Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in The Whitsundays & Hamilton Island
What makes Whitehaven Beach so special? It's the silica. The sand on this 6km (4 mi) stretch of paradise is 98% silica, the powdered remains of a long-dead coral forest. That's what makes it so sugar-fine, radiantly white and slip-through-the-toes silky.
Of course, a beach doesn't keep its Best Beach awards and places in Top 10 lists through sand alone. Whitehaven teams its pristine whiteness with warm, lapping, peerlessly blue waves, a rainforest backing and Hill Inlet, which is famous for the play of colour as the tide washes in.
The Whitsundays Passage is the waterway that carves through the middle of the Whitsunday Islands in the heart of northwestern Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. These famous islands, perhaps some of Australia's most popular tourist attractions, are named after the passage, which was given its title by the famed explorer Captain James Cook in 1770. The area was discovered on Whitsun, a Sunday feast day held seven weeks after Easter, thus resulting in the name. However, since the international dateline has now been established, it is now said that the day Cook discovered this passage would have actually been a Monday.
Within Whitsunday Passage, there are 74 islands in total, with the largest simply known as Whitsunday Island. Most of these islands have remained uninhabited or are, at the very least, protected by a vast system of national parks. The oldest settlement in the Whitsundays is the town of Bowen, settled in 1861.
Often described as one of the best views in all of Australia, Hill Inlet is a must-visit in the Whitsunday Islands area. Its a feature of countless tours throughout the region and sits on the large Whitsunday Island at Whitehaven Beach.
If you travel along Whitehaven Beach to the north, you'll run into Hill Inlet. Try to be there when the tides are retreating, as this is when you'll have the luxury of watching perfect white sands appear in a twist among the clear blue waters. From the air, it almost looks unnatural, like a water-color painting or a colorful piece of sand art.
Most people arrive by boat and take a dingy ashore. To truly appreciate the view, however, you'll want to make your way to the most popular lookout point over Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet, a spot called Tongue Point. It's here that the magnitude of the beach and inlet are best experienced.
Just offshore from the 74 islands that make up the Whitsundays lay sections of the world's largest barrier reef. The portion of the Great Barrier Reef called Hardy Reef is perhaps the most popular spot for tourists thanks to the postcard-ready Heart Reef, which is, as you may have guessed, the shape of a heart.
Surrounded by perfect blue waters, not only has Heart Reef been formed into a perfect Valentine's shape, but it's even a romantic pink color. The incredible collection of coral was first discovered by an Air Whitsunday pilot and has since become one of the top sights for people doing flightseeing tours over the reefs. Moreover, it has become a popular, if not cliché, destination for both honeymoons and proposals. The grandeur of Heart Reef is only truly visible from the air, of course. At an area of nearly 30 meters wide and 30 more tall, at water level it simply looks like any other reef in the Whitsunday area.
The Whitsunday Crocodile Safari offers you the opportunity to see saltwater crocodiles in their natural environment as you cruise around the estuaries and wetlands between the Whitsunday coast and the Proserpine River. There are about 150 of the 'salties' living in the estuaries, so keep your camera ready - the chances of a sighting are good.
As well as croc-spotting, you can keep an eye out for the many other kinds of native wildlife that live in these parts - birds, reptiles, marine creatures and mammals. In addition to the cruise through the estuaries, you'll be taken on a tractor-drawn wagon train ride through the Goorganga Wetlands and through melaleuca forest and mangrove systems. Your guides provide commentary and 'bush tucker' - damper (a kind of simple bread) and billy tea, cooked over a fire. They'll also try to catch you a mud crab so they can show you its features before releasing it back into the river.
Essentially, Shute Harbour is a center of transit for visitors to the Whitsunday Islands. Amazingly, for such a low-populated area, the harbor is actually Australia's second busiest commuter port. It is also home to one of the most active seaplane bases in the entire southern hemisphere. And though there is a small village here, the vast majority of tourists simply just pass through town on their way to catch a ferry or a cruise around the islands.
However, if you find yourself in town with a couple hours to spare, there are a few hiking trails through Conway National Park that find their bases in Shute Harbour. If you want a great view overlooking the island and the harbor itself, you could take a quick drive up to Coral Point. One of the other reasons that people come to Shute Harbour is for the waters just offshore that host some of the top fishing spots anywhere in the region, with the most popular catches in the area being Barramundi and Coral Trout.
The Living Reef, the star attraction of Daydream Island, is home to over 110 species of marine fish, including stingrays, star fish and clown fish, while also hosting over 70 different species of coral reef. Amazingly, the entire reef is artificial, built with the intention of showcasing a microcosm of the Great Barrier Reef itself. The sheer size, a massive 28,500 square feet (2,650 square meters), makes it one of the largest man-made reefs in the entire world. In total, over 7 million liters of sea water are circulated through the artificially grown reef every 24 hours.
Located at the entrance to Daydream Island Resort and Spa, the Living Reef serves as a great educational tool. It lets visitors gain a hands-on experience dealing with coral reef and the organisms that live within them and offers the opportunity to do hand feedings with the animals twice a day. Within the park, there are two different lagoons for people to visit: south and north.