The picture is so perfect it looks like a cliché: Water more vibrantly blue than the sky above it, which itself is dappled with clouds over each of the small outcrops that make up the Whitsunday Islands, in northern Queensland, Australia.
Even a cynic couldn’t find anything to dislike about this picturesque haunt, aside from a temperamental-at-best cell phone reception and a lack of WiFi, though any person exhausted by our modern society would find the isolation freeing from other worldly responsibilities.
Wallabies quietly hop from their own respites in the jungle and graze on the grass and the small critters that lie beneath. (Contrary to what the internet has been preaching for years—and much to my personal delight—there was a near-complete absence of monstrously large insects... at least that I saw.)
The sound of an occasional helicopter delivering travelers to other remote island destinations occasionally pervades the soft natural sounds encompassing Paradise (no, really) Bay where I found myself floating on a paddle board, feet dangling in the slightly-below-room-temperature water, and as close to at peace as this high-strung New Yorker could hope to attain.
The Elysian Eco Retreat, where I was staying, reopened earlier this year after natural disaster caused a two-year closure. The previous iteration of the resort occupying the private inlet of Paradise Bay was devastated, like much of The Whitsundays at large, by Cyclone Debbie, which ravaged the area in March 2017, completing the destruction started by Cyclone Marcia two years previously.
The reimagined retreat now offers guests a completely guilt-free sanctuary designed around sustainability. Elysian runs entirely on solar power (the first to do so in the region), with much of the buildings themselves and the furnishings within built from recycled wood. The bungalows are designed with thatched roofs and cathedral style ceilings to help lower temperatures without the addition of central air, and each is carefully stocked with organic and eco-friendly products like zinc sunblock and natural bug spray. Outside each room is a large water tank, housing rain-water (then treated for safety), which guests are kindly informed upon arrival to use conservatively within reason.
I arrived on the island earlier that day, having first flown from up north to Hamilton Island Airport from Cairns, then caught a ride from the airport to a helicopter, and then took a private helicopter ride to the exclusive resort (you can arrange for a boat transfer instead, but what a tremendously less fabulous and extravagant entrance). It’s a journey to get here, sure, and this is without counting the three prior flights—JFK to LAX, LAX to BNE, BNE to CNS—it took just to get to Cairns. But the diamond lining (since this perk is worth so much more than lowly silver) to a voyage this long is that it generally discourages masses of others from partaking, and inevitably leads to more privacy.
If you’re looking for a destination full of nightlife and partying, turn not to Elysian, as the retreat offers just 10 bungalows for accommodations and a main lodge, with nothing else other than the rainforest and her inhabitants on the small strip of land that is Long Island (the name of the landmass where Elysian is located—not the one just a bridge or tunnel east of Manhattan). For those fond of understated opulence and in search of a technology hiatus, this is your place.
The resort boasts a pool, hot tub, stone meditation circle, hammocks and swings, a firepit, an oversized chess board, as well as (glass-bottomed) kayaks, canoes, and paddle boards as forms of relaxing entertainment. Spa treatments can be arranged, and a yogi had taken up a brief residence at the retreat just before I arrived. However, the real entertainment I found while at Elysian came from the staff and other guests, the main “building” serving as the perfect spot to learn about foreign lives from otherwise strangers.
I was the only American at Elysian, much to my delight. Don’t get me wrong, I love my countrymen just as much as the next “liberal coastal elite,” but a chance to abstain from discussions about our current political situation(s) was a more than welcome change. Instead, I heard all about the work one guest’s son was doing in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, or how the older couple visiting from Western Australia were on their first vacation in over a decade, at the retreat to celebrate 47 years of marriage.
To add to the feeling of royal treatment, a virtually personal chef is in charge of the kitchen, delivering fine dining catered to your tastes, with locally sourced and home-grown ingredients from the retreat’s on-site garden.
I had two nights and one full day at Elysian, and not much on my schedule from sun-up to sundown other than a helicopter ride. The pilot took me on an hour tour of the Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef from above. We attempted to find rays and sea turtles, having one successful sighting just as we approached Heart Reef, an iconic naturally occurring coral formation in the shape of a valentine heart, the perfect spot for a hopeless romantic.
Helipads could be found throughout unprotected areas of reef for those partaking in possibly the most luxurious version of scuba diving and snorkeling. Sailboats were scattered around the Coral Sea, many dropping anchor near some of the great stretches of untouched sandy beaches.
Once back on land, my afternoon was spent wandering around the grounds and stalking wallabies—the skittish marsupials reluctant to be my perfect Instagram models. Probably for the best, as a forced social media break should be mandatory for those of us addicted to likes.
I wrapped up the evening sitting on a swing outside my bungalow, gazing at a celestial brilliance only allowed by almost non-existent light pollution. This jaded and oft-angry New Yorker took a deep breath of clean air and realized the elusive mental-peace I fruitlessly attempt to attain through an abundance of therapy and binges of terrible reality television was possible all along. It’s just 10,000 miles away from home. And cut off from the outside world...
The next morning, I jumped on my last helicopter ride of the trip (and, much to my displeasure, likely the next several years of my life), headed back to Hamilton Island before catching a flight to Brisbane before beginning my long journey home, back across the international dateline.
While boarding my plane bound for the U.S., I called my mother like any good millennial would. I briefly told her about the lavish recluse life I now coveted.
Worriedly, she asked, “Are you moving to a remote island in Australia?!”
“No,” I snapped back, perhaps a little too quickly.
But wouldn’t that be nice?