Sun. Water. Sand. These three international trips—to Australia, Aruba, and Hawaii—are perfect antidotes to the winter blahs.
The Whitsunday Islands off Australia’s northeastern coast have everything an adventurer needs: sailing, seaplaning over the Great Barrier Reef, SCUBA diving—and, of course, a bit of relaxation. Good on ya!
By Andrew Weaver
Looking out from the prow of a sailboat at the majesty of the Whitsunday Islands, off the northeastern coast of Australia, one can’t help wondering what James Cook, the legendary naval explorer, must have thought when, in 1770, he did more or less the same thing—observed these islands from the water. Did the salty old captain feel an itch to paddle ashore and wiggle his toes in the white sand, to put off charting the world for an afternoon and swim in the crystal water? It’s hard to imagine he didn’t. The Whitsundays are irresistible, a paradise on earth.
When I traveled to the islands for a week last autumn, my journey began at Airlie Beach, a seaside hamlet that serves as the central hub of the Whitsundays. A favorite destination of the backpacker crowd, Airlie Beach is filled with travelers from all over the world, congregating in lively bars like Beaches and Magnums and mingling with the locals over pints of James Boag, one of Australia’s favorite beers, and plates of kangaroo and emu meat (really). I spent the first day of my trip getting acquainted with the town and its people, preparing for a busy week with a trip to Woolworths, the local grocery store, chatting with fellow travelers, and relaxing on the town’s beaches.
Of course, one doesn’t come to the Whitsundays to sit around. The next day, I was off to start my adventuring, beginning with a sail on the 74-foot heritage yacht Lady Enid—a gorgeous timber vessel built in 1961, famous in yacht clubs around Australia. The daylong cruise, which included lunch, champagne, and an afternoon snorkeling stop, deposited us at Whitehaven Beach, regularly ranked one of the best shorelines in the world, where powdery white sand and lush hills hiding electric-blue inlets make it feel like the end of the inhabited earth.
Next on the list were a pair of equal but opposite excursions: one high above the Great Barrier Reef—which runs directly past the Whitsundays—and one deep below it. The first was a flight with Air Whitsunday Seaplanes, a breathtaking ride in an eight-seat propeller aircraft piloted by a jovial Whitsundays native. The little tin can of a plane carried us over miles of teeming coral formations to the famous and oft-photographed Heart Reef—shaped, miraculously, like a perfect Valentine heart—where we landed softly in the water for an afternoon of snorkeling.
To balance the height with depth, Explore Group Australia treated me to a different view of the reef: a day of SCUBA diving that brought me face-to-face with epaulette sharks, rainbows of coral, giant clams, and clownfish hiding in swaying anemones—a vast underwater world of life and color.
As I quickly learned, there’s more to this Elysian corner of the country than the water, and so on the fourth day of my trip I made time for an inland excursion to the dense rainforests of Conway National Park, just south of Airlie Beach. At first, I considered hiking the park—bushwhacking through hoop pines and giant strangler figs (and dodging the gympie gympie, one of the most toxic stinging plants in the world)—but instead I opted for a more high-tech approach: a half-day journey with Whitsunday Segway Tours. With a group of fellow travelers, I learned basic off-road Segway operation and followed a former logging road called the Whitsunday Great Walk deep into the rainforest to learn about the park’s flora and fauna from a local expert.
The next day it was back to the water. I hadn’t quite gotten my fill of the Whitsunday Passage, the broad swath of ocean separating the area’s 74 islands from the continental mainland, so I did a paddling excursion with Salty Dog Sea Kayaking. It was a choppy day with high winds when we departed, and in my single kayak the waves almost bowled me over, but this only added to the sense of adventure as we fought through the surf to explore the beaches of some of the Whitsundays’ smaller, less-visited spits of land.
