The state of Queensland is vast. There's no two ways about it. It takes something ridiculous like 20 hours to drive from Brisbane or the Gold Coast at the southern end up to Cairns, which is still another 24 hours from Jardine River up top. Even flying takes more than two hours.
Fortunately, however, when visiting Brisbane for the World Cup, big needn't mean unmanageable. Here are three trips - all a manageable distance from the state capital. The World Cup games at the Gabba have been socially spaced four days apart, so hire a car (or hop on a bus) and spend a night or two in these spots. Soak up the sun and revel in the opportunity to enjoy the sea air, sea breeze and seafood.
First, we're heading 130km north of Brisbane, to Noosa. This is where Aussies holiday: well-to-do Brisbanians have houses and many cruise up on the weekend all year round. The name Noosa comes from the Aboriginal word noothera, meaning shadow, and until the 1980s there weren't too many folk casting shadows alongside the grand conifers that surround the town and give it its name. Before then, it was a quiet hangout for surfers, hippies and a handful of locals, and was reachable only by dirt track. How times have changed.
Now Noosa is a smart, sprawling holiday destination of expensive restaurants and cute boutiques. Hastings Street, which runs parallel to the water between the natural glories of Noosa National Park (more of which later) and Noosa Spit Recreation Reserve is the centre and symbol of the town's redevelopment - a flash, low-rise, palm-lined boardwalk of a street that you need to ready your credit card for. Stunning luxury apartments are rife; some of the grub - particularly the shell-fish: Moreton Bay bugs and oysters (try Sails Restaurant) - is second to none; and the people all seem smart, well-coiffed, friendly and active. A wander through town receives a veritable volley of "g'days".
The answer to why this transformation has happened lies in Noosa's natural resources. The town that has emerged is essentially a meeting of three or four smaller neighbourhoods with lovely creeks and little lakes emerging all over the place. The National Park is stunning; beaten paths running through thick woodland with the sea coming into view, the sound of rosellas singing overhead and the sight of koalas slacking in gum trees. The ocean is perfectly blue, whether viewed from on high on the Park's rocks or up close from one of the dreamy, creamy beaches, many of which have handy surf too. If you're lucky you'll catch a glimpse of a whale or a turtle, and there are enough dolphins to go round. Even the drive up from Brisbane, especially if you take the short detour through the Glass House Mountains, is utterly glorious. On arrival, Noosa Flashpackers is an excellent budget accommodation option, while Alaya Verde is a rather more expensive choice but an extremely comfortable stay. Bistro C was the best coffee I sipped, and I had an excellent breakfast too, and Season has a beautiful beach view. For dinner, grab fish and chips and eat on the beach.
Noosa's development is tasteful and classy, big on beauty, short of the gauche high-rises of Gold Coast and Surfer's Paradise, and not entrenched on the East Coast backpacker route. As a result, it's no party town - the best way to enjoy it is with early mornings and early nights, sundowners, swimming and seafood, slowing down and settling in. Noosa is little known outside of Australia and part of its curious glory unquestionably comes in its reputation as a little mature, bookish and quiet. Noosa may have been reborn but it has certainly not been ruined.
The other two locations on this list are about flexibility, about setting your own agenda and indulging in a little "you time". But a trip to Fraser Island is done best on a tour, where you're looked after. You can do such a tour in high-end splendour or on a budget as a backpacker, for just a single night or as long as you like. There are eco-friendly resorts, campsites, self-contained villas, hotels and specific tour accommodation. For the best backpacker packages try Cool Dingo, where you'll zoom around the island in a 4x4 and stay in cute lodges. If you're looking for high-end luxury, Kingfisher Bay Eco Resort & Village is the island's most luxurious place to stay.
Fraser can be accessed via boat from Hervey Bay (ferry 30 mins) or, more conveniently from Brisbane, beautiful Rainbow Beach (ferry 10 mins), which is about two hours north of Brisbane. You can take your own car to Fraser, but it'll need to be sturdy enough to deal with rough terrain.
Fraser's a place that is different in many other senses, too. It's unique, in that it's the world's largest sand island and one of only four World Heritage sites in Australia, alongside Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef and Kakudu. The island is ringed by white beaches (including the famous 75-mile one that runs the length of the east side), is full of thick woodland, and dotted with over 100 freshwater lakes. The wildlife is varied, with 354 species of birds (including 18 birds of prey), snakes and dingoes (the only pedigree ones left) on land, and turtles, whales, dugongs, stingrays and sharks in the waters around.
The island's Bushwalks are well-marked and varied and take you through lush rainforest and past all sorts of flora and fauna, tall trees and wide trunks. Keep your eye out for that wildlife, though. The beaches are spectacular, but due to the presence of those sharks, it's not advisable to swim, so head to the lakes, which are of varying size and depth and are always nice and warm (and safe). You can also swim at stunning Champagne Pools, drive up and down beach and check out the spectacular shipwreck. The views out onto the ocean and its wildlife from Indian Heads are second only to one: the vantage point you get from a plane. A 15-minute flight is not the price you'd expect ($75) and offers spectacular views of the island's lakes and the ocean's wildlife from above.
Finally we're headed south and across the New South Wales border to Byron Bay. It's known as surfing's promised land and the easternmost point of Australia and for the beautiful lighthouse that marks the headland at that point. It's a place that people go to rest and to heal, to chill out and wind down. It's known for its strong links to hippie culture - dreadlocks, VW campers, tie-dye, and perhaps even a whiff of marijuana.
In 2015, Byron Bay has all of those things. The surf is great and the sun and sand are wonderful too. The locals will tell you the best beaches to catch the surf are the Wreck, the Pass and Belongil Beach, while Wategoes is a great place to paddleboard. The lighthouse and the walk up to it are beautiful, and the views afforded at the top out onto the vast expanse of the Pacific are as special as any in Australia. Again, dolphin and whale sightings are two-a-penny when the season fits.
The hippies are in town, sitting out back of their campers, their wind chimes ringing away, sipping beer and braiding their hair. And the place is crawling with backpackers. All of the above and its reputation for the easy life and wild social scene make Byron Bay arguably the crucial stop on the East Coast pilgrimage from Cairns to Sydney (or the other way).
But there's much more besides. Byron has undergone a peculiar rural gentrification. It still feels a tiny town, but it's jam-packed; there are heaps of hostels and campers but amazing apartments and high-end hotels and B&Bs too; fine dining and a typically trendy coffee scene have landed. The people are a mix of cashed-up retirees, pure hippies, holidaying city types and travellers from all over the world. The charm, thankfully, hasn't been lost.
For brunch, Byron's favourite meal, I headed to the brilliant Bay Leaf Caf , an open, wedge-shaped place with excellent, fresh food and good coffee, and Dip and its huge servings. The Coffee Doc and The Roadhouse are good for caffeine-filled pit-stops. In the evening, One One One provides a caf feel and restaurant-quality food, which is just right in Byron. Try Byron Bay Brewing Company for a little alcohol education, top beer and a relaxed bar.
Explore, too. The beautiful beaches aren't just in the town, so head up and down the coast. Further inland has some fantastical landscape - a world of parched green dales, rainforest and waterfalls. Many of the backpackers will head to the commune-style town of Nimbin in a multi-coloured van to smoke pot, play hippie and Instagram it all at the end. Skip Nimbin - hop on a public bus and try Bangalow instead. There's a wonderful monthly market in this classic, sloped, 19th century one-street township. It's all verandahs, diddy shops and quaint eateries: a great place to just watch the world go by ever so slowly, to dine al fresco and to bury your head in a book.