This relaxed day out offers the chance to experience the exquisite beauty of Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet in Queensland’s magical Whitsundays. Cruise, hike and swim, before indulging in a delicious gourmet burger lunch. You can board the cruise at the Port of Airlie (Airlie Beach), Daydream Island or Hamilton Island. Duration: 9 hours (approx.)
Beautiful one day, perfect the next.
The catchphrase of past Queensland tourism campaigns could very well have been coined specifically for the Whitsunday Islands, so fitting is the description of this destination. While visiting recently, I choose to explore Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet — two of the area’s not-to-be-missed natural wonders — on a full-day excursion with premier tour operator Cruise Whitsundays.
My day starts with seamless boarding of our catamaran at the Hamilton Island marina. The charter crew are an easy-going and friendly bunch, and the captain’s commentary is peppered with laidback humour during the smooth sailing to Whitehaven Beach.
Wow, what a sight! A long curve of powdery sand — stretching seven kilometres — is blindingly white in the sunshine. Sandwiched between glistening waters and lush green bushland, Whitehaven Beach is every bit as pristine as the hundreds of Instagram images suggest (no filter needed!). No wonder it’s consistently voted amongst the top 10 beaches in the world!
Once ashore, it’s time for a swim in crystal-clear waters teeming with marine life — not all of it friendly. We don stinger suits to protect us from the tiny but extremely poisonous Irukandji jellyfish that migrate here annually between November and May. Luckily, there are no signs of this species of box jellyfish today.
Schools of black and white striped reef fish sashay around me as I splash about, their pace so leisurely that I accidentally bump into a few from time to time. I could easily spend all day here but it would be silly to miss the trip to Hill Inlet — one of the region’s most popular tourist attractions — renowned for its breathtaking blend of white and blue hues created by shifting tides.
Getting there involves a 15-minute cruise to Tongue Bay, where turtles are excitedly spotted in the waves. En route, our skipper shares interesting snippets about the surrounding geography and conspiracy theories about the origins of Whitehaven Beach’s pure silica sand. ‘No one really knows where it comes from. Geologists don’t think it originates from around here, but I don’t believe that for a second’, he confides.
As we approach Tongue Bay, coral formations below us morph into rock and gravel. We alight from the boat in the shallows, clambering over pebbles and sand to get ashore.
Our guide leads us to our first stop — the ‘Instagram-famous’ gum tree — a once towering eucalyptus, now toppled sideways on the beach. I confess, I’ve never heard of this social media icon until now, but the tree’s sun-bleached bulk makes a perfect backdrop prop. And I can’t resist joining the queue of millennials (and a baby-boomer or two!) waiting to preen and pose for pictures on its branches.
Priorities sorted, we hike up to the lookout — a triple series of vantage points, each providing a panoramic vista that is unfathomably more jaw-dropping than the one before. Organic swirls of snow-coloured sand intertwine with a palette of blues so intense that they feel other-worldly; we fumble furiously for our phone cameras to capture the ‘painting-like’ scene. When the clicking of cameras subsides, we head back to Whitehaven, spotting more turtles along the way.
A build-your-own-burger spread awaits, with quintessentially Aussie ingredients such as smashed avocado, bright-red beetroot chunks, and mounds of smoky charred onion ready to be assembled into a burger ‘with the lot’. As we chow down on our culinary creations, a metre-long goanna watches patiently from the shrubbery, hopeful for scraps.
Bellies full, there’s an optional trek up to another lookout for the energetic. I decide instead on a snooze in my sun tent, followed by more gentle bobbing about in the calm, warm sea.
On the cruise back to our temporary island home, the vibe is lively yet relaxed. Crew members turn bar staff, pouring complimentary wine and ice-cold tinnies of beer as we nibble on cheese, crackers, and charcuterie.
A beautiful, perfect day indeed.
Cover image courtesy of Tourism and Events Queensland. Additional images: Bigstock
Cindy Bingley-Pullin considers herself a writer, wanderluster, corporate bee and happy homemaker. In between analysing spreadsheets in the office, she pursues her combined passions of travel and freelance writing. Her work has appeared in Virgin Australia’s Voyeur, International Traveller, Fitness First magazine and the Sydney Morning Herald.