WanderLuxe

Posted in Beach holidays,  AUSTRALIA,  airlie beach australian holidays whitehaven Whitsundays 

There is something incredibly unique about the water in the Whitsundays. It’s the kind of vivid turquoise you see when dreaming about tropical holidays accompanied by baby powder white sand and colourful beach umbrellas.

It’s a distinctive shade of blue that I’ve never seen replicated in any other tropical location around the world. It’s the kind of blue that gleefully shouts, “Hey! I’m paradise! Want in?”, and on my most recent trip to Northern Queensland’s jewel island archipelago, I discovered that this turquoise follows you everywhere you go. It’s not just at Whitehaven Beach, and it’s not just outside your window at Hamilton Island’s dreamy Qualia Resort, in the Whitsundays it’s absolutely everywhere.

You’ll find it at Airlie Beach, the ‘Gateway to the Whitsundays’, you’ll find it in regional coastal town, Bowen, too, and it’s enough to lure in any beach-combing holiday maker like honey to the bee.

So here’s the good news.

Jetstar Australia recently launched direct flights form Sydney to Whitsundays coast (Proserpine) three times a week, and the even better part is that flights start as low as $95 one way. This is welcome news to any traveller with champagne taste on a beer budget, because we all know that less of the holiday budget spent on flights = more to spend at your holiday destination. It’s win-win!

But I should probably address the elephant in the room before I explain why I love the Whitsundays so damn much and have now visited this part of Australia three times.

Many of you would have heard about the devastating tropical cyclone Debbie that hit the region in April, but visiting in early June I was utterly surprised at how little damage is now evident in the region. The whole area has made a speedy recovery and is well and truly open for business. Clearly, it takes more than Debbie Downer to stop Whitsundays locals from celebrating their stunning region, so if you haven’t already, now is the perfect time to pack your bags for Queensland’s sunny shores (yes, it’s even sunny and warm in June – that’s winter for all you northern hemisphere folk!).

Read on fora comprehensive guide on where to go, what to do, and what not to miss in the Whitsundays. You can thank me later by booking your own trip to this spectacular part of Australia!

Whitehaven Beach: Exactly as you Imagined It

Whitehaven Beach pretty much makes every Best Beaches in the World list, year in, year out, and as a two-time visitor to this 7km stretch of sandy heaven, I can tell you it is everything you hoped it would be, and more. To be honest, the photos below don’t even come close to doing it justice…

There are three things in particular – apart from the obvious crystal clear water and 7,000 metres of of beach – that make Whitehaven so special: Its powedery, squeaky, silica sand, its status as a national park, and the fact that it is on an island (Whitsunday Island). Therefore: You can’t drive there, and therefore: It’s never crowded – YAY – because aren’t crowds of tourists just the worst?!* **

* I do not live in Whitsundays and am therefore a tourist

** This hasn’t stopped me from complaining about tourists so far…

Whitehaven’s location in the Whitsundays Island National Park (which includes 32 islands in total) means it is as beautiful now as it was the day it was formed – completely untouched, and never swarming with crowds (see above*), like many of the world’s famous beaches are (Phi Phi, anyone? Thanks for ruining it for all of us, Dicaprio!).

Cyclone Debbie did unfortunately give all of the trees at Whitehaven an absolute thrashing though, and consequently when I was there two months later the trees were still stripped of their lovely green leaves. But despite this, Whitehaven is still pretty much the closest thing you’ll ever find to a beach utopia. The island was already in self-healing mode, with greenery starting to sprout again, when I was there in June.

So how do you get there?

Most people get to Whitehaven by boat from Airlie Beach – however what type of boating experience that is is entirely up to you. You can go full luxury or go for a more adventurous option like Red Cat Adventures – be prepared for a youthful crowd and some splashback (although the custom-made boat means anyone prone to sea sickness is unlikely to get afflicted on this tour).

For me, though, nothing beats arriving at Whitehaven by helicopter. I mean seriously…

Mr T and I booked this momentous transit through Qualia Resort when we were staying there, and we opted for a 2-hour package that left the Qualia helipad at 8am. That was the only time we could get and we had initially hoped for a later flight, but when we arrived and saw we had the entire beach to ourselves, (again, see note above about crowds*) it couldn’t have been more perfect.

After picking our jaws up off the unique silica sand, we devoured the packed picnic breakfast arranged through Qualia and just enjoyed the view. It was pure magic and remains one of my most cherished memories from all of my adventures around the world.

Hamilton Island (and Hayman Island)

The crème de la crème of the Whitsundays, Hamilton and Hayman islands are home to a handful of world-class resorts and some of the best views you’re likely to see while in the Whitsundays.

Hamilton Island is home to globally recognised multi award-winning resort, Qualia. Hayman is a private island, with just the one exclusive resort, previously in the One & Only porfolio, but since Cyclone Debbie remains closed until 2018, when it will reopen under a different brand.

One of the fun perks of Hamilton Island is travelling everywhere by buggy, because cars are not allowed on the island. This is a fabulous ploy to get visitors into holiday mode and their minds out of the office as they buggy around in a little bubble of paradise. Quickly, cars and traffic lights become nothing but a memory.

Hamilton Island is also known for its spectacular lookout, One Tree Hill, which, when I was last there in 2016 had an amazing relaxed bar-restaurant with of the best bar views you could hope for. This spot gets particularly crowded as tourists gather to watch the sun set behind the islands on the horizon – but there is plenty of room to park your buggies and get your vantage point to witness the orange show.

Airlie Beach – It’s more than just a ‘gateway’

Airlie Beach has long been known as the ‘Gateway to the Whitsundays’, with its award-winning Abell Point Marina (did you know marinas could win awards!?) and close proximity to the Whitsundays archipelago. Chances are, if you’re planning a boat trip during your stay, it will leave from Airlie Beach, and you’ll find plenty of more affordable accommodation options here compared with that on Hamilton and Hayman islands.

