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Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in The Whitsundays & Hamilton Island

With sun-bleached sands, lush eucalyptus forests, and the UNESCO World Heritage–listed Great Barrier Reef right on the doorstep, the Whitsunday Islands are among the highlights of Australia’s tropical north. Sprinkled along Queensland's Coral Sea coast, the 74 idyllic islands are reachable by boat from Airlie Beach, and are a popular destination for half-, full-, or multi-day island-hopping cruises, sailing adventures, and other tours. The largest of the islands is Whitsunday, where highlights include the world-famous Whitehaven Beach— a pristine expanse of sugar-white sands, and the Hill Inlet Lookout, which offers dramatic views over the surrounding islands. North of Whitsunday, the waters around Hook Island and Hayman Island are a feeding ground for dolphins, manta rays, and humpback whales; while to the east, Chalkies Beach on Haslewood Island—fringed by vibrant coral reefs and teeming with marine life—offers spectacular snorkeling. Farther south, the luxurious resorts of Hamilton Island draw a steady stream of holidaymakers. The most built-up of all the islands, Hamilton has a bustling marina, lively beach resorts, and an 18-hole golf course. The biggest draw is Catseye Beach, where thrill-seekers can enjoy water sports such as waterskiing, kayaking, rafting, and Jet Ski tours; while the walking trails of Passage Peak are the best place to soak up the island’s natural beauty.
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Whitehaven Beach
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With its powder-white silica sands, gleaming turquoise waters, and fringe of lush rainforest, it’s little surprise that Whitehaven is one of Australia’s most photographed beaches. Stretching for almost 3 miles (5 kilometers) along the coast of Whitsunday Island, it’s a magnificent sight and an idyllic spot for swimming and snorkelling.

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Whitsunday Passage
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The Whitsunday 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. Later, in 1936, the city of Airlie Beach was established and it remains, in many ways, the heart of Whitsunday Passage. Today, the Whitsunday Passage is sailed constantly by tourists on chartered boats and cruises, while including some of the world's most photographed beaches.

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Hill Inlet
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On the northern end of the Whitsundays’ Whitehaven Beach, Hill Inlet is one of the most photographed spots in Australia. When the tide is low, visitors are treated to fantastic views of the inlet’s swirling white sand and turquoise tropical waters.

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Hamilton Island
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The largest inhabited island in the Whitsundays, Hamilton Island has some of the best beach resorts in the Pacific, right on the cusp of the Great Barrier Reef. Famed for its luxury resorts and water sports, stunning views await at every turn—pristine white sands, lush rain forest, and an endless expanse of glittering ocean.

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Heart Reef
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Off the coast of Queensland, the UNESCO-listed Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system. The portion called Hardy Reef is perhaps the most popular with visitors thanks to its postcard-perfect Heart Reef—which, true to the name, is heart-shaped.

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Reefworld Pontoon
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The Reefworld Pontoon is the Barrier Reef experience made easy. It's located on two giant pontoons over sheltered Hardy Reef, one of the most beautiful and prolific of nature's coral gardens. So many colors! Thousands of fish! It's a deluxe way to see the wonders of the reef.

You're whisked out there by high-speed catamaran, so you'll spend less time getting out to the reef, and because Hardy Reef is a platform reef, it's not subject to choppy conditions and can be snorkeled pretty much year-round.

You can tour the reef without getting wet aboard spacious semi-submersibles, with commentary from Reef Interpreters. Reefworld's facilities also include a large, seated underwater viewing chamber (complete with soft nautical music); a secure diving area; a large sundeck with sun lounges and views; and a tailor-made viewing area on deck to see the massive Queensland Groper living beneath the platform.There are also masseurs, shops and a host of activities for children.

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Whitsunday Crocodile Safari
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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.

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Shute Harbour
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2 Tours and Activities

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. Accordingly, there is a large contingency of operators that run sportsfishing tours.

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Daydream Island Living Reef
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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. The north lagoon is unique in that night-time viewings are possible with the blue lighting within the coral making the underwater world glow to life in an insightful nocturnal experience.

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