Most of the state's great attractions are up along the coast: the huge Daintree Rainforest, the Outback oases of the Atherton Tablelands and the kaleidoscopic colors of the Great Barrier Reef. Palm Cove and Port Douglas make excellent bases, with small-boat cruises exploring the reef, or you can head into the mountains that hug the coastline. There are also luxury resorts on a few Great Barrier Reef islands and character accommodation in the heart of the rainforest. It's worth taking time to explore the Outback, with a few nights on a station giving a flavor of this pioneer world.
The area abounds with wildlife, including dugong and green turtles, varieties of dolphins and whales, more than 1500 species of fish, 4000 types of mollusc and more than 200 species of birdlife. The Great Barrier Reef system consists of more than 3000 reefs which range in size from 1 hectare to over 10,000 hectares in area. The reef is scattered with beautiful islands and idyllic coral cays and covers more than 300,000 square kilometres.
The corals which make up the various reefs and cays, and which are the base for this variety of sea and animal life, consist of individual coral polyps - tiny live creatures which join together to form colonies. Each polyp is a tiny jelly-like blob crowned by tentacles, and looks not unlike an anemone, but much smaller. Each polyp lives inside a shell of aragonite, a type of calcium carbonate which is the hard shell we recognise as coral. The polyps join together to create forests of coloured coral in interesting fan, antler, brain and plate shapes.
There are many different types of coral, some are slow growing and live to be hundreds of years old, others are faster growing. The colours of coral are created by algae. Only live coral is coloured. Dead coral is white. The ideal environment for coral is shallow warm water where there is a lot of water movement, plenty of light, where the water is salty and low in nutrients. Reefs are sensitive to climate change, to changes in patterns of water movement, and to physical damage - so problems like global warming, El Nino, the building of moorings or breakwaters, any additional nutrients running off land from human habitation, may well have a negative effect on the reef system, and thus on the sea and land animals which depend upon it for survival.
North of Cairns in tropical far North Queensland, the Daintree
is one of the most diverse and beautiful examples of Mother Nature
in the world. It is home to the largest range of plants and animals
on earth, and all are found within the largest chunk of rainforest
in Australia - an area spanning approximately 1200 square
The Daintree Rainforest's addition to the World Heritage List in
1988 in recognition of its universal natural values highlighted the
rainforest as being: