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Whitsundays’s BIG4: a Stunning Destination with Toddlers

How best to tackle a trip to the Whitsundays with toddlers in tow? SUE WHITE shares her efforts to find a balance between high-energy activities and relaxation at Airlie Beach, Daydream Island, and Whitehaven Beach

Living Reef tour on Daydream island1 1
Living Reef Tour on Daydream Island

I’m keenly aware that I’m not partaking in what many consider to be the ‘traditional’ Whitsunday Islands dream. First, I’m on the mainland, and second – well, this is a holiday park. Plus, I’ve not before experienced the Whitsundays with toddlers in tow.

I wondered what was in store as I prepared for a holiday adventure in this sensational part of Queensland with my tiny travelling companion, Ollie.

Toddler-friendly accommodation at BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort

Arriving at the BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort, just a short drive out of Queensland’s Airlie Beach, I can’t get rid of the feeling I’ve stepped into a resort of sorts. The holiday park known by locals as “frog park” (for the tiny green frogs that make it their home) features palm trees dotted across the 14.5ha grounds. 

An aerial view of BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort at Airlie Beach
An aerial view of BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort at Airlie Beach

No wonder it has won a swag of tourism awards: amenities include waterslides in a lagoon-style pool area; a great playground including not one, but two jumping pillows (one solely for littlies); a fantastic Kids Club (with Toddler Time every Tuesday – thoughtfully timed to coincide with the poolside masseuse’s weekly schedule); outdoor movies; and mini golf.

Reception doesn’t do much to dissolve the resort fantasy: the lobby looks deceptively hotel-like. In fact, when I discover how good the overall park setup is, I adjust our schedule to spend more time here rather than simply using it as a place to sleep.

Of course, with so many kid-friendly activities in the Whitsundays, there are plenty of competing priorities in the region. Read on for the highlights of our trip.

FEATURE Mini golf at BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort. Image Fiona Harper
Mini golf course at BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort

Day trip to Daydream Island

We begin with an easy day trip to Daydream Island. Just 35 minutes on a toddler-friendly boat (aka: one with plenty of enclosed areas), it’s a good choice. We avail ourselves of the facilities available to all guests (daytrippers or otherwise): we swim in the pool; check out the wallabies that hang out on the island’s coral beaches; and hand-feed the fish at Lover’s Cove, where my 22 month old seems unperturbed by the dozens of fish bumping into his reef sandal-enclosed feet.

The Mermaid statues of Daydream Island
The Mermaid statues of Daydream Island

We also upgrade to a private tour of the island’s Living Reef, mostly for the chance to feed barramundi and stingrays.  It’s a good choice – for the experience as well as the knowledge of the enthusiastic marine biologist leading the experience – and we make it (just) to the end of the 45-minute session with ‘he-who-is-almost-two’ more entranced than impatient.

Family feeding the fish
Family hand-feeding fish on Daydream Island's Living Reef Tour

Time to unwind (and waterslide)

My philosophy when travelling with young kids is to follow each big day with something more low key, so our next day is spent solely at BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday. It’s relaxing, enjoyable and would be almost effortless but for the 50 times I have to accompany my toddler up and down the holiday park’s waterslide (okay, it’s worth it – he’s delighted!).

Kids love the Waterslide Park at BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort
Kids love the Waterslide Park at BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort

Visiting Whitehaven Beach with Cruise Whitsundays

By day three we’re ready for Whitehaven Beach. Cruise Whitsundays (the same company that transfers visitors between the islands and Airlie Beach) has a morning option that works well for young kids – Whitehaven is less crowded then, it’s cooler and the schedule coordinates better with a toddler’s lunch sleep. It’s low stress, given the boat is mostly enclosed (there are seated areas outside, but I pretend those don’t exist so I don’t have to choose between carrying my son in a carrier or worrying he’ll jump overboard). Like every tour operator in the area, Cruise Whitsundays also does the main Great Barrier Reef day trips, but those are a much longer days out.

Still, Whitehaven is a success: its world-famous soft white sand manages to impress, despite the fact that we spend our two hours just 50m from where Cruise Whitsundays drops us. There are seven kilometres of beach to explore, but I leave that for when my son is older and (theoretically) willing to walk back when required.

An aerial view of Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays

Exploring Airlie Beach with a toddler

Our next ‘off’ day is spent exploring home base: Airlie Beach. The town is a famous backpacker stop but as we’re staying out of town, I’ve seen not one until now. In fact, I don’t stumble across any backpackers until lunchtime, because we spend the first part of the day local style. 

First, we jump on a local bus for the five-minute ride and short stroll to the Fat Frog Beach Cafe at Cannonvale. The healthy and delicious meals (and the water view) impress all ages, but so does the café’s kids play area. (An old fashioned typewriter! I’m in love).

Next up is a 2.5km stroll into Airlie proper via the flat, mostly boardwalked, path through parks, a marina and view of the stunningly clear waters. Our destination is not the bar-packed town, but Airlie Beach Lagoon: an expansive, fabulous (free) outdoor pool that keeps my toddler (and me) lazily entertained for most of the afternoon.

Airlie Beach Lagoon © Destination NSW
Airlie Beach Lagoon © Destination NSW

Flying in and out of Hamilton Island

Sadly, home beckons, but we’ve opted to fly in and out of Hamilton Island, a one-hour ferry ride away, and I use the chance to see what I’ve missed by staying on the mainland! It’s nice, and if you had a large group then the luxury villas for eight would be a surprisingly cost-effective option (there are all sorts of room configurations).

Hamilton Island ticks the boxes for an easy escape: there’s a decent mix of food options; we pass a fun morning at the island’s main swimming pool (which all visitors can use) and my toddler is particularly enthralled by the golf buggies, which are the island’s main mode of transport (you can strap a car seat to one for young kids).  

But I realise that in just five nights, BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday has become my resort away from the resorts and I suspect that, like the majority of their guests, I’ll be back.

Sue White and Ollie
Sue White and the little Ollie

The writer stayed courtesy of Cruise Whitsundays and BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort.

Sue White is a travel writer and founder of babieswhotravel.com

Getting to the Whitsundays

Queensland’s Whitsunday Islands is a group of 74 islands between Townsville and Mackay. Visitors can fly into Proserpine Airport and take a bus to Airlie Beach (38 kms) or fly direct into Hamilton Island, where Cruise Whitsundays offers transfers to Airlie Beach (one hour). Keep an eye out for flight specials – we’ve seen flights for under AUD$100 each way from Sydney (on Jetstar – although Virgin and Qantas also fly here).

Where to stay in the Whitsundays

BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort has a range of accommodation options, from studios and villas to two and three bedroom cabins. Prices are seasonal, and the holiday park also offers caravan and camping sites for a budget option. 

Book your stay at BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort

Best time to visit the Whitsundays

Most visitors prefer to travel outside of stinger season (although experts don’t like to use the phrase, noting that stingers are possible year-round). We wear a stinger suit on Whitehaven in late May, although May/June to October is considered outside the problem period.

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