Airlie Beach is a bit like a tourism wet dream, with travel/booking agents located every 20ft or so down the main strip, plenty of shitty backpacker bars and clubs, and everything is just ludicrously over-priced. Cyclone Debbie hit this region catastrophically just a couple of months ago, and the after effects are still clear, with some shops still under temporary closer, some hotels and resorts still un able to return to action for a variety of reasons (with some actually taking the opportunity for some overdue renovations), and there is a lifeless brown colour lurking in the surrounding vegetation; a stark contrast from the typical lush green of this tropical region. Nevertheless, this resort town is again open for business and attracting people for one main reason – the Whitsunday Islands.
A short trip by boat from Airlie Beach’s Abell Point Marina will take you into the heart of the Whitsunday Islands National Park; a group of 74 stunning islands, fringed with white sand beaches and laden with thick tropical rainforest. Unless you happen to own a boat (which I unfortunately do not) the only way to visit the islands is to book yourself onto one of the hundreds of different tours that run daily out of Airlie Beach; from 1 day beach and snorkel tours, to 7 day chartered yachting trips – there is a huge variety for all types of people. Alternatively you could book yourself onto one of the $20,000 per night island resorts and live it up with the likes of Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and the other A-listers that grace the Whitsundays with their presence year on year.
$20,000 was a little out of our price range this time round, so we opted for one of the 2day/2night island tour options, with the one we chose being called Ride to Paradise. Instead of being one of the many live-aboard options that tend to cram as many sweaty backpackers into as little space as possible on a sailing trip or party boat, Ride to Paradise (closely scrutinised and hand-picked by me following a year selling these exact tours to sweaty backpackers) was different in that the tour makes use of a wonderfully spacious and beautifully located resort in Paradise Cove. Set in private grounds deep in the heart of the coastal bush, the resort was initially built for a TV Series, then bought by a Russian billionaire as his private island getaway, then rented out to extremely rich Chinese and American families who flew in and out and probably all around the area by helicopter, and then finally was bought by Red Cat Adventures to be used as a high-end “flashpacker” Whitsundays resort and tour base. This was our home for a weekend, as we jetted around the islands by speedboat exploring the dazzling beaches, breath-taking lookouts and interesting snorkel spots.
At the resort, we were upgraded to one of the double rooms, which is one of the most luxurious rooms I have ever had the opportunity to rest my head (I say upgraded, we actually got the whole tour at an extremely discounted rate due to me being a agent that sells this particular tour). After camping our way through the outback it felt a bit surreal to be honest. The resort had a tennis court, swimming pool, table tennis table, as well as free use stand-up paddleboards and kayaks. Kayaking out into the lonely waters of the bay at Paradise Cove for sunrise was an incredible experience. All this, plus the delicious food, freshly prepared by a great team (most of whom were actually people who did the tour and like it so much they now volunteer their time in return for food and accommodation in an amazing resort), basically means that this trip shits on sleeping on a boat for 2 nights!
As we explored the island – which we did at a much faster speed than any other tour boat on the Whitsundays – our group of 18 visited some of the iconic locations such as Hill Inlet Lookout, Whitehaven Beach (as I mentioned previously – 99% volcanic silica sand; you can polish jewellery with it; you can wash your hair with it; it even temporarily erodes your fingerprint away – proven by Soph not being able to get into her phone with her snazzy fingerprint reading lock thing), Langford Sand Spit, and Mantaray Bay for a spot of snorkelling. At Whitehaven beach we found countless stingrays, and at Mantaray Bay, there was no manta rays unfortunately, but we snorkelled with the biggest fucking fish I have ever seen – an enormous (1.4 metre) male Humphead Maori Wrasse called George.
After 2 days and 2 nights exploring the islands and living in luxury at Paradise Cove we returned to Airlie Beach to set up our tent again, this time at Base Hostel Airlie Beach. What a fucking dump.