Already unsure as to how this particular weekend could get any better, Tamara impressed me by taking us to one of the jewels in Hamilton Island‘s gleaming crown – Qualia – an ultra-exclusive, private retreat that offers guests ‘Qualia-only’ beachfront, dining and spa space. We were privileged to join an early morning yoga class overlooking the ocean (the epitome of Zen), followed by a delicious breakfast in Qualia’s long pavilion.
As I indulged in Eggs Benedict with a special touch of avocado and spicy tomato, I couldn’t help but gaze out at the ocean and mountain views thinking, “how on Earth did I end up here?”.
This continued to play on my mind as Linda and I wandered down to the guests’ private pool and beach-front (pictured below) to snap a few photos. Lucky patrons lazed on comfy sun beds, soothed by the lapping ocean and warm environment, no doubt admiring the view which included a whale playing in the inlet!
Next we were in for a real treat! The five of us, along with our belongings, were packed carefully on board an Air Whitsunday sea plane – destination: super exclusive, beautiful Hayman Island. Grinning like a 5-year-old I held on tight to my handbag as we took off across the ocean. Gliding over coral reefs and Whitsunday islands of all shapes and sizes, we stared in awe at the beauty that we, as Australians, so often take for granted. A highlight of the flight was the fly-by of spectacular Whitehaven Beach – a stunning and iconic Queensland location, popular for weddings and tourism photo shoots.
Take a 60-second flight with us:
The sea plane engines quietened as our pilot guided us down on to the water, and we gently sailed our way into Hayman’s ‘backyard’. I have always dreamed of visiting Hayman.
As a teen – a child of hard-working parents, doing their utmost to provide a decent education for their kids – I attended a private school brimming with ‘privileged families’, and I recall some of my classmates telling stories about Hayman. It sounded so flash, high-end, luxurious. Let me assure you, it is.
Serene, absolutely beautiful, and I now am the one who is privileged to have visited. Walking through the doors into my sensational pool-view apartment, I was overwhelmed by the now familiar, “how did I get here?” feeling. In fact, thanks to Hayman (and all of the Whitsundays, actually), my enthusiasm and delight for travelling ‘in my own backyard’ has been renewed. Hayman Island really is a paradise, second to nothing witnessed on the Travel Channel, anywhere in the world.
From the mouth-watering fine-dining menus, peaceful spa treatments, landscaped gardens, open air gym, tennis facilities and beaches to the water sport activities, island hopping adventures and reef diving, it’s all here (and more!) – indulgence and fun at your fingertips. Save your pennies people, this spot is worth it. Whether you’re in a beach villa, pool-side or lagoon-view apartment, it’s all luxury and five-star service. And why would you travel overseas to experience paradise when you can support local operations like this? Enough said.
Any Whitsundays experience will provide ample opportunities to do whatever you fancy – rest, relax, exercise, indulge. The Whitsunday Islands are sublime; everywhere we went the service was excellent and amenities certainly five-star. See you all again soon, with any luck ;-)
GREAT BARRIER REEF, KEY FACTS
The world’s largest coral reef system.
In 1981 was deemed a World Heritage Area.
Spans an area almost one and a half times that of the UK or roughly the area of Germany.
Comprises just over 2900 individual reefs; around 760 of these are fringing reefs, which can be found on sections of the mainland shores and islands.
The reef includes 900 islands, 600 of which are continental islands, such as those 74 in the Whitsundays; others are coral cays formed though build up of coral.
The GBR is home to 10% of the world’s fish species; includes 1625 species of fish, 400 species of hard coral, more than 150 species of soft coral, six of the world’s seven species of marine turtle, 30 species of whales and dolphins, 133 species of sharks and rays, 215 species of birds and approximately 1300 species of crustaceans.
[Sources: Great Barrier Marine Park Authority (GRMPBA), UNESCO, Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM), Great Barrier Reef Foundation]
I grew up in Far North Queensland, right on the doorstep of the Great Barrier Reef, but never before have I ever seen it as I did on the weekend, in all its spectacular glory. I was invited on a Whitsundays experience and flew down the coast from Cairns to Hamilton Island this past Saturday.
Visibility was pretty much perfect, as you can see from the photos! Usually airline passengers will only view the deep blue below, but over the weekend the reef was showing off, and looked entirely magical from above.
I waited a short while at Hamilton Island airport before boarding the ferry to Airlie Beach, a pretty, hilly ocean-side paradise set within the Whitsunday Islands.
While, like Cairns, Airlie Beach offers fun for party-goers and backpackers, there is also a luxurious resort culture here that presents a playground for adults (without the noise or crowds at the bar).
Resorts are built into the hills around Airlie Beach, overlooking the ocean, and we stayed at Pinnacles Resort & Spa which I’d highly recommend for its large, lush rooms, views as far as the eye can see, and easy proximity to everything in town. Room number 6 is the way to go, although I’m told by all our group that every room was divine (and HUGE). Particular highlights are the vast balconies that include a yummy spa bath and views of the Whitsundays.
