A TROP­I­CAL TREAT THIS WIN­TER

IF YOU’RE FLY­ING NORTH FOR THE WIN­TER, CHOOS­ING THIS LESSER-KNOWN WHIT­SUN­DAYS DES­TI­NA­TION WILL SCORE YOU A SPOT ON A PRI­VATE, PALM-FRINGED BEACH FOR A FRAC­TION OF THE COST

Life & Style Weekend - - WELCOME - WORDS AND PHOTOS: JULES INGALL For more, go to Jules Ingall Pho­tog­ra­phy or Tourism Bowen on In­sta­gram or Face­book.

When most peo­ple think of the Whit­sun­days, the first thing that comes to mind is Air­lie Beach, Hamil­ton Is­land and White­haven Beach.

While they sup­ply plenty of the post­card­per­fect images of gor­geous white sands and palm-lined oceans, one of the re­gion’s best-kept se­crets is just a short drive north.

You’ll find Bowen about 40 min­utes from Air­lie Beach.

You may have heard the town men­tioned as a film­ing lo­ca­tion for the 2008 Hol­ly­wood hit Aus­tralia star­ring Ni­cole Kid­man and Hugh Jack­man, but as far as bucket-list trop­i­cal hol­i­day des­ti­na­tions go, it barely makes it on to the radar.

It should – Bowen is breath­tak­ing.

Take away the crowded beaches and tourists com­pet­ing for ad­ven­tures and ac­tiv­i­ties and you have a sleepy town with the most in­cred­i­ble crys­tal-clear wa­ters and fringe­ing reefs. The beaches are a se­ries of lit­tle coves, pep­pered with palm trees but barely a soul in sight.

It’s hard to be­lieve this town is not over­run with tourists, but that’s part of its ap­peal.

There is not an abun­dance of tour op­er­a­tors or ac­tiv­i­ties on of­fer, with many vis­i­tors con­tent to park them­selves on a white sandy beach with a cold drink, a good book and the warm sun.

With di­rect flights from east­ern cap­i­tal cities to Proser­pine and then a short drive up the high­way, Bowen is rel­a­tively easy to get to. Be­ing a smaller re­gional lo­ca­tion that flies un­der the radar, prices are ap­peal­ing to the bud­get trav­eller, without miss­ing out on the Whit­sun­day ex­pe­ri­ence.

There is ev­ery­thing from a Big 4 Hol­i­day Park to lux­ury beach­side apart­ments such as Coral Cove or Rose Bay Re­sort.

Your next big de­ci­sion will be where to plant your beach towel.

As one of the only places in the Whit­sun­days with fringe­ing reef, you can lit­er­ally snorkel straight off the beach and ex­plore the vivid corals and fish of the Great Bar­rier Reef without hav­ing to get in a boat.

There are eight main beaches in Bowen to choose from. Horse­shoe Bay is prob­a­bly the busiest, with enor­mous gran­ite boul­ders pro­tect­ing the sand and a breezy cafe.

Mur­rays Beach, Grays Beach and Rose Bay are also pro­tected and just as beau­ti­ful, with the bonus of draw­ing less of a crowd. Rose Bay af­fords par­tic­u­larly in­cred­i­ble views east to Glouces­ter Is­land. Loaded with palm trees, this pic­turesque spot is a must-visit for sun­rise snaps.

Once you’ve fin­ished work­ing on your tan, tackle one of the many coastal walks that boast breath­tak­ing views, in­clud­ing some that are wheel­chair and pram friendly. A favourite is the 2.6km track from Han­son Park to Horse­shoe Bay.

Or drive up to Flagstaff Hill for a panorama of the re­gion that ex­tends out to the is­lands. The many van­tages en­able you to watch the sun both rise and set over the ocean. Beaches brim­ming with palms backed by skies of rich gold tones trans­form­ing to vi­brant pinks as the light changes will de­light pho­tog­ra­phers.

One of the big­gest sur­prises in Bowen is its amaz­ing eater­ies – not at all what you would ex­pect from what is, at heart, a coun­try town.

The lo­cal pub, the Grand View Ho­tel, has been fam­ily owned since 1919. This old Queens­lan­der build­ing has un­der­gone a mod­ern makeover, ac­knowl­edg­ing its her­itage through walls lined with pic­tures and mem­o­ra­bilia. The chefs use fresh lo­cal pro­duce to cre­ate con­tem­po­rary, so­phis­ti­cated meals.

For break­fast and lunch, three lo­cal sis­ters have cre­ated a warm, friendly cafe around a florist shop at Le Sorelle Cof­fee House, serv­ing their own deca­dent home­made

fudge. The food I sam­pled ri­vals what you’d en­joy in any trendy Syd­ney or Mel­bourne es­tab­lish­ment, but with that big coun­try wel­come feel.

An­other must-try is Birds Fish Bar at the ma­rina. Sit out­side by the ma­rina and en­joy one of their seafood plat­ters with the best of ev­ery­thing from our blue back­yard.

They’re not li­censed, but you are wel­come to take along your own beer or wine to com­plete the pic­ture.

It may be a cliche, but don’t leave town without vis­it­ing the Big Mango for a selfie – it’d be un-aus­tralian. While there, I sam­pled the most de­li­cious sor­bet made from pureed frozen lo­cal mango.

Need one more rea­son to visit Bowen? While the south­ern states are freez­ing their tails off, this trop­i­cal haven is en­joy­ing calm, warm win­ter sun­shine. It’s the per­fect time of year to or­gan­ise a get­away to a Whit­sun­day par­adise.

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