With The Commonwealth Games kicking off this week on the Gold Coast, people from every corner of Australia and beyond are flocking to Queensland, to witness the state’s biggest sporting event to date. In the lead-up to the games, the Queen’s Baton Relay is an important tradition, and one which sees the Queen’s personal letter (to be read at the opening ceremony) ferried around the state, by some of the best-loved locals. Last week, Man of Many was lucky enough to experience the excitement first hand.
While the Olympics may be famous for the torch relay, which sees a flame that’s lit in Olympia and transported to all corners of the globe before lighting the cauldron at the opening ceremony, the Queen’s Baton Relay is a far more British tradition in every way, and one which, this year, shines an important spotlight on some of Australia’s more beautiful places. Leaving Buckingham Palace on the 13th of March, 2017, the baton has travelled to every competing nation over the past twelve months, and landed on Australian shores on Christmas eve.
Having completed a comprehensive tour of the country, it is now in the home stretch–snaking its way through Queensland to its final destination on the Gold Coast, for the opening ceremony on the 4th of April.
While Sydney claims TripAdvisor’s top spot for Australian tourism in their latest top-ten list, Queensland destinations comprise half of the very same list, and with good reason: it’s full of stunning places. Swimming up to Whitehaven beach from our catamaran in the Whitsundays, we joined Courtney Atkinson for his run along the famous white shoreline, while Channel Seven’s Sunrise program filmed the event.
Whitehaven Beach is just one of many examples of Queensland’s ability to draw tourists from all over the world. Named second best in the world by FlightNetwork, Whitehaven boasts a stretch of sand made up of 98% silica, making it one of the whitest beaches in the world. As one of the many drawcards of The Whitsundays, a collection of 74 islands off Queensland’s central coast, this beach is far from easy to get to (access is by seaplane or boat, but this keeps it quiet enough to soak up the serenity), but worth every bit of the expense and effort involved in getting there.
Any typical Whitsundays escape starts off at Airlie Beach, a small party town a short trip from Proserpine airport, which is as suited to cashed-up tourists looking to relax in the lap of luxury as it is to backpackers swigging Coronas in late-night clubs, and the rafts of teenagers who converge on the site once a year for Schoolies week. Here, you can choose to stay on the mainland and take a boat out to explore to your heart’s content, though most visitors make Northerlies their first stop before heading out on the water. Here, you can enjoy fancy food and what is surely one of Queensland’s best craft beer selections while sitting at the water’s edge, amidst the picture-perfect palm trees (this is no accident, the tall foliage on site was all sourced from the set of the latest Pirates of The Caribbean movie).
Airlie is also home to Australia’s premier marina, and provides the exit point for a boat trip across to Hamilton Island, and the 73 other (mostly undeveloped and uninhabited) islands that make up The Whitsundays. Noted for dense rainforest and crystal-clear waters, these islands are like no other, and given they’re situated on the Great Barrier Reef, the largest living organism in the world, make for a holiday that involves a truly immersive experience in natural surrounds.
Reefsleep is one such experience that is unique to the region, and definitely counts as a once-in-a-lifetime affair. Cruise Whitsundays take you out to their hugely popular Heart Pontoon, anchored just off Hardy Reef, north-east of Hamilton Island. At 3pm, when the majority of tourists are returned to dry land, you can stay back and spend a night under the stars. Friendly staff provide tasty food, plenty of drinks and comfy swags, so that you can spend more time snorkeling the enormous coral reef. The horizon, in every distance, is water, with no land for miles. The stunning sunset over the reef is eclipsed only by the milky way, and what feels like every other star in the sky, all visible to the naked eye as soon as darkness hits.
You can also take a ride in their semi-submarine, which cruises past the reef wall at a snail’s pace, allowing you to properly take in all the varieties of coral, fish and turtles which make up the diverse ecosystem, without getting wet.
Most visitors to The Whitsundays choose to stay on a boat. While luxury hotels line the shores of the few islands that have been developed, large and expensive hives of opulence for the rich and the famous, a 40-foot catamaran comfortably sleeps eight (plus a skipper, if required), and costs about the same per night as a top-of-the-line hotel.
Named “bareboating”, visitors are encouraged to skipper their own craft, which can be hired to fit your specific needs. Whether you’re an experienced sailor or it’s your first time, different boats can be chartered for extended periods of time, each one fitted with everything you need for a relaxing time, including food, drinks, cooking utensils and equipment, and a tender, so that getting to-and-from shore is never a problem.
While the world’s eyes are on the Gold Coast for the next two weeks for the Commonwealth Games, it’s not hard to imagine they’ll soon be on the rest of Queensland, as the nation’s favourite spots for tourism are also thrust into the spotlight. Once the closing ceremony is over, an obvious and expected spike in tourism will surely benefit the stunning state, as both locals and international guests are reminded of just how great a holiday to one of Queensland’s many attractions really can be.
In the meantime, tickets are still available to the most exciting sporting event of the year for Australia. We reckon you’ll be back shortly thereafter.
Man of Many travelled to The Whitsundays as a guest of Tourism & Events Queensland.