Among the azure seas between Mackay and Bowen, swim the islands of the majestic Whitsunday National Park. A paradise for boaties, fishers and lovers of the outdoors, it also caters to those who enjoy luxuriating in tropical resorts.
Daydream is a small island about 1km long and 300m wide, situated among the Molle group of the Whitsunday Islands. It features one of the closest island resorts to the mainland towns of Shute Harbour and Airlie Beach.
It has been used for tourist visits since the 1930s, though it was not till the late 1980s that it was developed with facilities of an international standard, and in the 2000s it began to resemble what we see today.
Visitors to Daydream Island are often families (especially during school holidays), though it comfortably caters to couples and other groups.
What to expect
What most expect from island resorts are comfortable modern accommodations, extensive pools with swim-up bars and tasteful restaurants serving modern cuisine, and various activities, coordinated by the resort.
Daydream delivers on this and is divided into north and south, with all the resort accommodations and restaurants and newer facilities at the northern end.
The southern end of the island is mainly used for staff accommodations and was once where day trippers would visit. It has some older pools, some disused restaurant and shop buildings, and a giant chessboard, among other things. It’s used for outdoor water activities when the weather is favourable at this end (during the summer months).
Things to do at Daydream Island
Free activities such as pools, snorkelling, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, Hobie cat sailing and an outdoor movie theatre are split between the two zones, with two walking tracks connecting them.
The Rainforest Walk is an intermediate, relatively short (15 – 20min) walking track through bushland over the ridge of the island and offers some nice views toward the mainland at points.
The other walk is flat and wide along the eastern shore and looks toward South Molle Island.
Water activities, including sailing small Hobie catamarans, stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking, are available when the winds and tides are suitable. In winter, as the prevailing winds blow from the south and east, these activities are often hosted at the northern end of the island.
When we visited during the winter School Holiday, a family-friendly movie was shown at the outdoor theatre around 7 pm each evening. The wallabies emerging from the darkness to graze among the moviegoers add excitement for kids.
There is also a small kids play area, and a tennis and soccer court down at the south end, however, at the time we visited in mid-2023, the courts were pretty dilapidated.
The Living Reef
At the north, the feature that sets Daydream apart from its island competitors is The Living Reef – a huge 1.5 million litre artificial lagoon system, which is the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, which wends around the main reception and dining area of the resort, under and around boardwalks.
Within it are hundreds of reef fish, stingrays and some small sharks who swim among the artificial currents created as the water is completely refreshed every 6 hours, pumped in from the sea.
With clearer water and a wider variety of species than one can expect to find snorkelling in most places within the Whitsundays, The Living Reef offers a high quality and predictable experience to visitors when often the real thing – especially around the islands – cannot.
Viewing the coral and wildlife within The Living Reef isn’t an exclusive privilege of snorkellers either, because there are various viewing windows to see under the water without ever getting your feet wet.
One window is quite large and located 3-4 metres below the surface in a comfortable carpeted room that doubles as a yoga studio. While we didn’t do any downward dogs among the dogfish ourselves, it would be a unique and serene way to unwind.
Various experiences can be purchased, from spending 3 hours as a “Reef Ranger” playing assistant to the marine biologists, feeding the fish and participating in demonstrations, to snorkelling and hand-feeding the stingrays.
This is not only a high-quality and fun experience for beginners in controlled conditions, but it’s also educational thanks to the highly knowledgeable in-house experts.
For a free snorkel, head to Lovers Cove where you can try your luck at spotting a blue-spotted lagoon ray, and various species of fish. The coral, it has to be said, is not what it used to be here, and the strong currents mean that visibility is never great underwater in the Whitsundays. At sunset, there’s a bar here and delicious views northwest as the skies turn pink and bathe the beach in orange light.
Resort dining at Daydream
If dry land is more your cup of tea, then you can enjoy a beverage or breakfast with the crows and charismatic stone curlews (a.k.a. “thick-knees”), who frequent some of the dining areas and reception halls, scowling at all the human interlopers.
The wallabies everywhere are variously tame and don’t mind kids coming to pat them or in some cases, a cuddle, on your way here or there. And while it seems like a sideshow to the main event, it’s this experience our 10-year-old kids recount most fondly.
The two restaurants are located at the island’s northern end, one above the other. Infinity is a sophisticated Asian restaurant on the upper floor with 270º wrap-around views toward South, Mid and North Molle Islands.
Downstairs is Inkstone, a casual Mediterranean restaurant serving woodfired pizza, pasta, fish dishes, steak and gourmet burgers by the pool. Inkstone also offers takeaway for those who want to eat by the pool or in their room.
It’s a good idea to book a table ahead of your visit if you’re there during peak seasons, mainly so you can choose when you want to eat, rather than compromise by eating at 5 pm or waiting till a late sitting.
Who does Daydream suit?
Daydream is not a top-end resort, however, neither does it feel down at heel. While the accommodation and facilities are not quite as shiny and new as they were 4 years ago upon reopening after cyclone Debbie savaged it in 2017, they are still of a good standard.
While we were there during school holidays when it was extremely popular with families, it would make a pleasant romantic escape for couples or a comfortable corporate retreat at other times.
There is even a little chapel sporting spectacular views through an oversized plate-glass window for those wishing to host a wedding and reception.
As with many resorts, bringing your food or drink is not allowed, and you will pay over the odds for these at the resort. However, the nature of shipping everything on and off an island necessitates a premium. The quality of meals will not leave you feeling too hard done by.
Visiting by boat
Yachties are not welcome for day trips or to use the restaurants and facilities, as they once were. One must be staying at the resort to enjoy these, and there are a few marina berths in the small harbour for those folk bringing their boat. If those are occupied, several private moorings run by the resort can be booked (ring at least 24 hrs in advance).