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The Whitsunday Islands is a collection of continental islands of various sizes off the central coast of Queensland, Australia, approximately 1,400 kilometres north of Brisbane. The northernmost of the islands are situated off the coast by the town of Bowen while the southernmost islands are off the coast by Proserpine. The island group is centered on Whitsunday Island, while the group's commercial center is Hamilton Island. The traditional owners of the area are the Ngaro people and the Gia people (Birri Gubba language group) whose Juru Clan has the only legally recognized native title in the region.
The islands are one of the most popular Australian tourist destinations. The vast majority of islands are designated national parks and major attractions include access to coral reefs for snorkeling and diving, pristine beaches, especially Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island and clear aquamarine warm waters.
Whitehaven Beach is by far the most recognised of all the Whitsundays landmarks. Stretching about 4.5 kilometres and consisting of fine, brilliant white sand, it presents the image that is used more often in tourism brochures and regularly on TV advertising in Australia. The view from the lookout across Hill inlet is remarkable and on a sunny day, it is nothing short of spectacular.
The sand at Whitehaven Beach is 98% pure silica. The water lapping along the beach which is usually sheltered during the south easterly trade winds (Most of the year) and so the water where the sea meets the beach is often crystal clear and makes for perfect swimming. It is also a "nursery" for baby sharks and stingrays which can be seen just by walking along the flood line.
During June or July each year is the Outrigger Cup. Outrigging is a Hawaian sport using canoes with one "outrigger ama" to balance the boat on the ocean. During this week the action is mostly centred on Catseye Beach (on the resort side of the island) with 1, 2 and 6 person canoes competing over days in various events including short sprints and longer marathons, the most difficult being the Hamilton Cup marathon where the paddlers go right around Hamilton Island. For the fitter crews (Hawaii mens are particularly strong) this takes about 3 hours - that's hard paddling! The atmosphere is festive, the competition fierce and well known Australian Iron Woman Lisa Curry-Kenny is a regular competitor. Her Noosa team is a very strong competitor in the women's divisions.
August sees the famous Race Week, started by Keith Williams in the 80's. This sees hundreds of yachts from 30 foot boats rented for the week to billion dollar super yachts finely tuned for serious racing. Famous yachts that regularly compete include Skandia, Alfa Romeo and one of the Wild Oats yachts - owned by the island's now owner Bob Oatley. Various classes of racing range from cruising division (despite the name some crews in this division are very competitive!) to IRC divisions for the yachting professionals. Race Week is when the island really comes alive with hundreds of sailors filling the marina and hotels, from the serious bustle of the mornings getting ready to race, the colourful spinnaker starts (on the last day various tourist boat operators take their vessels out with guests to watch the starts), to the sunburnt yachties straggling one and two boats at a time into the marina after a days racing to crack open a beer, put some music on and then head to the Marina Tavern for some hard "relaxing" after a day of hard racing. The night life is almost as important as the day's racing! Many Australian entertainers such as Jimmy Barnes have regularly perfomed at Race Weeks and there is live music every night from various performers. By far the most anticipated highlight is the Whitehaven Beach party - no-one wants to miss it! Only two divisions race over to Whitehaven but all the yachts go, along with the tour boats and ferries and barges. Bars and barbeques are set up on the beach and everyone plays beach cricket (during the 80's famous Australian cricketers would play on the beach. Famous Australians such as Elton Flatley and Lachlan Murdoch attend in recent times), throws a frisbee or a footy, plays volleyball and generally mucks around. Footwear not required, bikini or boardshorts, hat and sunnies essential.. Some island local girls plan their bikini outfit well in advance!
Tropical weather with a rainy season from November to March.
Hamilton Island and Proserpine are the airports that service the region. Boats depart from adjacent to the airport at Hamilton to many of the Whitsunday Island resorts. Alternatively you can get the bus from Proserpine to Shute Harbour, and out to the islands from there. There are agents that will offer and price inclusive of this transfer.
There are buses from Airlie Beach to Shute Harbour as well, and it is a popular stopping off point. Sometimes standby rates for the island resorts are available there.
Even though it isn't that far of the Queensland coast, access by private boat isn't as simple as you may first think. Hamilton Island is visited occasionally by cruises. Most must tender their passengers to shore, where they have immediate access to a modest selection of rather nice resort shops and restaurants.
Ferries are available from:
Ferries are scheduled to meet most flights to the two airports. Ferry prices are quite expensive, at $30–70 for adults and children depending on route. Children under 4 are free. Bookings are available from Cruise Whitsundays directly or through your resort, for the same price.
There is a bus from Proserpine to Airlie beach.
The airport, some residences, and most of the hotels, shops and restaurants on Hamilton Island are serviced by free shuttle buses.
There is a superb variety of choices for campsites on the Whitsunday islands for people who want to get away from all the pre-packaged tourism. The first thing to check out is the basic brochure online from the Queensland Government. While it has not been updated since June 2002, it gives a good outline of the different campsites and a map of where everything is. To stay on a campsite you need to phone up the Queensland Department of National Parks, Sport and Racing on +61 7 4946 7022, or visit their office in Airlie. It costs $4 per person per night and offers a brilliant way to see the scenery unhindered during the day, and stars when night falls when no one is left in sight. You just need a pack for some food, some water and a tent and you are away. Or you can see more at Camping Whitsundays.
The national parks of the Whitsundays also fall under the regulatory oversight of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (or GBRMPA for "short"). As detailed in the online brochure, campers are required to have sufficient water. The recommendation is five litres per person per day, and three days more for emergencies. In practice three or four litres a day will last people who are careful. So as not to be overcharged purchase the water or big containers to carry some at a petrol station or supermarket in Airlie. Another regulation, from the collective wisdom of the two authorities, is that boat companies need special permits in order to drop campers off on an island (even though someone with their own boat would need no permission!).
Daydream Island Resort, ☎ +61 7 3259 2350, toll-free: 1800 075 040, fax: +61 7 3259 2399, e-mail: email@example.com. Family oriented resort occupying an entire island. Activities include an artifiical reef, sailing and kayak hire, snorkelling and glass bottom boat tours. Childcare is available at Skippers Club, providing childcare for children from 6 weeks of age. $175 to $400 per room per night.
Hayman Island is the most upmarket of the Whitsunday resorts. Lindeman Island has quite a few facilities, if you go for the "Club Med" resort feel.
Qualia on Hamilton island and Paradise Bay Eco Resort on Long Island will cost you as much, if not more than Hayman and all are unique experiences.
Fantasea's Reefsleep acconmodation is situated on Reefworld, a floating pontoon on the Great Barrier Reef, 40 nautical miles from land. It provides one of the most unique accommodation experiences available in the country with either a luxurious king sized bedroom or a four bunk style bedroom suitable for families and/or friends. Overnight, only the staff are on location to look after you as all other guests have departed to the mainland, leaving you with exclusive use of the pontoon and its underwater viewing chamber. Overnight guests also get an alfresco dinner including wine, full breakfast, buffet lunches, sunset beverages, and two scuba dives or a guided snorkelling safari.
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