Between all these adventures, greeting me every evening like an old friend, was the comfort of Airlie Beach, with its rows of boutiques (including the well-known gift shop Grotty Yachty), cafés, art galleries, two-mile coastal boardwalk, and—maybe best of all—central public swimming area called the Lagoon, immaculately clean and ringed by a grassy knoll, perfect for lounging and watching ships cruise into the nearby Port of Airlie. With no shortage of restaurants to choose from, I ended
each day with a bite from various local favorites like The Deck, specializing in pizza and fresh seafood; Walter’s Lounge, serving creative five- and six-course chef’s tasting menus; and Northerlies Bar & Grill, a secluded resort and restaurant a few minutes’ drive from the center of Airlie Beach, with seafood, steak, craft beer, and views of the town across a small bay.
The fact is, there’s so much to see in the Whitsundays, even a weeklong stay like mine wasn’t enough to cover it all. There were more islands to explore, more of the Whitsunday Passage to sail. If I had had another week, I might have rented a bareboat (no skipper, no crew, just you and the open ocean) from a place like Cumberland Charter Yachts. Or spent an afternoon soaking up the resort-style luxury of Hamilton Island. Or spent a night sleeping on a sailboat far out on the reef. When I packed up my things and bid Airlie Beach goodbye—suntanned, salt-soaked, and thoroughly happy—these incomplete adventures were all I could think about, and each one made me a little happier. Before the ferry had left the harbor to carry me to the airport, I had my next itinerary all planned out. I would be back.
Where To Stay
HEART HOTEL AND GALLERY WHITSUNDAYS
This luxury boutique hotel in the center of Airlie Beach is small enough to feel intimate yet large enough to offer ample space in each of its well-appointed rooms. With elegant design (including an Eames chair in each residence), ocean-view balconies, and friendly staff, Heart Hotel and Gallery Whitsundays is a perfect option for those who want to stay right in the middle of the town’s bars, shops, and restaurants.
View the accommodations.
A 15-minute walk outside of town, the modern, apartment-style accommodations of Marina Shores are perfect for travelers who want a full kitchen and more space for entertaining, without compromising on terrific ocean views. With a small beach adjacent to the property, Marina Shores will satisfy families who need more space, as well as those travelers staying in the area long enough to merit a full apartment with a washer/dryer, living room, and multiple bedrooms.
View the accommodations.
Plan your adventure
LADY ENID SAILING
AIR WHITSUNDAY SEAPLANES
EXPLORE GROUP AUSTRALIA
WHITSUNDAY SEGWAY TOURS
SALTY DOG SEA KAYAKING
GROTTY YACHTY CLOTHING & NAUTICAL GIFTS OF AIRLIE
THE DECK AIRLIE BEACH
NORTHERLIES BEACH BAR & GRILL
CUMBERLAND CHARTER YACHTS
DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY
Going to this popular Caribbean destination island is like taking a chill pill. Known for its wellness focus, Aruba is a great place to unwind—or rev up.
By Kendall Kostelic
It’s been named the happiest island in the world. And after a recent visit to the tiny Caribbean island of Aruba, we can understand why.
How did it make us happy? Let us count the ways: a constant, perfect ocean breeze; pristine beaches; flamingos to flirt with; Pilates in the ocean; a UTV tour.
The 19.6-mile-long island has been making a name for itself as a wellness-minded destination for decades, and it’s one of the Caribbean’s most visited spots, with more than half of the over one million visitors making return trips.
Wellness the easy way? Yes. One beach visit a day keeps the doctor away.
EAT HEALTHY, ISLAND-STYLE
Start your day with an acai bowl at Eduardo’s Beach Shack. The surfside hut offers a variety of fruity bowls and smoothies, as well as veggie juices. For lunch, eat clean without sacrificing great flavor at Pura Vita Kitchen. Think portion-controlled turkey burgers, burritos, coconut curry bowls, and knockout salads. (If you’re into post-dining workouts, the gym is right next door.) At night, there are several options: Passions on the Beach and Elements Restaurant at Bucuti and Tara Beach Resort; at the latter, make a reservation for two in a private beach palapa for a special six-course meal or head to the large patio—and splurge on the Ferrero chocolate dessert risotto.
