[hr]It’s an internationally renowned tourism icon, but we’re lucky enough to have Australia’s tropical paradise, the Whitsundays, right on our doorstep. [hr]
Lying along the Queensland coast, and dotted with hundreds of tropical islands, the Whitsundays provide an experience that will remain unforgettable. In the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, lie the 74 magnificent islands of the Whitsundays waiting for you to indulge.
Named by Lt James Cook in 1770, the Whitsunday islands are the largest group of offshore islands in Australia. The region’s sparkling azure seas, cradled by the Great Barrier Reef, are dotted with an array of national park islands, coral cays, fringing coral reefs and stunning beaches, offering a veritable feast of indulgent experiences all within a short distance of each other.
By far the majority of the Whitsunday islands are designated national park, leaving them uninhabited and in their purest natural state for all to enjoy. Of the 74, eight islands are inhabited with island resorts offering a range of accommodation and attractions.
The Whitsunday Coast is a cosmopolitan and inviting peninsula that stretches from the central town of Airlie Beach to stunning and secluded beaches along the coastline and inland to picturesque hinterland. The beauty of the Whitsunday Coast is diverse, colourful and plentiful.
Airlie Beach provides the ideal mainland base and is the perfect launching pad for activities on the water. The town centre has recently undergone a $23 million upgrade and is now looking modern, refreshed and alive. Stroll through the shops, enjoy a relaxing day at the Airlie Beach lagoon and indulge in the many foodie delights around town.
Inland from Airlie Beach is Proserpine, a typical Australian country town offering traditional country hospitality. The town boasts excellent boutique shopping and a museumproviding visitors with a comprehensive record of the region’s history. Next door, you will find the Whitsunday Region Information Centre where you can plan your Whitsundays adventure.
To the north, Bowen is a sleepy seaside town which boasts seven beautiful beaches that retain their unpopulated charm. Bowen is the home of the Bowen Mango and is also Queensland’s oldest town. Grab some mango sorbet at the Big Mango, take a guided walk of Bowen’s murals depicting the history of the town’s early settlement, and explore the history behind Bowen at the Catalina memorial. Take a swim at one of the beaches, go snorkelling at Horseshoe Bay and drop a line at the jetty on Santa Barbara Parade. Finish your day off with some fresh local seafood at a local beach whilst the sun is setting on the horizon.
THE GREAT BARRIER REEF
The Whitsundays lie at the centre of the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s seven natural wonders and the only living structure visible from space. Stretching over 2,500km in length, the Great Barrier Reef protects the Whitsundays from ocean swells, providing the region with calm, protected waters in which to enjoy this aquatic wonderland. A large variety of day and overnight tours depart to the Great Barrier Reef each day.
The Whitsunday islands and coast all have fringing reefs of coral gardens, with abundant marine life to explore. At some beaches it is possible to walk straight into the water to snorkel and scuba dive among thousands of species of brightly coloured fish and brilliantly coloured corals. You are also likely to spot humpback whales, dolphins, turtles and dugong.
IN THE HEART OF THE REEF
Heart Reef is a beautiful composition of coral that has naturally formed into the shape of a heart. Located within Hardy Reef, Heart Reef is best experienced from the air by helicopter or seaplane and seeing it is an experience you will never forget. Many tour companies combine a visit to Heart Reef with trips to other breathtaking locations in the Whitsundays.
The crystal clear aqua waters and pristine white silica sand of Whitehaven Beach stretch over seven kilometres along Whitsunday Island, the largest of the 74 islands in the Whitsundays. This beach defines nature at its best and provides visitors with an immense sense of relaxation, escape and wonder. The breathtaking beauty of Whitehaven makes it not only a Whitsundays icon, but regularly named in the top ten beaches in the world and the recipient of countless awards for its beauty, cleanliness and environmental protection.
At the northern end of the beach is Hill Inlet, a stunning cove where the tide shifts the sand and the water to create a beautiful, swirling fusion of colours. A short but beautiful walk winds through the tropical rainforest of Whitsunday Island leading to a spectacular lookout over Hill Inlet and down the length of Whitehaven Beach.
