Daydream Island was just one of the victims of Cyclone Debbie that hit the Whitsundays in 2017 but miraculously the main buildings survived, flooded and water damaged but mostly intact, and after a $100 million makeover that has taken almost 18 months to complete the resort has reopened – better than ever.
It may be the smallest resort island in the Whitsundays at just 1km long and 400 metres wide but it punches above its size in things to do for visiting guests. These are 15 fab things to like about the new Daydream Island.
1. Early morning exercise fix
The best way to start the day on Daydream Island is an early morning stretch session, held in the Underwater Observatory, and there’s something instantly relaxing about exercising in front of a floor-to-ceiling window onto The Living Reef, the island’s own re-creation of the underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef.
Behind the glass in this below-ground sanctuary there’s a coral ‘Bommie’ and about 80 species of fish gliding by as curious about us as we are of them. As our session progressed more fish seemed to pass by the window time and again and sometimes hovered in front of us – how odd we might have looked as we flexed and stretched our way through a series of exercises, accompanied by some soothing music and a mine of information about the ‘reef’ and its inhabitants from the affable Sebastian.
By the way, ask to go to the bathroom before you leave (whether you need to or not). Nothing on The Block can top this room with a view.
2. Antidote to stress
The welcome note in my room said Daydream Island would be my antidote to the stresses of everyday life, inviting me to take a few long, deep breaths and look at the view – which is across turquoise water to the wild bush-covered islands beyond (South Molle, in fact, soon to undergo a major redevelopment of its own). However, if needed, there’s more help at hand for a mindful wind-down with yoga or meditation, again in the soothing surrounds of the Underwater Observatory, or on the deck at the highest point on the island, reached by a rainforest trail.
3. The Living Reef
The Living Reef is the standout attraction at Daydream Island to get a close up view of marine life on the Great Barrier Reef, without having to take a boat trip out to see it. The Living Reef mimics the real reef environment with water pumped in from the ocean and is home to a variety of fish, from tiny Nemos and starfish to giant cod and friendly rays.
While it’s easy to see the fish and coral from viewing windows facing the resort’s central atrium, and there’s an education centre with a touch pool and display tanks that show each habitat within the reef, nothing beats the guided snorkel tour inside the Living Reef itself. Tours are limited to just four people at a time so it’s a good idea to book ahead to be guaranteed a spot. (Snorkelling lessons are also available separately if needed).
The marine life from the resort’s previous ‘reef’ not only survived the cyclone but has thrived since under the supervision of marine biologist Johnny Gaskell. The new Living Reef is home to rays (some now more than 10 years old) and there is a ‘baby pool’ of young shovelnose rays and black tip reef sharks that are part of the island’s fledgling breeding program. Anyone can get up close to the rays at fish feeding sessions and kids can wade into the baby pool for the supervised ‘Stingray Splash’.
4. Taste of Queensland produce
Inkstone is not the only place to eat on Daydream (there are four restaurants and two bars) but its location on the northern tip of the island with 180-degree views of the Whitsunday Coast, walls open to the sea air and its unfussy menu showcasing Queensland produce such as local reef fish, tiger prawns, lemon myrtle smoked crocodile, Moreton Bay bugs on a cold platter or with linguine, heirloom tomatoes, chilli and finger lime, smashed avo and eggs on sourdough and the cracker salmon, smoked corn fritters, eggs and bush tomato relish for breakfast are just right for laid-back holiday dining.
5. Sunrise and sundown
Sunrises at Mermaids Beach and sunsets from Lover’s Cove, either from the beach or on a guided kayak sunset tour enjoyed with a ‘sundowner’ of sparkling wine.
6. Swim in safety
There’s a lifeguard on duty at the pool every day.
7. Spacious rooms
Spacious, light and airy rooms with king-size beds. Superior rooms also have a sofa, chairs and desk space, and balconies overlooking the pool or ocean. Serenity suites have views over Lover’s Cove for a little more privacy. In the bathroom, eco-friendly toiletries by Biology are Australian-made and free from harmful chemicals. There’s a cute cardboard pen for notes by the phone, and there’s complimentary WiFi.
8. Peak views
The guided (uphill) rainforest walk is not long or too strenuous and it offers views to the mainland with a midway stop to look out on the secluded Lover’s Cove. There are no dangerous animals on Daydream Island but you may be lucky enough to spot the harmless but colourful green tree snake on this route and small plaques identify some native flora.
9. Off-island adventures
The mainland is only half an hour away by ferry so it’s easy to take a day trip off the island to discover great bushwalks in Conway National Park, within coo-ee of the ferry stop at Shute Harbour, have a seafood lunch at local favourite Fish D’vine near the harbour, or follow the Bicentennial Walkway around the Airlie Beach waterfront to Cannonvale – it’s about 4km and takes about an hour at a leisurely pace – and stop in at Fat Frog Café for refreshments before the return journey.
10. Fun and games
While the daybeds at the poolside beckon, it’s no excuse to let the fitness regime slide. There’s circuit training on the rainforest trail, bootcamp, a morning jog and island exercise for the die-hards, while there’s more light-hearted fun in an island version of the Amazing Race and staff challenge guests to bocce, lawn games and soccer in an action-packed program of activities through the week.
11. Kid’s Club
The Kid’s Club program of activities, ranging from scavenger hunts and beach games to fish feeding, reef aquarium tours, rainforest walks and more.
12. Native wildlife on the doorstep
The animals as well as the fish on the island survived Cyclone Debbie and the resident wallaroos have come out of hiding and happily chew on the turf outside the rooms at dawn and dusk and look on in curiosity as new guests are welcomed at the jetty in the late afternoon.
13. Hike the nearby islands
South Molle Island’s resort may have been smashed by the cyclone but its bushwalking trails are some of the best in the Whitsundays, offering panoramic views from several lookouts and an insight to the region’s Indigenous history as part of the Ngaro Sea Trail. Hitch a water taxi over to Sandy Bay and hike to the Spion Kop lookout for views of Whitsunday Island or plot a course for the island’s highest peak, Mt Jeffreys.
14. See one of the world’s best beaches
Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet are just a boat (or heli) tour away.
15. Special packages
The staff are friendly, chatty and helpful. There are special couples and family packages available until 31 December 2019. The secret’s out. Go now before everybody else does.