The Whitsundays are renowned throughout the world for their tropical island resorts. However, there’s another side to the area that often gets overlooked. On my quest to find the best coastal beach, I’m exploring what the Whitsundays have to offer.
This morning I was woken by the gentle sound of pat, pat, pat on my tent. Small drops of rain managed to find their way through the beach scrub canopy under which I was camping the night. Today I was going to explore some of my favourite beaches in the Whitsundays.
I unzipped the tent fly and caught the beautiful aroma of the salty sea mist in my nostrils, the sound of gently lapping waves and the rustle of the breeze through the trees. If you cup of your hands over your ears, then it would sound like static in comparison.
Exploration of the Whitsundays begins
The Whitsundays extends from Bowen in the North to the Proserpine River in the south. Last nigh I stayed at a friends place at Brisk Bay, and while they had kindly offered a bed in their beautiful beach side home. I really wanted to camp on the beach in front of their house. It’s not often that you can just camp on the beach. I wanted to take full advantage of the unique situation and opportunity presented to me.
Yesterday I rode from Townsville to Bowen, I was going to wild camp but I had the wrong gear. I had packed my Black Wolf Wasp UL 2 motorcycle touring tent. This is an awesome tent and one I have ridden over 14000 kilometres with, but it was the wrong tool for stealth camping in Bowen.
If you want to know more about this tent check out my review on it at: https://digitalswaggie.com.au/?p=1502 . What I needed was my son’s Dauche Ranger II Swag. A sleep system with a low profile. I could easily hide behind my camouflaged bike in secluded areas. While the Whitsundays is an amazing place, it’s home to one of the most back packer and biker unfriendly councils I have yet come across. If you are caught wild camping they wack you with a hugh fine.
I decided to contact a couple of mates who lived at an awesome beach community just down the road. I would camp out the front of their place, right on the beach. So day two of this adventure and my journey through the Whitsundays starts at their place on Brisk Bay.
Where is here?
Brisk Bay is at the southern entry to Bowen, it started its European life as a transportation centre for cattle. Bowen is one of two ports in North Queensland that have deep water access. In the early days of the cattle industry, Brisk Bay played a roll in getting cattle from the fertile grazing land to southern Ports.
Due to the shelter protection of Poole Island there is a sand bar that extends from Brisk Bay to the island. During low tide this sand bar is about one metre underwater. It becomes a shallow bridge. On the other side of the island is a deep water trench. This allowed steamers to tie up to the island and take the cattle onboard. The cattle movement through Poole Island stopped once the jetty and cattle yards were built in Bowen.
Long before Airlie Beach became a place to be, Bowen was providing an important role in the development of North Queensland.
While cattle are no longer driven through Brisk Bay, it still exists as a quiet and exclusive beach side community approximately 15 kilometres south of Bowen on the Hume Highway. The beach is spectacular piece of golden ribbon with a protected bay and shallow sand bar.
Time for coffee
When I’m traveling, I get up early as the sun is breaking through the inky night sky. I can just make out the trees and rocks that surround the bay. The light’s not enough to navigate to the beach with, but I can at least make out the shape of Emu and find my mess kit. I don’t know if I’ve said this before but the day doesn’t start until the first cup of coffee. I don’t want to wake my hosts so I set up my Jetboil and make my coffee.
With coffee and camera in hand I make my way to the beach only metres away from my tent. Sitting on the warm sand, I listen to the gentle lapping of the water on the shoreline. It’s almost like the silent beginning of a fine opera. There’s a point when the bay is lit and it fools me into taking some low light photos. But if I wait, the sun will be above the horizon and it will bring out all the soft colours of the ocean.
My journey today takes me from Brisk Bay just south of Bowen to Conway Beach at the mouth of the Proserpine River. This journey includes a visit to some of the regions most iconic, but lesser known beaches. If you want to know how I got here read my blog: The final stage of the best beach in Queensland project
The Whitsundays are reknowned for their 74 island paradises, but there is more to the coastal sea scape than just islands. This is the third day of my journey from Townsville to Sarina, looking for the best beaches in Queensland.
