While our 2018 visit to the Whitsundays has been a brief one to date, we have already seen some of Cyclone Debbie’s destruction and the its lingering consequences.
We stopped at Hamilton Island to re-provision, to South Molle Island for a walk to the lookout and we are now anchored off Gloucester Island, a favourite spot and the location of the infamous Shaggers Rendezvous. We are on the way to Magnetic Island for a few weeks before we return to the Whitsundays later this month.
Hamilton Island looked great. The palms looked healthy, the gardens immaculate and the buildings looked the same, from afar. However, when you looked more closely, many rooves and window frames had been replaced and there was a scattering of building scaffolding where work was still underway. We learnt from a bus driver that the majority of private residences haven’t been restored yet and one of the original high-rise buildings was completely closed with boarded up balconies. The condominiums around the marina waterfront had been completely gutted and were still in the process of being refurbished. The accommodation options for tourists, we were told, were way down. However, with Hamilton Island Race Week festivities coming up in August, there was lots of rebuilding and maintenance activity all over the island.
We then motored to the nearby South Molle Island for a National Park walk to the lookout. The lookout is high on the bluff that overlooks Whitsunday Passage, a favourite trail of the humpback whales. National Parks look after the tracks on the island and it is a great walk to the top. No whales today though.
What a sad and sorry sight South Molle was. This island has a special place in our memory. South Molle was the first island we visited on our first trip to the Whitsundays back in 1987 on our first yacht. We sat around the rectangular pool (with lap lines), enjoying a seafood smorgasbord, with a Hawaiian band playing ‘island’ music in the background. We were in “paradise”!
Now the resort is a pile of debris. The buildings have all but fallen to the ground, with broken windows, ceilings falling in, overgrown vegetation, a green damaged pool littered with debris and a twisted and collapsing jetty. This resort has changed hands many times with the previous owner running it as a backpacker hostel. Shortly before Cyclone Debbie, a Chinese consortium who already owned the nearby Daydream Island, purchased South Molle Island. Now they are spending their money restoring Daydream Island which was also damaged by Debbie. What will happen to this island?
South Molle’s tragedy is only one of many in the Whitsundays. Island resorts on Brampton Island, Daydream Island, Long Island, Hook Island and Lindeman Island were all closed before Cyclone Debbie but now they have all been totally destroyed. The Hayman and Daydream Island resorts were operating before the cyclone and are both due to reopen.