What we all need now is a post pandemic tonic for the soul - Queensland's Whitsundays provided just that for BRUCE McDOUGALL.
ALONG with many Aussies, it seems an eternity since our last flight anywhere after Covid put paid to air travels — domestic or international.
Our last big overseas jaunt was in 2019 and it was a beauty.
In those now distant times, we scored a terrific return deal to Frankfurt in Germany with Vietnam Airlines. It included a day’s stopover over in Ho Chi Minh City on the way, and Hanoi for a day on the return leg. It worked brilliantly. Rest up, get into the local nosh, tour the sights, time on the massage table, back to airport to resume trip.
In Germany we hot footed it a Riesling festival at Mainz on the Rhine before heading to Greece to explore the glorious Peloponnese by car, followed by the culture and delights of St Petersburg and Moscow.
Ah, the joys of pre-pandemic international air travel, now but a memory.
Three years on we decided the time was right to take our first flight since the big dance in Europe. It was going to be within Australia, and, by my lovely wife’s stipulation, it had to be somewhere warm and preferably involve a coral reef and snorkelling.
We settled on Queensland’s fabulous Whitsundays, a part of Australia that neither of us had been to but long had been eyeing off.
The question was how best to do it. A number of options presented but it really came down to a choice between staying on the mainland with its obvious advantages, or go for the undoubted attraction of holing up on one of the exquisite Whitsunday islands.
Either way, given good weather and timing that took out school or public holidays, it promised to be a winner.
In the end we chose Airlie Beach (population about 1200) flying into Proserpine from Sydney and taking the regular bus shuttle for the 30 minute trip into Airlie, gateway to the islands and the Great Barrier Reef.
An alternative was to fly directly to Hamilton Island and spend a week chilling there. In the end it didn’t matter as superb fast boat services between the mainland and the islands run daily. We ended up spending a fair chunk of time looking around Hamilton, anyway, not to mention glorious whiter than white Whitehaven Beach on nearby Whitsunday Island and a snorkelling/diving trip further out to Hardy Reef.
On Hamilton you can whizz around the island on an electric golf buggy, take in magnificent vistas across the Whitsundays from the high points and stop off for lunch at the local pub. Just about everything on Hamilton is accessible via an app.
Out on Hardy Reef the set up is superb, catering for all levels of snorkellers and divers. For those not keen on getting wet there is a submersible that traverses the reef as well as an underwater viewing gallery. All gear including wet suits is provided and the infrastructure even allows enthusiasts to stay overnight on the reef.
With sea and air temperatures about the same at 22C and no stingers around there was barely a need for the wet suit.
Hardy Reef has a pet Māori Wrasse named Maggie who poses for photos with snorkellers and is so familiar with humans she doesn’t mind being touched. Breaching whales provided fantastic bonus entertainment during the boat trips to and from the reef.
Back on the mainland, Airlie at this time of year is a great spot to relax and wander with its coastal boardwalks, marinas and pole position spots for a sunset sundowner overlooking the islands.
The popular tourist town favoured by backpackers and maritime types as much as holidaying families was an eye opener after Sydney.
Development to date has been sympathetic to the tropical environment with none of the high rise associated with the Gold Coast. Airlie still has that small town friendly ambience and the place is so clean and well cared for.
We stayed at the four star Mantra Club Croc hotel, a short bus ride or board walk from the town centre, with the advantage of a shopping centre almost on the doorstep. It had everything we needed including an excellent pool, room balconies with a view and a decent bar/restaurant at a fraction of the price of some of the more upmarket joints.
All in all, a fine reintroduction to holidays in Australia. Our flights were more or less on time, sure there were airport queues longer than three footy fields but at least we didn’t lose our baggage.
Next stop: Qatar and football's World Cup in November/December.
Bring it on.