– The Whitsundays Islands, Island, Australia –The great barrier reef and whitsunday islands have always had an otherworldly reality.
CORAL STRUCTURES THE SIZE of cars reach skyward as eddies of sea life swirl around them in the Great Barrier Reef. Above the water is a spread of silica white sand beaches, bush tracks ringing with the echoes of a culture more than 40,000 years old, and luxury resorts tucked quietly into the green folds of private islands.
The 74 islands of the Whitsunday group spill down to crystalline waters that play host to a dazzling free-for-all of marine life. It’s that combination of shore and sea that is the core, unchanging essence of the region. But while that essence hasn’t changed, what has is the way visitors are now able to experience the Whitsundays and Great Barrier Reef.
Over the last decade, luxury resorts with an emphasis on privacy, quality, and eco-decadence have nestled themselves into the region. On water, drastically revamped facilities at Airlie Beach’s Abell Point Marina in the heart of the Whitsundays mean superyachts now have a comprehensive base from which to cruise the region. The combination of luxury by land and sea has seen a new wave of visitors ready to make the most of this singular destination.
In the Whitsundays, superyachts are venturing out to discover uninhabited islands and the tens of thousands of species that call the Great Barrier Reef home, before pointing the bow to Abell Point Marina at the end of each itinerary. The marina has given large luxury yachts a home in the region, with facilities newly extended to accommodate them and an on-theground team who knows that good service. Guests exploring the Great Barrier Reef are able to fly by private jet or connecting flight into the heart of the Whitsundays, before being whisked by helicopter to their waiting vessel.
The opportunities to discover an under-sea explosion of life are almost endless, while on land a selection of carefully crafted resorts caters to visitors’ every relaxation need. For those seeking a discrete, luxury shoreside retreat, qualia on Hamilton Island’s North Shore offers exclusive fine dining, dreamtime treatments which soothe modern aches with 300-million-year-old hot stones at Spa qualia, and 60 individual pavilions boasting boutique resort accommodation.
One&Only Hayman offers re-imagined resort living in beautifully appointed guest rooms, suites, villas and penthouses, set among expansive pools, lush gardens and two kilometres of pristine white sand beaches. Superyacht guests can book a few days here pre- or post-cruise as they allow the colours and pace of life on the Great Barrier Reef to wash over them.
Guests arrive year-round to experience the magic of the reef. From May to October, the Whitsundays turn on perfect cruising conditions, with light south-easterly winds averaging eight knots, a mean high of over 25 degrees and sea temperature of 23 degrees. 11 hours of sunlight each day top off the perfect yachting conditions.
From June to August the waters of the region echo with the sounds of humpback whales as they move into the warmer waters to breed, while from July to September come the sounds of another horde – this time of the fleet of yachts ready to battle in the winter regattas. Back under the waves and it’s wildlife that really rules the region. Stingrays dance through the water at Hill Inlet, and on the beaches of Langford Island turtles are fed by hand.
Talk to the locals and they’ll tell you to head to the south end of Stonehaven – just by the second mooring, to feed resident turtle, Freddy, his daily dose of pilchard or squid. Over at Hook Island’s Butterfly Bay, visitors can don a snorkel and swim with Maori wrasse and the giant trevally which rule the extensive protected reef here.
At Blue Pearl Bay, it’s male and female Giant Napoleon wrasse that are king and queen of the cove – and who won’t say no to being fed by the guests exploring their world. Feeding in the bay attracts yellowtail and batfish, alongside a mélange of other species, creating an openended aquarium in its clear waters. High above, white-bellied sea eagles with a wingspan of nearly two metres hunt over the channels between islets.
Fresh seafood is a staple of the Australian life, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the Whitsundays. Pick fresh oysters from the rocks in Maze Bay, Hook Passage and Woodwark Bay before retreating to a quiet, sandy spot to enjoy them with one of the country’s awardwinning wines.
The more adventurous will relish taking the tender into Tongue Bay to lay pots for mud crabs. Back on dry land from a base at Abell Point Marina, guests can experience the quaint fishing hamlets at Dingo Beach and Hideaway Bay – where many a long lunch has been held at the top-rated Montes Restaurant – and of course try out some of Airlie Beach’s varied wining and dining options, which are only a scenic 10-minute coastal walk from the marina.
Daydream Island is a romantic’s delight. With the yacht waiting offshore, settle in for a private dining event at beautiful Lover’s Cove, or if you’d prefer a more interactive dining experience, head to One&Only Hayman Island. This world-leading resort offers four restaurants that take local ingredients and create signature dishes across four distinct cuisine styles.
