The gateway to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsunday Islands are a tempting tropical cruising destination in their own right. Line-of-sight sailing among the 74 islands brings yachtsmen to pristine beaches, abundant wildlife, fine dining and spectacular natural landscapes.
Why does Whitehaven Beach frequently rank as Australia’s top beach and among the world’s best? When its clear turquoise waters swirl together with the blindingly white sand of Hill Inlet, the breathtaking view is greater than the sum of its stunning parts.
This beach is part of Whitsunday Islands National Park. Its 99 percent pure silica sand reflects the sun’s rays, making the fine, powdery sand feel cool underfoot.
The inlet is considered to be at peak photo perfection at midtide, so time your visit to the Hill Inlet Lookout accordingly. Cruisers usually use Tongue Bay as their access point; keep an eye out for sea turtles feasting on the bay’s seagrass.
It’s worth rising before dawn to catch the sunrise from atop Passage Peak, the highest point on Hamilton Island. The 3.2-mile-out-and-back trail is open year-round and considered moderately challenging, particularly during the final steep section. The effort is rewarded with 360-degree views of nearby Perseverance Island, and Pentecost and Lindeman islands on the horizon.
Watch the gorgeous sunset over the Hamilton Island Yacht Club with a drink on the deck or through the oversize windows of this upscale dining destination. The restaurant’s name comes from the aboriginal word “bombora,” referring to the reefs surrounding the island. Chef Trent Dawson’s multicourse and daily tasting menus feature inventive Australian fare, including kangaroo tartare and seafood risotto with Moreton Bay bug, a local species of slipper lobster.
The second-largest island among the 74 in the Whitsundays chain, Hook Island is a year-round hot spot for snorkelers and scuba divers. The Pinnacles are noteworthy for their vibrant coral bommies that extend 65 feet beneath the surface. The most popular site is Manta Ray Bay, known as the Aquarium for its abundant marine life. The bay hosts its namesake species from May to September but during other months is home to Maori wrasse, parrotfish and schools of yellow-tail fusiliers. Keep an eye out underwater for an aluminum manta ray sculpture and along the shoreline for Migration of the Mantas, a concrete-and-steel installation, both part of the Ngaro Underwater Marine Sculpture Trail.
There’s no commercial development on the island. Instead, the lure onshore is the Ngaro Cultural Site and its red-and-yellow ocher cave paintings created more than 9,000 years ago. Boaters can reach the cave from the rainforest-ringed Nara Inlet, a popular overnight anchorage.