A Five Star Affair In The Wonderful Whitsundays

Welcome to the Whitsundays, a group of 74 lush, mountainous islands fringed by the crystal clear waters of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. It's one of the seven wonders of the world and the perfect place for a luxury escape writes Kimberley Mather.

My love affair with the Whitsunday Islands began a decade ago. I had just graduated from university and was poised to accept a role with a multinational agency when a five minute phone call changed the course of my life.

My friend Bec had won a contract to clean luxury homes on Hamilton Island and needed a side kick. Despite the fact that I had never wielded a feather duster in my life, I accepted and embarked on a six month tour of duty, picking up unopened bottles of Pétrus, binning half-eaten wedges of Pont l'Evèque and generally adding shine and polish to the world of the rich and famous.

Fast forward ten years and here I am again in the Whitsundays – this time it's a Cinderella story and I have Prince Charming in tow. Our plan is to spend four days luxuriating in the best the Whitsundays has to offer.

They say travelling to the Whitsundays is like looking at the world with new eyes and it goes without saying that the hues are more brilliant when you raise the bar from star employee to sleeping in five stars.

Our first night is at Airlie Beach, a colourful, cosmopolitan party town on the shores of a palm fringed beach overlooking a scattering of yachts in Pioneer Bay. Too sophisticated for the backpacking lifestyle, we head straight for Pinnacles Resort and Spa, a lux haven with Coral Sea views, a Jacuzzi on the balcony and a chilled bottle of Veuve Clicquot on arrival.

Aside from being a tourist mecca, Airlie Beach has another claim to fame; fabulous food. Prince Charming insists we follow in the footsteps of Hollywood A-listers Nicole Kidman and Matthew McConaughey and visit the Airlie Beach Hotel for the 'localvore' menu at Capers on the Esplanade.

The menu is simple but well thought out and features stunning produce harvested from a 100 kilometre radius. We start with a sumptuous entrée of Japanese panko crumbed oysters and a side of wakame and wasabi mayonnaise. The natural oysters with lilliput caper salsa melt in the mouth and perfectly suit our choice of icy cold Rocky Gully Sauvignon Blanc.

Mains are even more superb - if that's possible - and leave us wondering if Airlie is a secret mecca for the underground gourmand.

Day two dawns bright and it's time to indulge in the region's primary draw card – the Great Barrier Reef. We're travelling the rockstar highway by private helicopter allowing us to survey the reef and islands at our leisure.

Our pilot James provides commentary on the history of the reef and past owners of some of the islands as we dip and hover over a handful of the 74 islands in the archipelago, eventually landing on our very own patch of Whitehaven Beach for a champagne picnic lunch.

Hailed by TripAdvisor Travellers' Choice Awards as the best beach in the South Pacific 2015, the iconic 6.5 kilometre stretch of pure white, silica sand contrasts against the sparkling turquoise and green water is breathtaking. As we take in the view, we nod our approval to Oprah for rightfully choosing this perfect slice of paradise as the opening scene of her 'Oprah's Ultimate Australian Adventure' special. If only Curtis Stone was on hand to whip us up some freshly caught seafood!

The water feels like heaven. It's a perfect 24 degrees and there's not a cloud in the sky. Graceful rays and tropical fish float a safe distance from us while millions of diamonds reflect on the ocean's surface. Further down the beach, a handful of white yachts and motor boats tug gently at their moorings with the sound of the waves punctuated only by the high-pitched laughter of children. This is heaven!

Day three is immersion day and we chopper out to Cruise Whtsundays Reefworld, a tiny floating guest house built on a pontoon in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. There are two modes of accommodation – swags under the stars or a private double suite – we anticipate that the lack of star ratings will be more than compensated by the millions of vivid night stars in the sky above.

After arriving at 10.30am, we kit up in our stinger suits (a rather unflattering full lycra bodysuit), masks and snorkels, ready to explore the 16 metre long Hardy Reef.

Within the first ten minutes, I get up close and personal with an enormous green turtle, some of the most brilliantly coloured species of tropical fish I have ever seen, giant clams, sea anemones and vividly hued corals and sponges. Schools of rainbow fish dart around like a scene straight from Finding Nemo. Only this time it's real.

The Reef Sleep experience really takes its luxurious effect when the day trippers depart and the handful of remaining guests head to the pontoon's top deck for sunset and bubbles. With just a flock of friendly sea birds for company, this is the life of a cashed up Crusoe.

Sunrise on a pontoon, surrounded by nothing but 1300 miles of sparkling turquoise water is gob-smackingly beautiful. A couple of green turtles breakfast on the marine growth around the platform and sea birds dart for fish in the clear water. We spend our morning snorkelling the reef until the morning ferry arrives to take us back to Airlie Beach, where I plan to curl up in a hammock and do nothing but read myself into a deeply satisfying sleep.

Just like Cinderella, this is proof that there is a happy ever after.

Word Count: 964
Author: Kimberley Mather

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