TRAVEL: Queensland's top 8 must-see destinations
FED up with the "no vacancy" signs that popped up around Queensland this summer? Then you need to read this list.
We've scoured the state, looked under and around the tourism giants and found eight simmering holiday hotspots that we think will trend right through 2017.
MARY VALLEY: A NEW SPOT FOR A SEMI-CENTENNIAL
Hip. Hip. Hooray. The Sunshine Coast turns 50 this year and the birthday surprises are rolling in. Move aside Montville and Maleny, Mary Valley - a hill or two (or three) north and 35 minutes west of Noosa - is quietly inching up our hot list. The valley is home to a handful of tiny towns with fancy names like Imbil and Amamoor, a towering Hoop Pine State Forest with trees that cast a fairy tale quality over bush walkers below, a river made for platypus spotting and a sprinkling of country quaint B&Bs. Brew is in the heart of this region and we recommend The Blue & White Teapot at Amamoor for a cup of leaf tea in their magical garden or nip east to Pomona's Bonsai Brewhouse and taste craft beer made out the back of the town's original bakery.
TOOWOOMBA, TAPPED BY THE WAGNER WAND
Toowoomba has a fairy Godmother and her name is Wagner. In one masterful wave of the Wagner wand (the Wagner family is the force behind the Brisbane West Wellcamp Airport), Australia's second largest regional city has stirred from its rural rest into a hip haunt dotted with funky eateries, a shiny new shopping centre and a new hot spot for Sydney visitors. Yes, there's still heritage homes spilling on to graceful streets but now you can get a bustling food scene combined with Melbourne style laneways (complete with Melbourne style graffiti). Check out the Walton Stores precinct, head to Full of Life Organics for the best chai latte in Southern Queensland Country or meander around more than 55 street art murals.
PALM BEACH: A NEW GAME FAVOURITE
South of the revamped Pacific Fair and the rejuvenated Burleigh Beach lies Palm Beach, a seven-kilometre long suburb and of the newest coastal foodie precincts. Three new outlets have joined the already popular Jimmy Hendrix-inspired Hendrixx Espresso and American barbecue-style eatery, Lester and Earl.
Experience The Collective, a 300-seat co-operative dining space with five restaurants, made up of Mexican, Italian, American, Asian and modern Australian cuisines, and two grand bar areas. A post office transformed, The Collective's rustic décor and rooftop bar take on a city-slicker appearance, underpinned by a laid-back beachside ambiance. Meanwhile Balboa Italian has a modern influence menu to mirror its industrial glam interior. Think exposed brick paired with grand chandeliers, a glass charcuterie cabinet, a wood-fired pizza oven and aromas that demand salivation. The restaurant seats 120 diners over two-stories and brags dough balls smeared in Nutella. More Grand Designs-worthy décor can be seen at 8th Ave Terrace where beach views come with alfresco dining.
LONG ON ISLAND, SHORT ON MONEY
Glamping is so old fashioned now that Palm Bay Resort on Long Island in the Whitsundays has introduced a save and splurge getaway that we think travellers will take to like the proverbial duck. Gone are the table d'hote restaurants, wi-fi connection and the 24/7 service once associated with the original branded property; in its place is a communal kitchen and a do-it-yourself attitude. Guests need to bring their own food (pre-order with Whitsundays Provisioning) and cook their own meals. Thankfully, there is a licensed bar at the resort, so the main holiday staples are taken care of.
Those not into self-service vacays, should check out the Heart Hotel & Gallery in the heart of Airlie Beach. Built in a Queenslander- style with high-pitched roofs, spacious verandas, and timber cladding, this five-star hotel has butler service to rooms. Opening rates from $200-$325 per night.
Mission has always been on the cusp of the next best thing, but a couple of climactic setbacks snookered this town back into the shadows. No longer. Aside from the classic travel staples like the nearby Paronella Park, Tully River Rafting, and Ingan Tours, local girl Nancy Lowe has launched a new dive tour on the 60-foot Sea Goddess (formerly a Hayman Island luxury transfer vessel) to the Outer Great Barrier Reef and Beaver Cay and Eddie Reef. Here you can see the reef in its natural state: no pontoon, no semi-sub, no roped-off areas and at one site, a bommie as big as a boat.
THE REAL POT OF GOLD
Rainbow Beach. It's the seaside town that time forgot. With a population that barely scrapes 1100, this ridiculously cute beach village is a hot spot for those yearning for a holiday of yesteryear. Hire a whole beach house or stay in the very stylish beachfront Plantation Resort or Oceans Palm Resort. Just make sure you save time for sand tobogganing the dunes of the Carlo Sandblow, 4WD along the sandy highway and a spot of skydiving.
THERE'S MORE TO MORETON
There's so much more to Moreton Island than feeding dolphins and exploring wrecks. Take a Bear Grylls-style adventure to this untouched paradise, where 48 hours of beachfront accommodation is cheaper than your weekly caffeine addiction. A short 75-minute ferry ride from Brisbane's doorstep, here you can unpack your campsite a stone's throw from the white silica sand and blue ombre water, and BYO footy, snorkel kit, fishing rod and cricket set. Set aside time for a sunset from the sand dunes. The journey up is tough - but still less heart pumping - than the seven second sand surf back down. If epic 4WD quests are your kind of thing, take the path less travelled and follow 420km of sealed island track.
WINE NOT HEAD FOR THE HILLS
It's the coldest Queensland town in winter, but Stanthorpe is a mecca for local-grown produce. From cherries to apples and olives, this quaint town of 4200 is a picnic lover's dream. First stop: Stanthorpe Cheese, the highest dairy farm above sea level in Queensland at 925 metres, where each one of their artisan cheeses are produced by one herd of pure-bred Jersey cows. Stock up on fresh fruit, like your own hand-picked apples from Sutton's Farm, before gathering remaining essentials at Sam's Fruit Shop.
Australia's highest wine region is the Granite Belt, where six five-star wineries (as awarded by expert James Halliday) provide the finest drops in Queensland. The next steps go as follows: taste the range, buy a bottle (or three) and park yourself amongst the vines for a hillside picnic.