“If you like pina coladas, and getting caught in the rain…” Robert Holmes
THE gorgeous ghost gums are whispering in the wild Whitsundays wind, of anecdotes and ancient tales of the land on which I lounge. A sulphur crested cockatoo, cheeky as all buggery, perches on the edge of the plunge pool in which I find myself, chattering to me above the howl. I imagine both the trees and this native bird have much to teach me about Hamilton Island, if only I could speak their language. Instead, I slurp French champagne, and absorb the soaking view. It’s a Whitsunday Monday and it’s raining cats, dogs and rainbow lorikeets.
I have arrived in the midst of the monsoon season, fully aware there could be rain. It’s the tropics, and the region doesn’t flower and flourish without a damn good soaking. The Australian tourism industry gets spoiled by long spells of drought, while the farmers search the heavens for answers to their heartbreak. It’s been a tough season in Australia, one of delirious drought and flooding rain. As I write this, things are so dire that farmers in outback Queensland have run out of bullets to shoot their dying livestock. This is Dorothea Mackellar’s Australia. But that doesn’t make it any easier for anyone.
So I am surprised and delighted just before I arrive in the Whitsundays at the cheeky campaign adopted by the locals. Fed up with the scathing headlines and horror stories around the wet weather, they nickname themselves The Wetsundays and dive head first into the monsoon. It’s a no bullshit Facebook campaign embracing the “WetsundayWeek….because every cloud has a silver lining.” Locals drink cheeky pina coladas, play beach volleyball in the rain, stage a rain dance, and host a pool party at the lagoon. This soaking spirit is infectious.
As one local puts it “It’s not heavy rain, it’s soaking” and they wrap their raincoats around it with gusto. This is the Queensland spirit I adore and I am swept up by the tide. Bring it, Mother Nature, we’re ready for you. I plunge into my plunge pool at Qualia, determined to embrace this upbeat attitude. I drive my golf cart around the island and explore every inch. Soaked, but smiling, I pause for a meat pie down at the marina, and two rainbow lorikeets perch on my shoulder. I squeal with delight. Late afternoon, I indulge in a relaxing massage at Spa Qualia. My jaw is too taught from tension, I’m told, I need to slow down. Over dinner at Qualia, manager Scott Ratcliffe laments the weather but points to the inherent beauty of the view and the resort.
“If you are going to be stuck inside, you need to be stuck inside looking at this,” he says.
“There is nothing wrong with rugged beauty.”
I ride the waves from Hamilton Island to the Port of Airlie where I meet with Tourism Whitsundays. On a cool, wet day at La Marina Italian Restaurant, we feast on Nonna’s hearty meatballs, spicy mussels and seafood gnocchi. I arrive at Freedom Shores, a quirky mainland accommodation offering which resembles ten boats. On this dreary day I am the only guest, and it is divine. A smoked wagyu for dinner washed down by a gutsy Tempranillo and a shot of tequila from one of only two bottles of its kind in Australia, and I am ready to slumber. On my way back, there’s a gorgeous little tree snake also seeking shelter from the rain. It’s a good omen. Into my boat cabin I crawl, under the doona, and listen to the divine rumblings from the heavens. I sleep like a sailor.
It’s a wild and windy crossing over to Palm Bay Resort on Long Island, but it refreshes and rejuvenates me. If only those who think my job is glamorous could see me now, all salty and drenched. It turns out be the ideal afternoon to work, read and rest. Sure, I would have loved to have snorkelled the fringing reef here, but you can’t have it all. And how often are we forced to slow down? Not often enough in Australia. I feast on woodfired pizza and share a bottle of red and some flaming good tales with the manager here. Into the night I stroll back to my cabin and again, crawl under the doona for a rollicking good sleep.
By the end of the week I’m back on the mainland, and headed north to Bowen. After three weeks of monsoonal weather in the Whitsundays, it’s trying to be fine. We drive behind a convoy of State Emergency Services volunteers headed north to Townsville, to tackle the flood mop up. There’s pot holes the size of wading pools on the road. In Bowen, I check into the classy Coral Cove Resort overlooking the Coral Sea, sip more champagne and wait for a sunset that never comes. Never mind, the company is good and the tales are tall. On my last day in the region the sun finally breaks through the clouds, shy at first, but then with gusto. The humidity cloys to my skin like a koala bear on a gum tree.
