MORE THAN JUST A LAUNCHPAD FOR ISLAND HOPPING, HOLIDAYMAKERS WILL FIND MUCH TO SAVOUR AT AIRLIE BEACH
You don’t have to jump aboard a catamaran to enjoy the Whitsunday Coast. The turquoise waters of Airlie Beach, dotted by those white sails, are the perfect backdrop for a long weekend escape full of land-based activities.
For many Airlie Beach is simply the jumping off point for the Whitsunday Islands. It certainly was for me during my two visits to sail and scuba dive the islands.
But Airlie is a destination in and of itself – and the region is bouncing back from the damage caused by Cyclone Debbie.
Airlie was the perfect place for me, flying from Brisbane, to meet up with a good friend from Townsville, just a few hours’ drive to the north. The purpose of our two-day catch-up was simple: hang out, chill out and recharge.
Driving in from Prosperpine, you feel like you’re on holidays as soon as you see that water.
There is a range of accommodation along Golden Orchid Drive on the hill just behind Airlie’s main strip.
Rooms are oriented with generous balconies to take in the stunning views, just be prepared for some feathered visitors.
After a quick trip to the nearby shops to stock up on snacks and wine, we were enjoying a beautiful sunset when a loud squawk heralded the arrival of a very curious, or perhaps hungry, sulphur-crested cockatoo.
Of course, there was no way he was getting a taste of my camembert – or my rose.
By skipping a more expensive stay on Hamilton Island, we were able to fit in more luxuries, including a trip to the spa, a spot of shopping and an amazing five-course dinner.
Waking up to the sun sparkling on the water, we grabbed breakfast on the Esplanade before browsing the Saturday markets and hitting the Bicentennial Boardwalk for some exercise. We scouted dinner locations along the way. There’s the uber-cool Hemmingway’s, but as the locals informed us you need to book weeks in advance.
We finally settled on The Clipper Restaurant & Bar at Coral Sea Resort. As well as boasting waterfront views, the restaurant’s five-course tasting menu looked too good to pass up.
On our walk back into town we stumbled upon Airllywood, where I find the perfect boho dress and earrings to wear to dinner.
From jewellery made in Israel to handbags from Morroco and domestic fashions from Byron and the Sunshine Coast, this friendly shop is full of everything a woman needs to look fabulous in the tropical climate.
Our indulgent dinner at Clippers started with a refreshing tuna sashimi and avocado tartare, followed by pressed ham hock with poached golden raisins, perfectly cooked snapper with potato, crab and jalapeños salad.
The final savoury course is a gourmet version of a comforting beef roast, featuring slowroasted beef blade and Angus sirloin with potato and celeriac terrine, more golden raisins and a flavour-packed porcini jus.
The next day we took advantage of our car to explore a little further afield.
As its name suggests, Hideaway Bay is a hidden paradise situated directly opposite Gloucester Island. The secluded Montes Reef Resort and Cape Gloucester Resort are both great lunch options where you can dine with your feet in the sand.
Then it’s back to Prosperpine for my flight home, but not before one final stop at the town’s best-kept secret.
Brightly coloured but tucked away on a side street, Colour Me Crazy is a treasure trove of gifts, homewares and fashions.
There’s already a queue when we arrive just before the shop opens. Based on the shop’s exterior you would think it’s home to bric-a-brac and incense, but instead you’re met with highend candles, stylish lampshades, elegant fascinators and hip pot hangers. There’s plenty of kitsch too, sourced from all over Australia by the owners who moved up from Brisbane more than 40 years ago. The tropical lifestyle and natural beauty that lured them north are just as tempting for visitors today.