A short break in the Whitsundays beautiful Airlie Beach proves that good old-fashioned family holiday fun is still where it’s at, writes Aleney de Winter
As a parent I’ve always wished I could give my children a taste of the laid-back life I experienced as a kid – riding bikes around the streets, playing in the local park and popping in and out of neighbours houses – without hovering parents or mobile phone check-ins (given that when I grew up dinosaurs still roamed the earth and they hadn’t been invented).
But now it’s a time of too much traffic, too much neighbourly transience and not enough trust. And I’d accepted that that kind of freedom was something I couldn’t offer my kids.
That was until I entered Airlie Beach’s BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort and saw the most glorious scene! Kids. Everywhere. Playing with their new pals on the streets, in between the rows of cabins and in the playground, laughing and frolicking in complete safety without hovering parents trailing them! Though the bikes are fancier, the scooters sleeker and the kids attire a little less lairy and flarey, my childhood is being re-enacted right in front of my eyes.
A Whitsunday welcome
We’re in the Whitsundays mainland town of Airlie Beach for a family break. A small town with a big village atmosphere, it’s the perfect spot to access the amazing Whitsunday Islands and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. And the award-winning BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort is the ultimate home away from home for visiting families.
One of Australia’s leading resort holiday parks, BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort offers accommodation ranging from camping and caravan sites to luxury two- and three-bedroom condos and everything in between. We’re staying in one of the spacious and comfortable two- bedroom condos dotted across the resort’s 10 hectares of lush tropical garden. It has everything we need, a comfortable lounge, indoor and outdoor dining areas, an enormous family sized spa bath and a modern fully equipped kitchen – complete with a fridge full of glorious food.
The wonderful Whitsunday Provisioning offers resort guests access to online shopping before they leave home meaning it’s all there waiting for you and mum’s holiday doesn’t have to start at the supermarket.
Instead it can begin by the pool with the rest of the family. And what a pool! Airlie Beach’s largest resort-style swimming pool (heated in winter) comes complete with two awesome waterslides, swim-up spa and a toddler splash area. Not to mention plenty of space for lounging in the sun! And it proves love at first sight for my four-year old son, Rafferty, who announces that we will be spending a lot of time in it.
That is until he sees the enormous jumping pillow, pedal karts, 18-hole mini-golf course and adventure playground, all of which he and his not quite two-year old sister Marlo insist on road-testing before dinner. That proves to be a hastily thrown together but delicious BBQ (the resort has free BBQ’s for guests) as there is still one last adventure to be had before bed time.
Grabbing a picnic blanket and pillows we head out into the night, to a soundtrack of croaking frogs, for a movie under the stars. This place has found some new fans.
Somehow we manage to peel Rafferty and Marlo away from the Holiday Park long enough to collect our hire car from Fun Rentals, a super cool Jeep that Rafferty thinks is all kinds of awesome, for a day of exploring. We start our day with a leisurely wander through the Airlie Beach Markets where the kids score some bargain toys, mum a sarong and all of us some sublime fresh mango sorbet.
The natural beauty of The Whitsundays doesn’t stop at the reef and islands. We drive about half an hour to beautiful Cedar Creek Falls, a natural waterfall and swimming hole set amid lush tropical rain forest that’s perfect for families. We stop for a quick dip but, as it’s been a bit dry preceding our visit, the falls themselves are sadly more of a trickle on this occasion so we head a little further on to Conway Beach where the beach quite literally comes alive. As we step out for a walk along the flat expanse of beach, thousands of tiny spider-like crabs rush about in swarms, before disappearing back into the sand. Awesome!
We lunch at the kid-friendly Denman Cellars and Beer Cafe, in The Port of Airlie. It’s one of Airlie Beach’s newest and hottest spots and specialises in hard to find brews. Given there are more than 700 of them on the menu, it’s also hard to choose! We gobble our meal of sensational Tapas while enjoying the glorious view of the Airlie Beach marina.
Sated, the siren call of the Holiday Park proves too much for the kids to resist so we return to while away the afternoon with more jumping, mini-golfing, swimming, sliding and playing fun.
BIG 4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort is the only one on the mainland to offer a Kids’ Club, for kids aged four and over. A full-time activities co-ordinator and amazing staff ensure there’s always something happening to keep the kids entertained.
The newest addition to their specially-designed program of awesome holiday activities is ‘Toddler Time on Tuesdays’ where younger kids – from 18 months to five years of age – can also enjoy a enjoy a range of craft activities and games.
But it’s not all about the kids.
Not at all! While Rafferty and Marlo head off for some craft and playtime with their peers, mum finds herself under the capable hands of the resort masseuse enjoying an hour-long poolside massage.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’m not a fan of small planes. Given that my phobia pretty much takes the “joy” out of a joy flight for everyone involved, we generally avoid them. But we’re in the Whitsundays and there is no better way to see the breathtaking Great Barrier Reef than with a bird’s eye perspective. So I swallow a teaspoon of cement, harden up and head to Whitsunday Airport at Shute Harbour for a half-day tour with Air Whitsunday Seaplanes.
On arrival, we’re fitted for stinger suits, briefed, seated and given headsets to hear our captain above the noise of the little plane and soon enough we’re in the air. I gaze down at the water below us and the islands scattered to our left and right and the most amazing thing happens – I am not afraid! In fact, with the fresh air flowing through the small plane and my head-setted four-year old beaming at me and signing that he loves me in encouragement, I’m positively euphoric.
The world’s largest living structure, stretching over 2000 kilometres, The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and is beautiful beyond description. The deep blue of the sea, the green of the islands and the fusion of bright blues and greens as we come over the reef itself are nothing short of breathtaking. As we descend over the ridiculously pretty sight of The Heart Reef, something that can only be viewed from the sky, in readiness to land, we’re breathless.
After arriving at Air Whitsundays private submersible boat, we suit up ready to hit the water. With Marlo too young for snorkelling she and I just have a dip together near the boat and the boys head off amongst the coral with their new crazy coloured fishy friends.
With Rafferty a very chuffed co-pilot on the return trip, we fly home over the sparkling expanse of Whitehaven Beach. Sadly it’s too windy for us to land but the view is mesmerising. As we arrive back at the airport I can’t believe that I nearly talked myself out of this one-in-a-lifetime experience and thank my lucky stars I gave in to the pleas of my fearless four-year old fly baby!
Back at the resort we indulge in more jumping, mini-golfing, swimming and karting fun. There’s been so much to do yet there’s been no rushing and no schedules. As the darkness falls on our last night in paradise, there are just two happily exhausted children who fall into a contented slumber. This is the way holidays are meant to be.
There are two airports servicing the Whitsundays – Great Barrier Reef Airport on Hamilton Island and Whitsunday Coast Airport in Proserpine, around 25 minutes from Airlie Beach. Cruise Whitsundays and Fantasea Adventure Cruising operate ferries from Hamilton Island to transfer passengers to the Whitsunday Coast and other island resorts.