Luxury spills over in the Whitsunday Islands, writes Deborah Dickson-Smith
Airlie Beach, the mainland town that serves as gateway to the Whitsunday Islands, has long been on the backpacker trail, while a short boat trip away, Hamilton and Hayman Islands have always been considered a playground of the rich and famous — the sort of place Johnny Depp stays when filming Pirates of the Caribbean.
Some of that Whitsunday Islands opulence is now spilling back to Airlie Beach, with the five-star Mirage Whitsundays suites, and the boutique Heart Hotel and Gallery Whitsundays, adding an up-market vibe to an already lively, happening place.
The area suffered much damage in March's Cyclone Debbie, but many operators in the area are now back to business as usual. The rich, famous and glamorous flocked to the Whitsundays last month for the annual Hamilton Island Race Week.
At Airlie Beach, all the Mirage suites have generous living areas that spill on to their private terraces with expansive waterfront vistas. Guests have two swimming pools to cool off in, a day spa and al fresco restaurant.
The Mirage connects to the town centre via a level walk and cycle-way that meanders passed the Abell Point Marina along the neat coastline looking out to Pioneer Bay.
It's from the Abell Point Marina that you might want to take a scenic flight in one of Helipad's bright red helicopters. On a half day-tour you can see the magnificence of the Whitsundays from the air. As well as a flight over the famous 7km stretch of pure white sand that is Whitehaven Beach, you'll fly over the "Heart of the Reef", and pontoons on the outer reef where hordes of day trippers are snorkelling in search of Nemo and Dory.
Not for you though: you'll have an intimate stroll at the far end of Whitehaven Beach, followed by your own private guided snorkel and lunch of Champagne and seafood on a deserted coral cay without another soul in sight.
The Heart Hotel has a style all its own and you'll feel like a VIP — from the moment you arrive at Proserpine Airport where your chauffeur whisks you quickly away — to your complementary chilled Champagne on arrival at the hotel. Flop on to the king-sized bed, listen to your own music via Bluetooth on the Bose sound system and gaze over the Airlie Beach waterfront through dappled gum trees. Then relax in your own spa bath with aromatic L'Occitane products while you muse over your evening meal.
Being in the heart of town you have every culinary experience available on your doorstep, including Fish D'vine — certainly the best seafood restaurant for miles around, famous not just for the generous seafood platters, but also for its Rum Bar with more than 400 different rums from around the world. Don't worry if you can't decide: the sommelier, after asking you just a couple of questions, will find the perfect tipple just for you.
Even with Airlie Beach's new luxury options, Hamilton's 6-star qualia still eclipses the competition — transcending the definition of luxury with its deep sensory experience of calm and relaxation. Every villa enjoys its own space on the lush green hillside overlooking the Whitsunday Passage. Every detail of your stay is meticulously arranged to inspire your sensory imagination, whether that's an active trip out to the Reef aboard their private luxury vessel Atomic, or an hours-long spa treatment in their beautiful Meditation Pavilion.
Finish the day on Hamilton in style with an al fresco dinner at the Beach Club Restaurant on the beachfront at secluded Catseye Beach. Relax into a six-course tasting menu with matched wines, and be ever more amazed as each dish surpasses its predecessor as a visual feast, delighting your taste buds and confirming that you reached some new pinnacle of indulgence.
IF YOU GO
Getting there: Air New Zealand and code-share partner Virgin Australia offer the fastest transfer from Auckland to Hamilton Island, operating daily flights via Brisbane.
Playing there: A Whitehaven Beach Helicopter Experience starts from $218 per person.
Fish D'vine: Fish Cafe and Rum Bar, 303 Shute Harbour Road, Airlie Beach.
The Beach Club: Resort Drive, Hamilton.