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All images © Aleney de Winter

Family fun in the Whitsundays

Just two months after Tropical Cyclone Debbie hit with ferocious impact, Aleney de Winter and family return to find that both above and below the water, the Whitsundays is open for business.

We've barely made it off the plane before the kids are leaping into the water at Airlie Beach, the mainland hub of the Whitsundays. We have a hot date with a couple of cool paddle boards at Whitsunday Stand Up Paddle and Kayak on Shingley Beach. Nine-year-old Rafferty, who's a bit of a pro, shoots off on his board before his less experienced mother has even fitted an ankle strap. And when I say less, I actually mean none, but the experienced instructor soon has me gliding through the water, even with the handicap of six-year-old Marlo dangling off the front of my board.

Adventure time

Next stop, more water! Only this time, it is in the lovely lagoon pool at BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort. Airlie Beach’s largest lagoon-style swimming pool comes complete with two water slides, a swim-up spa and a toddler splash area. While the kids love playing in the water, it turns out we’ve arrived a month or two early as a mammoth water park with a whopping 13 slides is being constructed, launched in the July school holidays. On the bright side, it gives us a reason to return – as if the park’s jumping pillows, pedal karts, 18-hole mini-golf course and adventure playground, weren’t excuse enough.

Accommodation ranges from camping and caravan sites to luxury two- and three-bedroom cabins. And when mum feels like a poolside massage, the resort has plenty to keep the kids entertained, including a Kids’ Club on Saturdays and in school holidays.

Whitsunday wandering

Airlie Beach is the perfect base for families to explore the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. We chug slowly out of Abell Point Marina before the captain of Ocean Rafting’s Rip Tide suggests we hang on. Suddenly we’re zigging and zagging through the water. By the time we reach our first port of call, Hill Inlet, located at the northern end of Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island, the kids are giddy and grinning, declaring the boat ride the best fun ever. But in reality, the fun has barely begun.

We make the short hike to the Hill Inlet Lookout, nervous as we’d heard that Cyclone Debbie’s dramatic environmental makeover had wreaked destruction. We wind our way along the soft, white silica sand, past trees standing strong with the vivid green of new growth protecting their modesty. We reach the top and look down at the inlet, the shifting tides swirling the bone-white sand and turquoise waters into a mosaic of blues and I realise that even Debbie’s tempestuous tantrum couldn’t dull Whitehaven’s blinding beauty. The water is teeming with fish, the beach is fine and we could happily spend a week exploring all seven glorious kilometres of it.

We pile back into the boat and speed off towards Hook Island, the boat slowing only when a rare flatback turtle, barely 20 metres from the boat, pops its head up to say hello before dropping anchor at Nara Inlet. We don wetsuits, snorkels and masks and leap into the water to get up close and personal with the fringing reef. Amid the pretty corals, a variety of spotted, striped and lavishly hued fish go about their business, but it is a lairy purple-lipped clam that has the kids most enthralled.

After an epic day, we head back to town to fill our bellies. Rafferty and I chat about our day over an incredible seafood platter at Treehouse Airlie Beach, while Marlo happily noshes on the fish and chips she selects from a kids’ menu delightfully designed by actual kids.

Great Explorations

With just one day left to enjoy the delights of Airlie Beach, we start the day digging our toes in the sand at Cannonvale Beach, five minutes from BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort. The tide is way, way out and Marlo, an avid beachcomber, is in her happy place, delighted by the thousands of shells littering the beach.

Only the siren call of eggs bennie and fluffy pancakes at the Fat Frog Beach Café halts the kids’ happy explorations. And I am assured by my offspring that the sparkly hats they liberate from a treasure chest in the play corner makes breakfast even tastier.

The beauty of the Whitsundays doesn’t stop at the reef and islands so after breakfast we drop by Cedar Creek Falls, a pretty swimming hole set in a natural rock amphitheatre.

Rain in the preceding days has the swimming hole at its loveliest and we’ve only butterflies and birds for company. It’s worth noting that the waterfall, though flowing nicely during our visit, is only consistent during the wet season from February to June, and bug repellent is a must.

Keen to explore further we drive to nearby Conway Beach. As we step out onto the beach, it comes comes alive as thousands of tiny crabs scurry about in swarms, before disappearing back into the sand.

Sadly, it’s time for us to disappear home too, but we’re happy to report that the Whitsunday Islands is a patch of paradise as beautiful and welcoming as ever.

Getting there

Two airports service the Whitsundays with daily flights from most capital cities: Great Barrier Reef Airport on Hamilton Island and Whitsunday Coast Airport in Proserpine, 35 minutes’ drive from Airlie Beach.

Stay

BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort
Mantra Club Croc



This article appeared in volume 52 of Holidays with Kids magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.

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