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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Oprahs Whitsundays


We had a wonderful visitor to our region recently and she caused quite a stir. Oprah Winfrey and her massive entourage had a whirlwind tour of The Wonder Down Under and this blog will show you what she experienced in the number one Wonder Down Under The Magnificent Whitsundays.



Heart Reef
    Whitehaven Beach 
    Qualia Resort, Hamilton Island, Great Barrier Reef, The Whitsundays, Queensland, Australia
    Qualia Resort Hamilton Island
    .
    Qualia Resort, Hamilton Island, Great Barrier Reef, The Whitsundays, Queensland, Australia
    Qualia Resort Hamilton Island
    We are going to show you where she stayed and what she experienced and what she didn't. Oprah had 8 days to tour the whole country and she spent 2 here.
    Oprah chose Qualia Resort on Hamilton Island to base herself and had a ball experiencing the island life mixing well with the locals and guests and certainly played her part in the excitement. Even our native animals got into the act with the koalas deciding it was time to show their more amorous side in front of The Queen of Talkshow.
    Qualia is one of Australia's top resorts and the price tag reflects that, but the setting is quite unique and perfect in every way.
    Oprah could not afford a few things due to time constraints this is where you can make the most of this most special part of the world. You can afford what Oprah couldn't, more time to experience what The Whitsundays and The Great Barrier Reef have to offer. You can stay at Qualia Hamilton Island or any of the other 8 Whitsunday Island Resorts, or you can stay with me on the biggest island in The Whitsundays, mainland Australia and do everything Oprah did plus much, much more. Airlie Beach is the perfect base for island exploring and accommodation to suit everyone from Oprah to simple tastes as myself.
    Lets have a look at what Oprah saw on her visit to Australia and The Whitsundays in particular.
    Heart Reef, Great Barrier Reef, The Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia
                                                
    Oprah experienced the two must do's while visiting the nicest place in Australia. Firstly was the Great Barrier Reef and Heart Reef in particular. A scenic flight over this very special and romantic place can be the highlight of your travels anywhere. If the scenic flight is done from the mainland or Hamilton island you get the added bonus of seeing those Magnificent Whitsunday Islands and Whitehaven Beach from the air as well and they are the only sights that can rival Heart Reef from the air in anyway.
    Do a private scenic flight in a chopper or go with a small group on a seaplane and snorkel in the middle of The Great Barrier Reef with a group of less than ten other passengers.
    Heart Reef, Great Barrier Reef, The Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia
     Lie back on the sun deck and sip champagne and wonder what Oprah is doing aahhh, it is a hard life.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Cruising The Whitsundays




Overnight cruises of The Whitsunday Islands. Liveaboards, extended cruises whatever you want to call them. I make no secret that I think this is the way the majority of our visitors should do it.
Unless you have a very young family or are very old at heart I think this is the way to make the most of the beautiful place I call home.


I don't know how many cruises are available but that word choice keeps popping up. If your tastes are high you can be accommodated. If your budget is low but you want to make it special I believe these cruises are great value. The Best thing about cruising is that you get everywhere you can on daytrips plus so much more.


Itineraries

Now this can be tricky as you can't really set itineraries due to tidal and weather constraints. In saying all of that 99% of cruises will visit the magnificent Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island with the vast majority taking you up the Hill Inlet to get the best sweeping views of the best beach in the world.. If they don't get there it will be because of the weather. In these situations if the skipper says it is too rough I go with that because what these guys call rough you may have different terms for and none would be printable in this blog.
The best snorkeling is generally around the north end of Hook Island and Hayman Island although it is not restricted to there. Border Island has some very good spots as well and plenty of options are available. Northerly breezes and tide may dictate when and where snorkeling takes place and I have seen days when the water is crystal, I have also seen it like pea soup. Being island based if you're diving or into the snorkeling try to pick the neap tides when minimal movement of water occurs and visibility is generally better.
Only a few cruises actually visit the outer Great Barrier Reef and most going to Bait Reef. Great spot for divers and snorkelers, better vis than the islands. The downside is the distance and time taken to get there. There is open water between the islands and the GBR and conditions can be a little bumpy with a good breeze. Many boats will not go to the outer reef if the wind is up over 15 - 20 knotts, they will opt to utilise the protected  water The Whitsundays are famous for.
So while the itinerary can vary the vast majority of cruisers get to see Whitehaven Beach and snorkel in some beautiful bays.




