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When in Oz: the buzziest tables to reach by boat in Australia

10 July 2024 • Written by Jennifer Johnston

Forget 34,000km of pristine coastline, the Great Barrier Reef and even the Sydney Opera House – Australia’s greatest pleasures can be found in its buzzing food and drink scene. Jennifer Johnston shares the best tables to reach by boat...

With so much coastline, it can be hard to know where to begin in Australia. Why not start, as many do, on Australia’s east coast in what is regarded by the superyacht community as the gateway to Australia: Sydney Harbour.

As one of the world’s most recognised (and much loved) harbours, Sydney has an incredible food scene. “Thanks to our huge harbour, many of the city’s best restaurants and bars are accessible from the water or only a short walk from a marina or wharf,” says Sam Higgins of Lifestyle Charters. Born and raised in Sydney, Higgins has many favourite Sydney harbourside restaurants to recommend.

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Scallops from Western Australia with crisp seaweed and bottarga, on the menu at Harrisons in Port Douglas.
Credit: Catseye Productions

For instance, at the end of Jones Bay Wharf in Pyrmont, Sala is a short stroll from any mooring. Focusing on regional flavours, the Italian restaurant is open for lunch or dinner. Throw in sensational Harbour Bridge and Barangaroo views and you can’t go wrong.

“If you’re looking for a day trip on the tender, head to Bathers’ Pavilion on Balmoral Beach for a lunch or early dinner,” Higgins suggests. Bathers’ Restaurant is a highly rated modern fine-dining restaurant with an elegant coastal dining atmosphere. Bathers’ Bistro next door is more casual. For quality modern Thai, try Betel Leaf @ Bathers’ and if the weather is nice, grab an outside table. “A refreshing swim at Castle Rock after lunch would be the perfect way to wrap up the day,” says Higgins.

Pearls Bar at the Sheraton Grand Mirage on the Gold Coast.
Courtesy of Grand Mirage Resort

A bar with a super cool city vibe, Maybe Sammy is best reached via tender at the Commissioner’s Steps, located in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art at Circular Quay. Alternatively for unbeatable views, head to the rooftop bar CIRQ in the 89-floor Crown Sydney building, accessible via the Crown Pontoon.

From Sydney, make your way north to Queensland’s Gold Coast. With 170 kilometres of navigable waterways, it’s an ideal stopover for superyachts as well as an excellent base to explore more of the east coast. Southport Spit, the sandy strip north of Surfers Paradise, is home to the upmarket Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort and the Imperial Hotel, formerly the Palazzo Versace Hotel. (The Italian fashion house decided not to renew the brand name in 2023.)

Maybe Sammy is the place for cocktails in Sydney.
Credit: Maybe Sammy
Credit: Maybe Sammy

Adjacent to these at Marina Mirage is MĀRE by La Luna Beach Club, where ocean gazing and grazing go hand in hand. Indulge in the Mediterranean beach club vibe while snacking on Med-inspired cuisine. Take advantage of the plentiful sunshine and azure blue skies, and dine al fresco, poolside, and make sure you hang around for sunset cocktails.

The Whitsunday Islands are a cluster of 74 sand and coral cays that locals claim are the true heart of the Great Barrier Reef. Hamilton Island is the largest inhabited island of the group, and its marina welcomes superyachts up to 45 metres into its aquamarine waters. On the island there’s a choice of restaurants, like Mariners Seafood Restaurant overlooking the marina, or Bommie inside the Hamilton Island Yacht Club, where you’ll find fresh, locally sourced seasonal produce.

For grand luxury and a memorable treat for the senses, head to the private resort of qualia on the secluded northern tip of Hamilton Island. Georgia Rickard, founder of storytelling agency We are George, describes arriving at qualia as “like rolling the opening credits of a Spielberg production”. In a 2023 Australian Traveller article Rickard enthuses, “If luxury is the absence of problems, perhaps qualia is the epitome of luxury.”

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Harrisons brings British flair to local ingredients.
Credit: Catseye Productions

Facilities at qualia include a private beach, two infinity edge pools, Spa qualia and two restaurants, Long Pavilion and Pebble Beach Restaurant. With a postcard-perfect outlook overlooking a white-sand beach and neighbouring islands, Pebble Beach offers modern Australian cuisine. Try cuttlefish with pearl barley, koji and braised shallot, or cured hiramasa kingfish with macadamia, nashi pear and black lime. Non-residents are welcome to dine here if there’s availability.

From the Whitsundays, set course for the seaside village of Port Douglas in Far North Queensland. Adjacent to the Coral Sea, Port Douglas has two neighbouring World Heritage-listed sites: the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest, the oldest rainforest in the world. 

David Attenborough once described the region “the most extraordinary place on earth”. (Daintree Rainforest is home to several mammals, including the green possum, tree kangaroos and the mouse-like antechinus, that can be found only here.) Every August, Taste Port Douglas, one of the country’s best food and wine festivals, takes place.

Hamilton Island hosts Long Pavilion at qualia.
Credit: Sharyn Cairns

Harrisons restaurant is just a six-minute drive from Port Douglas’ Crystalbrook Superyacht Marina. Culinary director and owner Spencer Patrick, who hails from London, landed in Melbourne in 2006. He and his partner, Reina, travelled around Australia. “We followed the sun clockwise and couldn’t believe the beauty and colours in Port Douglas,” says Patrick. The couple stayed and in 2007 opened Harrisons – named after their first child.

The Harrisons team sources seasonal Australian produce such as Daintree saltwater barramundi, Paroo Kangaroo from South Australia and citrus fruits including bush lemons and finger limes. “At Harrisons we create modern British cuisine,” Patrick explains. 

“We adapt all these amazing local ingredients into a British theme adding a luxurious twist.” Like their five-star fish and chips. “We’ll wrap a fresh line-caught coral trout in some nori and a bit of truffle. The best beer batter makes it nice and crunchy then we add hand-cut chips,” he says. Having trained for seven years with Marco Pierre White, the first British chef to be awarded three Michelin stars, Spencer Patrick has earned his culinary stripes.

Credit: Hamilton Island

Watergate Restaurant and Lounge Bar in Port Douglas is just a seven-minute stroll from the marina and has an extensive cocktail list to suit the most discerning of palates. Find a bar stool and try a Down Under, a mix of coconut and raspberry cream, cardamon, lime, vodka and Chambord.

Over on the west coast, Fremantle, at the mouth of the Swan River, is Perth’s port city and one of the world’s best-preserved 19th-century port towns. Mooring for superyachts up to 70 metres is at the Fishing Boat Harbour’s Sea Harvest Marine, which has easy access to food, drink and entertainment.

Credit: Hamilton Island

Madalena’s Bar & Restaurant in South Freo (as the locals call it) offers sustainably caught seafood. Its setting, as Gourmet Traveller puts it, is “a no-fuss, cliché-free zone whose sandstone walls and patio-style furniture say ‘neighbourhood casual’”. The upstairs bar has ocean views.

Vin Populi opened its doors on Fremantle’s historic High Street in early 2023. This stylish wine-bar-meets-restaurant serves up salumi and freshly made pasta. Fremantle sardines and octopus, both sourced from waters off the nearby harbour, and the famed western rock lobster are prized local seafood delicacies that stand out on the menu.

As Australia’s foodie scene continues to evolve and grow, there’s no doubt that more high-end establishments will challenge those on this list. If there’s one thing that’s for certain, however, it’s that the country has plenty on offer to satisfy yacht owners and their guests – particularly those with a preference for a laid-back, luxe vibe.

First published in the August 2024 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.

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