FIONA HARPER checks into a Whitsundays eco retreat and finds a peaceful sanctuary with an ethical soul.
Elysian Retreat is a bespoke beachfront retreat in the Whitsunday Islands. Small and intimate personal touches are de riguer, where strangers quickly become friends and guests are farewelled like family.
I’ve arrived late morning via the island’s power boat from Shute Harbour and am greeted warmly by owner Charlton who wades through the shallows to take my hand before showing me to my bungalow. I’ve barely had time to slip off my shoes and sidle into island time when Chef Johnny appears with a plate of delicious fresh fruit to ‘keep me going until lunchtime’. Later, after Pheobe welcomes me to lunch with a glass of chilled sav blanc as I enjoy the views from the main lodge, Johnny appears again to ask about my dietary preferences. His menu is an ever-evolving delight which changes daily depending upon seasons and fresh produce availability. Meals soon become a highlight of my four-day stay with a convivial ambiance amongst guests and staff, with everyone on friendly first name terms.
But it’s Elysian’s eco credentials where the family-owned retreat really makes an impact. Almost fully solar powered from an extensive solar farm feeding into a high-tech battery bank, Elysian’s ethos is centred on sustainability, creating an intimate, memorable experience for guests while minimising its environmental impact. While I’m swinging in a hammock or on one of the many swings suspended from rafters in the lodge or on my bungalow’s deck, it’s pleasing to know I’m not adding to the planet’s burden.
Positioned in the southwestern corner of Long Island, Elysian Retreat is located on the shores of a west-facing cove. Long Island is one of the closest of the Whitsunday Islands to Shute Harbour, making it easily accessible to the mainland and Airlie Beach. Elysian’s bungalows and main lodge are strung along the palm tree-lined beachfront with decks offering a front row view to sunsets over the Conway Ranges. The beach is tidal and has a rocky foreshore so that swimming is best at high tide, while the shallows and rock pools at low tide make for intriguing explorations.
With just ten freestanding bungalows spread along the beach, at full capacity Elysian hosts a maximum of 20 guests. It’s definitely more of a couples kind of retreat rather than a family getaway, with children younger than 14y actively discouraged, though it would be a great option for couples travelling together or older multi-generational family groups.
Thatch roofed bungalows take a modern twist with a contemporary beach style. Think high white-washed cathedral ceilings and glass sliding doors that frame ocean and mountain views. Open them up to allow ocean breezes to waft through or slide them shut, crank up the air conditioning and enjoy the view from indoors. Full length decks are furnished with a swing and a hammock as well a table and chairs and daybed. The shady deck is definitely the place to while away lazy afternoons with a book and a G&T, lulled by the sounds of wavelets on the pebbly beach. While the modern bathrooms are gorgeous and well-appointed, the outdoor shower on the rear deck is definitely the best place to bathe – there’s nothing quite so decadent as showering beneath the warmth of tropical skies.
Yoga Instructor Ana leads us gently through a dawn yoga class each morning before breakfast, setting the mood for another day in paradise with our practice taking place on the deck beside the pool, shaded by palm trees. It’s hard not to drift heavily into a relaxed mode as the breeze whooshes through palm fronds and wavelets wash ashore on the rocks. For something a little more energetic, kayaks and SUP boards are available and walkers will find a satisfying hiking trail from behind the resort and up over the ridge that offers spectacular island views from the summit.
If you’re lucky the butterflies will be prolific, creating an almost magical scene as they flutter gently through the forest.
FOOD AND DRINK
Seasonal, fresh, free range and organic is the delicious dining style at Elysian. The hexagonal-shaped main lodge adjacent to the pool is the central hub for all activities, departures and arrivals as well as doubling as the dining and lounging area. With glass French doors that open up to gorgeous views dominated by sea, sky and forest-clad mountains, dining is an exceptional culinary adventure. There’s no menu, rather dining is an intimate relationship of trust where Chef Johnny creates delightful treasures such as chicken breast dressed in lime, chilli and ginger served on a bed of bok choy and rice noodles. If you’re a fussy eater he can cater to your needs, but ultimately it’s a matter of surrendering to the expert and embracing the opportunity not to have to choose.
With 72 islands making up the Whitsunday group, one of the most attractive things about the Whitsundays is the enormous choice of activities available. Getting out on a boat to explore the islands is a definite ‘must do’ and there is a style of boating to suit almost every style, whether adrenalin pumping action of a jet ski or the gentle silence of a sailboat. Along with some fellow guests we take a private day trip cruising the islands, which doesn’t disappoint, despite the inclement weather. With our skipper acting as our own private guide taking us to some of his favourite haunts, we snorkel over coral, swim in the shallows, hike through rainforest and linger over a beach picnic.
Further afield, there’s the option to take a day trip to the outer reef where you could scuba dive and snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef or take a heli sight-seeing tour departing from the resort’s own heli pad.
More information: Elysian Retreat
The writer was a guest of Elysian Retreat.