Don't bother with a car if you're island hopping around the reef - most of the islands can be navigated on foot in a matter of minutes. If you're sticking to the mainland and driving into the Outback, a 4x4 is essential. Try Avis (www.avic.com), and make sure you bring GPS or a decent map, plenty of water, and a torch.
Etihad (www.etihadairways.com) fly between Heathrow and Brisbane three times a day and once a day from Manchester. Qantas (www.qantas.com), Jetstar (www.jetstar.com) and Virgin Blue (www.virginblue.com.au) all fly regularly to Cairns from major Australian cities and some Asia-Pacific destinations. A five-minute taxi ride gets you to the runways of Hinterland Aviation (www.hinterlandaviation.com.au), where you can catch flights to Lizard Island, Wrotham Park, Dunk Island, the Whitsundays (Prosperpine), and other hard-to-reach spots.
Country code for Australia: +61; area code for Queensland: 07.
Forget the Tom Hanks film, the book that inspired it, Castaway by British adventurer Lucy Irvine tells of her self-imposed exile on the island of Tuin. For Outback tales, turn to I Once Met a Man, a collection of short stories about bushfolk by Australian clothing magnate RM Williams. Pick up a book of poems by AB (Banjo) Paterson, the famous Australian bush poet and author of 'Waltzing Matilda'.
Do go / Don't Go
Compared to the northern hemisphere, seasons run back to front in Oz, so June to August is the period to aim for to avoid the summertime swelter. November to March is the wet season in the tropics and the bush; out on the islands of the reef, it can be stormy between January and April.
The waters of northern Australia abound in unique seafood snacking opportunities. Colourful coral trout are a staple, menu item, as are barramundi (both freshwater and seawater). Shellfish are also highlights, including the tricky-to-tackle (but worth-the-effort) mud crabs caught in mangrove-planted crab pots, and barbecued Moreton Bay Bugs - an odd and ancient flat-headed lobster-esque creature found only in Queensland. Inland, 'bush tucker' comprises anything faintly edible found wild in the Outback, including kangaroo, emu, crocodile and river fish, as well as evocatively named fruits such as quandong, Davidson's plum, and finger lime, and native spices such as Lemon Myrtle and Wattle Seed are commonly used to flavour dishes.
Outside the larger towns (Cairns, Townsville, Mission Beach), you've more chance of hitching a ride on a kangaroo than finding a cab. In Cairns, book ahead with Black & White Taxis (+61 (0)7 131 008).
Tips aren't expected in Australia; 10 per cent is generally appreciated, however, when service merits.
Australian Dollar (AUS$).
Wide-brimmed hats (corks are for backpackers), big sunglasses, and shoes sturdy enough to survive a walkabout. If you are trekking in the Outback, then stock up on water - the sun can be parching - and avoid wearing white as the crimson bulldust will turn you terracotta in minutes.
Many of the Barrier Reef's islands are of totemic significance in Aboriginal mythology. Lizard Island, for example, is held to be representative of a stingray's body (with the neighboring islets making up the tail), and has been a place of pilgrimage for the Dingal Warra people for millennia. Queensland's coastal cities (Brisbane and Cairns) are rich in museums and art galleries, including Brisbane's Queensland Art Gallery (www.qag.qld.gov.au), which houses a huge array of indigenous and international modern art (+ 61 (0)7 3840 7303).
Fortitude Valley in Brisbane is the city's boutique shopping hub, with one-of-a-kind fashion pieces and quirky couture around ever corner. Ann Street, in particular, makes for rewarding browsing, and Brunswick Street and Wickham Street also have a lot to offer in terms of clothes, Aboriginal art and gifts. The massive Queen Street Shopping Mall is home to 500 outlets, dominated by Myers and David Jones department stores. In Cairns, Rusty's Market has been a favourite shop-stop for locals and tourists alike and is now one of the largest markets in Australia (open Friday to Sunday).
The most impressive spectacle in Queensland is found under the water. The Great Barrier Reef is home to 400 types of coral and 1,500 varieties of fish, offering a kaleidoscope of colourful, once-in-a-lifetime sea-life sights, such as whales, turtles, dugongs and seahorses. Cod Hole, at the north end of Ribbon Reef, is internationally famed for the large, friendly population of enormous potato cod.
Humpback whales flock to the Queensland coast with their newborn calves between June and September. The best places to spot them are around the Fraser Coast as they shelter in Hervey Bay, or around the Gold Coast.
26 January Australia Day is, unsurprisingly, widely and raucously celebrated, with one of the most quintessentially Aussie events being the annual Dunny Races held outside the Sunshine Coast's Ettamogah Pub. Several teams compete to see which can drag a toilet furthest and fastest. March The Feast of the Senses (www.feastofthesenses.com.au) comes to Innisfail in Northern Queensland; the 10-day gastro extravaganza features tropical food markets, cooking demos, fresh seafood stalls - everything a growing foodie needs. July-September The annual humpback whale migration sees the seas aswarm - sightings are almost guaranteed from the Barrier Reef islands or Hervey Bay. October-March When the whales go out, the turtles come in; green and loggerhead turtles visit the waters around Wilson and Heron Islands to mate and nest on the sands.