Proserpine is about 20 minutes inland from Airlie Beach and the closest town to the Whitsunday Coast Airport.
To get the lay of the land, the Whitsundays Visitor Information Centre is a great place to start. First-class treatment and bespoke information – and it’s free!
Right next door is Australia’s largest coffee plantation, the Whitsunday Gold Coffee Plantation and when it comes to one of the country’s favourite hot drinks, there isn’t much head coffee roaster Dave Thorogood doesn’t know.
“From seedling and planting stage to optimum harvest time is at least six years,” Dave said.
And if the coffee isn’t enough to give you wings, there’s a menagerie attached to the café for a little extra entertainment!
From coffee to shopping, and the main street of Proserpine (aptly named Main Street) is buzzing with country hospitality. Just off Main Street is the particularly charming Colour Me Crazy. As you can probably guess by the name, it’s a rainbow of quirky and kitsch- truly a feast for the eyes!
Proserpine is also famous for its fishing. In fact, the locals will tell you the fishing is big up here, but the fish are even bigger. So, it’s handy to know that only twenty minutes out of town is Peter Faust Dam, a stocked impoundment chockers full of barramundi.
We recommend hitting the water with Lindsay Dobe of Barramundi Fishing Charters. He’s been casting in the region for 22 years and he says when it comes to barramundi fishing, timing plays a big part.
“There’s sort of a general saying that’s been around for a long time; any month with an R in it,” he said. “That’s usually your spring and summer months and it rings pretty true as well. But certainly, through winter we still catch them, it’s just not the prime. Barra like the warmer water, their metabolism speeds right up in summer, they eat more often… they eat more regularly.”
Fifty minutes from Proserpine to the northern point of the Whitsundays region is a slice of paradise known as Bowen.
To start the day, there’s no going past the great coffee at Le Sorelle, Italian for “the sisters”. Here, owners Alex and Bianca (yes they’re sisters) serve up coffee with a smile. While there, you can’t go past their famous fudge! Made daily with flavours including Mars Bar, salted caramel and Bianca’s personal favourite, coconut ice!
It may be famous for mangoes, but the region is known as the winter salad bowl of the north – producing tomatoes, capsicum, cucumber, pumpkin and plenty more.
Farmer Carl Walker and his wife have run Phantom Produce for 26 years.
“I still love the smell when you first turn the soil and the pleasure you get out of growing a good crop.” He said. “That’s what we do as farmers – and we’re lucky enough to live here in the Whitsundays where I can jump off the tractor, ten minutes down the creek – crabbing!”
Bowen’s Mayor Andrew Willcox also hails from a family of farmers. He loudly sings the town’s praises. So, what does he like to do with his spare time in Bowen?
“The mayor’s pick on the weekend is hunting and gathering for the family so this is everything from going and catching beautiful mud crabs – to catching coral trout and basically having a weekend in the boat.”
Speaking of seafood, you can’t go past Bird’s Fish Bar when it comes to fresh. How fresh you ask? How about straight off the trawler and into the kitchen out the back! We recommend the seafood platter, with freshly caught fish, local prawns, calamari and some seriously juicy mud crab.
Travelling an hour south-west from Bowen delivers you to a very different side of the Whitsundays.
Collinsville is a former mining town where remnants of its glory days are waiting to be discovered. Number One Mine Site is the remains of a previously working mine site that’s open to visitors.
“So this place here was steam-driven all the way up to mechanisation,” said former miner Brett Murphy. “And then all this stuff was useless because everything went to electricity.”
It doesn’t take long to see that horses have a pretty special place in the hearts of the locals. They’re just about everywhere you look in Collinsville – from the giant statue that stands as you enter the town; to the many murals on building walls.
The Coalface Museum tells the story of the Pit Ponies of Collinsville.
“Pit ponies are very close to people’s hearts in Collinsville. We worked underground with them for years… they were gentle giants, as a lot of people know, and a very intelligent horse.
When you work underground together as part of a team, what you’d constantly be doing would be looking out for the other guy. So, you can’t see above your head, you can’t see behind you. Everybody is looking after everybody all the time.
The horses were part of the blokes’ lives and they were family.
Mechanisation came in in about 1953/54 and then a manager came along and said ‘we need to get rid of the pit ponies’. He openly said – the knackery.
The meeting was so fiery, as you can imagine, so the union guy up the front said ‘if we’re going to save these horses lives, what we’re going to do is start thinking smarter’.
So… we tossed it around for a bit, and they came back with a motion that we actually make the horses honorary union members.
The nuts and bolts of the whole show is last on, first off – so the horses have got more seniority than two-thirds of your workforce. If you want to start laying people off, you’ll have to get rid of two-thirds of your workforce before the horses come up for their turn.
So, they went away for a while and then we got a new mine manager… He was totally different and he said ‘look I love horses, there’s no way in the world that those pit ponies are going to go to a knackery, but I’ve got a problem.
We’ve got the Japanese steel mills coming in to be partners, and if they come along and they see we’re using pit ponies… we’re supposed to be a modern mine’.
And, of course, the union blokes said straight away, not a hassle, we’ve got a bloke who will accept them on his property and they can retire out there. And he said ‘that’ll do me!’
The Pit Ponies retired in 1990.”
Thirty minutes out of town, there’s another place dedicated to days gone by: the heritage-listed Bowen River Hotel.
Clare Ringland has owned the hotel since 2006, but the history of the building which was built in 1861 goes way back.
“At the turn of the century it became a Cobb & Co stop where they travelled from what was Port Dennison, which is now Bowen, up through the range and out to Charters Towers,” Clare said.
“It used to be called the Heidelberg Inn but then, later on, it was changed to the Bowen River Hotel.”
When it comes to a place to stay, we recommend Opal Ridge – and it’s no ordinary accommodation. The motel boasts seriously contemporary accommodation with a stellar bar and restaurant – always welcome at the end of a long day.
Our pick of the menu is the creamy, fresh seafood pasta and the Tomahawk steak!
Airlie Beach is all about beaches, beauty and bliss. The hub of the region, it’s got plenty of activities from which to choose. But what better way to see Airlie than from 15,000 feet in the air?
Skydive Airlie Beach offers daily jumps and the views are nothing short of spectacular. From your first step into nothingness to landing on terra firma, the skydive is ten thrilling minutes – including a full minute of freefall. But once that shoot opens, the adrenaline rush subsides and you’re floating peacefully over paradise.
Firmly back on solid ground, you’ll want to do something relaxing. The Airlie Beach markets by the foreshore, held every Saturday, offer the perfect backdrop for a lazy stroll amongst stalls, browsing local wares and food. Be sure to see Patrick for his famous mango sorbet!
Staying a while? The Airlie Beach Hotel has beautiful ocean views, a resort-style swimming pool and the Airlie Beach pub just downstairs. What more could you want from your accommodation? Airlie’s famous Fish D’Vine restaurant is also a short walk away.
This iconic Whitsunday eatery serves up the freshest of seafood, and the atmosphere is always abuzz.
A short five minutes up the road is KC’s Bar and Grill where you can listen to great live music while sipping one of the many cocktails on offer. And locals say the steak at KC’s is pretty good too.