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Queensland - The Whitsundays
Beach scene The Whitsunday Islands are practically synonymous with pleasure and relaxation. Extending along the coast from Mackay to Bowen, more than 100 islands make up this group, which derives its name from James Cook. The passage was first sailed by Cook on Pentecost, or Whit Sunday (the seventh Sunday after Easter), in 1770.

It is believed Aborigines occupied the mainland area adjacent to the islands for 8000 years or so. Early European settlers were timber-getters, pastoralists and sugarcane farmers, who brought with them indentured Pacific Islanders to work on their plantations. While cattle farming and sugarcane remain important, the area’s main growth industry is tourism.

Beautiful turquoise waters, sheltered bays, sandy beaches, coral reefs and year-round warm weather bring people from all over Australia and overseas, and the holiday emphasis is on water, particularly boating, diving, snorkelling and fishing. Several professional operators take tourists out from the mainland and the islands in search of game fish such as marlin. Tourists can also hire crewed or bareboat yachts and cruisers. Island hopping aboard cruise boats is another popular option.

Water sports - source: Hamilton Island More than 11,000 square kilometres of the Whitsundays form part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and Hardy Reef, somewhat to the east of the Whitsundays, is considered one of the best locations for snorkelling and reef walking. Made up of coral that has grown over part of a submerged ancient river system, its lagoon empties with the outgoing tide, exposing living coral in shallow water. It can be reached by seaplane from Whitsunday Airport, or catamaran from Shute Harbour on the mainland. Other recommended coral reef diving spots are on Hayman and Hook islands.

Both the islands and mainland resorts offer a range of accommodation, from five-star to camping, with ecotourism a growth area. The island resorts can be reached by ship from Shute Harbour or flown to directly from main cities as well as nearby Proserpine and Mackay. Travelmate has lots of accommodation in the Whitsundays, at prices to suit every budget.

Whitsunday Group
Airlie Beach, about 30 kilometres off the Bruce Highway at Proserpine is the main resort town on this stretch of the Queensland coast. Visitors have access to beaches, national parks, surrounding canefields and historic villages and sites. Walks through Conway National Park, covering 23,000 hectares along the coastal hinterland, might reward with sights of rock wallabies or the colourful Ulysses butterfly. Within easy access of Shute Harbour (8 kilometres away), Airlie is a good base for those who wish to make daytrips to the islands, 70 of which are national parks.

Hamilton Island - source: Hamilton IslandHamilton Island sits pretty much in the middle of the Whitsundays and offers the most diverse range of accommodation prices and styles. Along with the typical activities and facilities offered by most of the island resorts (beach volleyball, tennis, swimming, archery, mini-golf, diving, parasailing etc.), it also features an Australian fauna park.

Brampton Island is located at the southern entrance to the Whitsundays. Mainly national park, two attractions are the bushwalking trails and the adventure snorkelling trail.

Daydream Island - source: Daydream Island Resort Daydream Island, less than 3 kilometres from Shute Harbour, has two main visitor areas: the resort accommodation, which takes up most of the northern half of the island and the day visitors’ centre in the south. Owned by Village Roadshow, the resort includes an outdoor cinema facility.

Hayman Island is where Whitsunday tourism began when schoolteacher Monty Embury used the island as a base for school-holiday scientific exhibitions. It is now the most luxurious — and exclusive — of the island resorts.

Hook Island’s emphasis is on nature rather than luxury, with camping and cabin accommodation. Visitors can explore an underwater reef fish observatory, an underwater coral viewer and a collection of Aboriginal cave drawings.

Lindeman Island is both a national park and the site of a Club Med resort. Rising more than 1,000 kilometres, the island’s Mount Oldfield has spectacular views of the surrounding islands.

Long Island lies close to the mainland near Shute Harbour. Part of the island is National park and there are walks along wooded slopes to deserted beaches. There are several resorts catering mainly for families and those on a budget.

South Molle Island has facilities oriented to family holidaying and outdoor activities with walking tracks and a nine-hole golf course.Like many of the resort islands it offers a range of activities for children through its ‘kids’ clubs’.

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