By Australia specialist Emily
Slumber above the Great Barrier Reef with the sound of the waves gently lulling you to sleep, stay in an exclusive beach house hideaway, sail to Whitehaven Beach where swirls of alabaster sandbars meet turquoise waters as warm as a bath. There’s much to discover in The Whitsundays, whether your idea of luxury is a high-end hotel with an expansive spa menu, setting sail on a luxury charter yacht, or teeing off at a championship golf course overlooking the sea.
The Whitsundays Islands are a winning gateway to the Great Barrier Reef for those who crave a dose of privacy, luxury, and solitude. Only a short flight from Brisbane or Sydney, the islands are easily accessible, and thanks to their subtropical climate and fresh sea breeze, the weather tends to be palatable even during the Australian summer. I get excited to send clients here as many haven’t heard of The Whitsunday Islands before, and now that we’ve just started offering a stay at the Elysian eco retreat, it’s an even more alluring time to start planning your 2024 visit.
1. Get back to nature at a true eco-retreat
Tucked amidst a lush rainforest on the southernmost tip of Long Island in The Whitsundays, the adults-only Elysian Luxury Eco Island Retreat is the first resort in the area to be entirely powered by solar energy. You’ll helicopter in to a private cove, where 10 standalone villas perch above a rocky shoreline. From harvesting rain water to a zero-waste kitchen, Elysian combines eco credentials with a taste of luxury. After an organic spa treatment and a swim in the magnesium-imbued infinity pool, you’ll be ready to unfurl into a relaxed state of body and mind.
2. Sleep above the Great Barrier Reef
I think the only thing better than diving among the vibrant sea life of the Great Barrier Reef is getting to sleep above it. For those who want to truly immerse themselves in the world’s largest reef, this two-day adventure offers the opportunity to dive and snorkel the reef, visit an underwater observatory, and see below the water’s surface in a semi-submersible craft.
Once the day trippers have departed the reef, the privacy is palpable as you tuck into your Reefbed on the deck of the pontoon moored out over the reef. Free from light pollution, you can watch the sky unfold into a million stars and fall asleep to waves lapping the hull.
3. Unwind at the Intercontinental Hayman Island Spa
Only reachable by boat or helicopter, Hayman Island has been a bastion of privacy and relaxation since the original hotel opened in the 1950s. I’ve noticed that the most northerly resort of the Whitsunday Islands has seen a recent revival after the hotel received a $135 million (AUD) renovation and rebranding as InterContinental Hayman Island Resort in 2019, just before Covid put a damper on travel. Now that travel is very much on the go again, you can experience this like-new property for the first time.
You can be as active as you’d like, bushwalking the hilly island on coastal paths that wind through fragrant eucalyptus and hoop pine forests while looking out for nesting cockatoos and endangered Prosperine rock wallaby, or snorkelling among vibrant corals in Blue Pearl Bay. Yet the island also tempts with utter relaxation, best served up in the new Hayman Spa, with its 11 cocoon-like treatment rooms, sauna, and outdoor massage pavilions set among the trees.
4. Stay in the qualia Beach House
With the only airport on the Whitsunday Islands, Hamilton Island is the main hub for exploring this blue-tinged archipelago. On the northern shore of Hamilton Island is qualia, a boutique luxury hotel whose holistic design blends seamlessly with its natural verdant surroundings, inviting you to reconnect with your senses.
The best room on the property is not merely a room, but a villa dubbed the qualia Beach House. Wake up to views overlooking the cerulean waters from your bed with doors flung open to smell the fresh sea air, take a leisurely swim in the long infinity pool, and reconnect with friends and family at the 10-person dining table. An attached guest house means you can invite friends or family (children 16 and over) to join you as well.
5. Sail away on a yacht charter
My favourite way to experience an island chain is by boat, and a private yacht charter allows you to build the day’s exploration around exactly where you’d like to go, while being looked after by an attentive crew. From the jetty at qualia, step aboard the 55ft (16m) luxury Palm Beach motor yacht, exclusively available for use by Hamilton Island guests. Your knowledgeable captain will plot a course to make the most of the day’s weather conditions, taking you to the swirling silica sands of Whitehaven Beach as you cruise past the undulating hills of scrub-covered islands.
Snorkel in secluded coves, head to shore in the inflatable tender to clamour up to the lofty lookout point at Hill Inlet, and seal off the day’s adventures with afternoon tea back on board. If you prefer the adrenaline-filled action of fast-flying sailboats, book well in advance to be a spectator for the Hamilton Island Race Week regatta, which takes place in August.
Get me there: Explore the Whitsundays in style on this ultimate luxury tour of Australia.
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