For this reason, I had always thought of Airlie Beach as a bit of a magnet for backpackers, and so needless to say I was pleasantly surprised with the two days I spent in this seaside town. The thing is, Airlie Beach is actually pretty damn good looking in its own right, whether you’re planning on hopping the isles or not.

And for the luxury travel set, I promise you, you will still be looked after at Airlie Beach. Here’s a taste of the best of the best places to eat, drink and dine in this seaside spot:

Sleeping in the Whitsundays

Five -star Heart Hotel and Gallery recently opened its doors and having experienced it first-hand I can tell you it is premium all the way down to the carpet on the floor – did you know carpet could be premium? Well it can.

Heart Hotel also has, hands down, the comfiest beds, pillows, duvets and anything linen-related on the planet, or at the very least in all of Airlie Beach. The top-tier rooms also have both a spa bath and balcony with a view out to the water (although you’ll have to ignore the car park directly in front, unfortunately).

The hotelier has spared no expense installing a Bose TV and sound bar, Nespresso coffee machines and milk frothers in all rooms, and the bathrooms are stocked with gorgeous French L’Occitane products.

This is the hotel for those that appreciate detail and are used to the perks of five-star hotels. But a word of caution: Request a room down the hall, towards the restaurant end of the hotel to avoid any noise that can travel to rooms from the nearby pub, which thankfully closes at 12am.

For those that are all about the view, this is a no-brainer. The hotel for you is Coral Sea Resort, which gives all new meaning to the phrase ‘waterfront location’. Imagine this: ocean – hotel. Full stop. That’s it. There is nothing blocking your hotel room’s view of the ocean except for a whole lot more ocean, thanks to the hotel’s coveted position on the cape jutting out into the water. Having trouble fathoming this? The sunrise photos taken from my room’s balcony below should do it. The really excellent a-la-carte and buffet hotel breakfast can also be enjoyed with an equally jaw-dropping view made up of the pool, manicured lawn and then – you guessed it – that blue water.

While the resort overall is looking rather tired, the rooms themselves are incredibly spacious and the views are absolutely world class. You won’t get the five star comfy bed that you’ll get at Heart, here, but the view might just make up for that.

Once you’ve settled on a hotel, well it’s time for a drink, isn’t it?

Eating in the Whitsundays

Fish D’vine is, unsurprisingly, a seafood restaurant but what you may not guess from its name is that the locals all go here when they are wanting the best mojito in town thanks to the restaurant’s incredibly impressive rum collection.

The co-owner and chef at the restaurant, Rebecca Clark aka The Food Junkie also puts on a great cooking demonstration if you’re looking for something a bit different to do while you’re in town. Trust me, mojitos + watching delicious food being cooked is a very enjoyable way to spend an afternoon!

Taking the gourmet stakes up a notch, the Whitsundays recently got its second Chef Hat for the region (the first belongs to Qualia’s Long Pavillion restaurant) with outstanding restaurant Walter’s Lounge taking home the gong. If you’ve read any of my other blogs you’ll know my standards are, I’ll admit, quite high when it comes to eating out, so you can take my word when I say you will not be disappointed with the food at this establishment – because I most definitely was not!

The food was outstanding, as were the wines, and you can check out a sample of their menu below. Oh, and before you ask, no, Walter is not the name of the owner. In fact this namesake restaurant commemorates the owner’s dog! Pretty cute, huh?

Playing in the Whitsundays

I had never even considered doing a segway tour on any of my world-wide adventures before my trip to Airlie Beach, but once I got on that incredibly expensive  piece of technology OH MY GOD WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE?? I felt like a kid again and had an absolute ball zipping along the picturesque boardwalk at Airlie! Did I mention I also won the segway race with my travel buddies? Just saying…

Embrace your inner child and jump on board one of these bad boys with Whitsunday Segway Tours – you won’t regret it!

And now for the creme-de-la-creme of Airlie Beach experiences – the ultimate sunset cruise, with Sundowner Cruises. This was an utterly magical experience that is hard to put into words, and which only the most outstanding photographer (ie. not me) could capture. As we left the jetty at the Port of Airlie, we had a perfect winter’s day – clear blue skies and a warm sun slipping towards the horizon.

The boat was incredibly sturdy and unique, with a space almost like one large room with a flat, solid surface, making it perfectly high-heel friendly (bonus!). For a more luxurious experience, the owners also run cruises on their spectacular vintage yacht, Lady Enid, which unfortunately was damaged by Cyclone Debbie, but should be back up and running soon.

Wine and basic nibbles were provided on our sunset cruise, and as the sun set, a full moonrise appeared on the horizon above the ocean. It was magic.

I’m dying to go back and try this same experience on Lady Enid!

Insider’s Travel Tip: Cedar Creek Falls

Not too many visitors to Airlie Beach know that just a 25-minute drive away lies an absolutely pristine watering hole. At Cedar Creek Falls a pristine waterfall cascades down glistening, smooth rocks to a natural swimming pool below. It’s a gorgeous place to have a swim, play fetch with the dogs or just set up camp, like a few travellers had done when we got there. This will be one of your best photo opportunities while in Airlie Beach, I promise you.

And lastly, for those who want to stay on the mainland, aren’t interested in Airlie Beach and are seeking peace and quiet, well, that’s simple. Your answer is Bowen, and there is so much to say about this little gem of a seaside town that it deserves its own blog, which I’ll be posting next week.

In the meantime, enjoy planning your trip to the stunning, sunny Whitsundays!

xx

Madelin

NB: I visited the Whitsundays as a guest of Tourism Whitsundays  but all opinions expressed are unbiased and entirely my own.

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