Once those fresh ingredients have topped up the energy reserves, visitors can follow the trails of the traditional Ngaro people along the Ngaro Sea Trail, by both walking and kayaking. From the boat it’s an easy motor to the join the trail wending its way across Whitsunday Island, Hook Island and South Molle Island. With that short ride, visitors are taken back thousands of years to immerse themselves in a rich, full culture.
The Ngaro people have walked this land for more than 9,000 years, and remnants of their artwork still adorn the fragile rock surface on the inside of a cave on the Nara Inlet. Back on water, take a dive on a fringing reef within the Islands or discover the beautiful coral gardens of the outer reef. Airlie Beach is home to a number of experienced dive masters available to act as local guides. As the sun sets on another day in this otherworldly playground, and the phosphorescence pulses and glows beneath the bow wave of the boat, it’s easy to see why this wonder of a region will never lose its allure.
Cameron Bray is an Australia-based superyacht broker with a passion for helping visiting yachts get the most out of his home cruising waters. Here’s his suggested itinerary for a six-day visit to the Whitsundays:
DAY 1– BLUE PEARL BAY
After a scenic flight that delivers you right to Hamilton Island in the heart of the Whitsundays, your crew will be waiting at the airport to meet you. Slip into resort mode as they whisk you to your yacht by the island’s preferred mode of transportation – golf buggy. Departing for Blue Pearl Bay once everyone has settled in on the boat, guests have the opportunity to enjoy an afternoon of snorkelling or relaxing on board. Blue Pearl Bay offers a large variety of fish life and coral including a resident Maori Wrasse and guests can snorkel directly off the vessel or beach. Cocktails at sunset and dinner while anchored off Hayman Island bring the first day to a beautiful close.
DAY 2 – BLUE PEARL BAY, HAYMAN ISLAND AND STONEHAVEN BAY
After breakfast, guests can enjoy a scuba dive at Blue Pearl Bay to spot many types of coral and fish life. Diving at Blue Pearl Bay can vary from three metres to 18m depending on where the dive takes place, and visibility is usually from 3m to 15m. Guests will then enjoy lunch back on the yacht, before cruising to Hayman Island to explore for the afternoon. Hayman Island offers a large variety of activities ranging from a relaxing trip to the One&Only Hayman Island Spa, or a short hike to the Whitsunday Lookout or Cook Lookout. Guests can choose to dine ashore on Hayman Island at one of its highly recommended restaurants. After dinner, it’s just a 15-minute cruise to Stonehaven Bay to moor for the evening.
DAY 3 – WHITEHAVEN BEACH
Start the day with breakfast and a gorgeous view at Stonehaven Bay, before cruising to Whitehaven Beach. Whitehaven Beach is a must-see with its beautifully clear waters and pristine silica sand. Stretching over seven kilometres, the beach is an amazing place to explore – or to just spend the day relaxing. After a day spent on Whitehaven beach – a regular winner of global best beach awards – it’s a one-hour cruise to Nara Inlet, where guests will enjoy a delicious meal designed around their preferences, on the aft deck overlooking Nara Inlet.
DAY 4 – LUNCHEON BAY, MANTA RAY BAY AND BUTTERFLY BAY
After a leisurely breakfast, the yacht will cruise to Luncheon Bay. With neighbouring Manta Ray Bay, guests have the opportunity to snorkel at both and go exploring for the remainder of the day. There’s also the option of diving at Manta Ray Bay, which has an array of valleys, caves and swim-throughs, a variety of soft and hard corals, and a huge spread of marine life. At the end a great day of snorkelling and diving, it’s time for dinner and an overnight stay at Butterfly Bay.
DAY 5 – BAIT REEF AND CID HARBOUR
Wake up in beautiful Butterfly Bay and enjoy breakfast before the yacht moves to the Great Barrier Reef’s Bait Reef for a snorkel or dive. Bait Reef offers an abundance of tropical marine life including large soft corals, reef fish, turtles and the occasional wobbegong or manta ray. After an exhilarating day of exploring at Bait Reef, the yacht will cruise back to Cid Harbour. Guests will enjoy one of the chef ’s excellent meals, then cocktails and a gorgeous sunset at this sheltered hideaway.
DAY 6 – CID HARBOUR AND HAMILTON ISLAND
After waking up at Cid Harbour, guests will enjoy their last breakfast on board before the yacht lifts anchor and cruises back to Hamilton Island. As the guests’ flights take off from Hamilton Island they’ll be afforded a last, sweeping glance of this pristine, otherworldly part of the planet. www.braymanagement.com.au