‘How best to tackle a trip to the Whitsundays with toddlers in tow?’ pondered SUE WHITE as she prepared for a holiday adventure in this sensational part of Queensland with her tiny travel companion, Ollie.
Arriving at the BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort, just a short drive out of Queensland’s Airlie Beach, 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.
Nonetheless, 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; two waterslides in a lagoon-style pool area; a great playground including not one, but two jumping pillows (one solely for littlies); a Kids Club (with Toddler Time every Tuesday – thoughtfully timed to coincide with the poolside masseuse’s weekly schedule); outdoor movies; and mini golf … no wonder it has won a swag of tourism awards.
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, there are plenty of competing priorities in the region.
We begin with an easy daytrip 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.
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.
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. It’s relaxing, enjoyable and would be almost effortless but for the 50 times I have to accompany my toddler up and down the waterslide (okay, it’s worth it – he’s delighted!).
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 which 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 daytrips, but those are a much longer day 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.
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 Big Frog Cafe at Cannonvale Beach. 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 Lagoon: an expansive, fabulous (free) outdoor pool that keeps my toddler (and me) lazily entertained for most of the afternoon.
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 has become my resort away from the resorts and I suspect that, like the majority of their guests, I’ll be back.
Sue White is a travel writer and founder of babieswhotravel.com
Getting there and away
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).
BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort has a range of accommodation options, from studios and villas to two and three bedroom cabins. Prices are seasonal but start from AUD$175 per night for a family of four in a 2 bedroom cottage.
When to visit:
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.