A local insider’s guide to Queensland, Australia
In-the-know locals share their favourite al fresco restaurants, urban pitstops and hidden beaches across this sunny, laid-back state
With 260 days of sunshine, Queensland has always been a sought-after holiday destination thanks to its sparkling coastline. But scratch the surface and you’ll also uncover verdant tropical rainforests teeming with wildlife, an expansive scenic outback and remote, rugged mountains.
Thanks to this rich and diverse landscape which yields an abundance of fresh produce, cutting-edge micro-producers, world-famous chefs and innovative locals have redefined the food and drink scene of the state over the last few years, making it one of Australia’s hottest culinary destinations.
What better way to indulge in this flourishing food scene than by teaming it with the stunning surrounds. Think al fresco terraces, waterside restaurants and rooftop bars, sitting side by side with Queensland’s easy-going locals.
In fact, these guys know some of the best places to soak up the scenery and where to dine in style, which is why we’ve asked a few for their insider foodie travel tips.
Read on to discover some of the best spots along Queensland’s stunning coastline and tropical inland. Or, if you’re after itineraries tailored more to your taste, check out four foodie trips in Queensland here.
Café culture in a sun-soaked city – Brisbane
This lively city boasts a bit of everything for a foodie stay – rooftop bars with sweeping views, intimate restaurants hidden down quirky laneways and a lively coffee scene with a unique character. Cycle through the city on a coffee-shop crawl in Brisbane’s West End area. Order a double-filtered cold brew from Who Shot The Barista’s yellow hatch and take in the colourful mural displayed on the charming, heritage-listed building. Cycle via Streets Beach to the kiosk café on Goodwill Bridge, where you can sip on a flat white and soak up views of the river and South Bank.
Local tip: Lee-Anne Harris of Walk Brisbane knows where to find hidden gems and hole-in-the-wall haunts in Queensland’s cool capital city, having led walking tours in Brisbane for more than five years.
“My family and I came to Queensland for a two-year stint back in 1994 and 26 years later we’re still here! Queensland is such a diverse state – I enjoy its beautiful beaches, dramatic outback landscapes, and tropical rainforests, but I'm a city girl at heart. I live right in the middle of Brisbane and the city centre is my backyard! My go-to coffee spot is Bean Café which is tucked away in a laneway and just a short walk to the inner-city riverside oasis of the City Botanic Gardens.
Laid-back al fresco dining – Gold Coast
The Gold Coast, south of Brisbane, boasts some of the world’s best beaches as well as an eclectic dining scene. Start with coffee on the terrace at pretty Elk Espresso in Broadbeach. Chilled-out, al fresco dining is what Queensland is all about, so walk along the shore until you reach Peter’s Fish Market on Main Beach – one of the best places for fish and chips on the coast. Once you’ve got your grub head to Broadwater to tuck in with water views. In the afternoon, grab a surf lesson in Surfers Paradise before heading to Chinatown for dinner – try Thai at Sen Lek Thai Cafe, Vietnamese at Pho 333 or authentic northern Chinese Uighur cuisine at Xin Jiang.
Local tip: Sammi (Samantha Jekyll) grew up on the Gold Coast in her parents’ surf school, Get Wet Surf School, and has been leading surf lessons since she was 16.
“The best part about growing up on the Gold Coast is the diversity; I can be hiking in the hinterland with waterfalls in the morning and walking my dog on the beach in the afternoon. My favourite laid-back place to eat is the local Seaway café at the Spit. After a surf, I love to grab a mouth-watering burger or local fish taco and sit by the Gold Coast Seaway watching boats go by and spotting turtles and dolphins in the waves.”
Fine flavours and fresh local produce – Sunshine Coast
From microbreweries and coffee roasters to some of the state’s best fine-dining restaurants, the Sunshine Coast is a booming culinary mecca.
For delicious cocktails and inventive Asian sharing plates, visit Sum Yung Guys, led by MasterChef alum, Matt Sinclair. For a traditional dining experience, head to the rainforest to Harry’s on Burderim. Housed in a 139-year-old homestead, the ever-changing seasonal menu champions local produce. Or try Spicers Tamarind in the hinterland for an award-winning menu that showcases contemporary Australian cuisine with an Asian twist.
Local tip: Josh Donohoe is owner of behind-the-scenes Creative Tours on the Sunshine Coast, taking visitors to meet the makers and hear their stories.
“I relocated to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast from Sydney, drawn to the region’s amazing climate, relaxed lifestyle and diverse range of local produce. For the best fruit and veg, go direct to the source and visit the farms in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland.”
Shellfish and whale watching – Fraser Coast
Declared the world’s first Whale Heritage site last year, Hervey Bay is the best base for spotting humpback whales. From there, hop over to Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island. Trek through the rainforests to Indian Head for panoramic views, swim in rainwater lakes and drive the length of sand highway 75 Mile Beach. After a day exploring, reward yourself with Australian cuisine at Kingfisher Bay Resort. Try the tasting menu at Seabelle Restaurant (the Hervey Bay scallops are a must), cocktails in the Sunset Bar or a bush tucker experience, sampling and cooking native berries, leaves and nuts as well as crocodile and emu.
