Named by Captain James Cook in recognition of a religious festival, there does indeed seem to be something spiritual about the Whitsunday Islands. The peaks of mountains drowned by the rising ocean in ages gone by, the 74 islands lie off the Queensland Coast like jewels in an azure blue crown, attracting holiday makers from all over the globe keen to tantalise their senses with the magic of the Whitsundays. Coated in thick forest and bordered by pristine white beaches, most of the islands are remote and untouched, falling under the protective auspices of the National Parks. A number of them have been turned into resort islands, where most of the tourists congregate. The remoter areas and the large tracts of sea seperating the islands can be explored on sailing charters, one of the most popular forms of recreational pursuit in the Whitsundays.
Nothing beats cruising serenely over the water, in complete silence except for the sails flapping in the wind, gazing out at the various islands that float past. Sailing trips in the Whitsundays take on many forms and go for different lengths. There are ones which specifically involve passengers and teach them the basics of sailing, and there are others where you just relax and enjoy the scenery. Some go for a few days, and involve camping excursions, on others you just go out for a single day. One of the most common destinations is the glorious Whitehaven Beach, on Whitsunday Island. This beach is so dazzlingly bright it is rumoured it can be seen from space- so dont forget your sunnies! The added bonus of visiting here is that Hill Inlet lies at the northern end of the beach, where white sands and blue waters seamlessly blend together to create a beautiful sight.
The major resort islands are connected by a network of ferries that leave from Shute Harbour. Shute Harbour is about ten kilometres out of Airlie Beach, the small coastal town seen as the gateway to the Whitsundays. An abundance of backpacker lodges and bars have made Airlie very much a party town, so it is often with relief that people escape to the quiet of the islands. The largest resort island is Hamilton Island, which is practically a miniature town in its own right. With its own airport, ten restaurants, six take away outlets and a growing number of lodges and resorts, this is a holiday destination with a completely different feel to anything on the mainland. There is an unlimited amount of activities to pursue including hiking in the forested hills, waterskiing, windsurfing, kayaking or just enjoying some r and r at the resort pools.
The most luxurious of the islands is undoubtedly Hayman Island, a place where guests enter a world of complete pampering. This is one of the leading resort islands in the world, and no expense has been spared in turning it into a holiday experience like no other. Even the pool is colossal, measuring in at seven times the size of an Olympic Pool. But luxury like this comes at a price, and at the five star Hayman Island, that price is high.
Another popular island, especially amongst families, is Daydream. Although one of the smaller islands, there is lots going on here and at the Island Resort the emphasis is on family fun. There is an outdoor cinema showing the latest movies, a 19 hole mini golf course and a living coral reef in an outdoor aquarium. As this is Daydream Island Resort and Spa, there are all the spa facilities here too, so enjoy a massage, a sauna or a luxurious jacuzzi. And of course there is the innate beauty of the island to enjoy too, with secluded beaches and lush rainforest all within easy access of the comfortable hotel rooms.
Another island that is big on activities is Lindemann Island. Owned by Club Med, this is the perfect place to get away from it all and enter a world of hassle-free escapism. With the full range of club med activities free to guests, this is the kind of island you arrive at and never want to leave. There is a kids club that caters to the under 13 year olds, so while you pass the morning with a round of golf on the nine hole course the kids are well looked after. Theres even a flying trapeze and a circus school here! Its a bushwalkers paradise too, with over 19 kilometres of well maintained pathways through thick bushland and up high hills. Mt Oldfield offers spectacular views from its peak, which stands at 212 metres above sea level.
The Whitsundays are an aquatic playground, and a must on any visit to Australia. Airlie Beach is 1114 kilometres north of Brisbane, so the most comfortable way to get there from the Queensland capital is by flight. Pick up a rental car from Airlie or Proserpine and explore the Queensland coast a bit before heading out to the islands... you wont regret it.
Gavin Wyatt is a journalist with a passion for travel. originally from Zambia he has traveled around the world to end up on the sunny shores of Australia. For more of his articles visit Queensland Car Hire