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The Whitsundays have long been a playground for those seeking a slice of sun, sand and a spot of sailing. And four remarkable new resorts, celebrating Tropical North Queensland in both design and activities, have sprung up in the tropical region in recent years.
From Airlie Beach to Hayman Island, they welcome visitors to one of the most alluring pockets of the country. Here are the retreats you need to add to your bucket list, stat.
Reopening 1 July
Few resorts are as exclusive as Elysian: you arrive by helicopter, then check in to one of only 10 beautifully appointed beachfront villas. On a private cove enveloped by rainforest, this is the only accommodation – the only development – on the entire Long Island, which means the maximum number of guests you’ll be sharing paradise with is 18.
A redux of the award-winning Paradise Bay Eco Resort – left closed for years following Cyclone Debbie in 2017 and Cyclone Marcia before that – Elysian’s villas ooze barefoot-luxe charm, from the Australian hardwood furnishings and floors to the light-capturing cathedral ceilings. Yet all the style doesn’t come at the expense of sustainability; the retreat is 100 per cent solar powered. Between swings in the hammock, make the most of the lagoon-style pool filled with stress-relieving magnesium water, glide by the sights on a paddleboard or in a glass-bottomed kayak, explore the Coral Sea on a guided snorkelling tour with a marine biologist, or retreat to the resort’s breezy restaurant, where produce comes from the on-site organic garden as well as nearby farms.
Intercontinental Hayman Island Resort
Reopening 1 September
Switching management a number of times since millionaire Reg Ansett – the founder of now-defunct airline Ansett Australia – built it in the 1950s, Hayman Island resort’s latest incarnation is by the Intercontinental Hotels Group. The northernmost Whitsunday island, Hayman’s $135-million makeover touched everything from the five restaurants and bars to the 168 rooms, suites and villas, which are scattered across three wings in a crisp palette of ivory, beige and chocolate.
If money is no object, you’ll want to book the 400-square-metre Beach House overlooking the sand and featuring three suites, each with a private pool. For everyone else, there are two other places to swim, including the hotel’s signature lagoon-style pool you can slip straight into from some rooms. The resort is alone on the 400-hectare island, with the Great Barrier Reef and some of the world’s best diving and snorkelling on its doorstop. You can jump in a chopper and head for a private picnic on the sparkling sand at Whitehaven Beach, via an overhead loop of Heart Reef – a picture-perfect composition of coral that’s naturally formed into the shape of a heart.
Reopening 1 July
Like Hayman and Elysian, the damage classic Aussie resort Daydream sustained after Cyclone Debbie was sizeable. The only structure on the kilometre-long island of the same name, a 30-minute ferry ride from Airlie Beach on the mainland, Daydream was forced to shut and undergo a mammoth $140-million makeover. It re-opened in 2019 looking sharper than ever.
One of the largest properties in the Whitsundays, with 280 rooms, this is probably the most family friendly of the recent crop of openings (there are kids clubs and babysitting facilities, and the Living Reef is perfect for young explorers).
Hike through the rainforest for views over the Great Barrier Reef, join a game of beach volleyball, chopper over the islands, or explore the region’s marine diversity at the Living Reef. This enormous free-form coral lagoon, fed by ocean water, comes with an underwater observatory designed to help visitors learn about their fragile surrounds while contributing to their conservation and restoration. Join marine biologists to learn about rays, cod, bream and butterfly fish, help plant coral, or just enjoy gliding through one of the world’s most incredible underwater ecosystems.
Freedom Shores, Airlie Beach
Reopening 11 September
If you like the idea of staying on a boat but don’t have the budget to charter a mega-yacht to cruise the Coral Sea, you can bed down in one of Freedom Shores’ 10 bungalows designed to resemble fishing boats (right down to their ship-bearing names). It sounds kitsch, but it’s far from a theme park; the rooms come with a patio and locally made bathroom amenities, and nautical-themed artwork.
There’s a pool with views over Pioneer Bay, and day excursions include fishing and snorkelling. Volleyball nets are set up over the sand in the shade of tall palm trees, some from the set of Pirates of the Caribbean, which was shot nearby. And then you’ll find Shangri-La, one of the boats in General MacArthur’s fleet during WWII, now propping up a deck where you can enjoy sunset drinks at the bar.
The Queensland government has restricted public gatherings and recommends minimal social contact to minimise the spread of coronavirus. Some tourist destinations may still be closed, or operating at reduced capacity. If you’re concerned about travel or visiting public spaces, or have questions about self-isolation and coronavirus testing, check out the latest from the State Health Department.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Tourism Australia. Whether you’re seeking a quick getaway, lazy holiday or epic trek, Australia is a land of endless adventures. There’s never been a better – or more important – time to get out and explore. Take a Holiday Here This Year.
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