First look inside $140m resort reno
DAYDREAM Island is open - with a living reef at its heart - in a spectacular $140 million rebuild of the iconic resort and a new dawn for tourism in the Whitsundays.
Two years after it was demolished by Cyclone Debbie, Daydream Island opens today to welcome the first of 500 paying guests for a fully booked Easter after a global marketing campaign.
In an exclusive sneak peek, The Courier-Mail last week visited the new resort, dotted on a 1km-long, 400m-wide island, rebuilt from its original 1960s vision of tropical paradise.
"Breathe. Relax. Unwind,'' Daydream Island general manager Dawson Tang said, of the relaunch campaign.
"It is a place to come and sit down, reset and refresh.
"And enjoy the rebirth of one of Australia's most beloved old island resorts.''
It marks a new era for the entire Whitsundays and a revival of the almost $6 billion reef tourism economy.
But it is the living reef - with angel, clown, damsel and parrot fish, manta ray, baby corals, starfish, shellfish and schools of iridescent sea life - that is the gamechanger.
It mirrors the natural wonder of the underwater world just offshore on the Great Barrier Reef.
The free-form coral lagoon wraps 200m through the heart of the 4.5 star resort and holds 1.5 million litres of water where guests can take guided snorkelling tours.
There is an underwater observatory for visitors to immerse themselves in the spectacle without getting wet.
Shanghai-based billionaire owner Zhou Chuanyou, chairman of China Capital Investment Group, saw the living reef with 100 different species of fish and corals as the ultimate drawcard.
"He believes that is a key point of difference,'' Mr Tang said.
"He also loves the Whitsundays, he thinks there is no other place like it on the planet."
CCIG bought Daydream Island and the defunct South Molle Island resort for $30m in March 2015.
Vitamin king Vaughan Bullivant plunged $50m into the resort before selling to CCIG while other notable owners included Reg Ansett and the colourful Bernie Elsey.
Cyclone Debbie, a category-four system that smashed the Whitsundays in March 2016, led to a two-year, total $140 million reconstruction by CCIG including building costs and labour hire.
Every one of 277 rooms and suites has been completely refurbished, along with three new restaurants, five bars, new swimming pools and a dazzling grand entry foyer.
"It's been a long, arduous, tough two years,'' consultant and ex-Daydream Island chief executive Scott Wilkinson said.
"We need to step away now and embrace what is new, what is good and what the future holds.
"Imagine if CCIG hadn't come along and bought the place and invested in the region?
"We've already seen it open up a huge flow-on effect into the local economy, using local suppliers in the region, passenger movements on airlines and the ferry service, and hiring 170 new staff."
The resort will likely experience some teething problems as it winds up to be fully operational.
"It's hard to open a resort from zero to 100,'' Daydream Island marketing guru Jayson Heron said.
"We've got some strong positive forward bookings, we're full over the Easter period, and we're getting about 50,000 hits a month on our website.
"There's also generations of families who've visited Daydream over the years who are keen to come back and check out the new resort."
Daydream Island has been a key part of a $1m promotional campaign on the Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef supported by Tourism Queensland.
It has also pitched to the domestic market in Australia, and overseas in the United Kingdom, United States and China.
"The Whitsundays is a jewel in our tourism crown,'' Tourism Minister Kate Jones said.
Tourism Whitsundays chief Tash Wheeler last week led a delegation heavily promoting the relaunch at the peak Australian Tourism Exchange event in Perth.
BEST THINGS TO DO ON DAYDREAM ISLAND
• Go on a guided snorkelling tour and feed some of the 100 different species of fish and
baby stingrays in the living reef
• Enjoy dreamy views over tropical gardens and coral-fringed beaches
• Hire a jetski, kayak, or paddleboard, or take a two-hour cruise to the outer Great
• Dine out on Asian fusion at Infinity restaurant, go to the interactive marketplace and live cooking stations or taste Australian native flavours
• Leave the kids in Kids Club for an hour or two and enjoy a romantic cocktail by the pool
• Hike to Honeymoon Cove and watch the sunset over the opalescent sea and "Breathe.
• Stay in upgraded hotel rooms and suites where everything has that brand-new smell and the latest in modern technology