut lined white sandy beaches that slide gently into the turquoise waters around the Great Barrier Reef, with hardly a soul to be seen even at the peak of the tourism season. Captain Cook beached his ship Endeavour for repairs at Cape Tribulation and when you sit on the beach with no one around, you can really picture yourself in the scene and imagine what it must have been like to come ashore on an unexplored land.
The narrow roads twists and winds south from Cape Tribulation and are great fun on a bike. Eventually it opens out to a ferry crossing at the Daintree River and on to the coastal town of Port Douglas. This small settlement is, for my money anyway, far nicer than its better known neighbour of Cairns. It feels much more upmarket and the tropical vegetation seems to blend with the town, as opposed to being displaced by the buildings.
The Great Barrier Reef is only about an hour away by fast catamaran and there are several major tour operators to choose from, all leaving from the shop and restaurant lined marina. Snorkelling or diving on the reef is an essential experience if you're in Queensland, one I can heartily recommend. The abundance of fish, coral, turtles. sharks and other creatures is mind boggling and getting up close is an incredible experience. The only issue I'd have with the Great Barrier Reef is that you have to take a boat trip to visit it, but the cost and time taken getting out there and back is worth every penny.
Another great day out for the fisherman amongst you is a deep sea fishing charter. It's a much more personal experience than the large dive boat operators as there's only 10 or so hopeful fisherman on a boat. You meet interesting people, get great views of the coast and always come back with a sack full of fish for the barbeque! No sooner is your bait on the bottom and the struggle begins. A 20 or 30lb fish is not uncommon but you've got to be quick pulling them up because sharks like the prospect of an easy meal! One minute you're struggling to pull up a decent fish then suddenly it gets much bigger and takes off into the distance! Bringing up what's left of tale worthy fish after a shark has had its fill, isn't as nice as being able to eat it yourself!
Throw your catch on the barbeque wrapped in foil with some garlic salt, a few slices of lemon and you're in for a real treat. These fish are seriously delicious and taste all the better for catching it yourself.
There are loads of other things to do up here but another good day out is to try Mossman Gorge. It's up in the rainforest and as well as the informative trails through the trees, the real attraction is the cool refreshing water flowing down from the hills. On a hot steamy day in January there's nothing better than sitting in the boulder strewn river listening to the birds and wildlife, as the water soothes and revitalises. Head south to Cairns past countless sugar beet fields and things start to get a bit busier. Cairns is not as big as you might expect but there are still plenty of bars, restaurants, shops, day trip tour operators and people from every corner of the world. Worth a visit but personally I wouldn't stay long - there's much better along this coast!
The road winds south along the coast towards Townsville with hills to your right and the sea on your left. There are one or two nice campsites right on the beach. Pitch your tent under a palm tree, cook your evening meal on the beach and watch the stars appear as the sun goes down. In the morning open your tent to see the sun rising over the ocean. Not a bad start to the day whichever way you look at it!
Townsville sprawls a little, but the town centre is quite compact. The 290m high Castle Hill dominates the view and there's a nice 2km path to the top where it affords some great views over the town and out to Magnetic Island, 8km off shore.
The town has a new looking marina and lovely seafront drive called the Strand with a large open-air salt water swimming pool at one end. It's free and open 24 hours. If you're keen enough to get there at 6.30am you'll see the locals all getting their daily swim before heading off to work! Townsville has one of the best Reef Aquariums in the world with an IMAX theatre and the Museum of Tropical Queensland right next door.
I liked Townsville and it gets even better with a visit to Magnetic Island. It's a short distance offshore and is easily reached with your vehicle on the ferry. Captain Cook named it when his compass spun uncontrollably as he passed the island. It's a quiet island with lovely sandy bays and some superb bush walks with fantastic views of the island and plentiful wildlife. Look closely and you could be lucky enough to see koalas up in the trees. 'Maggie' as the locals call it has a relaxed, laid back feel with a few small resorts spread around the expanse of the 494m high Mount Cook.