Dedicated Divers
Look I'll be honest. I believe if you are after a dedicted diving cruise that Cairns and Port Douglas offer much better value. They have dives included in their prices and visit some great spots. In The Whitsundays you will get to cruise amongst pristine islands surrounded by waters teeming with life with the opportunity to  get a few dives in a place that on its day can match anywhere in the world.


Boats
Now so many boats I can't mention them all. As I have said previously if I don't mention it that doesn't mean I don't like it, just too many. Because of this I'll try to break them up into categories that will make it easier.


Maxis These are generally the cheaper end of the spectrum but can offer the best sailing experience on the water. The maxis are generally old racing yachts that have had a makeover and offer up to 30 people a chance to experience The Whitsunday Islands in a fantastic way at a very reasonable price. The accommodation is basic multi share. These boats weren't originally designed to take people on pleasure cruises so creature comforts are not there. Basic bedding and meals with minimal privacy a Real Estate guru would call it open plan living. Popular with the younger brigade from around the world because it is a very affordable alternative and a very good time. Hammer, Boomerang, Broomstick, Condor and heaps more to choose from.



Budget Boats. There are a few more that aren't maxis but still offer great value. Big numbers on big boats. There are some that sleep, well sometimes sleep, on island resorts and they are a party cruise. It depends on what you want. They are a good option for the younger more social type of passenger that wants to have a great time in a great place. The Atlantic Clipper is a good choice as well as a few others and for those who want to party on dry land at night Koala Adventure cruises have options there.



Mid range in cost but good qulaity cruise are plentiful from here on. Smaller numbers with private accommodation are available at around the $500 p/p give or take a bit.
Price will be dictated by length of cruise so think about that as a factor in your final decision.
2 days/ 1 night   leave am, overnight cruising back pm the next day
2 days  2 nights  leave lunchish, 2 nights cruising return lunchish
3days   2nights   leave am, 2 nights cruising return pm
3days  3nights    leave late afternoon early eve, 3 nights cruising, returns lunchish
6days  6nights    Generally 2 3day/3night cruises with slight variation in itineray sometimes including outer GBR


Choice of boat then comes to you, if numbers are important then cost may be more, private cabins and ensuites will definitely add to cost. There are catamarans, cruises, powerboats and traditional vessels within or close to this price range.


Catamarans like Wings offer good value while Whitsunday Blue offers minmal numbers at an extra cost.


Traditonal Boats are great with SV Whitehaven being a great budget option up to boats like Alexander Stewart, Solway Lass, Derwent Hunter offering alternatives.


Silent Night, Ragamuffin 2, Eureka, Southern Cross and a few more offer a mono hull and good sailing in a little more style than the maxis.


GBR boats A few do try to get to the GBR whatever the weather, well within reason, Kiana is one of our more dive focussed cruises Anaconda 111 tries as well and Spank Me offers a budget alternative a couple more might slip in there.


To the upper end we have boats like Whitsunday Magic, Coral Trekker, Windjammer and I'll throw Descarada in there. The first 2 are 3day/3nighters that offer 6 days/ 6 nights as well. They do have the GBR in their itineraries once a week but only if conditions suit. Comfort is important. Traditional type vessels with good accommodation (remember you're on a boat) and very good menu. All very good cruises with a little more in price than the others. Descarada is a motor cruiser and a very nice one with minimal numbers and lots of toys including jetskis, it is one of your more expensive options with beatiful accommodatio, food and service.


Now this is my favorite of the lot. Pacific Sunrise will show you The Beautiful Whirtsundays in the best possible way. You have a choice of accommodation and tarrifs vary accordingly. The food is better and more plentiful than any mainland establishmant can provide and the experience is awesome. Your hosts are gracious and knowledgable and you'll have a bloody good time. The best way to see the best place in Australia. Similar itineray to Magic and the others and will not disappoint.


I suggest you contact someone with good knowledge of this option as the right boat will make all the difference to your Whitsunday Experience. You will get what you pay for here, don't skimp, you don't have to spend a fortune, but you want to make the most of it.
When getting quotes or trying to figure costings take into account that some companies still have added extra charges that can be sometimes quite large if not considered, other companies include these charges.


