Great Barrier Reef Feature

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Sailing the Whitsunday Islands

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

The Whitsunday islands, protected from Coral Sea swells by sheltering reefs and cooled by trade winds, offer hundreds 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, and South Long—have resorts.

When to Go

With a climate moderated by cooling trade winds, the Whitsundays are typically 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 Australia’s 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 dive and snorkeling spots nearby. 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 semisubmersible 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 lighted after dark, and fine food and wine brought in from Hamilton's best restaurants. Bedarra, Orpheus, and Lizard Island resorts serve up gourmet meals and exclusive accommodations, while Paradise Bay Island 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. Here your needs are more than met: they're often spookily anticipated.

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

Top Reasons to Go

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, and paragliding—and most resorts include nonmotorized water sports in their rates.

Tropical paradise

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

Gourmet destination

Several Whitsunday and Barrier Reef island resorts offer cuisine to rival that of high-end city establishments. Island-resort food runs the gamut from four-star gourmet fare to regional cuisine presented with site-specific twists.

Resort variety

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

Updated: 2014-04-21

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