GET YOUR ADRENALINE PUMPING
Race a UTV along desert paths, over rocks, and right up to unforgettable cliffside ocean views. On our three-hour ride, run by ABC Tours, we saw Aruba’s Breathing Rocks, Black Stone Beach, Andicuri Beach, the Natural Bridge and more. (Just make sure to wear goggles and a bandanna to combat dust.) Or set sail with The Tranquilo charters, which will take you to a private snorkeling spot, topped off with glasses of boozy punch.
Cocktails! Dancing! Karaoke! That’s what you get at Bugaloe Beach Bar and Grill, where you’ll find families and locals having a good time. If you’re brave enough, take center stage for one of your favorite tunes— or start singing on the sidelines and let one of the MCs pull you into the spotlight.
GET A SHOT OF VITAMIN D
The island has at least 20 beaches: Have dinner in the sand at Passions on the Beach or set up a private breakfast spot by the water. The Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort and Casino has beachside access; wade in the calm, waist-deep water (just the right temp) or head back to the Hilton’s lobby, which opens out to the island’s wonderful weather.
The Hilton’s Eforea Spa is an indoor oasis. We enjoyed a skin-revitalizing Aruba Aloe massage, with local aloe vera products made by the world’s oldest aloe company, then stayed for the tranquil fountain seating and steam room. (Be sure to ask for an ear massage during your treatment.) Or go for a bit of me time at an Art for the Soul workshop at Cosecha Aruba, where instructor Vanessa Paulina blends meditation and yoga with paint brushes and blank canvases.
WORK OUT IN THE WAVES
A great way to work up a sweat in Aruba: stand-up paddleboard Pilates with Vela Aruba. Anchored on a wide paddleboard just off the shore, you’ll do ab work, squats, and, yes, burpees. (Here, there’s no losing your balance, only “cooling off in the water.”) For something more tranquil, head to Renaissance Island for a seaside yoga class. Run by Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino, the island contains Aruba’s only private beaches, one for families and one for adults, and you can get up close to flamingos and iguanas. The island is available to Renaissance resort guests, with a few extra day passes given out. —Kendall Kostelic
Plan Your Adventure:
EDUARDO’S BEACH SHACK
PASSIONS ON THE BEACH
ABC TOURS ARUBA
BUGALOE BEACH BAR AND GRILL
De Palm Pier
HILTON ARUBA CARIBBEAN RESORT AND CASINO
EFOREA SPA AT HILTON ARUBA
At the five-star luxe Montage Kapalua Bay, it’s so relaxing that the only hard part of a visit is having to leave.
“Slow down, sir. You’re in paradise now.”
The concierge, dressed in a tropical shirt and sunglasses, seems to sense a mainland haste in the way I take my first steps down the colonnade into Montage Kapalua Bay, a five-star resort on the northwestern coast of Maui. As he places a string of kukui nuts around my neck—a traditional Hawaiian greeting—he grins. “It’s OK,” he says, putting a hand on my shoulder. “Most people are pretty eager to get inside.”
The Montage, one of Maui’s premier resorts, boasting three restaurants, two golf courses, and a full-service spa, is a place of stress-abolishing beauty, sprawling across 24 acres of Hawaiian beach that feel untouched by time. I’m here, in midautumn, for a trip scheduled to last just two days, and the concierge is right: I’m eager to get inside, swap my travel clothes for a bathing suit, and get down to some serious relaxing. After accepting a bowl of fresh pineapple from the front desk staff, I bid my welcome party “aloha” and follow a bellhop to my suite, where I find a bottle of champagne waiting. My residence for the weekend is large and comfortable—with a full kitchen, king bed, and multiple washrooms—and after a glass of bubbly on the balcony, I head out for a stroll around the grounds.
