Call it a Dirty Weekend Away or a relationship make-good, with just a long weekend, several thousand kilometres of Queensland coastline and your imagination, you too can be the romantic love god [or goddess] you truly know yourself to be.
When it comes to matters of the heart, Australian Traveller isn’t afraid to play matchmaker, marriage counsellor, confidante. We’ve lost count of the number of times the plaintive cry has rung out: “I want to spoil my partner with a romantic long weekend on the Great Barrier Reef. What should I do!?”
Translation: I’ve done wrong and need to make good as quickly as possible. Fear not; help is at hand. Read on for what we believe to be the three most drop-dead gorgeous and sexy getaways to the GBR. Romantic itineraries guaranteed to get you out of the doghouse and back into favour.
Itinerary 1 – Port Douglas and surrounds
Port Douglas’ proximity to Four Mile Beach, the World Heritage-listed Daintree, Cape Tribulation and The Reef itself leaves little doubt that it’s one of Australia’s most romantic, spice-inducing hotspots. Full of gorgeous scenery, lovers strolling among palm trees, top-class restaurants and massive celebrities travelling incognito, your biggest problem will be finding things to do that don’t scream romance.
From the absurdly romantic Heart Reef to whiter than white Whitehaven Beach, there’s nowhere in Australia that’s quite like the Whitsundays.
AT’s favourite seductive sleeping dens are among the treetops in the five star stilted bungalows at Thala Beach Lodge, which is also home to the excellent world-class Ospreys Restaurant and its unbeatable views. Aside from being completely luxurious, Thala is also fully eco-accredited, so you can indulge all your romantic fantasies while simultaneously allaying your crushing enviro-guilt (never an easy trick). The Asian-influenced, indoors/outdoors pavilions of Peppers Balé Resort with its superb onsite restaurant form another winning romantic combo, especially the in-house cooking classes, which always make for a great “date-night” activity.
For a romantic dining experience, On The Inlet is a local seafood institution that allows you to not only watch the sun set from your table perched on the edge of the Coral Sea, but also to watch your mud crabs being carried straight from fishing trawler to fish tank to plate. Minus the views but with equally good food (if not better) is the chef’s table at French-inspired Harrison’s on Macrossan St, where you’re invited to sit literally in amongst the frenetic action of the kitchen for your meal, degustation or otherwise. Or, if your loved one fancies the simpler things in life, there’s the more downmarket but undeniably atmospheric Beach Shack, just a thin and crispy pizza toss away from the white sands of Four Mile Beach.
And of course no trip to Port Douglas is complete without a cruise to The Reef itself. For this, you can opt for the slower-paced Shaolin Chinese junk and make your way to the Low Isles for a spot of snorkelling or a sunset cruise. Or, if you fancy yourself a bit more flashy and streamlined, enlist Enterprise Charters for anything from half-day to overnight cruises to anywhere from the Outer Reef to Hope Island, the Ribbon reefs or stunning Lizard Island. Then the world, or at least the entire Port Douglas region, will truly be your oyster.
Where to stay
3. Holiday Homes: Port Douglas contains vast numbers of mouth-watering private resorts and holiday homes the likes of Sea Temple, Bali Hai, Mai Tai and Villa Empat Puluh Dua (some of which, like Mai Tai, can be had from as little as $290 a night). Check out www.theboutiquecollection.com.au, www.executiveretreats.com.au or www.beachvillas.com.au
Where to eat
4. Harrison’s Restaurant and Bar – (07) 4099 6364
What to do while you’re there
1. Shaolin Junk to the Low Isles // www.shaolinportdouglas.com
2. Enterprise Charters to everywhere else // www.stargatemarine.com
Itinerary No.2 – Setting Sail for the Whitsundays
From the absurdly romantic Heart Reef to whiter than white Whitehaven Beach, there’s nowhere in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, or indeed the rest of Australia, that’s quite like the Whitsundays. And the best way – or at least the most romantically swashbuckling way – to explore this legendary collection of 74 islands and soak up their sun-drenched beauty is onboard a chartered vessel, be it catamaran or yacht, crewed or self-skippered. Being one of the foremost sailing regions in the country, there are countless operators here, all vying for your attention with various packages. But for sheer romance, the freedom granted you by a bareboat sailing experience cannot be surpassed. Outfits like Sunsail, based on Hamilton Island, have a wide variety of options, including three- and five-day bareboat or hosted vessels – they even have a sailing school so you and your partner can learn how to sail, with accommodation onboard and all your meals covered. And once you have the skills, you can set sail for the sunset.
