Whitsundays And Mackay… Stylish Islands And Sailing Getaways

If a tropical island, complete with palm trees, golden sands and turquoise waters, sounds like your idea of paradise, imagine multiplying it by 74 and throwing a natural world wonder (aka the Great Barrier Reef) in for good measure. Welcome to the life aquatic in the Whitsundays and Mackay precinct. A destination where sailing ships are part of the regular 5pm rush hour and a glistening archipelago awaits.

In this neck of the woods, sleeping with the fish doesn't involve a body bag and a shady character. Instead, picture a pontoon moored in turquoise waters, a sunset over the Great Barrier Reef and schools of marine critters sidling up to get a better view of snorkel-clad humans plopping into the water. 

What really knits this precinct together is the fact these are the best waters in Australia to sail. Better still, luxury charter yachts are available by the fleet. Imagine flotillas navigating shifting channels and a raft of island and mainland resorts catering to every desire. Here, travellers can flop and drop on some of the whitest sand on the planet at Whitehaven Beach or laze around an iconic lagoon. For the more adventurous, there are opportunities aplenty to head to the outer reef – by seaplane, catamaran or sailing boat.

The mainland base for all this sailing action is Airlie Beach, a vibrant coastal town and the perfect launch pad for activities both on the water and in the lush, green rainforest of the Whitsunday Coast. 

In Mackay – home to 30 beaches (yes one for every day of the month!) – nature-based experiences don't end at the water's edge. Boasting one of the most picturesque valleys in Australia, Mackay prides itself on its natural surrounds. From the stunning Pioneer Valley and the historic home of famous opera singer Dame Nellie Melba, to Eungella National Park and its platypus population. And for those chasing a close encounter with a furry Aussie native, Cape Hillsborough is a must-see, where wallabies frolic on the water's edge at dawn and dusk.

Add These To Your Bucket List

  1. Zip up and load on your scuba gear for an out-of-this-world opportunity to blow bubbles with the world's strangest animal… the platypus.
  2. Set your alarm for pre-sunrise and make your way to the beach that fronts Cape Hillsborough Nature Resort, 50 clicks north-west of Mackay. You'll be joined by great company – the local mobs of wallabies and a couple of kangaroos.
  3. Embrace your inner-Tarzan as you fly across the rainforest canopy on the 350-metre cable Forest Flying experience.
  4. Head for the hills to hike through Australia's largest continuous stretch of sub-tropical rainforest in Eungella National Park.
  5. Take a punt on a horse race like no other at one of only three beach horse races in the world at the Mackay Beach Horse Races.
  6. Venture to Finch Hatton Gorge to discover waterfalls, freshwater swimming holes and, if you're up for it, take the 4.2km stroll through dense tropical rainforest to see the spectacular Araluen and Wheel of Fire waterfalls.
  7. Up your Instagram game with the picturesque landscapes offered by Pioneer Valley, a leisurely 45-minute drive west of Mackay. Pro tip: if you're there in May to November you're sure to snap harvest season in progress.
  8. Forget your 'I Quit Sugar' mantra for one day as you join the Willy Wonka tour at the Sarina Sugar Shed. This interactive journey will give you the lowdown on the region's sugar production history.
  9. Bird watching has a new name and it's The Feathered Nest, 30 minutes north of Mackay. This luxe birding retreat has its own private plunge pool and aviary. Be sure to meet owner Gordon Lockie and see some of his rare black cocktaoos.
  10. Indulge in seasonal produce with the delicious menu stylings of local chef and kitchen wiz Adrian Connors and his restaurant B.U.R.P. And if you're in it to win it, tag team it with a visit to sister venue – The Dispensary.

Immerse Yourself In Nature

  • Autumn – blacktip reef sharks give birth.
  • Winter – this is the best time to see migrating humpback whales in the Whitsundays. Calving takes place from June to August before the whales head south along the Queensland coast. Overnight at Keswick Island and watch them navigate the channel from the summit of the hill (after spotting a kaleidoscope of Ulysses butterflies enroute).
  • Spring – expect to see turtle mating and nesting.


World Class Aquatic Adventures
This unassuming experience precinct offers wild nature-based experiences – from diving with platypus to sailing the seven seas in and around The Whitsunday islands.

BAIT REEF

Site: One of the most pristine diving locations on the outer reef, Bait Reef is 2.5hours from Airlie Beach on the mainland or Hamilton Island.
Location:
Whitsundays and Mackay.
Dive Type: Reef / Lagoon.
Depth: From 4m to 18m.
Visibility:
From 10m to 20m.
Skill Level: All levels.
Known For:
Ranking high amongst experienced divers, Bait Reef offers a range of dive sites to explore from coral gardens and underwater canyons to swim throughs and dramatic walls. Other notable dive sites include the Manta Ray Drop Off, the Stepping Stones and the Southern Face.
Wildlife:
Soft corals, reef fish, turtles, wobbegongs and manta rays.
Hot Tip: Gary's Lagoon is well protected, making it ideal for snorkellers and beginner divers.

