Australia’s Tropical Island Playground: Diving into The Whitsunday Part 2

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There’s no holiday like being on a tropical island.  The image of palm trees rustling in the breeze and the sounds of waves, white-sand beaches, and azure blue waters never gets old. In northern Queensland, there are a string of islands known as the Whitsundays. There awaits breezy island holidays that can be described by nothing less than the cliché of paradise perfection. Here is part 2 of our Whitsundays Tropical Island review.

The Whitsundays is worthy of all the predictable platitudes; picture-perfect, idyllic, and the king of them all, instagrammable.  This clutch of 74 islands promises a delicious offering of white sand beaches, swaying palm trees, crystal clear cerulean seas, and boutique resorts to get lost in and while the hours away on the beach.

The Whitsundays offer a range of vacation experiences for the refined traveler.  For those on the other side of the world, one could imagine Hawaii crossed with the Hamptons and a bit of Key West thrown in for good measure. The sea is the main attraction with crystal clear water, stunning coral formations, and an exotic underwater world waiting to be explored.  Most of the islands remain uninhabited, save for the brilliant wildlife and fauna as well as the occasional frisky boater with romance on the mind and in search of a secluded beach.

There are countless ways to explore the Whitsundays from thrilling fast boat excursions to a day of sailing to explore the islands. Your holiday to-do list includes exploring the Great Barrier Reef, White Haven Beach, The Heart Reef, and Hamilton Island.

Whitehaven Beach is considered by many to be the most beautiful beach on Earth. Its sand is 98 percent silica, which is made from the erosion of quartz making it so white that it practically glows yet stays cool on bare feet. This 3 1/2 mile-long stretch of beach is only accessible by the occasional seaplane or boat. Most boats dock on the other side of the island allowing visitors to take a short hike through the forest and along a walking trail to Hill Inlet and the stunning views of the gorgeous bay of sea and sand.  


Arguably the most exclusive way to explore the great barrier reef is a private helicopter experience. The flight takes off from Hamilton Island with a maximum of six passengers. The high fliers take in the birds-eye view of the reef with the colors of the sea that change from dark blue to azure to cerulean. From this height, the coral reef is a beautiful tapestry of sea dotted by a string of coral formations. 

The destination is the Heart Reef, about 30 miles from Hamilton Island where guests land on a James Bond-esque pontoon and helipad far out at sea. The Heart Reef is a reef that naturally formed into the shape of a love heart, perfectly fitting for a visit by a romantic couple. The helicopter lands in what seems to be the middle of the sea far away from any sights of mankind. Below is a sophisticated bolt hole with louvered windows with views onto the sea, posh furnishings, and waiting bottles of chilled champagne. However, its most impressive amenity is a sleek boat as its centerpiece. The boat is no ordinary vehicle, it is a glass-bottom boat that will take the guests for a tour around the area by a captain and knowledgeable guide who points out the types of fish and sea creatures that come into view.

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven national wonders of the world. It is 1,000 miles of 2900 separate reef systems with 1600 species of fish, 30 types of whales and dolphins, 133 types of sharks and rays and, six of the seven types of sea turtles. Its diversity of underwater sea creatures boggles the mind.  

Later, guests return to the pontoon to change into their swimsuits and don their snorkel gear for an up-close visit to the coral reef. This is arguably some of the best snorkeling in the area with no scuba gear required to see a wide variety of fish and coral including mammoth grouper and sea turtles. The reef wall has all manner of fish swimming nearby in full view that seem curious to see you as you are to see them. After an incredible snorkeling tour guests return to the posh pontoon for champagne and toasting the good life and the amazing experiences that they have just encountered.     

Hamilton Island and The Beach Club

Within the isles of Whitsundays is Hamilton Island, a private world onto itself.  The island is reachable from the mainland by aircraft or an hour-long boat ride from Airlee Beach. Once on the island, you are transported to a country club atmosphere with Australian and international well-to-do guests enjoying the life of leisure. 

The preferred mode to explore the island is barefoot on its sandy beaches or in the ubiquitous golf carts that zip around.  Along the marina, you’ll see the latest sparkling yachts and sailboats as well as a spread of tony waterfront designer shops and boutiques filled with the latest yachtie and resort fashion wear.

In between are the odd cafes and souvenir shops. The most popular place to dine is at Romano’s, an Italian restaurant overlooking the marina. The ambiance is casual and ideal for pasta, steak, and seafood with a Mediterranean flair.

Hamilton Island has many places to stay from villas and apartments as well as budget and their five-star uber-exclusive resort, qualia. The Beach Club offers the quintessential island retreat and refined holiday experience designed especially for romantic couples with no one under 18 permitted as guests. The boutique resort is located in a palm grove setting with direct access by a short stroll to the picturesque Catseye Beach. The interiors are opulent and a cross of clean Scandinavian design and coastal elegance. The stay is a flawless one, due in large part to the  engaging and switched-on staff set out to pamper their guests.      

The Beach Club offers 57 beach bungalows defined by their barefoot luxury with rich wood-paneled floors, fetching artwork, and a neutral color palette to create a calming interior space. The design is coastal chic with a sultry bathroom of black slate tile floors and walls and an avocado-shaped bathtub ideal for two.  The most riveting feature of the bungalow-like accommodation is the louvered white shutters that open onto a sprawling terrace with a daybed. The view is nothing short of mesmerizing with palm trees and the sounds and sights of crashing waves that caress the shore. The space is made for daytime naps or solemn moments just watching the tide roll out, only broken up by the occasional visit by the precocious white yellow-crested cockatoos.