Hayman Island is the site of perhaps more proposals and honeymoons per square metre than anywhere else in Australia.
And speaking of Hamilton Island, the Whitsundays region is home to the resort-heavy giants of Hamilton (noted especially for Qualia, if you have the money, and the newly opened Hamilton Island Yacht Club, if you have the membership) and Hayman Islands (noted for Hayman Resort, the site of perhaps more proposals and honeymoons per square metre than anywhere else in Australia).
Or if you’d prefer to remain in one spot than drift with the tides, Fantasea’s Reefworld is an option well worth looking into – especially the “Room for Two” Reefsleep packages, which lets you wave goodbye to the day-tripping snorkel crowd, leaving you in peace to watch the reef come alive at night. And if you really want to lay it on thick for your loved one, how about plumping for an aerial cruise of the region? Once you’ve gazed down on the Heart Reef from 2000 feet from a seaplane or helicopter, you’ll have little left to tick off your romantic wish list.
Where to stay
1. Qualia www.qualia.com.au
2. One & Only Hayman Island Resortwww.oneandonlyresorts.com
3. Fantasea Reefsleep www.fantasea.com.au
Where to eat
1. Sunsail Love Package Weekender: Includes overnight mooring at Peppers Palm Bay and dinner for two in La Riviera Restaurant, plus full use of retreat facilities.
2. Great Barrier Feast Series: Time your visit for one of Hamilton Island’s thrice-yearly food and wine events at Qualia and the HI Yacht Club, with the first to be hosted by Tetsuya Wakuda himself (March 12-14).
What to do while you’re there:
1. Charter your own yacht: www.sunsail.com.au
2. Take a stroll along Whitehaven Beach: www.tourismwhitsundays.com.au
3. Aerial tour of Heart Reef: www.airwhitsunday.com.au or www.avta.com.au
Itinerary No.3: Dropping off the map
For some adventurous couples, the more fantastically remote they are (and the fewer amenities there are on hand), the quicker that elusive spark of romance bursts into flame. And the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park has no shortage of places in which to maroon yourself – but only a handful that can be comfortably reached in a long weekend.
The best spots for this “far away, up close” approach would have to be Bedarra, Orpheus and Hinchinbrook Islands for luxury, or, if you’re the type who prefers bucket showers to a champagne bucket, then Lady Musgrave or Pumpkin Island will suit you just as well.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park has no shortage of places in which to maroon yourself.
Bedarra Island is only 5km offshore from Mission Beach, south of Cairns, but might as well be in the Bahamas. It’s home to several extremely exclusive properties, each with access to private beaches. Orpheus Island is reached via seaplane from Cairns or Townsville and is actually ideal for both high- and low-end travellers, as it houses the splendid Orpheus Island Resort as well as a number of back-to-basics campsites. Similarly, Hinchinbrook lives up to its status as the world’s biggest island national park by providing some serious walking trails and campsites on the one hand, and a bit of tree-top luxury at the Hinchinbrook Wilderness Lodge on the other.
Lady Musgrave, reached from the town of 1770, consists of little more than a comms tower and a loo (plus, of course, a magnificent lagoon, fringe reef and untold wildlife). But what it lacks in facilities it more than makes up for once the day-trippers have fled and you can treat the entire island as your own private campsite. Pumpkin Island, just 16km off Yeppoon, at least has a set of eco-cabins for a modicum of comfort. But you’re not here for the romance of solar-panelling and separating your recyclables; you’re here for the solitude, the friendly dolphins, the waving palms and the sea life. Just remember to go home again once your long, romantic weekend is up.
How to live it up in luxury:
2. Orpheus Island Resort: www.orpheus.com.au
3. Hinchinbrook Island Wilderness Lodge: www.hinchinbrookresort.com.au
How to do it on the cheap:
1. Lady Musgrave Island // www.lmcruises.com.au
2. Pumpkin Island // www.pumpkinisland.com.au