Tropical fantasy comes to life off coast of Queensland
I mourn the state of some of Queensland's beautiful tropical islands today. So many of them languish in ruins, once glorious islands of infinite tropical charm, now with pools empty, unrepaired roofs torn from buildings, tennis courts abandoned, golf courses overgrown.
I like to remember these islands as I first saw them in the '90s.
Newly arrived in Queensland from Victoria, previous holidays had always been at the Mornington Peninsula, Lorne or the Murray River, all very nice, but a tropical island? A fantasy, surely.
Our first Queensland island experience, Great Keppel. Close enough to drive to Yeppoon and get the ferry across. As we approached the island and saw the villas on the lush green hillside - one of them to be ours - the anticipation was overwhelming.
Once there everything seemed unreal. The air was lighter, the landscape greener, the sand whiter and the sea bluer than anything we'd experienced before. There was enchantment all around, from the verdant rainforest to the vibrant lorikeets that joined us on our balcony for breakfast. Even the fruit and flowers were new and thrilling to us.
We were island addicts from that first time.
Nothing could have prepared us for the sultry beauty of Dunk Island. A villa with whirring ceiling fans, a profusion of fresh seafood and warm nights with clear skies lit with a billion stars.
After Dunk, we put budget fears aside and spent a week on Hayman Island, in a daze that such tropical splendour could be there for the taking. The champagne on the island's private launch as we transferred from Hamilton gave us a taste of the extravagance to come and we milked the experience for everything: the exuberant tropical floral displays around the resort, the meandering blue pools, the attentive staff ... I seem to recall there were swans too. Swans!
Then back to Hamilton, we were still island-enthralled although not too happy about the unattractive high-rise hotel intruding. Still, we were appeased by the bustling marina filled with fantasy yachts. And there was George Harrison on the other side of the island with his architecturally wondrous house.
Daydream Island will always stand out in the memory ... not just for its gorgeous Whitsunday views and tropical pools and villas and outdoor theatre, but because we happened to be there on 9/11. As we looked from the dreadful images on our television inside our airy villa, outside to the clear blue of the Coral Sea, it was as if the world had gone mad and we were in our own safe tropical sanctuary.
The hedonism of Bedarra Island was almost the undoing of us. It was the complimentary 24-hour open bar stocked with Bollinger that did it ... brought out our inner greed and had us quaffing it like water from breakfast until we crashed at night - in the villa Bob and Blanche had stayed in the week before. We actually did stop quaffing the Bollie long enough to kayak in the still, clean water among the massive giant boulders Bedarra is known for.
We will never forget the thrill of snorkelling over the giant clams in the waters of Orpheus Island, and neither will we forget the afternoon racing around Magnetic Island in a stretch jeep with the music blaring from surround speakers, and the many stops we made at small sandy coves (and to pick up extra wine supplies). On Brampton we experienced rain for the first time in our island adventures but it made the long hike around the island refreshing.
I'm not sure how many of Queensland's islands are still intact and thriving and if/or when some of those ruined by cyclones, and now with a variety of international owners, will come to life again. But I do know we have experienced some of Queensland's most beautiful islands at their very best. And that's a blessing.