The culinary experience is exceptional as well offering a fine dining degustation six-course menu and a la carte. The cuisine is modern Australian with remarkable meat and seafood dishes finely prepared and served with haute presentation. Dining features a meal overlooking the infinity-edge pool and sea beyond. For an even more special dining experience, their destination dining includes a romantic dinner for two on the beach.

Hamilton Island is made for activities centered around splishing and splashing with water sports from ocean kayaking, paddle boarding, snorkeling, to catamaran sailing. On land, the island offers a championship 18-hole golf course as well as a full-service spa, tennis, and workout facilities.  

Cruise Whitsunday Reef Suites

Another way to get up close and personal to the Great Barrier Reef is to visit the first underwater hotel of its kind. Cruise Whitsundays has created an underwater luxury hotel that is truly one of a kind.  The Reefsuites are located on the Reefworld which is a floating three-story pontoon in Hardy Reef, 40 nautical miles from the coastal town of Airlie Beach.

The Reefsuites are one of the most exclusive and unusual hotels in the world. For many of us, this will be the most exotic room in which we have ever spent the night with a front-row seat into a mesmerizing underwater realm of the Great Barrier Reef while submerged 10’ under the sea. There are only two underwater suites with all of the amenities one would expect in a five-star accommodation with a plush king-size bed, contemporary furnishings and design, and an ultra-modern bathroom with a shower.  One could compare the accommodations to a cabin in a uber-luxurious cruise ship.

What guests will never forget is the feeling of being in a sort of reverse aquarium where instead of the fish being in a tank, we are in the ocean’s tank looking out.  A wall of windows is all that separates guests and the sea where every moment shows a variety of fish and wildlife passing by.  There are viewing panels on the floor as well, so you walk over the fish swimming below. Even the bathroom’s walls are floor-to-ceiling windows so as you shower the sea is never far away.

No matter where you look there’s always something that beguiles; schools of shimmering minnows fish pass by only interrupted by larger more ominous ones.  Expect to see shimmering minnows in formations that dart one way and then shapeshift going in another direction. Purple surgeonfish, yellow-tailed fusiliers, damsels, and a beautiful black and yellow angelfish pecking at the algae near your window. The school of trevallies is riveting as well as the appearance of the area’s largest inhabitant, George, a giant 15-year-old Queensland grouper, six-foot-long weighing over 130 kilos, and well known to the ship’s crew.

Beyond the unforgettable accommodations, guests enjoy fine dining cuisine prepared by highly skilled gourmet chefs. Breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner are included in the stay.  

As hard as it may be to peel yourself away from your room, there are other activities and ways to enjoy the reef for overnight guests. The Reefsuite and Reefsleep guests enjoy exclusive snorkeling experiences and scuba diving is an option as well. A stay in the Reefsuites is a bucket-list experience like no other.

The Elysian Resort

If your idea of an ideal way to spend your holiday is more like Gilligan’s Island than Martha’s Vineyard, then the Elysian Retreat may be for you. Secluded, private, exclusive is what you’ll find in this boutique beachfront hideaway which is apply named Elysian, which means Heaven for the Gods.

Elysian Retreat is what most would envision in a tropical paradise. Swaying coconut trees, on a private cove, and exclusive and far away from the buffet lines and t-shit shops of overdone vacation resorts. Here you’ll find an intimate barefoot luxury retreat made for couples.  

This hidden gem offers just nine thatch roof bungalows on an idyllic cove where guests instantly feel like they have gotten away from it all. Inside the decor is coastal-chic with wood accents, dramatic light fixtures, contemporary bamboo chairs, with a romantic outdoor shower. Fronting the bungalow is a spacious outdoor deck with a daybed and a playful swing where guests can languish while taking in the beautiful sea views before them. 

Guests on holiday at the Elysian Retreat are literally engulfed in nature, from afar all you’ll see are the azure blue waters and uninhabited mountainous islands blanketed in a lush rainforest. Swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking bring you closer, where it is not uncommon to see sea turtles and the occasional humpback whales passing through the channel.  Nature walks are exquisite as are kayak outings with your loved one to find a private alcove perfect for two.

The inclusive meals are a delight. This is casual gourmet cuisine with a menu that varies mainly based on what can be sourced nearby and based on the season. The retreat’s infinity-edge pool is gorgeous as well with restorative magnesium mineral water surrounded by a wood deck with chaise lounges and a romantic daybed under a wooded stick trellis.  For another level of pampering, the spa is exceptional as well with highly trained therapists offering a range of decadent massages and other pampering treatments. 

For more about the Whitsundays and what to do and see from the mainland, read our part one in the seriesThe Whitsundays are an ideal tropical island getaway offering a mesmerizing sea, sand, and shorelines and all of the experiences the refined traveler could desire.

Glenn Harris

Glenn Harris is an accomplished journalist focusing on international travel, fine dining, and luxury lifestyle events. His wanderlust has taken him to over 105 countries where he is constantly straying off the beaten path uncovering new and exotic finds. He particularly enjoys seeking out lesser known travel gems and places to stay, dine, or experiences to capture. ...(Read More)

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