BLUE PEARL BAY (HAYMAN ISLAND)

Site: Blue Pearl Bay is a fringing reef located on the north-western side of Hayman Island and can be accessed from Airlie Beach some 32km offshore.
Location: Whitsundays and Mackay.
Dive Type:
Reef.
Depth:
3m to 18m.
Visibility:
3m to 15m.
Skill Level:
Novice & Intermediate.
Known For:
The folks in these parts guarantee you will see more than 500 species of fish, and over 200 plus types of coral. There are plenty of swim throughs and the large bommies are frequented by schools of manta rays.
Wildlife: Blue Pearl Bay is known for its coral and fish life including a friendly resident maori wrasse.
Hot Tip:
Visitors can launch directly from their vessel or tender into the southern beach and enter from the coral beach. The best coral cover can be seen in the shallow water off the southern beach and the best dive is near Castle Rock.

HARDY REEF

Site: The nearest cluster of reefs to the Whitsunday Islands, Hardy Reef is a 42km².
Location:
Whitsundays and Mackay.
Dive Type:
Reef.
Depth:
From 5m to 18m.
Visibility:
From 8m to 18m.
Skill Level:
All levels.
Known For:
Hardy Reef's shallow lagoon is separated from surrounding reefs by a channel of water up to 60m deep and the wall dives are spectacular
Wildlife:
Divers can expect to see a large variety of soft and hard corals and many species of 'people friendly' fish.
Hot Tip:
The Reef World Pontoon brims with trevally, coral trout, and snapper but it is often remember for its giant maori wrasse including George, a two-metre long giant Queensland grouper that pops in daily for a free feed. Overnight stays are available.

THE CREMER

Site: This shipwreck is situated just 10m offshore from Keswick Island and 32km north east of Mackay.
Location:
Whitsundays and Mackay.
Dive Type:
Shipwreck.
Depth:
2m to 12m.
Visibility:
Variable.
Skill Level:
Intermediate & Advanced.
Known For:
The Cremer shipwreck is considered a perfect dive, well protected from winds and currents and accessible via diving tours and day trips from Mackay.
Wildlife:
Giant maori wrasse, brown sweetlip, honeycomb grouper and turtles.
Hot Tip:
Considered a more challenging dive than The Cremer, The Singapore sits in some 25m of water and is home to pelagic fish, sharks and rays.

THE PINNACLES

Site: Hook Island is a rugged national park which offers excellent diving and fishing for folks visiting The Whitsundays.
Location:
Whitsundays and Mackay.
Dive Type:
Reef.
Depth:
3m to 18m.
Visibility:
3m to 15m.
Skill Level:
Intermediate & Experienced.
Known For:
Arguably the best dive site in the Whitsundays, boasting hard corals that compare favourably to those seen on the outer Great Barrier Reef. Large coral bommies dominate the terrain, reaching almost to the surface. Acropora corals are prolific as are huge Porites corals in the shape of boulders and massive towers.
Wildlife:
Manta rays are common in the cooler months as are large maori wrasse, spotted by divers from May to September. Blacktip and whitetip reef sharks are also common.
Hot Tip:
The best dive is off the western beach, adjacent to the Woodpile and swim east at a depth of seven to 15m.

It's Live! In Queensland

AUTUMN

  • Whitsunday SUP Challenge
  • Hamilton Hilly Half Marathon

WINTER

  • Airlie Beach Race Week (The Whitsundays)
  • Airlie Beach Running Festival (The Whitsundays)
  • Audi Hamilton Island Race Week (Hamilton Island)
  • Great Whitehaven Beach Run (The Whitsundays)
  • Whitsunday Reef Festival (The Whitsundays)
  • Mackay Airport Beach Horse Racing Festival (Mackay)
  • Mackay Festival of the Arts

SPRING

  • Airlie Beach Festival of Music (The Whitsundays)
  • Fujifilm Hamilton Island Triathlon (The Whitsundays)
  • Whitehaven Beach Ocean Swim (The Whitsundays)

Hidden Gems

  • Glamp it up on Keswick Island and then discover what could be the purest bees in the world.
  • Take a trip to Hideaway Bay 45 minutes drive north of Airlie Beach and kick back with a cocktail at sunset
  • Explore the riverside Pioneer Trail in Mackay's city centre.
  • Soak up the silica sand on Chalkies Beach. It's the same sand as Whitehaven but few people know about it. Shhhh.

 

Word Count: 1538

Author: Tourism and Events Queensland

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