Monday, June 16, 2008

Budget Resorting on the Whitsunday Islands


Long Island Resort's position at Happy Bay is pretty good on the best beach of the island, facing north which provides shelter from the SE trade winds which are the prevailing breezes in the holiday season and do get blustery at times - image Sailing Whitsundays

Places mentioned on this page (image - modified Google Earth)

Queensland’s WhitSunday Islands are a magnet to all income ranges.
Mega-rich dude boaties can fang around some of the neatest tropical islands in Australia and then rest up in their condos on Hamilton Island or high on the hillside overlooking the mainland's Airlie Beach. Or they can holiday on super-swank Hayman island
Midrange travellers have the choice of a half dozen other island resorts and more on the mainland.
Budget travellers are lured by the good-value overnight yacht trips around the islands, similar dive-boat excursions and an abundance of backpacker accommodation and night-life at Airlie.
However if the budget types want to actually stay on one of the islands, the choices are much more limited.

Want to stay at a midrange resort with its extensive landscaping, nice beach, twin pools, free spa, sauna, kayaks, a good range of organized activities and access to some of the nicer trekking trails in the WhitSundays for $uad37 a night (abt$us35) in a dorm room? Well this is the place.
Actually the deal can be sweeter - Airlie Beach trip-agents and hostels were offering in June 08 2 nights for $aud99 including transfers. Now the latter are $64 return, so in effect your bed is costing you $17.50 a night . Or if you factor in $37x2 for the bed, the return transfer is costing you $25, not the $64 daytrippers pay.
The same brochure was showing a similar deal for twin/doubles at $149. Ph 1800 075 125.

Long Island is a long (duh!) narrow island not far out of Shute Harbour which is one of the two departure points for Island transfers (image shot from photograph on the wall of the gym)

The beach is pretty nice, at least away from the few hours around low tide…..
…where it can look fairly ordinary. However most WhitSunday resort beaches are similar.
The resort had a mob of semi-tame wallabies which provided good value, particularly to overseas guests.

The resort has 2 pools - this beachside one with swim up bar, plus a nearby 25m lap-swimmers pool.
This 10am shot shows the place was not exactly overcrowded. I estimated the resort was running at maybe 20% capacity, mainly honeymooners and families. There seemed to be a max of about 8 people in the backpackers’ area. I have to say that at this non-peak time the staff/guest ratio seemed abt 1:1 - there was a huge component of ground and cleaning staff particularly.
Approaching sunset saw a few happy hour drinkers, for beers at a reasonable (for resorts) $4 a full-strength can ($6 other times). Cheapskate tezza had the usual 2 litre box of cheap Oz red for sunset on the lie-lows under a palm tree at the end of the beach.
That’s a set of semi-blitzed tezza toes you can see at pic bottom.

This is the Barefoot Lodge - the budget travellers’ accommodation. There were around 16 rooms here (and a similar adjacent lodge which seemed to be out of use) each with two double bunks, a fan, big mirror, small vanity, just enough room for 4 people and their gear but clothes storage (including hanging space) for only 2 people’s stuff. The place was spotless, in good repair, had nice polished floors and unusually for backpacker level accommodation had soap, shampoo and towels supplied.
The big share bathrooms were spotless, had hand soap dispensers and tissues and big mirrors.
The fine print suggested single bookings were less desirable than couples and groups, but my agent had no problems booking me single and I was the only dude in my room both nights. Okay, once look at tezza’s scary head is enough to dissuade any responsible receptionist from putting me in with Miss Sweden. Darn! Actually I noticed one other single guy with his own room so maybe the general policy is to accept single bookings and not have them share if possible.
The Barefoot Lodge had a big common room with some comfy chairs, a TV set, a jug, a free supply of coffee, tea and sugar sachets, a very small bar-type fridge - but no cooking facilities or food storage areas.
The idea seems to be for budget guests to use the resort’s dining room and café. The former’s buffet dinners for $25 and breakfasts at $18 seemed to be the best deal there (hell, pig out on a buffet breakfast and forget about anything until late evening) but I found the café’s $6.50 toasted chicken and cheese sanga mit chips did the job real well - tastier and more filling than anything around the same money from any mainland Macca’s or Tuck-Chooky. Needless to say, cheapskate me also bought a good supply of canned fish, beans, bread, honey, fruit and snacks for other times.
Some more semi tame wild-life. This dude and his buddies hung around the café’s terrace for pizza hand-outs from generous diners. Blowed if they were gunna get any of my chips (I heard the salt’s bad for them - hur hur). I dunno what their correct name is, but the tezza clan calls them SQUEALER BIRDS on account they sound like some female having her throat cut when they start their nocturnal love serenades. They are very common along the tropical Queensland coast.
Of course you can always serenade your bird over the sound of the poolside spa bubbles.

