In whichever direction you decide to travel, start in Townsville, home to the famous Strand – a 2.5km stretch of inner-city beach and playgrounds – and museums which pay homage to the Great Barrier Reef. Once you’ve experienced the reef for real, head to Townsville’s Reef HQ Aquarium touted as the world’s largest coral reef aquarium which is also home to a Turtle Hospital. At the Museum of Tropical Queensland, right next door, you can learn the story of the HMS Pandora which sank on the Great Barrier Reef.
For those heading west, stop in Ravenswood to view restored buildings and mining remnants such as old shafts and chimney stacks, before you complete the 136km drive along the Flinders Highways to Charters Towers. This Outback town is firmly etched in Queensland’s history books, as it was the state’s second largest during the gold rush days of the late 1800s. Once upon a time, it boasted a stock exchange, 65 hotels and 29 crushing mills and you can learn all about its prosperity in the preserved civic centre, known as One Square Mile.
A highlight of a visit to Charters Towers is the Ghosts of Gold Heritage Tour which describes the discovery of gold at the foot of Towers Hill; the grandeur of One Square Mile; greed at the Stock Exchange Arcade; and the ghosts hard at work at Venus Battery, Queensland’s oldest surviving battery.
Queensland’s last bushranger was also laid to rest at the Charters Towers Cemetery as was Jupiter Mossman, the Aboriginal boy who helped discover the town’s gold.
For those who wish to head north of Townsville instead, drive 110km to Ingham which is considered in the heart of the tropics and best known for its rich Italian community. West of Ingham, discover Australia’s highest sheer drop waterfall, Wallaman Falls, at 305 metres.
Just south of Ingham township visit the Tyto Wetlands Information Centre and learn about the burgeoning birdlife and region’s natural attractions. Bird lovers adore the wetlands which are home to more than 230 different species including the Eastern Grass Owl. You’ll also find hundreds of Agile Wallabies grazing here in the early morning and late afternoon.
Along this route north of Townsville there’s no less than six recreational National Parks, state forests and islands. And situated halfway between Townsville and Cairns you’ll find Cardwell, which was settled in 1864 and is the only town in the world where two World Heritage-listed areas adjoin. This tiny town boasts a state-of-the-art marina and public boat ramp making it a coveted fishing and boating destination and the perfect launch pad from which to visit Australia’s largest island National Park, Hinchinbrook Island. Hinchinbrook is one of the superstars of the Queensland tourism story, renowned for its cloud-covered mountains, rainforest and eucalypt forest, mangrove-lined channel, bays, beaches and rocky headlands.
Read on to learn about how to choose the best flights to explore the Great Barrier Reef on a helicopter scenic flight.
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