There’s nothing like dazzling white powder-soft sand between your toes, crystal clear sapphire-coloured waters, kaleidoscopic displays of coral and tropical fish, and uninhabited islands to explore.
From the romantic Heart Reef to whiter than white Whitehaven Beach, there’s nowhere quite like the Whitsunday Islands. Aussies get a dreamy, faraway look in their eyes at the mention of it.
Basking in the sun midway along the Queensland coast – this group of 74 islands is bordered by the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and cradled by the calm and sheltered waters of the Coral Sea. With only eight inhabited, it’s the perfect place to find your own Robinson Crusoe moment.
Formed millions of years ago, when rising sea levels transformed a coastal mountain range into islands surrounded by an aquamarine sea, the name was bestowed on Australia’s largest group of offshore islands by Captain Cook who sailed through the passage on Whitsunday in 1770.
One of the best ways to soak up the sun-drenched beauty of this island paradise is to make like Cook and sail away onboard a chartered catamaran or yacht. You can skipper one yourself and head off into the sunset; or for out-and-out film star treatment, hire one with a crew and visit a different island or reef each day. The Whitsunday’s jewel in the crown is famous Whitehaven Beach, seven kilometres of spectacular white silica sand and one of the most photographed beaches in Australia.
If you want to stay in one spot, you can spend the night on a moored pontoon at Fantasea Reefworld and watch the reef come alive. There’s an underwater observatory, glass bottom boat and coral semi-submersible for those who choose to keep dry.
While snorkelling, diving and swimming are the main reasons for visiting, if you prefer to keep your feet on terra firma, there are plenty of forest walking trails where you can spot the blue flash of a Ulysses butterfly, smell lemon myrtle flowers in summer and hear the doves coo. The Whitsunday Great Walk through majestic tropical rainforest or Ngaro Sea Trail offer a different perspective on this watery playground.
Once you’ve emerged barefoot from a helicopter or seaplane onto a dazzling white beach with a picnic basket full of gourmet treats and champagne, or gazed down on Heart Reef from the air, you’ll have little left to tick off your romantic wish list. That’s probably why the Whitsundays is the site of more proposals and honeymoons per square metre than anywhere else in Australia.
Accommodation ranges from budget properties through to family-style resorts and high-end luxury retreats. Then there’s the partying: colourful, cosmopolitan Airlie Beach is the gateway to the islands and chocked with restaurants, buzzing beer gardens, clubs and heady good times.
The closest point off the coast to one of the seven natural wonders of the world, talcum powder white sands and clear blue waters full of marine life – that’s why the Whitsundays are an Australian icon.