Hamilton Island, Renee Bargh, Queensland © Extra TV
Explore the Whitsundays
From snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef and sailing amongst islands to cuddling koalas and staying in luxury resorts, TV presenter Renee shares what she loves most about the Whitsundays.
By Minta Burn
Just a two-hour flight from Sydney, the Whitsundays are an unmissable stop offering experiences of every shape, from relaxing to adventurous.
There’s an energy and calmness that comes over you when you’re there that’s hard to describe. You can’t help but relax and marvel in the magic and beauty that’s all around you.
The Whitsundays region abounds with amazing food experiences including fresh Queensland seafood, healthy café treats, and fine dining with stunning views over the ocean.
“The food is so incredibly fresh and tasty, coupled with amazing service and spectacular views,” Renee says.
Guests at qualia, a six-star luxury resort on Hamilton Island, can enjoy jaw-dropping views of the ocean while dining at Pebble Beach - the resort’s signature dining experience. qualia also offers a Sake and Sashimi Master Class, which happen to be two of Renee’s favourite things. The experience pairs some of the world’s finest sakes and sochus with Australia’s highest sashimi grade fish, including coral reef fish found nowhere else in the world but the Whitsundays.
Also on the island, Coca Chu is unmissable for a relaxed beachfront dinner. The menu is inspired by South East Asian hawker-style street food, with show-stopping dishes including crispy daikon and shiitake mushroom cake and Tasmanian king scallop stir fry.
qualia is one of Australia’s most awarded luxury hotels, and it has played host to international celebrities including Chris Hemsworth, Elsa Pataky, Taylor Swift, Oprah Winfrey, and Kelly Rowland.
“It really captures the essence and beauty of Australia in one magical place. It feels like a place where you can escape from the rest of the world and have a great deal of privacy and peace and quiet,” Renee says.
Each of the 40 secluded pavilions have views of the ocean and some even have their own plunge pools. Unwind after a big day of adventure with a world-class treatment at spa qualia using Sodashi organic Australian products.
Hamilton Island also offers a raft of other accommodation options, including the romantic adults-only Beach Club, the self-catering Hamilton Island Holiday Homes and the high-rise Reef View Hotel opposite Catseye Beach.
Snorkelling Hardy Reef
The Whitsundays region is known as the ‘heart of the reef’ for good reason - Hardy Reef, part of the Great Barrier Reef, is home to the famed Heart Reef and is just a helicopter flight or boat ride away. Between June and October, the trip also doubles as a whale-spotting journey.
According to Renee, “flying in a helicopter over Heart Reef and landing for a quick snorkel surrounded by vibrant fish and turtles is pretty hard to top.”
Hamilton Island Wildlife
Hamilton Island is home to its own wildlife park, where visitors can cuddle koalas, meet dingoes and kangaroos, and see other unique native birds and reptiles. Each morning Hamilton Island Wildlife hosts ‘Breakfast with the koalas’, serving a continental breakfast for visitors to enjoy while the koalas dine on eucalyptus leaves.
“During my visit to Hamilton Island, I visited the wildlife sanctuary twice for cuddles with the koalas. They’re the sweetest things and I swear it’s the best form of therapy!”
Sailing the islands
There is no better way to explore the islands and the coral reefs than by sailing. The Whitsundays are a major centre for sailing in Australia, playing host to several major events including Hamilton Island Race Week and Airlie Beach Race Week each August.
Take a day trip on board a yacht to some of the Whitsundays’ top snorkel spots and beaches only accessible by boat, or settle in onboard a luxury yacht for a multi-day tour where you’ll see more of the islands, enjoy gourmet meals prepared onboard by a qualified chef, and have the place to yourself once the day-trippers have gone home.
The Whitsundays are also renowned for yachting charters known as ‘bareboating’, where you can sail without a skipper and chart your own course amongst the islands. Imagine waking up in a secluded bay, framed by the beaches and trees of an uninhabited island.
“You can sail to an island and moor up and go days without seeing another boat or person. The wildlife you can see both in the ocean and on land is so diverse and exciting. The fact that you can watch whales breaching and cuddle koalas all in one day - there’s really nothing more magical than that,” says Renee.
There are hundreds of stunning unspoilt beaches sprinkled across the 74 islands in the Whitsundays region. The most famous is Whitehaven Beach - a four-mile-long stretch of pristine white sand on Whitsunday Island, voted Australia’s best beach and one of the top five in the world. Nothing beats flying over Whitehaven Beach in a seaplane then touching down on the water, or arriving via helicopter to land on the beach for a seafood picnic. For breathtaking views right down the beach, you can also sail to Whitsunday Island and take the easy to moderate 20-minute hike to the top of Hill Inlet Lookout.
“The Whitsundays is like no other place in the world. It’s so vast and the ocean looks as if it stretches forever,” Renee says. “The water is a shade of turquoise you won’t see anywhere else. I’ve never felt true peace the way I do there.”