Winter. Time to hang up the swimsuit and break out the track suit? Not likely. Queensland's known as the Sunshine State for good reason. Fiona Harper, our travel Holiday Girl and author of the Great Barrier Reef: Ultimate Guide, shares her five favourite places for a winter getaway and a few secrets only a local would know.
80 km north of Townsville and lying at the southern end of Hinchinbrook Island, Orpheus Island is a little known gem of an island hideaway. Much of the 11km elongated island is national park, with the Orpheus Island resort occupying a strip of west facing land above a glaringly white beach.
An intimate resort for just 28 pampered guests, Orpheus has an elegant beach-house vibe. Food is a major part of island life with Head Chef Arie Prabowo hailing from Botanica restaurant in Melbourne's South Yarra. Maggie Beer hosts an annual Foodie Revolution involving intimate dinners and hands on master-classes. Dining with the Tides is an oh so romantic dinner for two beneath a balmy star-dappled canopy on the timber jetty.
There are over 1,100 dive sites within cooee or you could take a dinghy, loaded with picnic hamper, snorkelling gear and a favourite book and pop around to a tiny cove shaded by coconut palms bookended by granite boulders. Otherwise days are spent fishing, beach combing, and hiking or curled up on a sun lounge beside the pool. Still stressed? Pop into Gwandalan Day Spa (meaning rest and peace) where treatments are inspired by traditional Aboriginal techniques.
Palm Cove is gorgeous holiday village concealed beneath a canopy of ancient paperbark trees and ubiquitous coconut palms lining a narrow strip of beach north of Cairns.
The beachfront road is lined with restaurants, cafes, boutiques and resort accommodation. My favourites are Vivo for breakfast or dinner thanks to fabulous food and exquisite service or Beach Almond for Asian-inspired seafood. Nunu's and Lime & Pepper are also worthy mentions. Hire a kayak and paddle out to tiny Haystack Island, take a bicycle ride through shady streets, drop a line into the Coral Sea from the pier or simply savour the sun-kissed beach. Grassed picnic areas beneath the palm trees have free BBQ's, perfect for chilling out at dusk.
Where to stay? Peppers Beach Club is located at the northern end of the beach. Shaded by massive paperbark trees, apartment style rooms are modern, spacious and plush. Centred around a huge lagoon style pool with swim up pool bar and its own sandy beach, there's also an adult's only serenity pool area.
The Reef House Resort & Spa sits smack in the middle of Palm Cove action. An intimate sophisticated hotel that won't break the holiday budget, the Reef House is small enough for staff to know guests by name. Colourful bougainvillea, white washed lattice screening terracotta-tiled balconies and lush gardens give the Reef House a welcoming holiday vibe.
Lady Musgrave Island
A barely there coral atoll that peeps above the Coral Sea, Lady Musgrave Island is 60km east of mainland Australia, smack in the heart of the Southern Great Barrier Reef. It's about as far away from civilisation as you can get without needing a passport.
This is a true castaway experience with camping space for maximum 40 people at any time. The only infrastructure is a few compositing toilets and a light beacon for mariners so it's not for 'princess' types. The 90 minute boat trip departs from Town of 1770. If you're inclined to be seasick don't even think about it – you will be miserable. The island is a significant habitat and nesting ground for sea birds and turtles while the surrounding lagoon is like a kaleidoscopic aquarium. Ringed by soft white sand and wooded with a pisonia forest, camping out doesn't get much better than this. Lady Musgrave Cruises will get you there.
Airlie Beach has undergone a transformation with recent major upgrades. Once known as a backpacker haunt it's emerging as a shining star for holidaymakers of all ages. Take away joints are being replaced with restaurants focused on showcasing fine local produce, the new Port of Airlie waterfront precinct has transformed what was previously mangrove-lined mud flats while locals seems to have a reinvigorated jaunt in their steps.
The town is perfectly placed as a central hub to explore the 74 Whitsunday Islands but it's also becoming an appealing destination itself. Morphing from an oyster into a pearl if you like. Check out Tourism Whitsundays for more information.
Cruising the tropics
There are no shortage of cruise options when it comes to exploring Queensland's far northern coast. From dive charters, day trippers and multi-day cruises, boats depart from ports up and down the coast from basic through to luxury.
If you're looking for something a bit unusual, perhaps boarding one of SeaSwift's freighter voyages may float your boat. They've been taking passengers on-board MV Trinity Bay for a few years now, allowing travellers to see Cape York from the deck of a small cargo ship. Recently they've also opened up Torres Strait voyages on MV Malu Titan departing from Horn Island (at the tip of Cape York). With space for just 8 passengers this adventure promises a voyage into waters few but island residents get to see.
For a more conventional cruise, Coral Princess II is a 35m small ship taking 40 or so guests into the outer Great Barrier Reef. The ship is small enough to enable mooring right on the edge of reefs, making it super easy for those who aren't really comfortable in the water. It's a rare treat to get this close to the Great Barrier Reef. Diving, snorkelling, glass bottom boat tours and excursions ashore to remote islands fill most days while nights are spent wining, dining and chatting with fellow passengers or chilling out on deck enjoying balmy tropical nights.
"Want to learn more about this amazing part of Australia? What Fiona doesn't know about her tropical north home isn't worth bothering about. She's just released her Great Barrier Reef : The Ultimate Guide in itunes. Packed with these juicy insights and more".
Sequins and Sand
Fiona Harper is a freelance travel writer specialising in travel boating and lifestyle genres. When not on the road checking out divine holiday destinations, she can usually be found bunkered down in a tropical location working on her next writing project.