I thanked my mates for their hospitality and made my way back up the 10 kilometre access road from Brisk Bay to the Hume Highway. My journey today would be to explore the beaches north of Airlie and to visit both Hideaway Bay and Dingo Beach. I also wanted to explore a beach called Froggie’s Beach which was slightly further around from the famous Eco and Monty’s resorts.
I have heard many people express their understanding of the Whitsundays and the famous islands like Daydream, Hamilton and Hayman Islands. But there are secluded beaches that are every match for those islands. To get Froggie’s Beach I would have to pass through Hideaway Bay and then take a dirt road around a small bluff past Monty’s and the Eco Resort. I would ride about 30 minutes and then take a dirt bypass road through a sugar cane field and onto the tar sealed road that leads out to the bays.
Once heading out to the bay, it takes another 25 minutes to get to the intersection between Hideaway Bay and Dingo Beach. I turn left and head to Hideaway Bay.
Hideaway Bay looks like an exclusive community, there is a bowls club and a caravan park but that’s it. The houses perched between the steep hill and the beach are all of the “Very Expensive” type. It’s not surprising they are build here, the view over the beach directly in front of the houses and Gloucester Island to the left are spectacular. I can see that my presence is noticed by some early morning walkers as I ride through the community at 7.30am with the burbling sound of my Yoshmirra pipe reverberating around the hill. To me it sounds sweet, but I’m sure residents are less impressed.
Cape Gloucester Resort (Eco Resort)
In 2017 the Category Four Cyclone “Debbie” hit the Whitsundays, to be specific, it went right over Bowen. Many beach side communities felt the savagery of the wind and subsequent torrential rains that followed. One of the casualties of Debbie was the famous “Monty’s Resort”. Ordinarily this resort is only 30 minutes by boat from the Bowen boat harbour. While the resort has been fixed it is no longer open to day public. What was an awesome pub that you could moor your boat on the beach and step in for lunch no longer exists.
However, further up the road is the famous Cape Gloucester Eco Resort. This facility has taken over from Monty’s and is now open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is frequented by many people, including a large contingent of boating visitors who more near the resort and bring their tenders in to beach.
To access the resort, I ride through Hideaway bay and up onto a small look out. From here the road turns to corrugated dirt and the occasional bit of tar. It’s great to be riding dirt and I revel in the small bit of off road riding at last. The road winds down from the hill and the old Monty’s resort comes into view. It’s not long before the Cape Gloucester Eco Resort carpark appears. Today, I’m riding further down this road. I want to explore a interesting but lesser known beach called Froggie’s Beach.
Froggies Beach is a little known or visited part of this area. It is situated at the end of the southern bay that encompasses the Gregory River inlet. It is accessible via the road through Halliday Bay and of course by boat. I tried to go further than this point but it seems the road is private from this point on. There is a small collection of houses further along, but they are exclusive and do not encourage visitors. Even walking down the beach you get the impressing you’re being watched, like it’s owned by some sort of drug cartel
On the way back I tried to go into the old Montes Resort, but I was barred from getting to the resort by a chain and sign. It was this area was only for resort guests and that I would be trespassing if I went further. Not a very friendly sign from a resort that was once incredibly popular with visitors and locals alike.
I ride back through Hideaway Bay to the intersection, it’s a well maintained road and I lean into the corner. Within two minutes I’m entering Dingo Beach. Dingo Beach is an older community. One that would have started as a fishing village. The houses and beach shacks represent this image perfectly. There is a more laid back community feel to this village.
Dingo Beach has a volunteer fire brigade, general store and a pub. It also has a place to launch your boat. Only this is best done at high tide as it would be impossible at low tide. The channel is marked but it’s very narrow. Many boats line up when they come back, resting on the sand and waiting until there is enough water to float them far enough to be retrieved up the beach.
If you have ever seen the Tom Cruise/Brian Brown movie “Cocktail” then you will remember a place called “Kokomo”. In fact the Beach Boys did a song for the movie. Dingo Beach would make a fantastic spot for the fictional “Kokomo”. It will definitely be a contender in the best beach round up.
