The Whitsunday Islands are the most well known and well visited
island group in Australia. They have become the epitome of the perfect
tropical island holiday destination and are synonymous with the image
of paradise. As one of the country's major tourist attractions and
holiday destinations, these islands and the neighbouring coast are
considered a very special part of Australia. Located just north of the
Tropic of Capricorn, the Whitsundays are right in the heart of the
World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef. The main islands lay directly
between the Queensland Coast and The Great Barrier Reef to the east.
Fringing coral cays surround many of the Whitsundays' 76 islands. The
Cumberland and Northumberland Island groups, commonly called the
Whitsunday Islands, form the largest offshore island chain on the
Australian east coast. The islands are remnants of a coastal range
which was submerged when sea levels rose at the end of the ice age.
Most of the islands have National Park status, while a 35,000 sq. km
marine park stretches from around Sarina in the south to Cape Upstart
to the north.
The Whitsundays are well developed as a tourist destination and boast a
diverse range of tropical island resorts and hotels as well as the
coastal resort village of Airlie Beach, catering fully for all tastes
and budgets from 'el-cheapo' backpacker style accommodation to the
up-market five-star resorts. Over the years, these resorts have gone
through a succession of owners and numerous upgrades in their struggle
to attain and maintain financial profitability. As the nightlife of the
Whitsundays is centred around the downtown area of Airlie Beach, it can
get a bit noisy at night, so keep this in mind when selecting
The options are limitless here ... you can enjoy the mainland, charter
your own yacht, cruise the beautiful Whitsunday islands, dive and
snorkel the cays and surrounding reef, fish, or just sit back and relax
on the beautiful island resorts. From April to October, daytime
temperatures are 20 to 24 degrees C and vary at night from 14 to 18
degrees. During the "green season" from November to March, the daytime
range is 24 to 30 degrees with nights from 18 to 26. The waters in this
tropical paradise remain at a constant 20 to 22 degrees throughout the
Whale watching in The Whitsundays
Whales in the WhitsundaysWhales visit the Whitsundays every year on
their annual migration north during the winter months. From June to
September, whales are a common sight frolicking amongst the islands and
even occasionally out on the Great Barrier Reef. They choose the
Whitsundays to give birth to their calves, choosing the warm, calm,
protected waters of the Whitsundays as in ideal nursery.
There are currently no formal whale watching tours in the Whitsundays,
but whale sightings are a free bonus inclusion on most tours around the
region. The best way to see whales is to hop on any of the day tours
around the Whitsunday waters, as whale sightings occur almost daily for
most of the boats in the region during these peak winter months. Seeing
the whales from the air is a real treat, and those enjoying seaplane or
helicopter scenic flights are lucky to get a whole new perspective of
these magnificent creatures. Humpback and pilot whales are the most
common species sighted, and Migaloo the white humpback whale has also
been seen in the Whitsundays for the last few years.
Airlie Beach, the area's mainland service town, and the Whitsunday
Islands themselves lie on the same tropical latitude as Honolulu in the
northern hemisphere and Mauritius in the south. A year round warm
tropical climate with an average temperature of 27.4 degrees Celsius is
enjoyed by the region, making it ideal for holidays all year round. Its
maximum summer temperatures (December to February) are around 30
degrees Celsius, with maximum winter temperatures (June, July and
August) around 23 degrees.
How to Get There: The Whitsundays are located 150km north of Mackay and
300km south of Townsville on the central Queensland coast. The region
is approached by road from Bowen to the north or from Mackay to the
south via Bruce Highway. The turn-off to the Whitsundays is at the town
of Proserpine. Access to the islands is by air (Hamilton Island is the
only island to have its own airstrip) or by sea from Shute Harbour or
About the Whitsunday Group
Snorkeling on the WhitsundaysGeologically the Whitsunday Islands are
all drowned mountains. It is believed that, prior to the last Ice Age
they were connected to the mainland and would have all been prominent
mountains in the area. The melting of the polar caps drowned the
valleys between the mountains creating a network of 74 islands. Eight
of these islands now have resort facilities. Beyond the resorts the
whole area is part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the
uninhabited islands are all controlled by the National Parks and
Today the words Whitsunday and Whitsunday Islands encompass the large
'town' of Whitsunday (created in 1987 to include the mainland
settlements of Airlie Beach, Cannonvale and Shute Harbour) and the 74
islands surrounding Whitsunday Passage which make up the Whitsunday
Islands. Eight of these islands have resort facilities.
