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Queensland

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From bathing in a rainforest billabong to floating just inches from the Great Barrier Reef. There is surely no place else on earth where two such stunning natural wonders sit side by side.

The Wildlife Habitat (www.wildlifehabitat.com.au), our first stop on a seven-day whirlwind tour which saw us walking through tree tops, snorkelling over coral reefs and cuddling koalas, offers us our first sight of some of the hundreds of varieties of the local flora and fauna.

A 20-minute drive north brought us to our accommodation for the evening, the luxurious Silky Oaks eco-lodge (www.silkyoakslodge.com.au) on the Mossman River.

Tucked away in the Daintree Rainforest, the individual cabins offer peace and tranquility with hammocks on the verandahs providing the perfect vantage point to look out across the river.

And this is where I find myself basking in a billabong (a backwater) in the middle of the Daintree rainforest, relaxing as the sun goes down over the wilderness.

Far from the bustling and lively city of Brisbane, the state capital, the Daintree and its wildlife has an altogether more relaxed way of life.

Owner Paul Van Min advises me to switch off the air-conditioning, close the fly blinds and open the windows, then fall asleep to the noises of the rainforest - only waking when the bush turkeys start up their morning call.

I may have been staying in the middle of a rainforest, with no sight or sound of any neighbours, but the service and food was second to none.

The highlight was the lodge’s Tree House restaurant, an ideal spot to watch the world go by as you relax high among the branches with a cool breeze coming off the river.

A cruise along the Daintree River the following morning showed just how close to nature we were, as our guide pointed out baby crocodiles that looked like branches and snakes that I first mistook for twigs.

Ahead of our boat, the reflections of the trees all around us paved our way along the river to where our guide was waiting by the Daintree River Ferry to take us on the sealed road to Cape Tribulation.Named by British explorer Captain James Cook 240 years ago, “because here began all our troubles”, the golden sand beaches and crystal-clear waters look so enticing as the mercury rises.

But our guide Jason’s tales of the dangers that lie just beneath the surface, including potentially deadly jellyfish and estuarine crocodiles, were enough to convince me not to jump in.

Then we were off to enjoy a simply spectacular experience out on the turquoise waters of the Great Barrier Reef.

Moving swiftly from one world heritage site to another, the Calypso catamaran takes us 50km out from Port Douglas to the Low Isles and Opal Reef for a day’s snorkelling. It’s a day designed for all the family but, not being the most confident of swimmers, I was unsure of exactly what I’d be able to see and how comfortable I’d feel in the water. But, equipped with a fetching protective suit to keep the jellyfish at bay, my doubts were soon dispelled as the waters came to life before my eyes.

Floating just a few feet above the reef, I was greeted by a wrasse fish - named Marvin by our guides - which came up to say hello before darting off beneath our boat. Clownfish, parrot fish and barracuda all followed, along with several others among the coral.

From the depths of the ocean, our journey took us to Palm Cove and a trip on the Skyrail (www.skyrail.com.au), the world’s longest gondola cable ride, to the quaint village of Kuranda, complete with its craft shops and butterfly sanctuary.

Spanning 7.5km, the ride high above the tree tops offers magnificent views of the forest as far as the eye can see, and the end of the rainbow marksthe cascading Barron Falls.

The return trip on the scenic historic railway (www.ksr.com.au), which snakes its way down through the tunnels and gorges of the Macalister Range, offers a chance to see the falls in full flow as, fuelled by the wet season, the water navigates the 260m drop from the Atherton Tablelands to the Cairns coastal plain.

From Cairns, we head south to Australia Zoo, the home of the late great crocodile hunter Steve Irwin. The hands-on approach of the conservationist and TV wildlife expert, who was fatally pierced in the chest by a stingray barb while filming in the Great Barrier Reef, lives on at the zoo where we cuddle koalas, feed kangaroos and watch as the tigers get to grips with their handlers. Our hands-on tour continued the following day as we paired up for a guided kayak tour of Noosa River.

After stopping for a mid-morning picnic, we head back past the expensive properties that line the river bank for a lunch of fish and chips in the marina before heading back to city life and the flight home.

Queensland shines with its diverse treasures just waiting to be discovered, it’s well worth a visit.

TRAVEL FACTS:
Travelbag currently offers a seven-night holiday in Queensland from £1,289, incl return Emirates flights ex-Gatwick into Brisbane and room-only accommodation in three and four-star hotels. Prices in May/June rise by around £150. Same package ex-Glasgow and Manchester leads in at £1,329.

TRAVELBAG RESERVATIONS:
0871 703 4240
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