Exploring the Whitsundays
The 74 islands collectively known as the Whitsundays are located in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, off the central Queensland coast around 630kms south of Cairns.
Day trips to the Whitsundays are readily available from Airlie Beach, but to really make the most of your time here it’s worth spending a couple of nights on one of the islands. Hamilton Island offers a variety of accommodation options to suit all tastes and budgets; my favourite is the adults-only Beach Club, with just 57 rooms and direct access on to Catseye Beach.
An undoubted highlight of my stay on Hamilton was a scenic helicopter flight, circling over the much-photographed Heart Reef before making our way to Whitsunday Island. The largest island of the archipelago, Whitsunday is best known for the jaw-dropping Whitehaven Beach, a dazzling white stretch of silica sand fringed by impossibly turquoise water. From the helicopter we could see stingrays swimming in the shallows and just a handful of visitors wandering off into the trees. Whilst there’s no coral off Whitehaven you may see rays, turtles and soldier crabs, and the short walk up One Tree Hill is rewarded with spectacular views.
If it’s coral you’re after, there’s plenty to be found around some of the other Whitsunday Islands such as Daydream or Dumbbell. Alternatively take a cruise to the Outer Reef, where you can spend a full day exploring an incredible underwater world. The reef is accessible to all, whether you choose to dive or snorkel, or stay dry on a semi-submersible boat. On our snorkelling excursion we were lucky enough to see a white-tipped reef shark and a couple of turtles, as well as thousands of brightly coloured fish weaving their way through endless coral gardens.
Back at Hamilton Island a wealth of other activities are available, including a variety of watersports, tennis, bowling, meeting the marsupials at the island’s wildlife park or enjoying a range of relaxing spa treatments. Explore the island by golf buggy or tackle the steep hike up to Passage Peak – set an early alarm to enjoy breathtaking views over the Whitsundays as the sun rises.
Getting to the Whitsundays
You can fly direct to Hamilton Island Airport from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Cairns, with Jetstar, Virgin Australia or Qantas. Helicopters can be organised from Mackay, Proserpine and Airlie Beach. Regular ferries service the main resort islands, including Hamilton, throughout the day from Airlie Beach on the mainland. A wealth of multi-day sailing trips and day cruises are also available from Airlie.
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