We indulged in a fabulous dinner at Capers at the Beach Bar & Grill with none other than the Executive Chef, Tim Whitehorn. The divine set menu we sampled was enough to ensure we understood why the likes of Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey and Hugh Jackman have also enjoyed a meal or two here.
A highlight? the Twice cooked pork belly, prawn, chorizo sausage, scallops, cauliflower cream & crispy prosciutto main, only to be matched by a dessert of strawberries and passionfruit with mango sorbet.
Interesting to note – place five gals with iPhones together in front of beautifully presented cuisine, then check out Instagram for live streaming of foodie pics.
It seems ‘food porn’ is the new favourite pastime of anyone with a camera and an eye for colour; and really, what better to photograph then food that looks like this…?
A peaceful sleep and beautiful sunrise later, it was time for brekky. Capers was so good that we returned again the next morning.
After guzzling as many pancakes, strawberries, delicious pork topped with pineapple, fresh fruits (locally grown, of course) and muesli, we wandered around the corner to Airlie Day Spa & Hair Studio for a bit of pampering.
This lovely establishment is conveniently located in the centre of town and caters to any and all beauty needs – both in-salon or by appointment to your room! Toes (Linda), manicure (me), and a couple of facials (Felicity and Meren) later, we bid farewell to the friendly team at Airlie Day Spa and went to meet our Whitsundays media familiarisation (‘famil’ in journalist speak) guide, Tamara, who was taking us on our next adventure to Hamilton Island.
We ferried across the channel keeping a keen eye open for whales splashing about in the sparkling blue.
A number of excited Japanese tourists raced outside in the breeze and indicated there were sightings to be had, but no such luck by the time we got to the deck.
It didn’t matter too much because in no time we had arrived at Hamilton and were distracted by the island’s many charming attributes.
Following check-in at the fabulous Reef View Hotel, we toured the famous Whitsundays holiday destination by electric buggy (no vehicles allowed here) before settling in for a divine relaxation massage at Spa Wumurdaylin.
We were all fairly sleepy by the time we finished ‘work’ on Sunday, but Linda and I powered on and ventured into the village for an evening ice-cream and martini (it was important to us to ensure our meal contained all essential nutrients required for a healthy diet).
74 Islands including Hayman Island, Daydream Island, Hamilton Island, Whitsunday Island (and Whitehaven Beach), Long Island and North & South Molle Islands.
Getting there: Fly or drive to Proserpine (Whitsunday Coast Airport), Airlie Beach or Hamilton Island (airport).
Things to do: Snorkel, dive, sail, eat, relax, hike, explore, camp, golf, dine, swim, jetski, shop, party, indulge.
Everyone has heard of Cairns. It’s just a little bit famous because of … what was it again? Oh that’s right, the Great Barrier Reef! Did you know that between June and September is the best time to visit Cairns? Not only is the weather generally perfect, but this contemporary little city by the sea is a hive of activity and at the height of its annual tourist and festival season.
As you read this story, Cairns Festival will just about be ready to launch, as will the extraordinary Indigenous Art Fair(CIAF) which showcases Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. Cairns Festival is the city’s lively annual event celebrating life in the ‘Far North’. When I was a little kid growing up in Cairns, the festival used to be called Fun in the Sun – actually, quite an accurate description! Across September, the fun continues because from around September 15 for a couple of weeks you can take part in any number of Peace Week / multicultural festival activities. It’s like the party never stops (actually, ask some backpackers in the north and they’ll tell you it doesn’t in Cairns), because the city centre and Esplanade will be alive with entertainment, markets, art exhibitions, drama, comedy, dance and much more. On September 21 (International Day of Peace), a special welcome will be hosted by Study Cairns for international students in the region (a very popular study tourism destination), and a huge free concert, the RUTHLESS Festival, will take place. In fact, this event will be broadcast live around the globe with simultaneous peace concerts being held in New Zealand, London, Paris, New Orleans, Hiroshima, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, Ireland, Kashmir, and Cairns has been selected as the representative location for Australia!
With cheap flights, school holidays and a little window of ‘escape’ on offer before the Christmas rush settles in, now would be a terrific time to head north for a long, relaxing, fun weekend away.
What else to do
The city is a playground for those who want adventure, romance, delicious dining options or just a bit of R&R. A brand new phone APP, Taste Paradise, was recently released that offers details on numerous self-guided food and wine trails throughout the region. One such trail takes visitors up to the picturesque Atherton Tablelands where you can explore organic farms, vast swimming and kayaking areas formed of extinct volcanoes, and the interesting Herberton Historic Village, an outdoor museum showcasing Australia’s pioneer heritage.
Obviously you will want to experience the Reef while in Cairns. Day-trips abound, just visit the convenient tour offices on the waterfront, or check with your hotel for suitable options. For an unsurpassed experience, consider investing in a chartered helicopter flight with Skysafari.