The Whitsundays has more to offer than island resorts, the beaches are spectacular, relaxing and soo tropical. It would be great to stay and kick back, but I still had some ground to cover. Next stop, Airlie Beach.
Destination Airlie Beach
Riding out from Dingo Beach, you follow the same road until you come to a by-pass through the cane fields. About three quarters of the way to the by-pass I felt the back end wobble slightly, it was the unmistakable feeling of a flat tyre. The road was quite narrow so it took a few seconds to find a suitable place to pull over. Sure enough my back tyre was completely flat.
I had not changed a tyre on my KLR before so I found a bit of flat ground near a property that sold produce. Luckily, there was a milk crate at the front which I asked the farmer if I could use and rested the bike on it. I alway carry two spare tubes, but having never changed the tyre before. I instantly googled how to do it and up popped the exact video I needed on YouTube.
The whole episode took about 30 minutes. After which the farmer showed me around his small farm, with chickens, ducks and a variety of vegetables. He and his wife make a small living from the produce store out the front and supplement that with fish he catches, eggs from the chickens and the occasional duck sacrifice. They get their milk mainly from goats.
I continued on my journey through the sugar cane fields to Airlie Beach. The cane fields open up into what is known as Cannon Valley, all of the valley was once sugar cane, but has now been overtaken by residential and commercial progress.
There is a Bunnings, TAFE College and two well serviced shopping centres. Once you ride through the residential and commercial properties, you crest a small hill and laid out in front of you is the picture post card of azure waters, yhauts, resorts, the giant Airlie Lagoon and a vast net work of surf shops, pubs and restaurants. You have arrived at Airlie Beach, gateway to the tropical Whitsunday Islands.
Airlie Beach only came into existence in 1935, but it wasn’t until 1958 that land for development came on the market. The town supported the emerging tourism market on the island and the through traffic to the reef. At the time the street was still just dirt and mud in the summer. In 2001 the Airlie Lagoon was developed and the town started to become a popular tourist destination in its own right.
The council has poured money into up grading the street scape and modernising facilities. It is a centre for entertainment with bars, restaurants and up market fashion.
Conway Beach is a 30 minute ride from Airlie Beach. It’s significant in that it is at the southern end of the Whitsundays and site next to the Proserpine River. To get there take the Cannonvale to Proserpine road, turn left about halfway along at the Conway Beach sign. Follow this road until you arrive at the beach.
The ride out to Conway Beach is a pleasant journey through tropical bushland, rolling hills and large hobby farms. At points the road runs close to the Proserpine River until almost colliding with it as you get to the small hill you climb before descending to the fishing and retirement community of Conway Beach. Conway Beach opens up directly to the south east, and as such is subject to the prevailing wind. There’s rarely a time when the wind isn’t blowing.
I pulled up at the Conway Beach camp ground, a Big Four ground done up in a 1950’s American theme, check out their web site for more information: https://www.conwaybeach.com.au/georges-diner/.
I’ve written a review of this park that you can read at: https://digitalswaggie.com.au/camping-at-conway-beach—a-tribute-to-the-1950s/
I really wanted to stealth camping site, but as I’ve mentioned before the Whitsunday Shire Council do not encourage free camping, there were very few opportunities along the road to duck into a secluded site. When I have finished this quest I’m going to find the best stealth camping sites in the Whitsundays. It’s the Swaggie thing to do…..right:)
Camping at Conway
My experience at Conway Beach camp ground was less than ideal, stuck on the side of the main access road, near a mosquito infested pond with a security light beaming down on me all night. The proprietor was a bike friendly sort of guy and was very helpful with directions to a bike dealer in Proserpine from whom I could secure a replacement tube.
My first stop tomorrow will be Proserpine and then a continuation south to complete my best beach in Queensland quest. I hope you enjoyed this post, if so please make comments below and I’ll see you somewhere on the road. Safe riding:)