The Whitsunday Islands is a group of 74 islands bordered by the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and the sheltered waters of the Coral Sea. With palm-fringed secluded white sand beaches surrounded by clear blue waters, the Whitsunday Islands are the epitome of a tropical paradise.
Formed millions of years ago, the name was given to Australia’s largest group of offshore islands by Captain Cook, who sailed through the passage on Whitsunday in 1770.
The traditional owners of the Whitsunday Islands were called the Ngaro, and are among the earliest recorded Aboriginal groups in Australia. The Whitsunday Ngaro Sea Trail, which connects South Molle, Hook and Whitsunday Islands, follows in their ancient footsteps.
Some islands are little more than a strip of finely crushed coral sand, held together by the roots of a single palm tree. Others are home to luxurious resorts. The Whitsunday Islands are the romantic destination of more wedding proposals and honeymoons per square metre than anywhere else in Australia.
One of the best ways to soak up the sun-drenched beauty of this island paradise is to sail onboard a self-skippered or crewed catamaran or yacht, visiting a different island or reef each day. Boats charters depart from Airlie Beach or Shute Harbour.
The largest island, Whitsunday Island, is also the site of Whitehaven Beach, a seven kilometre stretch of deserted white sand. It’s one of the most photographed beaches in Australia. Fly over iconic Heart Reef, landing nearby to enjoy snorkelling in the privacy of your own remote coral atoll.
Daydream Island is one of the closest of the Whitsunday Island resorts to the coast. Unique to the island is a man-made outdoor aquarium, the Living Reef, where you can hand feed the resident stingrays, sharks and barramundi fish.
Hamilton Island is the only island in the Great Barrier Reef with its own jet airport. Its is home to a range of accommodation options but none surpasses qualia, voted Best Resort in the World in the 2012 Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards. Board a helicopter for a round of heli-golf on nearby Dent Island, Australia’s only championship island golf course. In May each year Hamilton Island comes alive with million dollar yachts for Hamilton Island Race Week.
Hayman Island is the most northerly of the Whitsunday Islands. Its private five-star resort is one of the most awarded in Australia. It’s a popular spot for both guests and day visitors.
Hook Island and South Molle Island are much less developed, and mostly covered by national parks. On Hook Island you’ll find breathtaking lookouts and several Aboriginal cave shelters along the island’s walking tracks. The Pinnacles, just off Hook Island, is renowned as one of the best dive sites in the Whitsundays. The closest island to the mainland is Long Island. It’s a wonder to explore filled with walking tracks and plenty of wildlife.
You can even sleep on the reef on a purpose-built pontoon and watch it come alive at night from the comfort of an underwater observatory.
Once you’ve explored the islands from land and water, take to the air in a seaplane or helicopter and see their aquamarine beauty from a completely different perspective.