AS the plane dropped out of the clouds, during its descent to Hamilton Island, and the beautiful Whitsunday Islands were revealed below I gazed in wonder and delight out of the window. As a first-time traveller to the Whitsundays it was a grand introduction.
From Hamilton Island airport it was then on to a Fantasea Adventure Cruising high-speed catamaran for the 35-minute trip across to Shute Harbour on the mainland. Again, a delightful experience as the impossibly beautiful islands rose, surprisingly steeply, out of clear waters.
From Shute Harbour it was just a short bus trip up to Peppers Coral Coast Resort at Airlie Beach.
Perched high above Airlie Beach the resort offers magnificent views out to the Coral Sea and Whitsunday Passage. The new Port of Airlie is also taking shape at the resort's feet.
The resort is built in levels going up, and blending into, the hillside, and I was lucky enough to get a top floor apartment in the highest building. The views were magical. At night the lights of the town and harbour twinkle below and, as I had a couple of early starts, the sunrise was magnificent as the grey dawn gave way to a flood of silver on the water.
The resort offers 102 beautifully appointed one, two and three bedroom apartments. All apartments are self-contained and the many features include cook top, oven, fridge, microwave, dishwasher, washing machine and clothes dryer. There is a huge private balcony where I spent most of my time just sitting and gazing at the view.
To truly spoil yourself there is the on-site Endota Spa which offers the whole pampering experience. Or you can just float in the wet-edge resort pool.
Executive chef Gregory Devine brings an outstanding culinary history to Tides Restaurant, having worked in a variety of leading establishments over a 23-year career. For an entree I had the Four tastes of the Sea tasting plate that includes Hervey Bay scallops with champagne mornay and tempura-style local reef fish. Sensational tastes.
For my main I had the black Angus beef fillet with mushroom crust, Paris mash, asparagus and fried egg yolk, truffle salt, shiraz essence. One of the best steaks I have ever had.
A couple of my travelling companions still had room for the valhrona chocolate tasting plate for dessert and the sounds they made suggested it was awesome.
The divine menu at Tides is based on organic fruit and vegetables sourced in the local Bowen region, succulent fish and prawns sourced from nearby reefs plus the freshest Queensland scallops, crabs and bugs.
Peppers Coral Coast Resort is the perfect location to begin and end your Whitsunday experience and is a short walk from the town of Airlie Beach.