The Great Barrier Reef is a recurrent escape fantasy and nowhere is that more true than the Whitsundays. Warm azure water laps against perfectly white beaches, and there’s a nice mix of resort and wild islands that are national parks.

The first European visitor had a similar reaction. Captain James Cook arrived here on Sunday, June 3, 1770. It was Whit Sunday – the seventh after Easter – and he was impressed by what he saw, noting “everywhere good anchorage; indeed the whole passage is one continued safe harbour … The land, both on the main and islands, especially on the former, is tolerably high, and distinguished by hills and valleys, which are diversified with woods and lawns that looked green and pleasant.”

Cook named the shipping course between the mainland and the principal islands “Whitsunday Passage” then continued north.

Over the past year or so, the area has had its challenges with the weather. In March 2017, Cyclone Debbie did a lot of damage but ironically, this year’s cyclone season has provided rain without the wind so everything is looking verdantly lush and green again.

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The coastal town of Bowen is a fantastic place to stay on your Whitsundays trip

As Tourism Australia announces that about half its total iInternational tourism comes from Asia, the Whitsundays are still largely an aquatic playground for Australians. Not surprisingly, Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne – in that order — are the main sources for visitors.

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Sailing through the Whitsundays is an experience like no other

With many staying for a week, it’s a popular driving destination but there are frequent flights from all three cities to both Whitsunday Airport (near Shute Harbour) and Hamilton Island.

By sea
While Hamilton Island is completely up and running, nearby Hayman Island will remain closed for several more months and will open under new management. Ever-popular Daydream Island is due for a soft opening in September ahead of a full opening in November. Palm Bay Resort on Long Island is open now.

The most renowned sight of the Whitsundays is the gloriously pure white sand of Whitehaven Beach. It’s easily visited on a day trip from Airlie Beach or Hamilton Island. Walking this idyllic beach is like stepping into another perfect tropical world where the only choice is whether to stay on the sand or dive into the azure water.

Definitely the best way to explore the whole area is by boat. There are so many secluded bays and coves that provide perfect overnight moorings. The bible for independent sailors is the long-enduring yachting guide, “100 Magic Miles of the Great Barrier Reef – the Whitsunday Islands”, now in its 12th edition following Cyclone Debbie.

The publisher declares, “The 12th Edition represents the latest up-to-date information including the introduction of 60 new moorings to the island anchorages, changes in the operations of several island resorts, changes in recommendations as to the best diving and snorkelling sites, the latest information on camping on the islands, fishing in the Whitsundays, and an update on recommended first aid for marine stings.” It’s available for $94.95 directly from Windward Publications.

One of the more protected anchorages is Nara Inlet on Hook Island. It’s also popular because, at the end of the beach, there’s an easily accessible cave that has rock art by the Ngaro people.

Last month, a new walking track was opened on Langford Island that takes visitors to a lookout with wonderful views across Langford Passage. It’s likely to feature in a lot of social media posts as more people discover its beauty. This is just one of several government enhancements taking place: Two more short walks, one on Hazelwood Island and one on Border Island, are due to be completed by mid-2018 and there will be a south Whitehaven walk within the next 12 months.

By land
While the islands and the reef hold much of the appeal, there’s a lot to do around Airlie Beach, too. Shute Harbour is being redeveloped and $6.4 million is committed to redevelop the Airlie Beach foreshore. Of course, the local markets on Saturday are a drawcard and keen fisherfolk will be drawn to dropping a line in Peter Faust Dam, also known as Lake Proserpine.

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Proserpine is an old school town, perfect for wandering and relaxing

The more adventurous may consider taking a crocodile safari out of Proserpine – combined with a “cane train” tour, it provides a good insight into the local environment.

Bowen is also well worth a visit: there are several beaches, and the reef is just offshore and easy to snorkel out to. Indeed, you’ll spot a lot if you take a walk out to North Head Lighthouse, and look into the rock pools and along the shoreline.

While breakfast at the Fat Frog Beach Café in Airlie Beach is a tradition, there are a lot of other good dining options, too. These include Hemingways Restaurant, Anchor Bar, Walter’s Lounge, Denmans Cellars Beer Café, and Northerlies Beach Bar and Grill.

For more information on Whitsunday holidays, visit Tourism Whitsundays.

Have you visited the Whitsundays since the cyclone?

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