Kuranda is a quaint village in the rainforest, 25-minutes from Cairns, famous for its fabulous markets. You can drive, or take the popular Kuranda Scenic Train – and why not come back down to Cairns via the Skyrail cable-car for views that stretch across Cairns, the Reef and surrounding landscapes. If you’re keen for a bit of culture then Cairns offers several options in the form of JUTE Theatre (located in town; where you’ll catch quality, locally produced theatre), TANKS Arts Centre (nestled in a rainforest enclave close to the city, often featuring live music and chic clientele), and the world-renowned Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park. For more travel inspiration download another brand new APP, ‘Tropical North Queensland’.
The Pier Bar by the waterfront offers delicious $12 meals, $5 pizzas and a great kids menu all week, drink specials and a vibrant ambiance. If you’re seeking something a little more stylish, book a table at the divine Salt House by the marina. Indulge in fine fare then dance the night away as a band and DJ enter the premises after dinner.
Locals adore the super cute Candy Cafe Bar, 70 Grafton Street, particularly for its quaint decor and interesting variations on breakfast options. If you’re on holidays and keen to let your hair down, stop by the sexy Attic Bar on Grafton Street, renowned for delicious $6 cocktails on Friday nights after 9pm. For a low-key but glamorous evening out, you can’t go wrong with Bar8 below the Shangri-La Hotel on the waterfront – decadent food options, lovely wine list and views to die for.
Cairns Central is a large shopping centre in the middle of town. It’s a vibrant space to explore all the usual chains at your leisure. If eclectic is more ‘you’, take a wander down Grafton Street (between Spence and Aplin Streets) which is popular for its collection of chic boutiques, eateries and left-of-centre shopping experiences. Keep an eye out for markets along the Esplanade – perfect for souvenir hunting; and don’t miss the vast night markets located under-cover, 71-75 The Esplanade, 7 days.
Doubletree by Hilton (formerly Holiday Inn) on Cairns’ Esplanade is a family-friendly, economical option boasting a variety of rates, on-site restaurant and convenient, waterfront location – prices start at around $150 per night. You’ll love the luxury of Shangri-La by the marina (from $200 per night), with resort pool, surrounded by restaurants and spa options. Rydges Plaza is located amongst the city action, a few blocks back from the Esplanade, priced from $130 per night. This hotel has recently revamped its delicious buffet breakfast options, and often offers competitive rates for couples and families. Cairns is quite aged and disabled-friendly too, and if you need to hire equipment for family members, Phoenix Healthcare will be able to assist.
Escape the city limits to a serene little spot called Trinity Beach, just 20-minutes drive from the centre of Cairns (on the way towards Kewarra Beach, Palm Cove and Port Douglas). Here you will discover all the attributes of other more famous Queensland beaches – soft sand, warm ocean – but without the crowds. In fact, sometimes you will enjoy having the entire beach to yourself. If you get bored or hungry though, pop across the road to the terrific Trinity Beach tavern, or indulge in fine Italian at a favoured local haunt, L’Unico’s.
Images courtesy Cairns Festival and Tropical Tourism North Queensland.
Mostly on the Sugoi! Travel & Style blog I’ve written about my own travel adventures. This week I had the opportunity to meet a Chinese visitor to the region so I asked him about his own thoughts and experiences here in Cairns…needless to say I’m pretty sure he’s leaving as a fan of the north.
Carl Li From China (Taiyuan and Guangzhou).
What was the highlight of your visit to Cairns? It’s my first experience in Cairns, so an adventure! I went skydiving for the first time, went to the Reef for the first time and visited a small country town (Mareeba).
Why did you choose to go skydiving in Cairns and what was special about the experience? You can’t do this in China! We envy experiences like this. There were people from all over the world skydiving with me. It was interesting to meet such energetic people. The feeling of being in the sky and challenging fear is one of the best memories you can have in your life.
What did you like most about taking this trip with Skydive Cairns? They were professional, very skilful and made us (feel) safe – we had a safe experience and customers felt confident, which is really important.
How did you enjoy your trip out to the Reef? I went out with Reef Experience. The company was very good for someone on their first try. Most of the travellers on that boat had little experience scuba diving. On this trip we were provided with a good opportunity to scuba dive, snorkel, and the staff were professional and friendly. I was sad to miss seeing the big turtle and shark but I did get to see lots of different kinds of fish, coral, marine life. You always see this (the Great Barrier Reef) on TV but this was real – a good memory and experience in my life.
I’ve realised on this trip though that having a strong, healthy body is important – in skydiving and diving in the reef you can feel your strengths and weaknesses. I’ve realised I think I need to exercise more, or learn to swim better – I’m inspired to be better next time I try these activities!
What would you suggest are the main reasons someone should visit Cairns? Most important is the Great Barrier Reef – it’s the biggest one and most beautiful in the world. After that is the coastal life – Cairns offers a typical Australian cultural experience by the sea. I love the small coastal city, sunshine, beaches – very beautiful. You can meet people from all over the world here too, it’s very multicultural. Cairns is a fresh city and it’s easy to make friends. People are very nice here compared with people in big cities. I’ve loved it so much that if/when I have money I’d love to buy and stay in a place like Cairns. It’s peaceful and enjoyable.
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