Though the Montage is architected, at every turn, to encourage a sense of timelessness, of hours that feel like unhurried days, there’s no shortage of activity to keep a go-getter happy. At the resort’s edge, a walking trail hugs the coastline for the better part of a mile, and I spend the morning hiking it, winding past cliffs, a jagged rock formation called the “dragon’s teeth,” and an old prayer labyrinth laid in stones. The trail ends at a rocky outcrop hanging 30 feet above the ocean—a favorite diving spot for locals. After watching a group of boys plunge into the Pacific chop, I take off my shoes to do the same.
Trotting back to the resort happily soaked in saltwater, I decide to spend the afternoon at the opposite end of the Montage property, at a public beach (private ownership of the shoreline is illegal in Hawaii) where the resort offers snorkel and paddleboard rentals for guests. The glittering architecture of the Montage is best appreciated from the water, and with the help of a paddleboard, I’m able to soak it in for a while, bobbing on the waves, while myna birds—vocal songsters common to the island—wheel overhead.
A few hours of swimming and mingling with the locals is enough to work up an appetite for a feast at Cane & Canoe, the resort’s main restaurant, designed like a traditional Hawaiian canoe house. That evening, I order the Wagyu ribeye with oysters and salmon sashimi, and wash them down with a glass of Napa red before indulging in my nightcap of choice: a dip in the Montage’s warm infinity pool, under the flickering light of Tiki torches.
The next morning, after a breakfast of local ahi tuna and papaya, I start the day with a visit to the Montage’s spa, a world unto itself, separated from the main resort and secluded in a private grove. Looking through the menu of body therapies—from seaweed cocoons to Hawaiian-style lomi lomi massage, meant to mimic the rhythm of the ocean—I decide to try one of the mindfulness meditation classes, conducted in a large-windowed studio overlooking the water. The session is perfectly intimate, just three of us and an instructor, and I leave in a state of airy bliss, floating down to the spa’s lower level, where the saunas, steam rooms, saline hot tubs, and cold rain baths shock me back to full consciousness.
Awake again, I decide to devote a few hours to the resort’s massive, three-tiered pool and lagoon, where cheery attendants offer to bring me drinks and appetizers from the bar, fetch fresh towels, and adjust the umbrella over my chaise lounge as the sun crawls across the sky. Occasionally, I leave my perch to swim through the maze-like pool’s various private coves, sit under its miniature waterfalls, and soak up the silence of the infinity pool, a designated quiet zone for peaceful reflection.
Dinner is preceded by a meeting with the resort’s cultural ambassador, a Hawaiian woman named Silla, who “talks story” with me—a favorite Hawaiian pastime—about her childhood on Maui, when the land now occupied by the resort was a pineapple plantation. She teaches me an old Hawaiian saying, “I ka wa ma mua, ka wa ma hope,” which means “The time in front is the time in back.” “To know the future, look to the past,” she tells me. It’s the essence of her work at the resort—preserving the traditions of the people who occupied the island first and know its history.
After another extravagant meal at Cane & Canoe—the Ora King salmon with tarragon crème and a healthy pour of Yamazaki Japanese whisky—I return to my room to find a final bottle of champagne waiting, a parting gift from the resort staff. Rather than open it alone, I wander back down to the pool in search of some chance companions to help me toast my last hours in Maui. A group of 30-somethings, gathered for a birthday party, are laughing together in one of the hot tubs, watching the sun set, and they are only too happy to oblige when I pop the bottle and pass it around. In the morning, I’ll have to leave this little paradise, but for now—my new companions assure me—the night is young. With the bottle finished, we stroll down to the ocean to gaze at the lighted Montage from the beach. The concierge’s advice rings in my mind. “Slow down, sir.” No time for that now. Throwing off our sandals, we run into the bay, splashing under a full Hawaiian moon, for one last swim in the warm Pacific water. —Andrew Weaver
Plan Your Adventure:
MONTAGE KAPALUA BAY