Among the turquoise beauty of the Great Barrier Reef, lies the beautiful heart-shaped coral formation known as the Heart Reef. It was the main reason we visited Airlie Beach, Whitsundays during the week of Valentine's Day 2017. I was pleasantly surprised that the area has so much more to offer romantics than I initially anticipated! (Perhaps because all I initially really cared about was finally seeing that heart that's been on my bucket list for ages). Here's a video snapshot of our recommendations for your escape with the full details listed below:
Romantic things to do in Airlie Beach
1. Scenic Flight over the Heart Reef and Whitehaven Beach
Of everything we did during this romantic escape, nothing quite matched the feeling of seeing the vast beauty of the Whitsunday Islands from the sky, the changes in water colors, the magnificent swirls of Whitehaven Beach and the ultimate - the Heart Reef, located within the beautiful blue of the Barrier Reef.
The beautiful Whitsunday Islands as viewed during our scenic flight.
We booked the Reef and Island Scenic Flight from Airlie Beach with GSL Aviation. It cost just over AUD $300 for the two of us to fly with 5 other people and the pilot in a six-seat plane. I often wondered if I made the right decision in not booking a seaplane (I've always wanted to experience one) but it cost double the price - so book what suits your budget. Not having a seaplane didn't make our experience any less than spectacular! The scenery was truly unbelievable and absolutely breathtaking and all the seats are window seats!
Seeing the Heart Reef during this romantic scenic flight was honestly one of the best experiences of my life!
The pilot will do a count down leading up to when the heart can be seen from the window and he was even nice enough to do another round for us so that we could get good pics. (He might ask if you are happy that you got enough photos of it).
View of an island as seen during our romantic scenic flight.
Scared of flying? One of the guys flying with us was too! He said after the flight that he'd felt absolutely safe the entire time, even during the interesting landing! "Wait...what do you mean interesting!?" I hear you say :D Well at the start of the landing strip, there is a house which pilots are told not to fly over so when coming in for the landing, they actually fly in at an angle to avoid the air space of that particular house and then quickly need to level the plane before touchdown. Not to worry, still a great experience!
Tips for this experience: Book it six month's in advance! Especially if like us, you want to specifically fly over the heart island on a special day like Valentine's Day! The Heart Reef is actually a popular spot for proposals too :)
If there are any single ladies reading this...you can ask the staff to have your picture taken with the pilot next to the plane after the flight :D Or couples - ask the pilot to take a photo of you and your girlfriend/boyfriend next to the plane instead :)
2. Do the full day tour of Whitehaven beach with either Whitehaven XPress or Cruise Whitsundays.
We went to Whitehaven beach on two separate days with different weather conditions - if the weather is overcast the colour of the water isn't nearly as impressive as it is in typical travel photos (pictured left). On a sunny day however, it's picture perfect (pictured right)!
I was a little disappointed that we had to wear full body stinger suits while swimming in the gorgeous water - I don't think I've ever seen a photo of the beach being advertised with someone wearing them!? Turns out, the stinger suits are used to protect you from box jellyfish and Irukandji stings which are extremely painful and can be fatal. Seriously, no matter how tame the guide sounds about the need to wear them - WEAR THEM - I didn't quite realise the seriousness of it until I read about it afterwards when I did some research. In fact, next time I go - I hope to take my dive boots too. Wearing them is a small price to pay for enjoying this stunning location to the fullest.
Enjoying the waves together in our stinger suits!
There's lots of shaded areas between the trees on Whitehaven beach where you can relax on a hot day.
We enjoyed snorkeling at Chalkies Beach which is just a short boat ride from Whitehaven Beach. I loved that the guides fed the fishes really good fish food to attract them to the boat - not bread which I've seen with other tours in different countries which is said to be bad for the fishes. (Not sure how true this is - but it is something I picked up on the tour).
Snorkeling at Chalkies Beach was great - lots of fishes and corals to see.
The hill inlet is a must - it's one of the most beautiful boardwalks with the best views of the swirling sands of Whitehaven beach. Our guide from Whitehaven Xpress was kind enough to take some beautiful photos for us (as you know, it can be very hard to get good photos together, as a couple).
View of the spectacular swirling sands of Whitehaven Beach as seen from the Hill Inlet.
Tips for this experience: Be on time when you are waiting for the tour shuttle bus to pick you up! We weren't... so had to catch a taxi to the harbor very frantically and luckely made it in time not to miss out on the experience.
Also book it in advance! I really wanted to do this tour with Cruise Whitsundays but it was fully booked already. Lucky for me I found Whitehaven Xpress which also does the tour in a similar fashion. Both companies are great to do this tour with, I know because we ended up doing a very similar tour on Cruise Whitsundays anyway. Here's some differences I noticed between the two that might help guide you as to which company you would prefer to book with:
The Whitehaven Xpress boat
Whitehaven Xpress: - More affordable - Good food - The boat doesn't stop on Whitehaven Beach, you have to get onto a rubber boat that takes you to Whitehaven beach. - It's a family business and I found the staff were extremely friendly and accessible. - Black stinger suits
The Cruise Whitsundays Boat offers an easy walk from the boat onto the beach.
