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Sailing the Whitsunday Islands

The Whitsundays, 74 islands and dozens of islets scattered off Queensland's central coast off Airlie Beach, are among yachties' and beach-lovers' favorite holiday destinations—and with good reason.

The Whitsunday Islands, protected from Coral Sea swells by sheltering reefs and cooled by trade winds, offer an abundance of yacht anchorages in close proximity, making this ideal cruising territory. The aquamarine waters shimmer and sparkle—a light-scattering effect that results when fine sediment run-off from river systems is stirred up by the 3- to 5-meter tides that sweep the coast.

Island resorts offer safe moorings for passing yachts and an array of water sports and facilities. Farther out, on the Barrier Reef, you'll find fine snorkeling, diving and fishing sites. Most Whitsunday islands are unspoiled national parks; just a few—Hayman, Hamilton, Daydream, South Molle, South Long and Lindeman—have resorts.

When to Go

With a climate moderated by cooling trade winds, the Whitsundays are balmy year-round, though summer days can sometimes exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Over winter (June–August) it's warm, clear, and sunny by day and cool—even chilly—at night. Steer clear of summer holidays to avoid hordes of local families who, despite often wet and stormy weather, flock here December to February. Spring and fall weather can be perfect, and these seasons are often the quietest, if you avoid school and Easter holidays. Migrating southern right and humpback whales traverse these waters between July and September.

Where can I Find …

Underwater adventure? Most Whitsundays resorts have dedicated dive shops offering scuba and snorkeling lessons and gear hire; all either run or can organize day trips to nearby dive and snorkeling spots. Highlights include Heart Reef and vast Knuckle Reef Lagoon, where a purpose-built pontoon floats in sheltered waters teeming with tropical fish, turtles, and rays. Not keen to get wet? Take a semi-submersible coral-viewing tour, guided reef walk, or scenic heli-flight.

Luxury? At Qualia, Hamilton Island's most lavish accommodation, sleek suites have infinity pools and alfresco areas, artfully lit after dark, and food and wine are brought in from Hamilton's best restaurants. Lizard Island Resort serves up gourmet meals and exclusive accommodations, while Paradise Bay Island Eco-Resort pampers its select group of guests with top-quality, all-natural furnishings and fabrics, Molton Brown toiletries, and cruises on the resort's own sailing cat. Recently revamped Hayman Resort, a magnificent sprawl of public areas and opulent suites, is solid enough to withstand a Category 5 cyclone and luxurious enough to satisfy the fussiest visitor, with a 1:1 staff-to-guest ratio. Here your needs are more than met: they're spookily anticipated.

Family-friendliness? Club Med Lindeman Island's jam-packed sports and activities program offers dozens of aquatic and land-based sports, most included in rates. Daydream and Hamilton islands have dedicated kids' clubs, playgrounds, and myriad kid-at-heart features and activities. At Fitroy Island Resort, children's activity programs mean parents can relax or join in the fun, while nature-based activities on Lizard Island are great for older kids.

Top Reasons to Go Sailing the Whitsunday Islands

Aquatic playground

This is a snorkelers' and divers' paradise and one of the world's top sailing and cruising areas. It's also great for kayaking, windsurfing, paragliding, and sailboarding—and most resorts include nonmotorized water sports in their rates.

Tropical paradise

Enjoy a mild climate and warm, clear waters whatever the season, plus some of the most beautiful fine-white-sand beaches in the world.

Gourmet destination

Many Whitsunday island resorts now offer cuisine to rival that of high-end city establishments. Food runs the gamut from traditional four-star gourmet fare to fresh, regional food presented with inventive, site-specific twists.

Resort variety

You can easily divide your time between luxurious, leisurely resorts (such as Hayman, Lizard Island Resort, or Paradise Bay Eco-Resort on South Long Island) and a gregarious, activity-oriented isle (such as Hamilton, Lindeman, or Daydream).

Updated: 07-2013

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