Locals the secret to Whitsundays’ success

The tuk-tuks arrive at the front reception of the Mirage Whitsundays on Saturday morning. What I assume will be a leisurely introduction to Airlie Beach quickly becomes something else entirely as Brett Jones, his wife Tania Lewis and four of their bright yellow tuk-tuks make one heck of an entrance.

Horns are tooting, belly laughs erupt and each of the tuk-tuks are decorated with colourful flowers and bright pink handlebar streamers.

Locals the secret to Whitsundays success

We all hop into Just Tukin’ Around‘s tuk-tuks as Brett begins to give us a tour of his hometown. Our first stop is the local police station where the letters “BJ 4 TS” are engraved into the cement on the footpath outside. Giggles can be heard from Tania behind us, but we’re not sure why until Brett begins telling us the story behind the engraving.

Brett and Tanya first met at a local concert sum 20-something years ago. They shared a kiss and lovingly engraved their initials right outside the local station.

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“And I got a root that night!” he says as laughter erupts around us once more.

“Woohoo!” he screams as we wind through the pathways by Shute Harbour.

Locals secret to Whitsundays success

This is no ordinary tour of Airlie Beach but it is a sure-fire way to meet the locals and get a real sense of how this coastal community works.

Read more: It’s never been more important to visit this part of Australia

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Brett waves to someone he knows every 100m or so. One is a cousin, another a barista from the local coffee shop.

“She made my coffee this morning!” he calls as we pass a woman by walking her dog.

The beaches in the Whitsundays are world-renowned, the rainforests are gorgeous and the coral reefs are colourful and inviting, but if there’s one thing worth travelling to the region for, it’s the locals.

A week after visiting the region, after the unfortunate arrival of Cyclone Debbie, a familiar face popped up on the telly. It was the co-owner of one of the Whitsundays’ favourite restaurants, Fish D’vine’s, life of the party, Kev Collins. He was doing what he does best, feeding the public but this time it was while the region was cut off from electricity, water and other bare essentials.

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Just a few days prior we had sipped at his bar and enjoyed his locally-sourced seafood.

Opened in 2004, Fish D’vine and the Rum Bar has become a local institution, and after visiting the place, it’s easy to see why.

Kev bursts into a room with as much energy as a fish flapping out of the ocean at the end of a rod. You’ll never see him without his Mount Gay cap, chatting to diners and drinkers alike, ensuring good memories are being created at his busy tables.

The locally-sourced seafood is a dream and you simply must order the Seafood Indulgence platter. For $149, this two-tiered feast is a mix of local hot and cold seafood morsels, including mud crab, bugs, tiger prawns, oysters, smoked salmon and more. Head along with a group of friends, or a partner or friend and devour some of the best seafood you’ll ever eat in the country.

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Read more: Retirees caught up in Cyclone Debbie ordeal

And if you think a simple glass of wine will do with dinner, think again, because this is a rum bar, after all. Make your way to the bar and order yourself what has been named the world’s best mojito. There’s a laminated article on the counter for you to take a look at, just in case you needed convincing.

Kev regularly writes about his own fishing adventures on his blog Bait to Plate, but the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie has stopped that, for now.

“This was not just another cyclone. It was the 1 in 100-year monster nobody thought would ever hit us,” Kev recalls.

“I have a few trips in the camera and had a few stories in the pipeline but everything has been overwhelmed by what happened on 27th March. A day now carved into Whitsunday history,” he says.

We can only hope that Kev, Brett and other local businesses are back on their feet in no time, because it’s the locals that make a place, after all.

Have you been to the Whitsundays? Who were some of the locals you met while you were there? Let us know all about your trip in the comments section below.

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