Just south of Townsville is Airlie Beach and the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands. I haven't been there personally yet so won't comment too much, but from what I hear it's an incredible place and well worth the visit. It's certainly been added to the top of my 'must do' list that's for sure!
Stay on the long road south and the next big stop is Hervey Bay and the ferry to Fraser Island. One of the highlights of a trip to Queensland, Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world at 120km by 15km. The normal procedure for visitors is to either join a tour and accompany several other people with a guide, or hire a 4WD car in Hervey Bay and take yourself onto the island via the River Head ferry 10km or so south of town.
There are several resorts and apartments on the island but they can be expensive and supplies are vastly overpriced. In my opinion the true atmosphere of the place can only be felt when camping on the beach. Take your own food and water (maybe a few beers too) and camp just behind the 'road' in a series of small dunes. Light a campfire, cook a meal and watch the ocean as the sun goes down. All those things you thought were important in life seem to just drift away on the tide and you've time to reflect on what really matters. In the morning get up early and take a walk through the bush to one of the crystal clear freshwater lakes. Watch the fish eagles grab their breakfast, kick back and relax! Wonderful.
As you drive along the beach there are fascinating shipwrecks to explore, dingos to watch and many 4WD tracks leading you off into the rainforest to lakes, or other unusual features such as huge dunes called 'sandblows'. Towards the north of the island, Indian Heads is an area of high cliffs that overlooks the ocean. Swimming on the beach is definitely not recommended and if you walk up onto the top of the cliff you'll see why. Large dark silhouettes in the water are distinctly shark shaped, but the more benign turtles and whales are often seen passing by too.
Leaving Fraser Island and heading south you'll find yourself on the Sunshine Coast, probably in Noosa, from where you can see Fraser island across the ocean. This town is an upmarket tourist location located on the estuary to the Noosa River. Beautiful houses with jetties to the river mix with good quality restaurants and a modern, small town centre. Noosa has some of the best surfing in the area and the estuary is full of wind surfers and kite surfers when the wind suits them. The Noosa National Park has some lovely walks and the river is a magnet for fishermen.
An hour or so inland from Noosa is an area of high ground referred to as the 'hinterland'. It's a mix of pineapple farms, tremendous views to the coast, quaint country towns and rainforest. Captain Cook named the peaks in the area the Glass House Mountains as it reminded him of the Glass factories in his native Yorkshire. The steep, craggy volcanic mounds are up to 300m tall with sheer sides in places. The surrounding area has gradually weathered away leaving these peaks of hard rock sticking up from the otherwise flat plain. There are some superb lookouts as you travel throughout the area and the wooden Queensland style buildings add to the country atmosphere.
An hour or so south of Noosa down a good road is Brisbane. There are several other towns along the Sunshine Coast but I haven't visited them. More for the 'to-do' list!
Brisbane is a cosmopolitan, cultured town set on the banks of the Brisbane River. It has a great street café scene, is a magnet for lovers of theatre and nightlife and a superb shopping centre for those needing some retail therapy. It's now the third largest city in Australia and all its attractions plus fantastic weather pretty much year round make it one of the most desirable places to live in the country. There's loads to do in Brisbane but I prefer the more natural side of Australia and so I'll leave it to you explore the city and investigate its history yourself.
South of Brisbane is the famous Gold Coast with Surfers Paradise and the high rise hotel strip that accompanies it. If I'd visited when I was 21 and unmarried they'd have had to drag me away from the place kicking and screaming. This is definitely one great place to party! For a married, solo traveller it didn't appeal quite so much (even though I still enjoy a good party), so I passed through pretty quickly.
The beach was beautiful, with fine white sand and good surf but the towering hotels, bars, fast food outlets and neon signs of commercialism have spoilt it a bit for me. There must be much more to this part of the coast than I've seen but as I passed through I was struggling for time and had more important things to see.
I could write forever about Queensland and its attractions and there's still so much for me to go back and see. It's a great state and I hope this short explanation offers a brief flavour of the place and piques your interest.