With its chalk-white beaches and Listerine-blue waters, this little pocket of subtropical coastline has long magnetised Aussies and international visitors. But there’s plenty to savour here beyond the natural assets of the region. After a day exploring the Whitsunday Islands, there’s no doubt you’ll want to tuck into something delicious. At these restaurants – dotted along the mainland and the 74 Whitsunday Islands – you’ll dine on the freshest seafood, the finest pastries and the most fanciful modern Australian dishes.
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Freshly baked in-house daily, the gourmet pies, pastries and cakes on parade at Bob’s are not just among the most reasonably priced snacks on the island – they’re also rather moreish. Pick up a classic Aussie meat pie, or a Vegemite scroll and chase it down with one of the bakery’s popular pillowy doughnuts. Devour your butter-laden haul on one of the picnic tables around the back of Bob’s – surrounded by rainbow lorikeets and sulphur-crested cockatoos – or stock up on picnic provisions to take away and graze under a blanket of sunshine.
The old adage of the journey being as important as the destination itself rings true at this lunch-only restaurant. Housed within the unlikely surrounds of the 18-hole Hamilton Island Golf Club – which in fact lies on uninhabited neighbouring Dent Island, a five-minute ferry ride from Hamilton – Clubhouse Restaurant serves a refined mod Oz menu. Dine on dishes such as kingfish sashimi with baby cucumber, yuzu gel, ponzu dressing and toasted sesame nori crumb – or pork jowl with seared scallops, celeriac puree and pickled apple – all while gorging on uninterrupted water views.
Whether you’re in the mood for surf or turf, this family-friendly modern Australian restaurant delivers. There’s a definite Asian lean to much of Manta Ray’s small menu: hello tom yum fried squid and chilled prawn noodle salad, laced with sesame and pickled ginger. Beyond enjoying the marina views – nab one of the hotly contested outdoor tables if you can – this restaurant is known for its super friendly service.
When a virtuous day of swimming, snorkelling or surfing calls for something a little indulgent, hit Birds Fish Bar. This rustic little joint may look unassuming from the front, but rest assured it’s one of the best spots on the Whitsunday Coast for fish and chips. Exceedingly fresh fish – it’s located next to the Bowen Marina, after all – is crumbed and fried to perfection and served with crunchy golden chips. You can also opt for fresh prawns and Moreton Bay bug tails instead.
Okay, it’s not technically a restaurant, but it’d be remiss to name the best of the Whitsunday Coast and not mention this impossibly scenic spot. Cocktails are served up in mason jars and gorgeous little share plates promise to take the edge off any pre-dinner hunger pangs. Heading up to this lookout point for sunset has become something of a nightly ritual on the island – while the bar, with its wooden deck and panoramic views, does a roaring trade, plenty come to the surrounding grassy knoll with a BYO picnic, too.
Seafood lovers and mojito drinkers should make a beeline for this smart-casual Airlie Beach institution. Besides its wildly comprehensive seafood menu – which includes chowders, curries, crispy, whole-cooked fish and the restaurant’s signature two-tier seafood tower – the bar shelves are lined with a library of nearly 200 different rum brands. There are few better spots for lunch along the Whitsunday Coast than on the restaurant’s deck, just steps from the ocean drinking in the briny sea breeze.
With its moody lighting, contemporary Italian cuisine and tables that overlook the yachts in Hamilton Island Marina, Romano’s is a bit of a winner among couples. Rock up for sunset and enjoy a chilled glass of sparkling vino to temper the balmy climes, before tucking into an array of fresh pasta, risottos and meat and fish secondi – the meltingly tender slow-cooked wagyu beef cheek earns its rave reviews.
Waterside sundowners under string lights, laidback al fresco lunches, hearty pub-style dinners – if you’re after generous portions of classic comfort food dishes and a relaxed atmosphere to boot, the Marina Tavern is one of Hamilton’s best. Moreover, the prices are pretty reasonable for these parts, too. Fans of the humble Aussie pub staple, the ‘parma’ – effectively a schnitzel topped with melted cheese and tomato sauce – are in for a treat as this little establishment has not one but five different parmas to choose from.
Spend a week hopping between the finest restaurants in the Whitsundays by hiring a catamaran through Dream Yacht Charter, or just take a vessel out for the day with SamBoat.
This is an updated rewrite of an article originally by Kelly Hawke.
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