The resort employs a couple of keen activities-people to offer guests some structured stuff if they tire from lazing on the beach. Directed group activities aint my scene and I thought a lot of the stuff pretty cheesy until I saw the winning beach volleyball team scoffing their prize - a rather large bottle of Oz champers.
You can do a lot of this stuff under your own steam. The gym, kayaks, spa, sauna, ping pong, tennis and basketball are free and other watersports and the minigolf had a charge. And of course you don’t need anyone to hold your hand on the bush-walks - there is a pretty good map showing the various tracks available at reception.

There’s something like 20km of walking tracks on the island, mostly thru pretty nice secondary rainforest, all part of the Molle Islands National Park.
The island is hilly so you get a good workout, but I wouldn’t class any slopes in the KILLER or even STEEP-STEEP category.

Rainforest animal life is more nocturnal - I saw quite a few birds and heard lots more, disturbed a colony of bats when I short-cutted thru a closed-off track, a nice goanna which is Australia’s main version of big monitor lizard…..
…..and a small black tipped reef shark fossiking close to shore in one of the small bays.
The most dangerous animals I encountered were 2 National Park rangers, each guy coincidentally about 2m tall, with huge old-style 303-type rifles. They told me they were after a wild pig which had swum over from the mainland. Porky must have been the loser in some territorial dispute over there to take on the swim. The crocs were a bit slow that day, because he made it. Wild pigs can get huge, the size of small cattle and cause a hell of a lot of damage to natural fauna and flora. And if a girlfriend happens to do a similar swim, they are awesome breeders. Feral pigs can be quite dangerous to humans particularly if they are nursing their young.
I wouldn't freak too much about an encounter with feral pigs - I've never heard of bushwalkers having problems - it's more pig hunters when they have a pig or family cornered.
Drivers should maybe take care - a few years back I came across the aftermath of a huge feral pig charging out of the jungle at Mission Beach and getting t-boned (or should that be spare-ribbed) by a passing pickup truck. The pig was totalled - but so was the pickup: it looked like the result of one of those government-mandated frontal crash tests. Hey Jeremy, maybe you should invest in a bull-bar fer the big campervan jaunt around Australia. And a bumper sticker: I YIELD FOR PIGS.
Okay, should people worry about becoming collateral damage to some National Park Ranger Rambo? Well these guys are highly trained. At the same time, it might be an idea for Billy and Bessy Bunter from Birmingham to cut their intake of jam rolls and grunt a little less on the uphill climbs.
What gets me is that a couple of good pig dogs would find that porker real quick and have it freestyling back to the mainland like Grant Hackett at the Olympics. But noooooo - official policy: no dogs in National Parks.

A feature of most National Park walking tracks is that the authorities make no effort to enhance views, so that a lot of outlooks are tree interrupted.
The 3.5km WhitSunday Circuit around the north end of the island did have one nice natural clearing with good views across to neighbouring islands….
..and the north coast.

The 6 km walk down to Sandy Bay takes quite a while because there are some good side tracks and side loops. Sandy Bay is very ordinary…
…and looked real croc territory to me, but I did notice some National Park camping spots cut into the adjacent rainforest here, so it must be okay. Queensland National Park camping sites are a real bargain, $3 a night last time I did it 2 years ago, but getting out to the island sites (there are half a dozen spots on the various WhitSundays including one on the south-end of fabulous Whitehaven Beach) aint cheap - there is an island camping transfer boat which will take you for $30 each way.

