Tropical treat at fraction of the cost
When most people think of the Whitsundays, the first thing that comes to mind is Airlie Beach, Hamilton Island and Whitehaven Beach.
While they supply plenty of the postcard- perfect images of gorgeous white sands and palm-lined oceans, one of the region's best-kept secrets is just a short drive north.
You'll find Bowen about 40 minutes from Airlie Beach.
You may have heard the town mentioned as a filming location for the 2008 Hollywood hit Australia starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, but as far as bucket-list tropical holiday destinations go, it barely makes it on to the radar.
It should - Bowen is breathtaking.
Take away the crowded beaches and tourists competing for adventures and activities and you have a sleepy town with the most incredible crystal-clear waters and fringing reefs. The beaches are a series of little coves, peppered with palm trees but barely a soul in sight.
It's hard to believe this town is not overrun with tourists, but that's part of its appeal.
There is not an abundance of tour operators or activities on offer, with many visitors content to park themselves on a white sandy beach with a cold drink, a good book and the warm sun.
With direct flights from eastern capital cities to Proserpine and then a short drive up the highway, Bowen is relatively easy to get to. Being a smaller regional location that flies under the radar, prices are appealing to the budget traveller, without missing out on the Whitsunday experience.
There is everything from a Big 4 Holiday Park to luxury beachside apartments such as Coral Cove or Rose Bay Resort.
Your next big decision will be where to plant your beach towel.
As one of the only places in the Whitsundays with fringing reef, you can literally snorkel straight off the beach and explore the vivid corals and fish of the Great Barrier Reef without having to get in a boat.
There are eight main beaches in Bowen to choose from. Horseshoe Bay is probably the busiest, with enormous granite boulders protecting the sand and a breezy cafe.
Murrays Beach, Grays Beach and Rose Bay are also protected and just as beautiful, with the bonus of drawing less of a crowd. Rose Bay affords particularly incredible views east to Gloucester Island. Loaded with palm trees, this picturesque spot is a must-visit for sunrise snaps.
Once you've finished working on your tan, tackle one of the many coastal walks that boast breathtaking views, including some that are wheelchair and pram friendly. A favourite is the 2.6km track from Hanson Park to Horseshoe Bay.
Or drive up to Flagstaff Hill for a panorama of the region that extends out to the islands. The many vantages enable you to watch the sun both rise and set over the ocean. Beaches brimming with palms, backed by skies of rich gold tones transforming to vibrant pinks as the light changes, will delight photographers.
One of the biggest surprises in Bowen is its amazing eateries - not at all what you would expect from what is, at heart, a country town.
The local pub, the Grand View Hotel, has been family-owned since 1919. This old Queenslander building has undergone a modern makeover, acknowledging its heritage through walls lined with pictures and memorabilia. The chefs use fresh local produce to create contemporary, sophisticated meals.
For breakfast and lunch, three local sisters have created a warm, friendly cafe around a florist shop at Le Sorelle Coffee House, serving their own decadent homemade fudge. The food I sampled rivals what you'd enjoy in any trendy Sydney or Melbourne establishment, but with that big country welcome feel.
Another must-try is Birds Fish Bar at the marina. Sit outside by the marina and enjoy one of their seafood platters with the best of everything from our blue backyard.
They're not licensed, but you are welcome to take along your own beer or wine to complete the picture.
It may be a cliche, but don't leave town without visiting the Big Mango for a selfie - it'd be un-Australian. While there, I sampled the most delicious sorbet made from pureed frozen local mango.
Need one more reason to visit Bowen?
While the southern states are freezing their tails off, this tropical haven is enjoying calm, warm winter sunshine. It's the perfect time of year to organise a getaway to a Whitsunday paradise.
For more, go to Jules Ingall Photography or Tourism Bowen on Instagram or Facebook.