On course for a real treat
PICTURE the Whitsundays and probably what comes to mind are images of blue waters, islands rising out of the ocean, white sands and luxury accommodation.
Now imagine a holiday where what you see is irrelevant - one where the focus is on your ability to smell and then taste and savour a range of culinary masterpieces.
This dynamic area of Queensland has begun marketing itself as a destination for serious foodies.
I spent three days in this exquisite spot and almost all the focus was on the food.
Our first stop was at Daydream Island and Spa, which for years has been providing the perfect destination for families or couples needing to unwind.
The resort is spread across the small island, only a short ferry trip from Airlie Beach.
There is so much to do on Daydream that food might seem insignificant.
That is until after a day of swimming in the massive pools, snorkelling off Lover's Cove or enjoying the free non-motorised watersports.
Then food becomes very important and Daydream won't disappoint, particularly for seafood lovers.
About 6.30pm, the boat comes in off the reef bearing fresh fish to be cooked for the evening meal.
There are a range of dining options, but don't miss signature restaurant Mermaids.
Each dish was cooked and prepared to surpass expectation.
Next on our itinerary was a visit to Airlie Beach on the mainland where we were booked into the newly opened Peppers Coral Coast Resort and Spa.
To ensure a fabulous food experience beyond the ordinary, Peppers has combined with MasterChef Australia.
This means you can sit down and expect to experience the kind of food the professionals prepare on the popular television series.
Our three-course meal with executive chef Greg Devine was no exception and the Valrohna Chocolate Lovers' Plate … words wouldn't do it justice.
Just think of a pot filled of rich, decadent pure chocolate and you'll have some idea.
It's fabulous going to a restaurant and eating a meal prepared for you in a kitchen with ingredients you don't even see, but Airlie Beach has recognised the value in introducing people to the products on their plate before the meal begins.
Hence the Localvore tour.
Organised once a month by Capers restaurant, this guided bus tour takes in four local farms where you'll get to see the food you'll later enjoy eating.
The tour combines picking lettuce at the Whitsunday hydroponic lettuce farm, admiring the amazing display of fruit and trees at Dave's to picking lemon myrtle from an open field and then finishes at Beefallo and Berkshire where you'll see the happiest beefallo and pigs you could ever hope to eat ... oops ... meet.
There is more to the tour than just seeing the produce.
Locals who introduce their speciality add a whole new flavour to the experience.
The tour takes about two hours and then finishes at Capers with a superb meal incorporating the foods seen.
This is a fantastic excursion that opens your eyes to the value of farming. That it only costs $69, including the bus trip, scones, tea a two-course meal and a glass of wine, is amazing.
Another culinary experience not to be missed is the Sunday afternoon long-lunch at Deja Vu.
For $44.50, you eat eight courses over five hours while overlooking Airlie Beach and enjoying live music and good company.
I could take a page to write about each course, but one just cannot go unmentioned: the pizza, with wild bore, broccoli and popcorn.
After two days of over-indulgence, some of us were struggling to think of more food.
But the tour organisers saved the best for last: Hayman Island.
This newly re-opened piece of paradise needs little introduction. It deserves every one of its five stars and could probably do with a few more added on. What could be Hayman's best- kept secret is in the kitchen at the Chef's Table.
For a price, executive chef Glenn Bacon will prepare a special meal for a small group of people.
It does cost about $240 per person, but I promise you every mouthful is priceless.
Chef Bacon introduces each of his courses and the island wine expert specifically chooses the perfect spirit from his vast cellar to accompany each course.
The portions aren't big, but they are just right and are to be consumed slowly, appreciating the detail in the preparation.
Each course is worthy of writing about, but I'm going to skip down to the fourth item on the menu: the Grainge fillet carpet bag.
It's not only the food that was sublime, the presentation was unsurpassed.
This dish was served under what looked to be a massive flower vase. Chef Bacon had the honour of lifting the "vase" so the aroma of the meat could quickly surface and saturate your nostrils.
I was hooked and I hadn't even had a bite.
That course was good. And then he brought the Frozen Hayman sloe gin martini, served in its own ice-castle.
Apparently they fill balloons with water, hang them in the deep freeze, pop the balloon and then carefully create a hole in which the ice-cream is inserted and then delivered to your table.
As you eat the ice-cream, the ice surrounding it slowly melts away.
An incredible experience.
But it got better.
Next on the menu was the strawberry cheesecake implosion. Didn't sound too impressive and I was unexcited when an orange-sized white ball was placed in front of me.
Then chef Bacon came around with a red sauce (sorry, couldn't tell you what it was) and in front of me my white chocolate ball imploded to reveal the strawberry cheesecake hidden within.
If that wasn't enough, the cheesecake was filled with space bubble stuff: you know, the candy kids love because it crackles in your mouth. I have never, ever eaten anything like it. But I would travel to Hayman Island purely to experience the Chef's Table again.
Plan a foodie holiday in the Whitsundays and you'll be grateful from the bottom of your gut.