Fly Downunder to Queensland - The Best Job in the World inspires envy

As these dark recessionary times force us to put in longer hours and juggle increased workloads, I can't be alone in fantasising about throwing it all away to live on a beach somewhere.

Which is why one new television series makes such compelling viewing. The Best Job In The World, airing this month on Nat Geo Adventure, follows the life of one adventurer who got paid A$150,000 (Dh454,065) plus accommodation, to spend six months lounging on an island in the Great Barrier Reef.

"It sounds like a six-month-long holiday, but it wasn't," Ben Southall tells Emirates Business. "It was an adventure, yes, but it was also real work, going out every day and then blogging about it or doing interviews because people were following me online."

The British charity worker famously beat some 35,000 other applicants to win what Tourism Queensland billed "the best job in the world" last year, as caretaker of Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays. The deal was part of one of the most effective marketing stunts in recent times – and once his contract was up, Southall, now 35, was offered another position with the organisation.

As tourism ambassador for the state, he now travels the world talking up its attractions. "It's a lot of media and presentations – to students, to marketing gurus and so on – but I like talking and telling my story," he says.

He was in the UAE recently in this new capacity, interacting with travel agents and consumers at an Emirates Holidays event. "My job is to make people feel just that little bit jealous, to make them envious enough to want to try it themselves," he says.

Andrew Oldfield, GCC Marketing Manager for Tourism Queensland, says nationals and expatriates from the region travelling to Australia number about 68,000, with some 22,000 flying directly into Brisbane, the state capital. He says efforts to package attractions such as the Whistsunday islands with favourites such as Sydney or the Gold Coast are helping push up numbers.

Last week the body launched a new "Reef to Outback" campaign in a bid to attract more international visitors to Central Queensland. It sets out itineraries for visiting the region, including Great Barrier Reef islands such as the Keppel group, Heron and Lady Musgrave islands, as well as Carnarvon Gorge, the Gemfields, Rockhampton and Longreach.

"There are some incredible opportunities to get close to nature," Southall says, firmly in spokesperson mode now. "One thing that'll always stay with me is going diving off Lady Elliot Island and encountering these stunning loggerhead turtles. Turtles in the water normally disappear quickly – you can't get closer than about 10 metres or so. But for some reason, one of these swam right up to me– about a metre away – and I was able to run my hand along its shell. It turned and looked back at me. Then it disappeared.

"My girlfriend was underneath the turtle, looking at it from below while I saw it from above. Between the two of us, looking at each other, we could only mumble our excitement. It was an amazing experience."

So what was the worst bit about the job? Being stung by a jellyfish, as has been reported? "Unfortunately, yes," he laughs. "But I've had so many different adventures, if I was going to have a brush with anything, I'd rather it be a jellyfish than a shark or a croc."

Ten minutes talking to him and he's succeeded. I'm jealous, envious – and can't wait to head Down Under myself.

Five of the best… attractions in queensland

'Best Job' Ben's top list of places in his favourite part of the world:

- The Great Barrier Reef: For the diving and the snorkelling – which he describes as breathtaking.

- Daintree Forest: For its tremendous diversity of bird and plant life and for the chance to learn about the history and culture of the region's indigenous people.

- Lady Elliot Island: Besides the region's best diving, the eco-resort offers a close-up view of how tourism can be sustainable. A highlight is the Noddy terns, particularly in nesting season.

- The Outback: It's the chance to meet some real characters, he says, referring to the state's farming and raising communities. "Very Priscilla!"

- Fraser Island: For its crystal-clear freshwater inland lakes, for the fishing and for the four-wheel driving the 1,840km-island offers.