Who to contact, Libby or Bob, let us know what you're after from your holiday, when you're coming and we'll work together to find your best options. whitacc@bigpond.com

Monday, September 20, 2010

Airlie Beach



Airlie Beach

This is where I live. A great base for exploring the islands that lay just off to the east of us. As I've said Airlie is probably not a destination in it's own right, although it is a great little seaside village with some of the best views you will get anywhere, Airlie exists to provide you easy access to the islands and the treasures of the Great Barrier Reef.


How to make the most of Airlie

Ok this is where the choice thing comes into play. Their are choices in where to stay in Airlie and how to experience the islands. You can choose to stay in luxury or share a dorm in the social heart of Airlie. You can do any number of daytrips or see all the best places over a few days on an overnight cruise. And this is where the confusion starts, too many options.

-Stay in Airlie at the accommodation of your choice and do daytrips to the Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef. Anyone can do this, there are plenty of trips to choose from.

-Base yourself in Airlie and experience an overnight sailing trip. This is my preferred option as you get to see the best place in Australia in the best possible way. All the cruises share similar itineraries as in visiting Whitehaven and snorkeling and diving in the best places. Your choice is the style of travel. A handful of cruises visit the outer GBR and for divers that may be a bonus.
This option is not the best choice for those with young families!!

-Do one or both of the above and throw in a couple of nights on an island resort to go with it.



Airlie Accommodation

Whatever standard of accommodation you desire you can find it at Airlie Beach. From great little backpacker hostels, beautifully kept caravan and camping grounds or top end apartments with stunning views. You can stay at a wonderful B&B or waterfront hotels at a much cheaper rate than anything on the island resorts. I'm going to mention a few favorites, but please don't think that if I don't mention it I don't like it, just a lot to choose from. If you have a particular accommodation house in mind that you'd like my opinion on, sweet, let me know.

-Backpaker Hostels. Bush Village, Backpackers By the Bay, Beaches and Airlie Waterfront are all very good and obviously the well established Magnums is good value centre of town.

-Caravan parks. There are some very good quality van and camping facilities. Adventure Whitsunday probably leads the way despite being a little out of town with Airlie Cove being a good option and Island Gateway being well positioned.

-Good Quality Value Accommodation. Love Sunlit Waters, great views with great value. Whitsunday On The Beach are well positioned as well as Airlie Court being main street behind KC's. The Whitsunday Terraces give great views at reasonable rates. In Cannonvale Club Croc does a good job with Brekkie included.

-B&B's Whitsunday Moorings has always been my favorite with Airlie Waterfront B&B being top notch and good value at Myaura and Island Views B&B. Airlie Organic has a good rep as well.

-More up Market. Golden Orchid drive has some good places with Pinnacles right up there Martinique, Toscana, and Mediterranean offering great views but beware the hill. Great cardio workout if you don't have a vehicle or make friends with a cabbie, Waters Edge at the bottom of the hill isn't a bad optiion to save the legs. Portside, Airlie Beach Hotel and Coral Seas Resort are well placed with position being the key for Coral Seas. Searene, The Summit, Seastar also offer great views.

Around Abel Point side some nice accommodation can be found at Shingley Beach Resort, Marina Shores and The Penninsula Apts.

Towards the southern end of town there is some fine accommodation but views may not be the best with the current construction work, I hesitate to recommend for now but good deals may be done and a lot of accommodation houses do have views over the top of the new marina construction site.  

Just make a note, at peak times of year, Christmas especially, a lot of accommodation houses implement a minimum successive nights stay, makes it hard for those wanting to cruise.         

Eating out

Plenty of choice again, that word keeps popping up. Great seafood at Fish D'vine and Sunday lunch at De Javu cannot be missed. Capers has good quality meals, KC's are good value with an Aussie theme and your Reef and Beef can be found at Shipwrecked Bar and Grill. Hogsbreath Tavern is in the middle of town
and Sushi, Indian Curry, Thai as well as good pub meals can be found. All the major fast food chains are represented bar KFC for now. Cafe's, Deli's and Juice shops are all here, you will not go without we even have some great icecream shops. Would love a Krispy Kreme though lol.



Daytrips.

Ok break these up into 2 main groups, Islands and Great Barrier Reef. We'll do the GBR first because it is easy.

