By 7.30 this morning we had got up, showered, dressed, had breakfast, caught a bus, and were enjoying a coffee at Abell Point marina at Airlie Beach. By 8.00 o’clock we were boarding the catamaran ferry Kingfish to start our Whitsunday Islands tour.
Our first point of call was beautiful Daydream Island where we were met by Alison, our tour guide for the day. Alison was very charming, personable, and certainly knew her stuff.
The Whitsunday Islands National Park includes 74 islands of which over 96% is national parks, mostly uninhabited. Only a handful have resorts or permanent inhabitants. Captain James Cook sailed the HMS Endeavour into a passage between the mainland and the islands on 3rd June 1770, the date of the ancient British festival of Whit Sunday, so he named the passage Whitsunday Passage.
Daydream Island is a small island resort but with plenty of things to do, ranging from swimming and snorkelling to more active pursuits including jet-skiing, parasailing, skiing, etc. There are in effect two halves to the island. The North end features the main reception areas, accommodation and restaurants, plus swimming pools, bars, spa complex and so on.
It also features the Living Coral Reef Lagoon which is home to sharks, rays, sea stars, and more. The water is very shallow and the marine life is quite visible – although not so much so by camera lens. There are organised feedings as well and apparently no-one has lost a foot from standing in the water for quite a while. We didn’t test this statement!
The North end of Daydream Island also features Mermaid Beach, the Mermaid Bar and some terrific mermaid sculptures. The story goes that Captain Cook ran aground on this beach but was rescued by some mermaids and was refloated, hence the association with mermaids. Alison our guide commented that perhaps Cook had been enjoying his rum ration a bit too much that night which might explain the voices he heard, although the ‘baby crying birds’ we have commented on several times – which we now know are bush stone curlews – might have something to do with the story as well.
The South End of the Island is more the activities end, with playgrounds, tennis courts, outdoor cinema, wedding chapel, swimming pool, a small boutique shopping area, bakery, bar, helipad, and so on.
After a good walk and explore around Daydream Island it was back on board our ferry – this time the Swordfish – and off to our next destination.
This is the place where it seems the millionaires hang out. Our first stop was at the Airport Wharf to let people off before we headed into the Hamilton Island marina where we disembarked. The two things that struck us immediately on arrival were the number and the size of the huge yachts in the marina, and the number of golf buggies everywhere. Actually the buggies make total sense as the only motor vehicles on the island appear to be commercial utes, vans and trucks and the buggies are a very convenient way to get around.
Hamilton Island is much bigger than Daydream and is the most commercially developed island in the Whitsundays, but is still about 70% national park. Alison told us that a new resort wanted to claim 6 star status but needed a golf course to do so. There was no extra land available on Hamilton for a golf course so they bought nearby Dent Island and developed it as a golf course and got their 6 star rating. Most of the development on the island is low rise and quite settled in the environment, although there are 5 or 6 high rises as well.
One of the more interesting shops on Hamilton Island is the Foot gallery, where there is an amazing collection of large scale sculptures on display. Inside there are some smaller, many absolutely exquisite items suitable for display or jewellery.
Lunch was on the Marina Tavern balcony overlooking the marina and out to sea. Lunch was delicious and we both felt obliged to have a glass of Wild Oats Chardonnay in recognition of the Wild Oats racing yacht, which is apparently due in Hamilton Island very soon.
After lunch we went for a walk around town, and were quite taken by the new yacht club. It has a wide range of facilities available, but the design is quite striking. Debate is out as to where it is meant to resemble a whale, or a manta ray, or a yacht, as all these influences are visible when viewing the yacht club from different angles.
Hamilton Island is home to a range of interesting retail shops, art galleries, and so on, but the main focus is very clearly on water sports, whether sailing, fishing, snorkelling, scuba diving, or again the more adventurous activities such as jet-skiing, parasailing, etc. The choices are only limited by the amount of money in your wallet!
Our time on Hamilton Island was way too short before we had to catch our next ferry.
Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island
From Hamilton Island we cruised through Solway Passage to Whitsunday Island, which is the largest island in the Whitsundays and is approx. 18 kms long and 14 kms wide at its widest point. Whitehaven Beach is on the eastern side of the island and is about 9 kilometres of beautiful white silica sand fringed by brilliant blue water that is regularly voted as one of the best beaches in the world. The silica sand is approximately 98% pure and is better quality than needed to make binocular lenses. It is also particularly bright and reflective, yet doesn’t retain heat so it is very easy to walk on.
Whitehaven Beach is part of the national park and is maintained in pristine condition. Although there is a small camping area, nearly all visitors are day trippers on organised tours like us, or others out sailing, etc. There was a sea plane there today as well. Unlike the other islands we visited, there is no wharf or jetty at Whitehaven Beach so it took three smaller ferry loads of visitors out from the ferry onto the beach. Also, there is no shop so you have to take everything with you, and importantly bring everything, including rubbish, back with you. Other than some long drop toilets and a few bench seats, there are basically no facilities at all at Whitehaven Beach.
A few of our tour group were game enough to have a swim, but Ann and I simply went for a walk along the water’s edge in both directions from our drop off point. It was a wonderfully serene experience, walking on extremely fine, almost pure white sand on a beautiful sunny day, and wading through almost perfectly clear water lapping at our ankles. We did see some small fish in the water, plenty of sea birds, and a lizard about 1 metre long out for a stroll.
Before too long it was time to go and we returned to the ferry.
Back to Abell Point Marina
Once on board the ferry we were treated to afternoon tea of scones, jam and cream, hot or cold drinks, and plenty of fresh fruit. The bar was open for those so inclined. We then faced a rather bumpy ride back to Hamilton Island where we had to change ferries as the one we were on was heading off to another destination. Alison made sure that we went straight to the start of the queue to board the ferry for the final leg of our trip home. We arrive back at Abell Point Marina at about 6.00 pm and then caught the connecting shuttle bus back to our caravan park.
What a tremendous day!