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Island Paradise © Mark Daffey

The Dreamy Destination of Queensland's Daydream Island

Mark Daffey and family befriend fish big and small at Daydream Island.

Brutus is a menacing-looking fellow. He’s forever brooding, skulking around the shallows with his bottom lip hanging. If he were human, I’d liken him to an overtired child. But Brutus isn’t human; he’s a barramundi – a scaly ball of muscle with a ton of attitude. And it’s that bad-boy demeanour that kids like my son Finn seem to love so much. When Finn tempts Brutus with a snack of squid he’d earlier helped prepare, Brutus snaps his jaws with lightning speed. Finn’s lucky he doesn’t lose a finger and it frightens the beejesus out of him. But he’s a sucker for danger, repeating his feeding session again and again just to watch the fish strike.

Plenty of fish in the sea

Brutus isn’t an obvious favourite, given there are bigger fish lurking inside Daydream Island’s Living Reef lagoons. The biggest of all is Bruce, a sicklefin lemon shark. He’s two metres long and 14 years old, with a rounded snout and a mouthful of dagger-like teeth. He has a taste for smaller, bottom-dwelling fish. Not today though; he seems to be off his food. Bruce isn’t the only shark in the pond. There are two black-tip reef sharks, and wobbegongs and epaulettes. And an army of banded bamboo sharks – slender, catfish-like creatures that shimmy up the shoreline and out of the water to feed on the scraps the children distribute. They’re a bit like puppies for they seem to love being tickled. And, boy, do the kids like to tickle them!

Then there’s Pikelet. He’s a 100-kilogram pink ray. Plus Bill and Barb. And Ruby too; she’s a shovelnose ray. There are bluespotted maskrays and leopard rays, and you can feed them all – prawns and worms, preferably – during the resort’s Stingray Splash sessions. If you’re game, the rays will even suck on your fingers. There are clownfish like Nemo, and blue tangs like Dory… the list simply goes on and on. All up, 140 species of fish and 82 corals reside inside the Living Reef. Or if you prefer, you could snorkel the natural reefs around the island and see them then.

© Tourism and Events Queensland

The island is your oyster

The 4.5-star Daydream Island Resort and Spa is one of the Whitsunday region’s original resorts, dating back to 1932 when six tin sheds were erected as a crude form of holiday accommodation. It has been updated and changed hands several times since then, most recently when a Chinese investment consortium purchased it in March 2015. A total of 296 rooms and suites are strung out around the island’s northern tip. The island itself measures just 1.6 kilometres long by 300 metres wide; you can walk around it in less than half an hour. And that’s exactly what we set out to do after dumping our bags in our room. Finn, however, had other ideas. When I initially broke the news to our eight-year-old that we’d be going on a family holiday to Daydream Island, and that there were swimming pools, a mini-golf course, an outdoor cinema and tennis courts there, he practically buckled at the knees.

"I'm in love," he sighed, slumping against the wall in barely contained excitement. So a speedy orientation walk around the island was never likely to happen. Finn wants to know where he can swim and when we'll go snorkelling; he pleads for us to have a go putt putting and asks what movie is playing that night. There's a playground to explore and beaches to roam. And all over the island, rock wallabies feed from his hand, munching pellets from bags he'd been given on arrival. Our hour-long walk takes closer to three.

© Mark Daffey

Next morning, while Finn is busy feeding and petting fish in the lagoons - all part of the resort's Reef Ranger programme for kids - my wife and I grab the chance for some self-indulgence, booking in massages at the Rejuvenation Spa. The silence and relaxation it allows is time well spent, knowing it will last only as long as Finn is occupied. Then in the afternoon we do whatever else takes his fancy. On our last full day we cruise out to the Great Barrier Reef. It would be remiss of us to travel to Queensland and not see it so our high-speed Cruise Whitsundays catamaran delivers us to a pontoon moored beside Hardy Reef, 40 nautical miles off the mainland coast.

Tourism Australia

There, we don masks and snorkels so we can drift over bait balls of hardy heads and schools of yellow-tailed fusiliers and surgeonfish. There’s a Queensland grouper called George and two resident green turtles, Chip and Chunky. Both have had pieces bitten out of their shells, probably by sharks, and we spot one from inside a semi-submersible. He’s chomping on a jellyfish, his favourite food, according to our guide. During the cruise back, humpback whales launch from the water, breaching like only humpbacks can. They’re the first whales Finn’s seen and he simply beams at me in joy. “Dad?” he asks. “Why don’t they have whales on Daydream Island?” Now there’s an idea.

© Cruise Whitsundays

© Cruise Whitsundays


This article appeared in volume 49 of Holidays with Kids magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.

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