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