About 2km into the track is a much nicer beach at Palm Bay. This is the location of the rather exxy Pepper’s Long Island boutique style resort
Accommodation here is chalets and bures, although they were building some two-bedroom bungalows on the overlooking hill with pretty nice views.
A sign asks non guests not to move towards the beach area, but there is no such thing as a private beach in Australia. Sure landowners can stop you accessing the beach thru their property, but what are they gunna do - shoot you? Nobody shot me.

The various WhitSunday islands have a real good fast ferry service from two operators - FanataSea (6 per day mainland/Long island/mainland) and Cruise WhitSunday (8 per day). Some boats use Abel Point Marina, a short walk from central Airlie and others the much closer to Long Island Shute Harbour which requires a 10km bus trip from Airlie. My $99 package gave me the choice of operators and mainland piers. I can recommend the 9.30am Cruise WhitSunday trip out of Abel Point because this is a sort of mini-cruise and calls in at South Molle island and Daydream island on the way, giving you a good look at these rather nice locations.

You can also fly into Hamilton Island and transfer to Long Island with the same outfits, but this trip is not good value at $50 one-way.
However, if you are considering flying into Prosepine airport on the mainland and going direct to Long Island, you are looking at the same $50 for the bus-boat combo, which would be more time consuming.

OTHER LONG ISLAND DEALS.I saw one place of the Airlie Beach tip booking places offering a daytrip on big catamaran Camira, claimed to be the fastest commercial sailing boat in the world (see Hook island beach shot below) plus a night at Long Island for $155 all up. Seeing that the daytrip alone (which visits Whitehaven Beach, Daydream Island and Hook Island before any drop-offs at Long Island) cost $140, this seems to be a very good deal.

The Airle booking places were also offering midrange accommodation in one of the resort’s garden rooms..
..with all meals for $135 per person, including ferry transfers. But they insisted on two people per room. Sure, they would take me single, but for $200+.

I noticed South Molle island was offering the same deal for $119, which is not bad at all. I managed to talk them into taking me single at no extra charge a few years back and left the island several kilos heavier - dat buffet food sure is good, especially the 15 varieties of sweets.
South Molle is a bigger island, the resort is a bit older, has a 9 hole golf course and much lengthier walking tracks which would take several days to cover fully. There is not as much rainforest however.
Golfing on South Molle - image

Probably the best of these midrange stand-by deals I saw was a 2 day stay on Hamilton island at $200 for 2 people (not per person) including transfers, no food. The minimum accommodation standard on Hamilton is 3 star, and seeing that normal ferry transfer is $42 per person each way, the room ends up costing $16 per night.

Hamilton Island is fairly big, has a fabulous if arduous trek to a panoramic peak, lots of accommodation, pools, activities and restaurants, a big marina with a mini service village including several cafes, bars, bakeries etc.
Above is part of the marina during Hamilton Island Race Week, one time when you are unlikely to cut any stand-by deals - image Hamilton Island Villas


Hook Island Wilderness Resort rates itself as the only budget resort in the Whitsunday Islands.
It's in a great position on narrow Hook Passage between Hook Island (left below) and Whitsunday Island (image top picture Cumberland Charter Yachts)
Actually “budget” may be straining it for this place - it has got a lot more expensive since my last visit with a dorm bed at $45 a night, an ensuite room at $150 a couple, a shared facility room at $120 a couple and tent sites at $45 a couple -all food extra. If you want to self-cater, use of the camp kitchen is an extra $10 per guest for the stay. One reason for the high price is that this place has to cart its water from the mainland. But all the same, it is way more expensive than Long Island for fewer facilities.
Transfers are a bit exxy too at $40 each way.
One plus is a great position to watch the passing parade of yachts, power boats and fast ferries heading thru the narrow Hook Passage on their way to the Outer Barrier Reef and Whitehaven Beach.