Whitehaven Beach can be accessed in several ways. Many motor cruisers and sailing yachts offer day trips that depart from Airlie Beach and some island resorts. A variety of sailing companies offer overnight tours that include a visit to Whitehaven Beach as well as other locations around the Whitsunday islands. For the ultimate experience, travel by seaplane or helicopter for a spectacular view of Whitehaven and Hill Inlet before indulging in a picnic on a private part of the beach.
Travelling by Car or Caravan
The Whitsundays is easily accessible via the Bruce Highway, the major road connecting Queensland’s coastal towns between Brisbane and Cairns. The region is approximately 500km north of the major central Queensland town of Rockhampton, 150km north of Mackay and approximately 600km south of Cairns.
There are spectacular landscapes to enjoy on a driving holiday through the Whitsundays. The lush greens of the tropical rainforest of Eungella begin south of the region, meandering north through the cane fields and diversifying west to the reds, browns and greens of Collinsville, and all the way to the long stretch of beautiful turquoise water, all so iconic for the Whitsundays.
For those travelling with a car or caravan, local holiday parks offer caravan sites and cabins in tropical resort surroundings. Airlie Beach itself has several holiday parks to choose from, each offering something different – whether it is family focused with waterslides and kids’ activities, a retreat in the rainforest, or resort style with large swimming pools and large spaces to relax. The region also has several secluded beach townships a short drive from Airlie Beach, offering caravan park accommodation, private holiday homes and eco resorts at which to stay and you will feel as though you’ve uncovered a hidden gem a little way ‘off the beaten track’.
The convenience of having a vehicle to explore the region means you can discover some of the ‘off the beaten’ track hidden gems of the Whitsunday Coast, from secluded beaches to picturesque hinterland and spectacular waterfalls and rainforest. You can park at a holiday park by night and explore the many different drive trails throughout the region by day or leave the car or van and head out on the water for a day or two to explore the islands.
The Whitsunday Islands
Of the 74, only eight islands are inhabited with island resorts offering a range of accommodation and attractions. On the remaining deserted islands, some have campsites with a range of facilities for you to set up your own ‘castaway’ holiday. Indulgent island experiences all lie within a short distance of each other, making the Whitsundays the ‘island capital’ of the Great Barrier Reef. Whether it is eco-style, family friendly, all-inclusive, activity based, food and wine focused or pure luxury, there is a resort experience to suit everyone. The island resorts provide a stunning location from which to enjoy the region, and there are countless ‘must do’ island and reef experiences in the Whitsundays.[hr]
Backpacking hostels, spacious caravan parks, luxury apartments and villas set on the Airlie Beach hillsides are the ideal base for watching stunning sunsets over the islands andlaunching your holiday activities on the water.
Bowen, Proserpine and Collinsville offer a diverse range of accommodation options from traditional caravan parks with spectacular ocean views, through to motels, self-contained holiday units and 4.5 star absolute beachfront resorts. For those who are seeking something unique, consider a farm stay.
Top Ten Free Things To Do
- Evening Entertainment: Check out the local talent at some of the restaurants and cafes in Airlie Beach offering regular live music.
- Markets: The Airlie Beach Markets are situated on the Airlie foreshore each Saturday, there are markets in Bowen every Sunday, and the Whitsundays Farmers markets on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of the month in Proserpine.
- Cedar Creek Falls is spectacular in the tropical green season and offer a year-round natural swimming pool at the base of the falls. There are also bush walks around the falls.
- Whitsunday Great Walk: This beautiful forest contains lowland tropical rainforest remnants and picturesque rocky creeks. You may see the blue flash of a Ulysses butterfly after rain, smell lemon myrtle flowers in summer, or hear the distinctive call of the wompoo fruit-dove when the trees around you are fruiting.