Stretching over nine kilometres, this pristine expanse of pure white
silica sand fringed by brilliant blue water and lush tropical island,
is recognised as one of the jewels of the Whitsunday Islands. Promoted
as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and rightly so,
Whitehaven Beach is an integral part of the unique beauty of the
Whitsundays. No visit to the Whitsundays is complete without a trip to
Whitehaven Beach. It is serviced by modern Ferries, cruising yachts,
seaplanes and helicopters. A variety of companies offer day trips
and/or overnight charters to Whitehaven Beach from both the Islands,
Shute Harbour and Airlie Beach.
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Hill Inlet Lookout, Whitsunday Island
The classic view of Hill Inlet and Whitehaven Beach that can be
found in the photo collections of just about everyone who visits the
Whitsundays is taken from Hill Inlet lookout on Whitsunday Island.
The lookout is at the end of a gentle, easy 15 minute walk up a
natural bush track up the northern face of the island from Tongue Bay.
What you can see is the full view up peaceful Hill Inlet - a stunning
inlet were tidal movements shift acres of pure white sand to create a
fusion of beautiful azure blues. Whitehaven Beach provides the inlet's
equally stunning backdrop.
So popular is the locality, at times, cruise vessels queue up to
offload their passengers so they can make the trek up to the lookout.
If possible, try to reach the lookout when the tide is changing, as the
golden sand and aqua water hues blend seamlessly into a mosaic of
The Whitsundays is quite literally situated in the heart of the
Great Barrier Reef so it is appropriate that the most famous reef in
the Whitsundays is Heart Reef. Located within Hardy Reef, Heart Reef is
a beautiful composition of coral that has naturally formed into the
shape of a heart, complete with its own lagoon. It can best be
experienced from the air by helicopter or seaplane. A visit to Heart
Reef is considered the perfect Valentine's Day, anniversary or romantic
surprise for a loved one. Seeing the unique heart shaped coral
formation from the air is a Whitsunday experience you will never forget.
Many tour companies combine a visit to Heart Reef with trips to other
locations in the Whitsundays, including Whitehaven Beach and Hill
Inlet. Interestingly, Heart Reef can only be viewed as heart-shaped
from the air. At sea level it looks like any other reef and is rarely
identified except by people who are very familiar with the reef.
History of the Whitsunday Group
The Aborigines of the Whitsunday Islands were called the Ngaro and
are among the earliest recorded groups in Australia. Often called the
'Island People' their territory expanded north - south along the island
chain. They also inhabited the coast of the adjacent mainland. In their
occupation as maritime hunters and gatherers, the Ngaro became well
known as skilled navigators.
British navigator Lieut. James Cook literally put the Whitsundays on
the map when he visited the islands during his voyage of discovery
along the east coast of Australia in 1770. He passed through Whitsunday
Passage, between the mainland coast, South Molle and Daydream Islands
to the west and Dent, Whitsunday, Hook and Hayman Islands to the east,
on what he believed was Sunday 4th June 1770. That day is Whit Sunday
(the seventh Sunday after Easter), the Day of Pentecost on the
Christian calendar - hence the names 'Pentecost' and 'Whitsunday' which
he bestowed on the island from which he took his bearings and the
passage of water between the islands and the mainland.
It is now widely accepted that he didn't actually pass through on this
date, as he had failed to take into account the yet to be brought into
existence International Date Line. Cook gave the 160-plus islands in
the area the collective name of Cumberland Isles, after the Duke of
Cumberland, Henry Frederick, younger brother of King George III of
England. The county of Cumberland lay in the north-west of England, its
northern border being also part of the southern border of Scotland.
However the county of Cumberland as Cook knew it does not exist today.
In 1974 it was merged with Westmoreland, part of the West Riding of
Yorkshire and the Furness area of Lancashire to become the new county
of Cumbria. Cook named only one individual island - the craggy, rocky
Later, once surveyed, the Cumberland Islands were divided into smaller
groups - the Molle Islands, Whitsunday Group, the Lindeman Group, the
Anchor Islands and the Sir James Smith Group. The Whitsunday group was
defined as 'The islands between Young Island, Long Island, North Molle
Island, Hayman Island and Edward Island'. The Lindeman group was
defined as 'The islands between Thomas Island and Pentecost Island'
(Notice to Mariners No. 316 of 15 July 1960). Though their group names
have not been changed, the 74 islands which surround Whitsunday Passage
have become known collectively as the Whitsundays through common use.
During the mid 1800s the Whitsundays were the first north Queensland
islands to attract the attention of the pioneers of the mainland coast.
In the 1880s, grazing leases were granted for the islands. It was not
until the 1920s that 'dreamers' built galvanised iron huts for guests.
Cruise ship passengers rowed ashore for tropical fruits, tea and
scones. The first day trippers from the mainland were the Prosperpine
residents. They arrived on the island aboard the weekly mail boat. In
1962, the islands became more accessible when the road from Airlie
Beach to Shute Harbour and the jetty were completed.