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Not all five star experiences are about designer soaps, king beds and high thread counts. As you’ll discover in the Queensland islands, a luxury holiday means different things to different people.

WORDS Debbie Neilson-Hunter

To my daughters, five and seven, it means living steps away from the world’s largest natural wonder and daily close encounters with humpback whales, cowtail rays and beach-bound turtles. A natural coral cay that lies less than 100 kilometres off the Queensland coast within the Capricornia Cays National Park on the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, Heron Island has long been renowned as a premier diving destination. Attracting 300,000 visitors a year, this thriving island outpost is also a popular breeding ground for sea birds as well as Green and Loggerhead turtles.

October is turtle breeding season and females can often be seen ‘resting’ on the beaches. Come November or December, they’ve started laying their eggs deep in the sands and each year from January until late March thousands of tiny turtle hatchlings can be seen racing across the hot sands to the protection of the Coral Sea.

With limited phone access and internet services, it turned out to be the perfect place to chill with my own brood. They also learned something about their environment through Heron’s Junior Ranger programme. For a couple of hours in the morning and afternoon the girls happily attended ‘school’ where lessons, under the guidance of Heron Island’s team of marine biologists, included pulling weeds out of native garden beds as concerned Coral Cay Carers; unlocking the secrets of the reef on guided walks and fishing trips; touching and interacting with alien-like creatures and even discovering distant planets, stars and mythical constellations in the clear night skies above.

Lead image and above: Family fun at
One&Only Hayman

Above: Herron Junior Rangers

Each day they returned to our beachfront apartment proudly displaying the cloth badges they’d earned for completing each activity and excitedly sharing what they’d seen and done. "I touched a sea cucumber. They’re pretty slimy. And we saw Nemo’s cousin, only he was black with yellow stripes. Did you know starfish eat through their bottoms?"

Designed to educate (not babysit) children from the ages of seven to 12, the programme costs $15 per child and runs only during the school holidays provided there are two or more children signed on. Judging by the enthusiastic turn out on our trip rarely do the kids miss out. While they’re having the time of their little lives, parents can indulge themselves in the resort’s facilities which include the Aqua Soul Spa, lounge, bar and saltwater pool. The island also has its own restaurant where buffet and à la carte meals are served thrice daily.

Daily resort activities include self-guided and guided reef walks, fishing, snorkelling, diving and informative island tours. A chef-prepared morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea is included and from March, couples will also be able to ‘castaway for a day’ to the exclusive Wilson Island, when it’s not hosting up to 12 guests in its luxurious tented accommodation.

Wilson Island uses the catchphrase ‘shipwrecked in style’ and there could be no better way to describe this private island resort. The island, a small dot in the beautiful Great Barrier Reef, is available on an exclusive-use basis only. Accommodation is offered in one of only six safari tents which line the soft golden sand and open directly onto a crisp turquoise beach. If you are visiting at the right time, the sand outside your door will be strewn with tiny green turtles making their first dash to the sea.

The Queensland Islands certainly offer a beautiful variety of wildlife. If butterflies are more your thing, One&Only Hayman Island will delight the family. Coloured wings light up the Butterfly Trail as they dance through the sunlight. One&Only also offers younger guests the PADI Bubblemaker Programme. This two-hour programme is a brilliant way to introduce eight to 12 years olds to the mysterious world under the ocean, but it isn’t run year-round so check online for details.

If your family is looking for tranquillity above all, then Orpheus Island Resort is ideal. Fringed by the striking colours of the Great Barrier Reef, Orpheus offers children the chance to get up close and personal with giant clams, making it a truly memorable getaway.

Haggerstone Island is the epitome in exclusivity, with only four private huts available and snorkelling opportunities amid a majestic 1840s shipwreck. Add an element of excitement for the kids from the hull of the 40-foot boat, Jo Jo 111, and take a moment for yourself to bask in the clear lagoons that border the beach. It’s also a fisherman’s paradise.

Boasting breathtaking ocean views and a design that ensures privacy and space, Hamilton Island Yacht Club Villas are luxury personified. With world-class facilities that include your own personal concierge and access to catamarans, snorkelling equipment and windsurfers, Hamilton Island Yacht Club will energise and revitalise your whole family. These villas, and a collection of other luxury accommodation, can be booked through Hamilton Island Holiday Homes.

Above: Baby turtle

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