- Great view from the boat - Easy walk right onto Whitehaven Beach from the boat. - If you like seagulls - you will enjoy getting to see them up close and personal as they try and grab your food. - Blue stinger suits
We felt we had the best view sitting at the front of the bottom level of the Cruise Whitsundays boat!
THE BIGGEST TIP I WISH I KNEW BEFORE WE WENT! It seems a mistake that a lot of tourists make when booking these tours is thinking that you will be swimming in the swirls of Whitehaven beach (pictured left below). YOU DON'T! You only swim at the 7km almost straight, white beach (pictured right below) . I was disappointed to find out only at the end of our time there, that the only boat that does a tour that let's you swim at the swirls is OceanRafting.com.au - the main reason I will be returning to Airlie beach one day!
The two different sides to Whitehaven Beach - make sure you specify when booking a tour to the beach which side/s you will be visiting: the swirling sands or the 7km long (almost straight) beach. The only tour group we know of that goes to the swirling sands is OceanRafting.com.au
3. Boardwalk from Cannonvale to Airlie Beach
Oh my - this has got to be one of the most beautiful boardwalks in the world. A good place to start is at Airlie Beach Lagoon, then walk next to the sea in the direction of Cannonvale.
The Airlie Beach Lagoon is a good place to start your walk to Cannonvale.
On the way, be sure to stop at Sorrento Restaurant and bar in Airlie Beach for a wine at sunset - the views are amazing!
Pictured left: A section of the scenic walk. Pictured right: The view at Sorrento Restaurant and bar.
Recommended romantic accommodation:
We loved our luxury apartment stay at the Mirage Whitsundays which we are very happy to recommend for the following reasons:
Easy access to the Boardwalk from Cannonvale to Airlie Beach (mentioned previously)
This stunning scene is literally just outside Mirage Whitsundays, through a pedestrian gate!
Sunset view from our boardwalk experience.
The gorgeous pool/s! There are 2 beautiful pools in the vicinity but we especially enjoyed the main one as we discovered it had a more intimate section in the pool with spa jets - the pressure from the bubbles in the water was the perfect massage to get us to sit back and relax while watching the sun go down.
The main pool at the Mirage Whitsundays where we stayed for 5 days.
In the corner of the pool is a semi-secluded section with spa jets!
Beautiful, brand new living spaces Our apartment was no. 55 - it was really spacious and every detail from the paintings on the wall, to the furniture and taps used impressed us!It literally looked like a picture out of a magazine.Plus, the hotel is quite young so everything is brand new.
The apartments are spacious and beautifully decorated! The apartments on the top floor have the best views.
Stunning views If you can afford it, book one of their more luxurious accommodation options which include the best views of the ocean and mountains as well as private pools and more!
The staff at this hotel really stood out for me as being extremely professional, friendly and approachable. I found they gave us really thoughtful recommendations whenever we asked for advice.
Where to eat:
We chose to buy groceries and eat in mostly every night - how could we not with such a gorgeous apartment! It saved us some money too as food can be pricey in the area - easily ranging between $20 and $30 a meal. Subway is also a good budget option if like us, you would rather spend the money on experiences.
If you're open to spending a more, locals recommend Anchor Bar, La marina Restaurant, Walter's Lounge, Whitsunday Sailing Club and Breeze Bar which I definitely want to visit next time we go to taste their seafood pasta!
Another experience I've put on my bucket list for next time: If you are after something truly unique and special enough for a proposal - definitely check out the romantic picnic setups of idoeventswhitsundays.com
Where to shop:
There's lots of wonderful boutique and souvenir shops in Shute Harbour Road, Airlie Beach. I bought some stunning romantic outfits from Lotus Fashion Boutique!
Lotus Fashion Boutique had gorgeous outfits for sale, perfect for romantic date nights!
~ What we're also looking forward to the next time we go that you can consider for your trip ~
For us, getting there involved only a short Jetstar flight (just under 2 hours) from Brisbane, Australia (where we live) to Proserpine Airport which is good as there's certainly still so much more we want to experience!
We'd like to do some more island hopping next time we go - we only briefly got to stop at Hamilton island for 15 minutes during one of the tours we did - it wasn't nearly long enough to really know what it's like there. The mermaid statues on Daydream island already stole my heart and I only saw them from afar.
Camping on Whitehaven Beach looks like it would be lovely - the white sand is so soft, I could be wrong but I imagine it would be like sleeping on a cloud! I tried to book us in for camping during our trip but the company I was going to book was having a break at the time.This is the info we were looking at. It seemed expensive to get to the beach but it seemed affordable to camp there.
As you can see, Airlie Beach is a serious contender for a spot on your romantic bucket list!
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