10 things you didn't know about the Whitsundays
You know it has great beaches, resorts and the Great Barrier Reef at its doorstep. But do you know everything you need to about this Queensland island destination? We bust some commonly held myths.
- December 2019
Famous for white sand beaches and colourful coral reefs, this archipelago of dreamy islands is also home to lush rainforests and enticing man-made attractions.
Islands have closed in the Whitsundays
When Cyclone Debbie tore through the Whitsundays in 2017, she certainly made her mark. Hotels and resorts were left with huge clean-up bills and some were forced to close for renovations. But there’s never been a more exciting time for the region – 2019 has seen a roll-call of re-openings, including the family-friendly Daydream Island, InterContinental Hayman Island Resort and the Elysian Eco Retreat on Long Island.
Airlie Beach is just for backpackers
Magnums might still beat as the bunk-bed heart of Airlie Beach but the town has matured into a great destination for couples and families. New accommodation options like Freedom Shores Resort pair Instagrammable digs – hello, boat-shaped cabins – with dining good enough to make you want to stay in. Meanwhile, the Big4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort has its own water park with 13 slides.
There is nothing to do but lie on the beach
While there are myriad places to relax, there are just as many walking trails that offer another way to explore the coast. Warm up on the Border Island track, which climbs steeply from Cateran Bay and saunters along the island’s “saddle”. On the mainland is the Conway Circuit, a 28-kilometre trek that takes three days. For hard-core action, enter the Hamilton Island Triathlon or Hilly Half Marathon.
It’s geared for honeymooners
With 74 islands in the archipelago, there are plenty of places to explore beyond the romantic hotspots. Recently reopened Daydream Island is the ultimate family destination, with interconnecting rooms and its reinvigorated “Living Reef” – an ocean-fed aquarium where marine biologists lead snorkelling tours. Hamilton Island is also set up for families, with free “By Request” items such as highchairs and jogger prams. And, for a Bear Grylls-style adventure, book a campsite in the national park from AUD $6.55 per person per night or join an expedition with Salty Dog Sea Kayaking.
The food scene is not great
With amazing seafood, local coffee and Australian game on the menu, the Whitsundays is a lure for food lovers. Enjoy casual fare at The Garden Bar Bistro at Coral Sea Marina and Northerlies in Woodwark or dive into the tasting menu at Qualia’s hatted Pebble Beach.
It can be dangerous to swim in the ocean
Stingers. Sharks. It’s true that there has been some bad press recently but incidents are rare and, with the right precautions, there’s no reason not to enjoy the Whitsundays’ spectacular underwater world. Guest safety is of the utmost concern for all tourism operators and staff in the region – as long as you heed their advice, including the best places to swim, and respect the environment, it is perfectly safe to take a dip.
You can only visit with a tour group
Yes, day trips are a great way to explore the region but you don’t have to join a tour. One of the best modes for independent travel is to charter a boat with Go Bareboating. Can’t tell port from starboard? No matter; you don’t even need a boat licence. After a quick 101 and some hands-on help to get to know your vessel, you’ll be cruising confidently into the sunset. Alternatively, Cruise Whitsundays’ Reefsleep offers exclusive overnight access to Hardy Reef, with double swags provided, so you can sleep above the fishes and under the stars.
And three things that are actually true
A heart-shaped reefs, the world’s best beach and whales – three more great reasons to visit the Whitsundays.
There is a reef in the shape of a heart and a flight over Heart Reef is top of the to-do list for most Whitsundays visitors. You can fly by helicopter to Heart Island pontoon for a glass-bottom boat tour and snorkelling in a nearby lagoon. Only six guests on a champagne budget are allowed though.
Whitehaven, with seven kilometres of 98 per cent pure white silica sand is regularly voted one of the world’s best beaches. Swim in the clear waters or head to Hill Inlet lookout to take in its beauty. A 20-kilometre walking track to the summit of Whitsunday Craig, the fourth-highest peak on the island, is now being built.
And if you like whale-watching, thousands of humpback whales come to the warm waters of the Whitsundays to give birth between June and September. It’s impossible to guarantee their location but those with a keen eye will easily spot whales from their balcony or boat charter – even the newborns are about four metres long and weigh around two tonnes.
Here’s why a long weekend in Tropical North Queensland should be on your radar.