Whitsunday Island scenic flight review: 50 shades of blue

It would have to be one of the most spectacular day trips in the world - and it's on our doorstep, writes Mal Chenu.

The Whitsunday tribe has 50 words for blue. Or at least they should have. There are more tints of the shorter wavelength bit of the rainbow here than you can shake a prism at, and lots of cool ways to enjoy them.

Pilots Daniel and Paul power up the 10 passenger Cessna for Air Whitsunday's Panorama Tour and within minutes we are flying over the Great Barrier Reef and its myriad shades of turquoise (or is it aqua?). Following Paul's commentary, we peer down on the well-heeled on Hayman Island, keep our eyes peeled for whales and watch gentle swells lap over barely submerged bits of reef. Yachts and powerboats – shiny slivers of brilliant white against the sapphire sea (or is it indigo?) - glide between islands. Daniel soon lets us know the famous heart-shaped reef is approaching and we make three romantic, memory-card pleasing passes.

The seaplane sets down on the azure water (or is it cerulean?) and moors next to a semi-submersible glass bottom boat. Dan and Paul spend about 10 minutes cleaning the seagull souvenirs off the boat before we board, proving there is no such thing as the perfect job, even here in the Whitsundays. Wetsuits are squeezed into and the group takes to the water to explore the underwater riches within a circular wall of reef about 80 metres in diameter, pegged out for safety. The boys watch closely as we swim around admiring the multitudinous life, including the multi-hued coral (including some blue) and countless fish.

We are given an hour to circumnavigate the wall and return to the boat where there is sparkling wine, nibbles, smiles and shared stories. The middle-aged Brits on the tour are just blown away and even the young Swiss couple, who claim to have seen everything the world has to offer, are thrilled. Daniel tries to impress a young ladyby diving down and fetching a sea cucumber. Sher smiles.  He then puts his shirt and pilot sunnies back on and flies the seaplane to Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island.

Even from the air the legendary Whitehaven sand is blindingly white. The beach, regularly rated one of the world's finest, is archetypical Aussie today. Towering sixes are belted into the cobalt water (or is it violet?) by beach cricket batsmen, couples wander hand-in-hand and little ones fail to build sand castles out of the powdery silica granules. Daniel and Paul unload the Esky – more sparkling wine and snacks – and we eat and drink and appreciate the serenity. Too soon it is time to leave and we again head into the wild blue yonder (or is it teal?) and enjoy more dazzling views on the flight back to Airlie Beach.

In just half a day we have experienced an unforgettable tour of some of the Whitsundays' remarkable highlights. How is this not the most popular day trip in Australia?

Whitsunday Rent a Yacht offers another colourful way to experience the islands, which are also considered one of the planet's best sailing destinations. We spend a sunny afternoon cruising between islands and this quick taste is enough to whet our appetites for more.

This stunning part of the world is simply fabulous from the air, underwater, by sea or on the beach. And indeed on land, if you stay at Pinnacles Resort & Spa. Like many of the upmarket accommodation options at Airlie, Pinnacles is perched on a steep hill to take advantage of the sweeping view and a glittering infinity pool overlooks the multitude of yachts moored in the adjacent bay and out to the Coral Sea.

Pinnacles features 29 stylish apartments, all with sea views in one-, two- and three-bedroom configurations.   Our two-bedroom apartment is spacious, bright, airy and comfortable – this would be enough on its own but when you add the huge sunny balcony with Jacuzzi,  you have almost perfect seaside holidays digs. The only black mark is that stairs are the only access to some apartments.

Advertisement

If you want to save your cash for the planes and boats, Big4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort offers an affordable accommodation alternative. With 45 self-contained cabins and 120 caravan and camping sites, this 10.5 hectare,  kid-friendly playground boasts a lagoon pool, waterslides, jumping pillows, mini-golf, an outdoor cinema and fulsome activities.

We find a  dining highlight in Airlie Beach at Barcelona  a new tapas bar and cafe at Abell Point Marina. Genuine Catalan delicacies like aguacate llenado de un langostino y coctel de pescado are mercifully translated into English  so you know you are getting avocado pear filled with a prawn, crab and tuna cocktail. It's as delicious as it is unpronounceable, as are the other scallop, prawn, potato, fried camembert and lamb dishes we try. The highlight of the feast is the poached pear, blue cheese and caramelised pecans with spiced red wine syrup. It is essential you save room for dessert and order the churros with two chocolate dipping sauces or the kid-pleasing monumental Textures of Chocolate with corn sorbet and lemon curd. The salsa class on the deck outside adds to the happy Latin mystique.

The funky and relaxed open-air Fat Frog Beach Cafe overlooks the ocean and is overflowing with locals when we visit for breakfast the next day.  

The writer travelled courtesy of Tourism and Events Queensland, Whitsundays Marketing and Development and Pinnacles Resort & Spa.  

Explore the Whitsundays by air in the photo gallery above.

TRIP NOTES

GETTING THERE

Virgin Australia and Qantas fly from Sydney and Melbourne to Proserpine via Brisbane daily. virginaustralia.com; qantas.com.au Airlie Beach is about half an hour from there. A car is the best way to get the most out of the region and Hertz has an office at Proserpine airport. Rentals should be booked in advance. hertz.com.au

STAYING THERE

Pinnacles Resort and Spa, 16 Golden Orchid Drive, Airlie Beach. Various apartments available. Two Bedroom Seaview Jacuzzi Apartments from $335 - $495 (seasonal) per night. Phone (07) 4948 4800; see pinnaclesresort.com.au

Big4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort, 25-29 Shute Harbour Road, Airlie Beach. Various accommodation styles available. Two bedroom cottage from $190 - $340 (seasonal) per night for two people plus $15 - $35 per extra person. Phone 1300 640 587; see adventurewhitsunday.com.au

TOURING THERE

Air Whitsunday operates six tours from their base at Whitsunday Airport, 20 minutes north of Airlie Beach. As part of the Whitsunday Tribe they fly over an "archipelago of jewel-green islands" (or are they emerald?). Panorama Tour: Adults $490, Children $390. (07) 4946 9111; see airwhitsunday.com.au

Whitsunday Rent a Yacht offers 'skipper yourself' boating holidays aboard their fleet of seven yachts, 10 catamarans and three powerboats, ranging from 28 to 46 feet with two to 10 berths. No licence is required but you will get a full briefing to get you under way. 1800 075 000; see rentayacht.com.au

MORE INFORMATION

tourismwhitsundays.com.au

Comments