Ever since the green shoots of tourism began here in the 1920s, the archipelago of 74 islands off the tropical coast of Queensland known as the Whitsundays has become synonymous with the quintessential Australian holiday.
And while every holiday will have some things in common – unrivalled access to the Great Barrier Reef, swaying palm trees, arcs of golden sand and aquamarine water – there are as many ways to experience the Whitsundays as there are shades of blue: from all-out luxury and James Bond-style adventures to beach camping, sailing and citizen science. Take your pick.
The largest inhabited Whitsunday island is a consummate holiday destination: home to a raft of accommodation options including holiday homes and the breezy Palm Bungalows as well as world-class luxury resort qualia. It’s well placed for exploring nearby Whitehaven Beach, with its seven kilometres of pure-white silica sand, and is the only spot that offers an exclusive adventure to the newly opened Heart Island: a luxury and sustainably designed pontoon located in the neighbouring lagoon to Heart Reef. This is the closest you can get to the famous coral composition that has naturally formed into the shape of a heart. For six people at a time, this James Bond-style tour includes a helicopter ride (touching down on your own helipad), a champagne reception, a snorkel in the lagoon and a glass-bottom boat trip around Heart Reef.
Having reopened last year following a major development, Daydream Island is looking, well, dreamier than ever, with 280 rooms and suites offering views of either lush tropical gardens or Whitsunday blues and three restaurants and bars to choose from. A fantastic family destination, the pride and joy of Daydream Island is its Living Reef: an eco-friendly and educational coral lagoon that wraps around the property and offers opportunities to shake fins with a baby stingray, spot starfish and sea cucumbers and discover more than 100 unique species of marine fish.
A new era of luxury is unfolding at this iconic private island resort since it reopened last year following an A-List makeover. Set at the northernmost point of the Whitsunday archipelago and now part of the InterContinental hotel group, Hayman Island offers the choice of 168 pitch-perfect rooms, suites and villas that blend artfully with the resort’s tropical gardens, ever-beckoning pools and panoramic seascapes, in addition to five distinct dining experiences. It places you on the doorstep of some of the Whitsundays’ pristine jewels and prime snorkelling spots including Langford Island, Blue Pearl Bay and Hook Island.
Elysian Retreat, Long Island
The first 100 per cent solar-powered resort on the Great Barrier Reef, Elysian Retreat occupies a secluded three-hectare patch of Long Island (the closest island to the mainland), that’s ensconced by rainforest and reef. A boutique eco experience for up to just 20 guests at a time, it offers a locally sourced custom menu that makes use of the island’s own vegetable and herb garden, an Ayurveda inspired spa offering treatments, morning yoga sessions, paddleboarding and kayaking.
With its celestial combination of milky-white sand and cerulean Coral Sea, you’ve got to see the famous Whitehaven Beach to believe it. And, while you’re at it, why not sleep there too? There are several options for beach camping on Whitsunday Island, the largest of the archipelago, including right on the fringe of Whitehaven, with 10 campsites nestled behind the beach among lowland vine forest and eucalypt woodland. You can beach camp in other spots in the Whitsundays National Park, including several sites on rugged Hook Island.
Sailing the Whitsundays
The Whitsundays are a sailor’s dream, but you don’t have to be a professional to live it. In fact, the Whitsundays are the only place in the world where you can rent a multimillion dollar yacht without a licence. There are plenty of bareboating options to choose from, where you’ll essentially hire a houseboat with friends or family to languorously explore the secluded bays and beaches of the Whitsundays’ 74 islands. But if going solo still sounds daunting, there are plenty of tours and skippered boats to choose from; Cruise Whitsundays is a good place to start researching. This local specialist maritime operator also offers one of the most unique experiences you can have in the Whitsundays: Reefsuites, Australia’s first underwater hotel.
Eco Barge Clean Seas Inc. has been running the Whitsunday Marine Debris Removal Program – to protect the Whitsundays’ fragile ecosystem – for over a decade and has removed more than 179,000 kilograms of marine debris from the waters. And those wanting to contribute to this work, can. Volunteer on one of its barge trips, which run 30 to 40 times per year. Eco Barge Clean Seas Inc. also works on conservation projects such as turtle rescue and rehabilitation.