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For years, the village of Mission Beach was a well-kept secret. Farmers retired here; then those who liked to chill out discovered it; today, it's a small, prosperous (and growing) rainforest town that hasn't lost its simple charm. The beach is one of the most beautiful in Australia, a long white strip fringed with dense tangled vine forests, the only surviving lowlands rainforest in the Australian tropics. It is also one of the least crowded and least spoiled. In January 2011, Mission Beach was directly in the path of Cyclone Yasi, and much of the town was flattened. But in typical Queensland fashion, Mission Beach bounced back and is once again welcoming visitors.

The nearby Tully River is white-water-rafting heaven for thrill-seekers. You can also bungee jump and tandem sky dive when you're not rushing down the rapids, flanked by lush rainforest.

From Mission Beach, it's a short ferry ride to Dunk Island, a large resort island that welcomes day-trippers. You can even sea kayak here from the mainland. Mission Beach is closer to the Great Barrier Reef than any other point along the coast -- just an hour -- and cruise boats depart daily from the jetty, stopping en route at Dunk Island.

A few hours' drive south brings you to the city of Townsville, a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and to laid-back Magnetic Island.