GBR

2 choices for the outer reef daytrips from Airlie Beach. Fantasea which are a very well established Whitsunday Company will take you to their pontoon "Reefworld" at Hardy Reef.
Cruise Whitsundays have been here around 5 years and offer their pontoon at Knuckle Reef for their GBR experience. Both operators have pontoons with slippery dips woohoo as well as glass bottom boats and semi subs. Diving and snorkeling as well as scenic flights are all available. Both are good operators, pick a day with the less wind for this one. Similar in price.

Island daytrips.

These again can be broken up into 2 main categories. Resort islands or those without the resorts.
No second prizes for my favorite here. Get a daytrip that does Whitehaven Beach (make sure it does Hill Inlet) as well as snorkeling preferably at the north end of Hook Island in Mantaray or Luncheon Bay. Boats like Reefjet and Whitehaven Xpress as well as companies like Ocean Rafting do this very well. The bigger companies Fantasea and CW do this trip but Fantasea is a poor choice and while Camira with CW is a good day you don't get Hill Inlet and the snorkeling is very ordinary in front of Hook Island Resort.
For those less mobile Voyager can somtimes be a good choice with Daydream offering their Living Reef Lagoon as a great substitute for a snorkel.
A quick mention for Maxi Ragamuffin and Domino as 2 of the best island day sailing trips.
Cruise Whitsundays does various resort island hoppers while Fantasea services Hamilton Island if a resort visit is a must for you.

Scenic Flights.

Well these are my favourites. Air Whitsundays does a great flight out over the islands and the Great Barrier Reef showing you the beautiful Heart Reef. You can choose to land and spend a couple of hours snorkeling in relative privacy with a semi sub and sundeck ther for you and max 8 other people, yeah feels pretty special. Chopper flights in Robinson or Bell helicopters can be done, a little more expensive but unbelievable.

Other stuff you should consider.

Airlie Beach offers a great diversity in activities with Skydiving heading the list. great way to see the islands before they kick you out of the plane. Whitsunday Jetski Tours offers a great tour for the thrill seekers with an open water ride around the islands. Tiger Moth Aerobatic flights and of course all matters of water activites can be found here.



Overnight Cruises.

Again these could be broken into 2 categories. Skippered cruises and bareboat charters. Not being a huge fan of bareboats unless you are or have a good sailor or 2 among your group I generally recommend skippered cruises. I may touch on bareboats later in the blog I've heard some great things over the radio over the years and that may help explain my hesitation in recommending them.
OK I personally think this is the best way to experience The Whitsundays. You can spend up to 6 days exploring the Whitsunday Islands and Great Barrier Reef and all the little nooks and crannies that they hide. Whether you are young or young at heart there is a cruise here to suit you. You can choose from a top line white boat or a traditional sail all the way to experiencing the power of a full blown maxi racing yacht.
Boats like Pacific Sunrise suit most with fine dining and great atmosphere in a very casual setting, Whitsunday Magic does the same. Descarada is a different experience being a motor cruiser with very low numbers. At the other end of the spectrum we have Atlantic Clipper which offers a great value cruise for the younger brigade that don't mind bigger numbers and a very social atmosphere. Maxis like Broomstick, Condor and Hammer offer a very good value alternative without the trimmings.
Dvivng can be catered for with some great spots for the experienced and less so.
A great way to see the best place in Australia. contact me and we'll see if we can't help you find the best option for you.










Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Whitsundays: What do I do? Whitsunday Islands, Airlie Beach, Great Barrier Reef. aagghh


Intro

This is a beautiful place and I mean it when I say one of the best if not the nicest place in Australia. We have everything here you could want in a tropical holiday destination and the best of it is available to all budgets. I think the special places lay on the islands without the resorts, so make sure whatever you do or wherever you stay you see some of them.
Where you stay to experience The Whitsundays is up to you, I'll try to point out the benefits and pitfalls of each and I will be honest, but remember, that is my opinion and other people will differ from it, thankfully, that is why we have the diversity we have here. If this helps you decide on the best way for you to see the best place in Australia, I'll be happy.


How to do The Whitsundays ???

Here we go, how do we describe this place. OK depending on who you ask there are 72-96 different Whitsunday Islands (maybe more on an ebb tide hehe) but the consensus lately is we settle on 74, 8 with resorts on them.