Local tip: Fraser Island local John Peaker runs Hervey Bay Whale Watch with his family. It is the only whale watching tour that travels via Kingfisher Bay Resort on Fraser Island.
“Fraser Island is a beautiful place to explore, full of rainforests, eucalyptus woodland, sand dunes and coastal heaths. Kingfisher Bay Resort’s Sand Bar bistro and its striking bush location is a must, with spacious decks giving views of the Great Sandy Strait and Aussie-style poolside dining on offer.”
Private island dining – Wilson Island
Wilson Island is both part of the Great Barrier Reef and surrounded by it. The pristine azure blue waters host a variety of marine life – in fact some of the best snorkelling on the Reef is right off the beach. Book one of only nine secluded luxurious safari tents and begin every evening with sunset drinks and canapés on the beach and a dinner party at the Longhouse restaurant. The resort is committed to Australian produce, and every ingredient and spirit comes from the country, with the exception of champagne.
Local tip: Wilson Island’s Chef Andrew Sheridan is originally from South Australia. In 2019, he decided to move north with his wife Bec and they now spend their days in paradise, with Andrew cooking for guests and Bec hosting.
“I love the weather, pristine beaches and amazing seafood you find in Queensland. Catch an incredible sunset on the north beach with champagne and oysters in hand watching the turtles swim by. It doesn’t get much better than that!”
Secluded picnics on white silica sands – The Whitsundays
Hop between this spectacular collection of 74 islands on the Great Barrier Reef. Guests of Hamilton Island can fly out to Heart Island, a new pontoon located near the world-famous Heart Reef for a closer look at the stunning part of the world. Stop off at Whitehaven Beach for a tropical picnic of fresh mangos, melons and barramundi before returning back for a luxurious stay at qualia resort. While in the region, immerse yourself in the region’s heritage with an Ngaro Indigenous Cultural Tour. Learn about the history of these sea-faring people, their customs and how they hunted and sourced their food.
Local tip: Mark Jensen is executive chef at qualia resort on Hamilton Island.
“My favourite spot on the Great Barrier Reef would have to be Heart Island. Exclusive to guests of Hamilton Island, Heart Island looks like it was constructed for James Bond himself and allows for a maximum of six guests. After a day exploring the Reef, I recommend an evening at Pebble Beach restaurant. The food is outstanding, with a menu inspired by the bounty of the surrounding Whitsunday Islands.”
Gin and cheese tasting in Far North Queensland – Atherton Tablelands
Only a 1.5 hour drive from Cairns, the Atherton Tablelands in Far North Queensland boasts incredible foodie experiences set amongst lush rainforest. Stay at The Falls Teahouse B&B, which is only a short walk to the picturesque Millaa Millaa Falls. For lunch, stop at Mungalli Creek Dairy for the signature cheese platter, drinking in the surrounding rolling hills. After lunch, head to Mt Uncle Distillery for a memorable gin tasting on a beautiful estate. Finish your day by visiting the Smokehouse Café to try freshly smoked barramundi and chicken with lemon myrtle while watching platypus play at sundown.
Local tip: Mt Uncle’s premium distillery is making waves with its flagship Botanic Australis Gin and Iridium Gold Rum, which won World’s Best Pot Still Rum at the 2019 World Rum Awards. Bartender and orders manager Julia Parsons loves the sense of local community.
“When on the Atherton Tablelands, we think the best spot for a sanga (Aussie for sandwich) has to be the Tolga Pub. 10 minutes up the road from Mt Uncle Distillery, it’s a classic Queensland heritage pub. Good food, cold beer and a perfect spot to kick back for an afternoon.”
Foraging in the Tropical North – Daintree Rainforest
Join aboriginal Juan Walker on one of his Indigenous Walkabout Cultural Adventures. Explore Kuku Yalanji country in the only place in the world where two world heritage sites meet – the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. When in the Daintree region, make sure you also check out the area’s self-guided Daintree Food Trail while you’re there.
Local tip: Juan Walker, a Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal man from the Mossman -Daintree area of North Queensland, operates Walkabout Cultural Adventures.
“I feel like we are lucky here in Kuku Yalanji country with so many great locations. I personally prefer to sit beside a freshwater stream in the Daintree rainforest to enjoy nature. It’s quiet and I can watch the wind through trees and the native fauna along the banks… or choose to jump in, take a swim. This is all part of the unique experience I provide to guests on my day tours."
Whatever your taste, Queensland has something for everyone. For more information on a delectable foodie getaway served with a side of adventure, a healthy dose of nature and rich culture, visit queensland.com.
Main header image: seaside lunch at Rick Shores, Gold Coast. Images courtesy of Tourism and Events Queensland