5 February 2016 by Daniel Wright
At the centre of the Great Barrier Reef there’s a chain of 74 islands whose white sand beaches and forested interiors are the only landmasses to disrupt the aquamarine waters of the surrounding Coral Sea. The Whitsundays, to give them their official name, are fast becoming the choice destination for cultured travellers, featuring some of the finest resorts, facilities and natural beauty in the world. However, with only eight of the islands being home to tourist developments, there are plenty of untouched oases just waiting to be discovered. With this in mind, we’ve put together this guide so you can find that perfect curve of sand on your Whitsundays adventure.
Hamilton is a lesson in quiet seclusion and refined luxury. More than two thirds of the island is protected national park meaning accommodation is carefully spaced; think pavilions handcrafted from local timber and stone. Take a jagged hiking trail through the tropical bush and past hidden inlets to Catseye Beach, an idyllic stretch of sand with a verdant green backdrop.
As possibly the Whitsundays’ best-known beach, you might be put off by its popularity. However, with its sands stretching over 7km, Whitehaven is far from spoilt or congested. Due to the sand being made up of 98% pure silica, it’s impossibly white, making for a particularly impressive contrast with the deep blues of the Coral Sea.
Despite its rather unimaginative name, Long Island is anything but, with 13km of national park trails bringing you to some of the Whitsunday Islands' most idyllic beaches. Take a kayak and paddle out over the island’s coral reefs, or put on a mask and snorkel to get closer to the abundant marine life, which includes dolphins, turtles and seemingly hundreds of species of tropical fish.
Only 1km in length and with nothing taller than its palm trees, this teardrop-shaped island widens to a 400m spit of white sand. That’s not to say, however, that it’s untouched as it features one of the world’s largest man-made reefs where marine biologists will guide you through sea cucumbers and coral gardens to clownfish and de-barbed baby stingrays. Hold a starfish and touch a shark in the lagoon’s predator nursery.
It's not strictly in the Whitsundays but we’ve included Airlie as a fine alternative. Once a backpacker favourite, its marina is now home to prestigious sailing yachts making it an ideal gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsundays. It’s also a lot easier to reach than the archipelago, being located on the mainland.
With its Pebble Beach more boulders than stones, Hook Island has some rugged alternatives as well as classic beaches. Indeed, it doesn’t even have permanent accommodation. However, its snorkelling opportunities and sublime coral gardens keep visitors coming back while its walking tracks are equally rewarding.
South Molle Island
One of the smaller islands in the collection, South Molle’s beaches are quiet and unassuming – perfect for a secluded retreat. What really makes it stand out, however, is its feathered fauna. Rainbow Lorikeets are fed every afternoon at the golf club and the bizarrely long bills of eastern curlews are often spotted. This being Australia, also watch out for green tree snakes and brown pythons.
The Tropical Cyclone Debbie in 2017 had a major impact on World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef's Hayman Island, meaning the resort is temporarily closed. It's due to reopen in late 2018, where low-rise, boutique accommodation preserves natural sightlines as guests are treated to fine dining on the beach itself. Sip champagne as the day’s sun gives way to sparkling night skies.