Powered by the Sun, Escape, 7 May 2019
It’s a typical tropical scene where the palm-fringed curve of the bay is echoed by 10 beachfront thatched villas with matching sun lounges serenaded by the sound of a gentle ocean.
However, there is nothing typical about the rooftop solar hot water systems glistening in the sun, the banks of solar panels that flash on the beyond carbon-neutral Whitsunday resort’s edge, or the big green water tanks beside the back door.
This is Elysian Retreat, and its Sojourn Retreats owners, Wayne and Laureth Rumble, believe it is the first luxury Great Barrier Reef resort that is entirely solar powered.
The island’s central hub is the guest lounge and bar with an attached open-view kitchen.
Nestled on the secluded southern point of Long Island, the 3ha eco-luxe resort has been designed to minimise its environmental footprint. The luxury spa, hi-tech commercial kitchen, infinity magnesium swimming pool, and rooms kitted out with televisions, bar fridges, coffee machines and airconditioning, are all powered by renewable energy backed by battery storage.
There is a generator on standby, but apart from a monthly maintenance run, it is purely for show.
The Rumbles cut their sustainability teeth on tiny Pumpkin Island, another Sojourn Retreats property on the Southern Great Barrier Reef near Yeppoon. Dubbed Australia’s Most Sustainable Hotel in last year’s Boutique Hotel Awards, Pumpkin Island is a private, self-catering escape surrounded by sea beauty.
Wayne’s chance spotting of a liquidation sale advertisement for the Cyclone Debbie-ravaged Paradise Bay Eco Resort was the spark that inspired Elysian Retreat.
New synthetic thatch on villa roofs lowers the internal room temperature by 10degC.
“I saw an ad while on a family holiday in August 2017 at Mt Buller,” he says. “All my extended family members rolled their eyes at the idea of us taking on another resort with two small children and also running Pumpkin Island.
“We drove up to Airlie Beach and hired a boat to look at the resort. It was a shock to see the destruction caused by Cyclone Debbie. It looked like a bomb had gone off and the decks were like waves. Everyone took lots of photos, but we decided it was all too much to take on.
“Then, just as we were leaving the bay, I stopped the boat and looked back on the picture of the rainforest with birds flying over the blue water and decided there was something in it.
“The backdrop of Long Island National Park was beautiful. It’s the Great Barrier Reef on your doorstep.”
Crafting Elysian from the remnants of the Paradise Bay resort required a hard renovation of the villas with the installation of doors and windows to replace fly-screened openings. New synthetic thatch was applied to the roofs, a move that immediately lowered the internal room temperature by 10C. The decor is relaxed, bohemian coastal chic with lots of raw and reclaimed timber.
Bright and fresh feels in a villa interior at Elysian Retreat.
Whimsical macrame swings encourage guests to reignite youthful memories and nurture their inner child. A private outdoor shower and daybed on the private, enclosed rear deck of the four deluxe oceanfront villas invite outdoor relaxation.
The island’s central hub is the guest lounge and bar with an attached open-view kitchen. It feels like you are dining in someone’s luxury home, but you never have to do the dishes.
Chef Josh Beckett lets his imagination roam, with the menu including a breakfast bowl recreation of the island. The mix of fruit, oats and a blob of caramel is surrounded by a bright blue “sea” that Josh creates using coconut milk coloured with dehydrated blueberries.
Elysian’s menu is based on seafood caught in the Whitsundays supplemented by goods ordered via Airlie Beach and served with Australian flavours such as finger limes and bush tomatoes.
All the enchantment of Long Island National Park.
What you don’t see here are the new cables and underground pipes which lead to the septic system, which is all part of the island’s sustainability focus and Wayne’s passion for renewable power. He has installed a 45kW solar system with plans for another 30kW in stage two, if needed.
“We draw about nine kilowatts an hour and the batteries can last for two days without the generator kicking in,” Wayne says.
While it is tempting to spend your time alternating between the veranda swings or lazing around the pool, paddleboards and a glass-bottom kayak invite closer inspection of the shallow waters of Paradise Bay, while snorkelling equipment enables expeditions that reveal the bay’s sea creatures. Yoga instructor Petri Anne van Dijk will create a session to suit your downward dog abilities or offer guided meditation.
Not a bad way to finish the day at Elysian.
It’s all about immersion in the environment and disconnection from daily routines, helped by sketchy internet coverage, except at the main guest lounge area. If you need any help relaxing, a visit to the Ayurveda-inspired day spa will do the trick.
Off-island adventures can include a boat trip to the Whitsundays’ most photographed beach, Whitehaven, with a swim followed by a gourmet picnic lunch. Then go snorkelling on nearby Chalkies Beach.
This adults-only resort is an antidote to modern stress that’s also kind to the environment.