The Whitsundays

Back in October we went on our first holiday since arriving in Sydney in June, spending five nights in Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands.

With Rachael’s parents, Paul and Lorraine, arriving in Australia to visit us, we decided it would be a great place for them to start their four week tour, before travelling back with us to Sydney.

The Whitsundays are a collection of 74 islands, located just off the coast of North Queensland. The islands are one of Queensland’s most popular tourist destinations, renowned not only for white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters, but also as a great place from which to explore the Great Barrier Reef.

While a number of the islands offer accommodation, most notably Hamilton Island, we decided to stay on the mainland, finding a great Eco Cabin just a short drive from Airlie Beach. Surrounded by thick bushland and lots of friendly native animals, including wild turkeys and wallabies (but thankfully no crocodiles), it was a great introduction to Aussie life.

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After first exploring the nearby Shute Harbour, we drove into Airlie Beach to arrange some tours to the Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef for the following days (more of which to follow). Airlie Beach itself is a small bustling town with a high street full of shops, restaurants and tour operators, for the many backpackers and holidaymakers to choose from.

The town’s main attraction is the manmade beach and lagoon which dominates the foreshore and has everything you need for a few relaxing hours in the sun. We were sure to make use of the public BBQ facilities, so we could give Paul and Lorraine their first Aussie barbie experience.

We managed to find several great walks around Airlie Beach including at Hideaway Bay, a 45 minute drive further north. We parked at Montes Beach Resort before starting on a relaxing stroll along the near deserted beach.

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Unfortunately, despite us being in the ‘Sunshine State’ the weather was decidedly stormy, although this took nothing away from the beauty of the beach and the surrounding islands.

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We found another enjoyable walk at Conway Bay, this time to the south of Airlie Beach. Yet again it was almost deserted, and with the tide out it was a long walk across the sand before we could even see the ocean.

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Our first arranged tour was an all day cruise out to the islands on the ‘Whitsunday Bullet’ catamaran, which seemed like great value for money at $179 (£110) per person. The tour started by taking us to Hill Inlet on Whitsunday Island, the largest of the 74 islands.

After a short but steep walk we made it to the viewpoint, and were greeted with incredible views of Whitehaven Beach below us, and the amazing contrast between the swirling white sand and aqua blue water. After taking lots of photos we quickly made our way back to the boat, very excited for the next stop on the beach itself.

 

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The beach reportedly has the purest silica sand in the world, and it is easy to see why it has been voted the best beach in Australia, and amongst the top five in the world by various surveys. After awaiting our turn to be ferried from the catamaran to the beach in a very small inflatable boat, we made our way along the pristine sand, before finding a nice quite spot to enjoy our tour provided packed lunches.

Following lunch we pulled on our stinger suits, to protect us against the dangerous jellyfish that can be found in the tropical Queensland waters, and made our way into the crystal clear water for a very enjoyable swim. Soon enough, it was time to rejoin the tour.

 

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The final stop on the tour was at the north end of Hook Island, where we were given the opportunity to snorkel within the reef. It was a great experience snorkelling through the shallow waters, with fish of all shapes and sizes darting through the beautiful coral below us. After almost an hour in the water, we wearily swam back to the boat ready for the return journey.

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Arriving back into Airlie Beach, we finished the day with a relaxing dinner at Sorrento, one of two excellent Italians we visited during our stay. With great company, food and wine, it was the perfect way to end an amazing day.

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