Hitting the Sand at Whitehaven Beach
The 6 km (3 3/4-mile) stretch of pure-white silica sand on Whitehaven Beach will leave you in rapture. The beach, on uninhabited Whitsunday Island, does not boast a lot of coral, but the swimming is good and the forested shore is beautiful. Take a book and chill out. Some sailboat day trips visit it, as do some motorized vessels. A half-day trip with Cruise Whitsundays (tel. 07/4946 4662; www.cruisewhitsundays.com) costs A$99 for adults and A$49 for children ages 5 to 15, and gives you around 2 hours on the beach. You can travel in the morning (leaving Airlie Beach at 7am) or in the afternoon (departing at 1:15pm). It offers full day trips too, and combines Whitehaven Beach with other islands on some tours.
Reef fishing is superb throughout the islands; red emperor, coral trout, sweetlip, and snapper are common catches. One of the most popular charter vessels is the 16m (52-ft.) timber cruiser Moruya (tel. 07/4948 1029 or 0400/450 111 mobile phone). Day trips depart Shute Harbour daily at around 8am. They include lunch, bait, and fishing rods. The crew will even clean your catch for you. Adults pay A$150, students and children 4 to 14 pay A$90, and families of four pay A$330.
If you want to undertake your own fishing expedition, Harbourside Boat Hire, in Shute Harbour (tel. 07/4946 9330), rents motorized dinghies for A$60 for a half-day or A$90 for a full day. Half-cabin cruisers cost A$90 for a half-day, A$150 for a full day. They also rent fishing rods and sell tackle, bait, ice, and anything else you might need for angling.
Visitors to the Whitsundays can get up close and personal with crocodiles in their natural habitat with Proserpine River Eco Tours (tel. 07/4948 3310; www.crocodilesafari.com.au), which combines an open-air wagon ride through the pristine Goorganga wetlands and a boat trip on the river to learn more about one of Queensland's major crocodile-breeding grounds. This is the only place to see crocs in safety in the wild south of the Daintree. Bus pickups operate from Airlie Beach, Cannonvale, and Proserpine for the tours, which run about 4 hours, depending on tides, and cost A$110 for adults, A$55 for kids 1 to 14. Back on land, you'll enjoy billy tea, the best damper I've ever tasted (and they'll even give you the recipe), and a talk on native wildlife over a barbecue lunch.
Great Whitsunday Walking
The Whitsundays Great Walk -- one of six Great Walks of Queensland -- covers 36km (22 miles) in Conway State Forest and Conway National Park, behind Airlie Beach. The trail starts at the end of Brandy Creek Road, a short drive from Cannonvale, and winds in three stages from Brandy Creek to Airlie Beach, with two campsites at 12km (7 1/2-mile) intervals. The hills here are rich in giant strangler figs, ferns, and palms, and if you're lucky, you'll spot a giant blue Ulysses butterfly. Walkers should carry drinking water, because the water in natural systems is not good for drinking.
A permit is required for overnight walks and must be booked in advance (tel. 13 74 68 in Australia). The cost is A$5.15 per person or A$21 for a family of two adults and up to six children ages 5 to 17. More information on this and other walks, including the new Ngaro Sea Trail, which links sea routes with walks on Hook, Whitsunday, and South Molle islands, can be obtained from the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service information center, Shute Harbour Road at Mandalay Road (tel. 07/4967 7355) 2.5km (1 1/2 miles) northeast of Airlie Beach. It's open Monday through Friday from 9am to 4:30pm.
For more details on all Great Walks, go to www.derm.qld.gov.au/parks_and_forests/great_walks.
Queensland's Hamilton Island Golf Club (tel. 07/4948 9760; www.hamiltonislandgolfclub.com.au) has opened as Australia's only 18-hole championship golf course on its own island. The 6,120m (6,690 yard), par-71 course sits on Dent Island, just a 5-minute ferry ride from Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays. Green fees are A$125 for 9 holes or A$185 for 18 holes, including golf cart and return Hamilton Island transfers, or you can pay A$15 for 50 balls on the driving range.
If you have strong arms, sea kayaking is a wonderful way to enjoy the islands. Daydream Island and the beaches and bays of the North, Mid, and South Molle group of islands are all within paddling distance of the mainland. It's common to see dolphins, turtles, and sharks along the way. One long-established operator is Salty Dog Sea Kayaking (tel. 07/4946 1388; www.saltydog.com.au), which takes escorted trips through the islands. Half-day trips run on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday, and full-day trips on Monday, Thursday, and Friday, departing Airlie Beach at 8:30am. A half-day trip is A$70 per person and a day trip is A$125 per person. Two- and 6-day trips, during which you camp out, are A$365 and A$1,490. All rates include snorkel gear, meals, pickup, and, on overnight trips, camping gear. The company also delivers sea kayaks anywhere in the Whitsundays. Rental prices start at A$50 for a single kayak, A$80 for a double for a half-day, including delivery, pickup, and safety equipment. A deposit of A$200 is required for rentals.
The iconic image of the Great Barrier Reef is the stunning heart-shaped reef called—yes, Heart Reef. But Heart Reef is not a place you can visit; it is protected by law, and you cannot swim or snorkel here. In any case, the best way to see this tiny reef’s perfect shape is from the air. There are many helicopter or seaplane options available for that perfect photographic opportunity (or, of course, if you are planning a mid-air proposal). A 1-hour seaplaner flight over the Great Barrier Reef costs A$290 per person with Air Whitsunday ( tel. 07/4946 9111; www.airwhitsunday.com.au), which offers a large range of tours, including seaplane flights to a Reef pontoon to snorkel for a couple of hours.