The Great Barrier Reef is justifiably named as one of the world’s seven natural wonders: the largest structure on earth established by living creatures.
It consists of myriad lagoons, atolls, coral outcrops and sand cays is a work of nature that stretches more than 2,300 kilometres, from the northern waters of Torres Strait to the world’s largest sand island, Fraser Island, in the south. There is ample opportunity for snorkelling over shallow colourful reefs, and diving with the big pelagics on the outer reef.
Along the mainland coast there are endless casuarina-shaded beaches, and the lush tropical rainforest tumbles all the way from the hills to the shore.
The beaches are quiet and bathing is not advised in many areas due to saltwater crocodiles and from October to May, potentially lethal jellyfish. However, offshore water and islands are safe and a big advantage of visiting the coastline by yacht.
The 74 Whitsunday Islands lie close to the coast but within the Great Barrier Reef itself, and also boast safe bathing waters. A collection of stunning drowned granite peaks, most of the islands are uninhabited and protected. The wildlife is spectacular with underwater fish of all sizes and colours, in the bush lizards and birds, and in the air screeching cockatoos and fruit bats.
One of the highlights is the 7km of pure white sand of Whitehaven beach and for once a place that looks even more incredible than the brochure photos. There ís no development, just clear water, icing sugar sand and a few tripper boats. If you tired of exploring coves, reefs, beaches and bushland, head for the inhabited islands for some luxury.
The largest Hamilton Island is an exclusive resort: owned by the Oatley family and headed by Bob Oatley, who owns the famous supermaxi sailing yacht Wild Oats XI. It ís Australia’s largest resort, with a spa, golf course and yacht club, as well as five star restaurants and accommodation. It also hosts the annual Hamilton Island Race Week each August.
Whitsunday Islands, Cid Harbour: One of the largest and most popular anchorages in the Whitsundays because of its many small sandy beaches, mangroves teeming with marine life, and a walking trail that climbs to the 437m-high Whitsunday Peak from where there are panoramic views.
Sydney: A fabulous natural harbour that has it all, the Opera House, the Bridge, Darling Harbour, shopping, dining, bars – all best seen and enjoyed from the water.
Sydney Harbour: At Christmas and New Year, Sydney is a great place to be if you like having fun; the weather is hot and sunny, there’s the start of the Sydney-Hobart race and the best way to see the New Year’s fireworks on the Harbour Bridge is from the water.
Awesome on-shore activities
Great Barrier Reef, Lizard Island, Cook’s Look: Surrounded by excellent dive and snorkeling sites, and with great wildlife on land, Lizard Island also has interesting history. From the highpoint, ‘Cook’s Look’ the famous navigator searched for his exit from the Great Barrier Reef as it closed in on his ship.
Far north Queensland, Stanley Island: The beach is the obvious attraction – a fantastic arc of pure white sand littered with large and highly collectable sea shells – but this is a National Park so the rule is look, don’t take… Inland from the beach, a track takes you to an old Aboriginal settlement from where the amazing panoramic views. But best of all are the quite amazing rock paintings that decorate the walls – not just the usual kangaroos and crocodiles, but representations of three–masted square-rigged sailing ships that had been spied from this lookout and recorded by these ancient artists.
Great Barrier Reef: Endless opportunities for experienced divers or novices. The outer reef is spectacular; the potato cod hole famous for huge fish with much more besides.
Superb Snorkelling/Swimming – Whitsunday Islands: There are numerous excellent spots for a swim or snorkel; including the coral reefs at Catrean Bay on Border Island.
Whitsunday Islands: As well as shoals of large fish, on land you’ll encounter goannas (monitor lizards) as well as colourful parrots. At dusk fruit bats fill the air.
Great Barrier Reef: (Especially at the wilder Northern end towards Cape York.) It is often ridiculously easy to haul up coral trout, Spanish mackerel, yellowfin tuna and trevally in these waters.
Off The Beaten Track
Queensland, The Whitsunday Islands: Located just offshore, this group of islands lies within the Great Barrier Reef. With coral reefs, pure white sandy beaches, abundant wildlife and dazzling sealife, the Whitsundays must be seen to be believed. Just a handful of the islands are inhabited – and these have good resorts and golf courses…