- The Airlie Beach Lagoon is situated right in the heart of Airlie Beach and has become the focal point of the area. The sandy beach area at one end provides a safe environment for the children to play in the shallows and the lagoon is surrounded by landscaped gardens for added aesthetic appeal.
- Catch a ‘Barra’: Tucked away just 30 minutes inland from Proserpine is Peter Faust Dam. Grab a hand line or rig up your best fishing gear and hope to land a prized barramundi – the prince of freshwater catches.
- The Whitsunday Sailing Club conducts Twilight yacht racing every Wednesday afternoon. You can be part of the Whitsundays sailing experience, as yachts are often short of crew, even novices. Ring in advance for the club to match you with a boat.
- Boathaven Beach situated on the peninsula in Airlie Beach is the perfect spot for a picnic. Boasting soft, white sand you can make yourself comfortable and enjoy a day of swimming and sunbathing with views of the Coral Sea and islands beyond.
- Eco Barge Clean Seas Inc. operates the Marine Debris Removal Program for the Whitsunday Islands and coastlines. They offer volunteers a unique, hands-on conservation experience where you can spend a day picking up marine debris on the beaches and coastlines of the spectacular Whitsunday Islands.
- Take a stroll along the Bicentennial board walk along the edge of the Coral Sea. The boardwalk winds its way from the Port of Airlie to Abell Point Marina and Cannonvale Beach and you may be lucky to spot a turtle on the way.
Top Four Drive Trails Through The Whitsundays
- Dingo Beach and Hideaway Bay
Take a 45min drive north of Airlie Beach to experience small and friendly townships, soft sandy beaches lined with palms swaying in the breeze. Dine and relax at Dingo Beach’s hotel pub and enjoy their legendary Sunday Sessions with live music or visit Hideaway Bay’s two resorts both right on the waterfront overlooking Gloucester Island and the Coral Sea.
- Cedar Creek Falls /Conway and Wilson Beach
Only 35min from Airlie Beach Cedar Creek Falls is a great spot for a picnic or a swim. After recent rain, Cedar Creek Falls offers a natural swimming hole at the base of a rock cliff-face with cascading waterfalls. A little further down the road, visit Conway and Wilson Beach – the perfect spot for the nature loving camper with a caravan park located right on the foreshore.
- Proserpine and the Peter Faust Dam
Drive 26km inland from Airlie Beach and explore the country town of Proserpine. Proserpine offers a change of pace and scenery from the busier ‘tourist towns’. The historical town with its art deco buildings from the 1920’s and 30’s offers excellent boutique shopping. The Proserpine Historical Museum provides a comprehensive record of the region’s history, including information on the cane harvest. Travel a further 26km to Peter Faust Dam, a large expanse of water perfect for fishing, watersports and a picnic by the water.
- Collinsville and Big River Country
The small and friendly community of Collinsville is located 85km south west of Bowen. On your way, stop in at the Bogie River Bush House for a cool drink and relax amongst wallabies. In Collinsville, visit the Coalface Experience for a journey through the region’s history in coal mining. Drive 110km further and see the Burdekin Dam, the largest body of water in Queensland, almost four times the volume of Sydney Harbour.
Getting to the Whitsundays is easy from major cities around Australia, or driving from nearby.
The Whitsundays is serviced by two domestic airports – Great Barrier Reef Airport (Hamilton Island) and Whitsunday Coast Airport (Proserpine), with daily direct flights from Cairns, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, and connecting flights from other major cities.
The Bruce Highway is the major road linking Queensland’s coastal cities and towns from Brisbane to Cairns. The Bruce Highway runs through Proserpine and Bowen on the Whitsunday Coast. Airlie Beach is located approximately 20 minutes off the Bruce Highway from Proserpine along Shute Harbour Road.
Major coach operators include the Whitsundays in their regular scheduled services from major cities along the coast.
Queensland Rail services to the Proserpine Station on the Whitsunday Coast include the Tilt Train and The Sunlander. These trains link the Whitsundays to the coastal centres between Brisbane and Cairns. Coach transfers between Proserpine and Airlie Beach are included in rail travel passes.
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