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The Australian borders are finally open to international travellers – which means it's time to cross off those items from your bucket list.
The Whitsundays is one of nature's most beautiful gifts. Consisting of 47 islands, it lies in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef.
From charming coastal towns, beautiful islands (only five of which are inhabited), stunning beaches and protected rainforest, the natural attractions of the Whitsundays offers a diversity of experiences. And its beauty hits you as soon as you walk off the plane.
When I arrived in Airlie Beach I was met by some much-needed sun and a slight sprinkle of rain – February is the wet season after all. The sun shower isn’t a deterrent though, as I know it will soon pass and I will be able to take in the sun and sand this spot has to offer.
Airlie Beach is the capital of the Whitsundays and, even though over the years it’s been known as a backpacker icon, the pandemic has meant it has come of age.
Walking through the small town, some shops have closed down due to the tourism industry taking a hit but it’s still buzzing with locals and Australians visiting from other states.
I spent my first night in the tropical escape at The Sebel Whitsundays, an apartment that overlooks the beautiful blue Coral Sea. It is also an easy stroll into the main street of Airlie Beach which boasts fabulous restaurants, cafes, shops and the Airlie Beach Lagoon.
The first dinner of the trip was spent at Fish D’vine, one of the most popular dining spots in the area thanks to its delicious food, great service and its idyllic spot by the water.
Fish D'vine opened its doors in 2004 and are the longest established independent restaurant in Airlie Beach.
The award-winning restaurant prides itself on delivering the best locally sourced seafood menu, plus 450 types of rum. We of course had to try an original and passionfruit mojito – which they're famous for – and we eventually needed to be rolled home after devouring some of the menu.
The next morning we woke up early in preparation for a day like no other: visiting the Great Barrier Reef and a night spent sleeping under the stars.
Our journey began with a cruise to the outer reef through the gorgeous Whitsunday Islands. While the water was rough (they have seasickness medication on offer if needed), it was a beautiful way to take in the surrounding islands and some of the clearest water you’ll ever see in your life.
Once we were out on the reef, we spent the day snorkelling amongst the tropical fish and the gorgeous coral. I’ve snorkelled in other tropical locations but this would be the most fish I’ve ever swum with in my life – it was breathtaking.
It wouldn’t be Australia without a warning of the potential dangers in the ocean though. While deadly stingrays and jellyfish may be present throughout the year, the risk associated with the Irukandji jellyfish is higher from November through to May.
At only one to two centimetres in diameter, the Irukandji may be the smallest jellyfish in the world but its tiny size doesn't take away from its reputation as one of the deadliest creatures of Tropical North Queensland's coastal and reef waters.
We were told by staff that one sting can kill you in 15 minutes, so, be smart and make sure you wear the jellyfish suit provided, as well as the snorkelling gear. Don't let this dissuade you from a dip though, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity after all.
After our swim, we rode in a semi-submarine to get a more extensive look at the reef below and were taught about the beautiful coral and unique fish that reside there. This is the next best way to take in the gorgeous reef after snorkelling above it.
For lunch, we gorged on a generous buffet lunch that is included in your ticket before the day-trippers headed back to shore.
Once they left, the pontoon and the reef were exclusively ours. The staff on the boat were incredibly kind and attentive, treating us to sunset drinks before our evening meal, which was served on deck. All food and beer and wine (cocktails and spirits at an additional cost) are included in the price and staff make sure you never want for anything.
The food provided is delicious and the chefs on board lovingly prepare local produce. And no worries if you have a dietary requirement, they know how to cater for everyone.
After we enjoyed our three-course dinner with the 15 other people on board with us, we headed to the top level of the pontoon to sleep in the surprisingly comfortable Reefbed.
Staff provide a turndown service so once you’re ready to jump into bed all you have to do is climb under the duvet. It was just us, the sound of the ocean and the twinkling stars above.
As you are out in the element, if there is a stiff wind the canvas cover of your bed will make a lot of noise but throw in some earplugs and you’ll be right.
The next morning we had time for some snorkelling after breakfast, enjoying everything that the reef had to offer. This also included getting to pet the friendly local Groper fish known as Maggie. You can also wander down to the underwater observatory and try to spot a turtle. I wasn't so lucky but other people were.
After lunch, the ferry picked us up from the pontoon and took us back to Airlie Beach. We had enough time to get changed before going out for dinner right on the waterfront at The Garden Bar Bistro.
Focused on quality food and service, The Garden Bar captures the energy of the Whitsunday lifestyle with a relaxed yet lively atmosphere. Here we chowed down on their curry, pasta and cocktails, which were all equally delicious, as we watched the water in front of us.
Service was great throughout the whole trip and locals were friendly, with many wanting to stop and have a chat. No wonder Australians have a reputation for being so friendly.
The next morning we had our final meal of the trip, breakfast with a sensational view at Fat Frog Beach Cafe. Known as a local’s favourite, it is loved for its friendly vibe, as well as the incredible coffee and lovingly homemade food.
The trip wasn’t over yet though, as to board our flight back to Sydney we had to catch a ferry to Hamilton Island. This is the perfect way to take one last look at the tropical beaches and aquamarine water the area is famous for.
With the last four days being spent soaking up the tropical, laid-back lifestyle of the Whitsundays, it’s easy to see why it’s a much-loved holiday location.
Visit Tourism Whitsundays for more information.
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