• Photo: Christopher Meder/ Shutterstock
  • Photo: Tanya Puntti / Shutterstock

The Whitsunday Islands

The Whitsundays are a group of 74 islands situated within 161 km (100 miles) of each other and around 50 km (31 miles) from Shute Harbour, the principal mainland departure point, though some boats depart from Airlie Beach marina nearby. Discovered in 1770 by Captain James Cook of the HMS Endeavour—though in fact not on Whitsunday itself, thanks to a time-zone change oversight on Cook's part—the Whitsundays are a favorite sailing destination and an easy-access base from which to explore the midsection of the Great Barrier Reef. Some of the islands' beaches—notably, famous Whitehaven Beach—are picture-postcard gorgeous, though vegetation on the islands themselves looks more scrubby than tropical. In fact, the entire region is subtropical, making for moderate air and water temperatures year-round. Most of the Whitsunday Islands are designated national parks and, although you'll spot few animals on them, birds are plentiful—more than 150 species make their homes here. Only a few of the islands have resorts; others serve as destinations for day trips, beach time, and bushwalks, or simply as backdrop at scenic moorings.

Camping is popular on the myriad islands of the Whitsunday group. To pitch a tent on islands lying within national parks you need a A$5.95 per-person, per-night permit from the ParksQ (Queensland Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport & Racing [NPRSR]). The Whitsunday Region Information Centre, on the Bruce Highway at Proserpine, is open daily 9–5.

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