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Destination: Whitsundays in 2019

Destination: Whitsundays in 2019

Of all the places to go boating on the Queensland coast, there is one that consistently makes the world’s top travel lists. The Whitsundays, with its 74 islands and iconic Whitehaven Beach, is an aquatic playground full of timeless allure. While there have always been good reasons to explore these world-famous cruising grounds, 2019 is offering more.

MORE PLACES TO MOOR – An expanded network of public moorings has opened up more bays for enjoyment than ever before. Sandy Bay on the southwest coast of South Molle Island, Chalkies Beach on Haslewood Island, Peter Bay on Whitsunday Island, Cairn Beach in the Hook Passage, and Saba Bay on the east coast of Hook Island, have all been equipped with new mooring buoys.

As well as protecting the Whitsunday islands’ fringing reefs, this additional infrastructure makes it easier for boaties of all persuasions to experience some of the archipelago’s gems.

Previously a tricky anchorage with depths of more than 20 metres shelving steeply close inshore, Chalkies Beach is now accessible to 10 moored vessels at any one time. This is the place to be for sunset views over Whitehaven Beach, as well as a lovely snorkelling spot backed by white silica sand.

Just a few short nautical miles to the north, the moorings in Saba Bay have made this hitherto little-explored wonderland on Hook Island equally accessible.

A welcome haven in winds from the north, Saba Bay is one of the Whitsundays’ snorkelling hot spots. The above-water backdrop is every bit as beautiful as the scene below the surface of the sea, with estuaries, caves and beaches to explore.

The moorings at current-affected Cairn Beach have assured this is no longer a place to worry about the anchor dragging while the skipper is ashore.

Those at South Molle’s Sandy Bay have brought online another sunset spot, conveniently close to the mainland ports of Shute Harbour and Airlie Beach, and a pleasant first or last night option for charter boats.

NEW WALKS, LOOKOUTS AND UNDERWATER ART TO EXPLORE – Stretching those sea legs has never been more enjoyable thanks to a number of new walking tracks and lookouts. Completed in 2018 the Langford Island walking track is an easy pathway up a gentle slope to a lookout framed by Whitsunday Bottle Trees. The view down the Langford spit to Black Island and Hook Island’s Stonehaven Bay is nothing short of stunning.

Langford Island will also be home to underwater art by the end of 2019, as part of the Whitsundays Reef Restoration and Public Art Project. At the time of writing the planned Langford artwork was a six by five by three-metre stainless steel turtle by New South Wales sculptor Paul Henry, titled ‘Turtle Dreaming’ and designed to create habitat.

Elsewhere, other planned artworks include a four-by-five metre coral polyp titled, ‘Anthozoa’, by the Arts Based Collective, ‘Migration of the Mantas’ and a dreamtime story about the reef, creation and marine life titled, ‘Bwya’, by Cairns-based artist Brian Robinson, and a Maori Wrasse and Manta Ray by local Whitsunday artist Adriaan Vanderlugt.

Back on dry land, the new 1.2 km Border Island walk leads to two lookouts above Cateran Bay, and a 300-metre track takes walkers from Chalkies Beach to a lookout over Haslewood Island.

A new lookout platform at Whitsunday Island’s Hill Inlet provides visitors with another option for uninterrupted views of one of the world’s most photographed locations. Here every image taken is a picture-perfect postcard showing swirling sands mixed with aquamarine waters feeding into the 7km sweeping curve of Whitehaven Beach.

Due for completion in 2019 is an additional walking track at the southern end of Whitehaven Beach, with plans in the pipeline for longer, more challenging trails, and eco-accommodation to eventually add to the mix.

REJUVENATED RESORTS – Many of the Whitsundays’ island resorts changed hands or closed for renovations after Tropical Cyclone Debbie. The Oatley family’s Hamilton Island and Palm Bay Resort on Long Island were the only island resorts left operating throughout much of 2018; but in 2019, that will change.

Hayman Island is promising a new era of luxury when it reopens in July under the InterContinental brand. Daydream Island is also back in business for 2019. The return of these re-invented icons marks a significant milestone in the Whitsunday region’s road to recovery and heralds the dawn of a new era for its island resorts.

On the mainland, continuous expansion and improvement at Abell Point Marina has morphed into a consolidation with the neighbouring Coral Sea Resort. Abell Point Marina owner, Paul Darrouzet, announced his purchase of the resort in November 2018, with a plan to integrate the two landmarks on this stretch of the Whitsunday mainland coast.

At the other end of the tropical resort town of Airlie Beach, the Port of Airlie continues to flourish, with its growing residential offerings, restaurants and retail precinct, and expanded marina arms.

SPECIAL EVENTS – As the Whitsundays’ infrastructure continue to grow, so does its calendar of events, many of which are conveniently centred on or around the water.

August is traditionally the start of a season of events, kicking off for 2019 with the Whitsunday Reef Festival, from August 1 to 4. Held throughout Airlie Beach, live music, a reef-themed street parade, wearable art and even a recyclable regatta are all part of this much-loved community event.

The 31st annual Airlie Beach Race Week will follow, from August 8 to 15. Competitive racing amid spectacular scenery and a complimentary program of live music and activities onshore, continues to attract a wide range of boats, owners and crews. Many racers stay on to compete in Hamilton Island Race Week, taking place this year, from August 17 to 24.

For those who just like to party on the water, the last weekend of August is the time to head to the top of the Whitsundays. Held in the Gloucester Passage, the Shag Islet Cruising Yacht Club Rendezvous brings a global boating family together to not only have fun but raise money for the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia as well.

While this is a ‘must-do’ for Jimmy Buffet fans, lovers of other types of music can enjoy the Airlie Beach Festival of Music, from November 8 to 10. With a main stage in a big top tent almost surrounded by the Coral Sea, this is a music festival like no other, in the virtual heart of the Great Barrier Reef. For three days and nights the town of Airlie Beach comes alive to the sounds of music, with bands playing at 18 venues from the hilltops to the waterfront.

UNIQUE EXPERIENCES – If new attractions and annual events are not quite enough to float your boat, the Whitsundays offers scenic beauty and unique nature experiences in spades.

The humpback whale migration from July to September sees these majestic mammals gather in great numbers around the Whitsunday islands and coast. The region’s warm, relatively shallow waters offer excellent breeding and calving grounds, with up-close-and-personal encounters between humans and these gentle giants common each year.

Turtles and rays abound in popular anchorages. If swimming with schools of tropical fish or bumping noses with a giant Maori Wrasse is high on your bucket list, the northern bays of Hook Island are the places to be.

On land, goannas roam the walking tracks and campgrounds; and in the skies, there is always plenty of birdlife to watch.

Recommended reading prior to a Whitsunday trip includes the ‘boating bible’ 100 Magic Miles, along with the relevant zoning maps and literature produced by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.

 

By Sharon Smallwood

For more information visit www.gbrmpa.gov.au, www.qld.gov.au/nationalparks and www.tourismwhitsundays.com.au

 

 

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