The Gold Coast Bulletin - Gold Coast Eye - - ESCAPE - WORDS: SEANNA CRONIN

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.

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