Some days you forget that Australia is a wild nation, plonked down the bottom of the globe as if it was an afterthought. But I love my Down Under homeland of fires, floods, droughts and mad monsoons. And I adore my fellow Queenslanders who reminded me of our spirit which shines, even when the sun does not. May you all get to experience a WetsundayWeek at least once in your lifetime, for it is in those stupid, soaking days that you are forced to confront yourself. And if you’re lucky, your spirit will rise with every raindrop.
The Global Goddess was a guest of Tourism Whitsundays https://www.tourismwhitsundays.com.au
THE flags are flaccid but the surf is sloppy. Out the back line, ballsy board riders are being smashed, while in the shallows, tourists are tackling the chop. Some win and float over the waves, others lose and are unceremoniously dumped as if they’ve been on a rotten date. Brazen blue bottles saunter into the shore which is already littered like diamonds with harmless jellies. The air is scented a Surfers Paradise summer, of salt, seaweed and sunburn. It’s all so sublime.
I’m shaking off a long, lusty lunch at the new voco Gold Coast, the 389-room hotel in which I will also sleep the night. Brissos, like me, will remember this building as the Watermark, but after a multi-million-dollar refurbishment, it’s now the upscale voco brand, the first in the world for the InterContinental Hotel Group’s stable. Later, I will retire to my deluxe ocean view room, which, along with the suites, have undergone a total overhaul including new bathrooms, beds, carpet, sofas and televisions.
But first, we lunch. We start at the Social House, a space with numerous nooks and crannies, intoxicating old black and white pictures of bathing beauties, and recycled timber windows. There’s a colourful cocktail menu here including martinis which taste like apple pie and lemongrass; and the salted caramel which features home-made salted caramel sauce and Himalayan rock salt. Voco Sales and Marketing Director Ashley Britnell says there are many different spaces within Social House to explore and experience.
“The idea is there is a place for everyone and at every time of the day,” he says.
Clifford’s Grill & Lounge is our dining destination and visitors can expect some innovative offerings from Executive Chef Daniel Smith and his 10-burner iron grill. That, and the fact that the food served here hasn’t travelled more than a 200km radius. On this delicious day we feast on the likes of the Char-Grilled 1kg t.bone steak; Bangalow pork; and a bread board of Middle Eastern dips of moutabel, spicy hommus Beirut, sour herbs, and house-baked flat bread. Voco General Manager Brenden van Blerk says voco is a Latin word meaning “to come together”.
“At the heart of it, we want to break bread with everyone,” he says.
And break bread, we do.
This hotel, which uses the tagline “reliably different” is also working towards a more sustainable footprint, currently running a market trial in some rooms of tamper-proof recycled amenities products.
It also one of only a handful of Gold Coast hotels which recycles 100 per cent of its green waste and receives a rebate from the Gold Coast City Council which then uses this waste on local garden beds. There’s also a hive of some 350,000 bees which produce honey used in everything from its desserts to its cocktails and even bees wax candles for sale in the lobby.
At this edgy establishment, you’ll also find a modern gym, two swimming pools (a second one was built after the towering Q1 across the road cast too much shadow on the first); the L’Aqua Day Spa; 800 square metres of meeting space; and a third dining space in Waves Buffet restaurant. Back in my 18th floor room, it’s a stylish Hamptons vibe with crisp, white linens (even the bedding is made from recycled plastic) and a yellow and blue colour theme, right down to the chaise lounge which is perfectly positioned against the large window. And it’s from here that I sit and watch the shadows grow longer on this Surfers Paradise summer day. Little by little the lights flicker on in the neighbouring high rises. The last stragglers leave that sloppy surf and I smile and think, yep, this is pure, rolled, Gold Coast.
The Global Goddess was a guest of Voco Gold Coast https://www.ihg.com/voco/hotels/gb/en/surfers-paradise/sfppb/hoteldetail?cm_mmc=GoogleMaps-_-VX-_-AU-_-SFPPB