The Whitsunday Islands are situated very close to each other and the mainland  and are easily accessible from the mainland at Airlie Beach. Airlie Beach is about a 2 hour drive north of Mackay or 3 hours south of Townsville.

On the other side (East) of the islands lays the Great Barrier Reef in all it's glory.

To get here you have a few choices.

As we have mentioned you can drive The Bruce Hwy along Eastern Qld.

You can fly into either Whitsunday Coast (Proserpine) Airport on the mainland or Hamilton Island Airport on Hamilton Island itself. You don't have to stay at Hamilton island if you fly into there, you do have transfers connecting you to other resort islands as well as Airlie Beach.

You can also boat it up if you have your own and there is a small craft airport at Airlie Beach itself if you have your own plane. Nice joint if you like it and have the money you can build your own house there and fly your plane into the hanger under it, hey you can do just about anything in The Whitsundays.

Airlie Beach.

Airlie Beach is a relative new comer in terms of Nth. Queensland towns, while there has been a little settlement around the area since the turn of the 20th century it is only the last 40 years that have seen the substantial change into the tourism gem that we have today. It's maturity continues while hopefully maintaining the village atmosphere that is unuiqely Airlie. The main street is 800 metres long and a very social setting. Enjoy a drink and a good meal as well as the vibe Airlie provides, its a great place to relax after a hard days exploring.

Now here is what to expect, not much of a beach, although on a high tide the main beach at Airlie does have a nice sandy strip and generally flat water, nice for a sunbake. We don't get any surf here due to that large lump of coral called The Great Barrier Reef so leave the boards on the roofrack. There is a nice beach, within a good walk along the foreshore boardwalk, called Canonvale Beach. Look at the island 500metres offshore on a high tide, then walk out to it 6 hours later on the low tide. that might tell you that we get some decent tides here. It is all that movement of the water that helps create the right conditions for the coral to thrive on the islands and Great Barrier Reef. Some people don't like it, they're the ones stuck on the island when the tide returns lol, but that is the way it is. No surf, big tides don't come here looking for Bondi.

Why come to Airlie Beach then??

Easy. Airlie Beach is the "Gateway to The Whitsunday Islands". It is why Airlie exists. Depending on where you stay you get tremendous views out to The Whitsunday Islands and the beautiful aqua, turquoise coloured seas. Hayman Island sits just 15 nautical miles to the east of Airlie so it is the perfect spot to explore the The Whitsunday Islands from. You have the choice of a myriad of daytrips to the islands, both resort islands and the nicer ones that maintain the serenity that mother nature had the foresight to instill in them. You can choose to cruise The Whitsunday Islands for1 night, maybe sail The Whitsundays for 2 nights or even better cruise Whitsundays Waters for up to 6 nights. these cruises take you to all of the best spots the islands have and some will take you out to the Great barrier Reef as well. Do it on a budget or in style the choice is yours.

 And that is the thing about Airlie "choice". Choose a bed for under $20 p/night or stay in 6 star accommodation. Choose a budget daytrip to a beautiful spot, or take a bubble helicopter out to the Great Barrier Reef. Cruise on a backpacker special or take a more comfy approach on a boat that will have as good a menu as you can find anyhwere. Choice. We will have a page dedicated to Airlie and everything about it shortly.



Whitsunday Island Resorts
As we have mentioned we have 8 island resorts here. Some very big, some very limited in numbers. We have backpacker resorts all the way up to 5star plus. We have resorts that cater for families or those who want a romantic escape without the interuptions kids can provide. We have islands that you can fly into from most East Coast capitols and some that are only accessible via chopper. Some are like a mini city and some are very laid back. All are with close proximity of each other and the mainland , but you will feel a million miles from anywhere.

I will get a page for each of the island resorts as we get further into the blog.

So why stay on an island??

Well there is a special feel you get knowimg you're on an island, I suppose it is that island perspective or just "the vibe" to borrow a quote from a great Aussie movie. whatever the island experience you're after The Whitsundays will be able to provide it for you.

Downsides to islands, they can be expensive and you are locked into certain companies for daytrips. Generally speaking Airlie does have a far greater range and cheaper than the island resorts, why? Island politics I suppose with preferred suppliers.