There’s little argument that the Whitsunday group of islands in sunny North Queensland is stunning, with 71 unspoiled islands, clear tropical water and the Great Barrier Reef at its doorstep. A good holiday here often comes down to choosing the island and accommodation that’s right for you. Palm Bay Resort, with just 23 villas and two beach houses located in the secluded bay on Long Island, falls into the boutique category. Luckily this was one of the few resorts in the Whitsundays that remained mostly unscathed from Cyclone Debbie in 2016. Before Cyclone Debbie arrived to ‘remodel’ the island, Palm Bay Resort was high-end and aimed at couples in search of luxury and seclusion. After Cyclone Debbie, the resort was transformed into the only self-catering option in the Whitsundays and now accepts children as well as adults.
We have timed our visit for winter when the Whitsundays is a very quiet place with a half-full plane flight from Brisbane to Hamilton Island. I’m certainly not complaining as I seem to have the whole place to myself and feel a little like Robinson Crusoe being dropped off in an island paradise. Arriving at the resort our family of two adults and a teen is greeted with warm smiles and a friendly welcome on the beach. As the transfer is via a small boat ($65 per person one way) you might get your feet wet but that’s part of the charm of this low-key and laid back island getaway.
As we wander up the beach towards the reception area it is obvious this isn’t a mega resort like Hamilton Island. Palm Bay Resort is tiny with most villas located right near the beach to get the best possible views of the bay, with a few cheaper villas positioned within secluded rain forested areas. The reception area, bar and kitchen are located in the centre of the resort. Entering the reception area and listening to the orientation tour gives us the first sign this place operates a little differently to other island resorts like Daydream Island Resort which we’ve just come from.
This is due to the communal kitchen and self-catering options available at Palm Bay Resort. You can stock up in Airlie Beach, at the mini-supermarket on Hamilton Island, or pre-arrange to have food supplies delivered from the mainland before your arrival. Palm Bay Resort also has a small on-site store. If you’re not keen on doing any cooking there is a limited menu at the small resort kitchen which is open for lunch and dinner, although not necessarily every day of your stay (call or email to check opening hours before you arrive so you don’t get caught out).
On offer is a selection of pizzas, burgers and specials like prawn carbonara pasta which has huge prawns on top that you peel yourself then pop back into the creamy pasta. You can also bring meals you have cooked yourself into the dining area. Washing up is taken care of by the staff; you just have tidy up the communal open air kitchen once you’ve finished cooking. Kitchen drawers are clearly labelled and there’s a large walk-in cool room where guests’ groceries are stored in separate containers.
After a rundown on how things work at the resort we are shown to our one-bedroom beachfront bungalow located, as the name would suggest, right on the beach. All of the villas and bungalows have recently been upgraded with new furnishings and beds and have a beach-chic design. Accommodation comes with its own ensuite, air conditioning, mini-fridge, kettle and queen size beds. Each bungalow has a double hammock which can be hung on the patio area to take in all the natural serenity on offer and curl up with a book. Being Queenslanders we avoid the water during our visit as we believe anything under 24 degrees is subarctic and requires wet suits. When see a few European guests leaping into the water we figure they must either come from a cold climate or be slightly insane.
Later that afternoon, we are happily sitting on our patio and watching the sunset with a tasty beverage when we are confronted with a group of local louts out to show off and steal our snacks. These feathered lads are intelligent, rowdy and highly entertaining with charm and personality. Tempting though it is please don’t feed them as it upsets their delicate tummies. Also located on the island are (much quieter) wallabies which can be spotted around the resort. It is easy to see why Palm Bay is so popular with overseas guests as there are Aussie animals everywhere.
Apart from swimming in winter for the certifiable, there are activities such as bushwalking, tennis, kayaking and stand up paddleboards. Snorkelling gear is also on offer but there are no wet suits. During stinger season, you can purchase a stinger suit at the resort which is a wise idea. We were sorry we weren’t visiting in summer as Palm Bay Resort would be so much better in the warmer months. In winter, the open air kitchen and dining area is very chilly and activities are quite limited compared to summer. There is a fireplace but seats in front of this fill up fast.
We were lucky to have sunny skies as winter weather combined with rain would not be pleasant at this largely open air resort. However, winter is the perfect time for bushwalking. We hiked through the National Park to the other end of the island to see the old Club Crocodile resort. This walk takes around 30 minutes from Palm Bay and has lots of places you can stop off along the way and explore further. Long Island is mostly national park and has around 17km of walking trails.
Palm Bay Resort is a fantastic island getaway that genuinely takes you away from it all. This is due to no wi-fi (although we did have some reception with Telstra), and no televisions but plenty of natural beauty. Board games are available in the main lodge and were popular during our visit. Palm Bay Resort is so unique it is hard to pin down, but it reminded us of an upmarket resort crossed with a boutique ‘flashpackers’. It is the ideal Whitsundays resort for those seeking laid back accommodation away from any distractions and a break from stress and ‘the real world’.
Disclosure: The writers visited as guests of Tourism Whitsundays.
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