Another is the small beach itself which still has is one of the few resort beaches with water right off the sand at low tide (the shot below was towards that time).
Snorkelling is just okay, but not outstanding - there is a fringing reef a short distance from the beach. Coral and fish-life is only so-so here compared to some other WhitSunday fringing reefs like Blue Pearl Bay and Manta Ray Bay which have the best I’ve seen anywhere, including the Outer Reef. But it is still good enough to attract several daytrip boats, like Camira below and keep less discerning island guests happy.
Snorkellers from Camira (background) checking the finging reef. The white craft closer in is semi-submersible for checking the better reef acoss the other side of the passage for a charge.
This isn’t a bad place for people watchers too. Several daytrip boats put in each day with passengers spending some beach/pool time plus the place often gets a few touring and backpacker yachts in for evening drinks. The fact that the back bay to the left in the aerial shot above is a reasonable overnight anchorage in an easterly wind often sees the little bar packed after dark. I was off one of these boats the night of a British Lions/Australia rugby match on the bar’s TV - seemingly half the 6 moored backpackers’ boats’ passengers were Brits who barracked for their team almost as hard as they drink, which made for a pretty entertaining evening.
Hook Island Resort's huge pool. If you are a lap swimmer you become the world's best tumble-turner. This and the small bar/cafe area behind can get real lively around sunset and at night, depending on visiting boat numbers.

When these people aren’t around, the place is pretty serene. But even when more crowded you can find solitude over on the back beach, (middle of introductory aerial photo) which can be reached by a path over the low saddle behind the resort in a few minutes. This beach is rather nice, but does suffer from the low-tide blues.
A pretty steep and rugged 500m track from that beach will take you to an even more deserted beach on the east coast of the island (seen far right of the above aerial shot) - this one gets a lot of exposed rock when the tide goes out.
I also like to take the short track heading east along the headland from the resort (to the right in the pic) which leads to some nice elevated giant granite boulders, ideal for watching the passing parade of boats.
There is also a 400m track which leads around the headland to the left of the resort (the one with the pier), but that’s about it for tracks - this is no trekkers paradise.
The pier has an underwater observatory at its end, with a spiralling staircase leading down to a reef level room with windows thru which you can view the coral and fishies. It is not really mind-blowing, but entry is free, although there is a donation box to help with maintenance.

The backpackers used to have a separate dorm up on the small saddle behind the main resort, but now one of the rooms in the beachside accomm block is used. This has 3 double bunks and is pretty standard as far as backpackers’ accomm is concerned, although the beachside veranda is a step up from the average as a nice place to spend some time.

Covered eating area close to camp kitchen pleasant place to graze and hang. Nearby resort cafe had the usual meals and snacks - prices reasonable, beers $5.

The tent area next to the resort. At $45 per couple, no bargain compared to National Park island camping areas, but you do have the resort facilities.
I noticed plans on display for a resort rebuild, so it’s kinda difficult to know whether the new place will be as suited to budget visitors. The plans looked more upmarket to me.


If you are spending time on a Whitsunday Island perhaps you will be interested in:





If you see any mistakes or have extra information, please post them below. Unless you want to do a TRIP REPORT for the advertisement-free READERS' TRIP REPORT SECTION - in that case please send any info and pix to
If you want to ask a question, please post it in the FORUM - I check the Forum most days but don't see these individual pages all that often.


dmd29 said...


How can you book these budget deals? Is it just a matter of showing up in Airlie Beach and seeing what's on offer? Can you pre-book?



tezza said...

Wow, sorry DD. I forgot to post the "ASK ALL QUESTIONS ON THE FORUM PAGE PLEASE" bit at the end of the page, so I've just noticed your question.

Hook Island is bookable thru the linked website in the text above.
A reader of one of the travel forums told me he saw Barefoot Lodge deals similar to mine on Long Island Resort's website.
Certainly every time I go to Airlie, the various booking agents in the main street have island stand-by deals on offer - they tend to highlight the best of them in the front windows. Some resort and backpackers' tour desks show them too.
From memory some of the Whitsunday and Airlie Beach general websites also show some standby deals. I have a couple of these webites sublinked in my "CRUISING TROPICAL ISLANDS" page you could check.
And Google is your friend.

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