The Whitsunday Islands look just like the granite mountain peaks they once were before rising sea levels cut them off from the mainland six thousand years ago. They were seasonally inhabited by the Ngaro Aborigines when Captain Cook sailed through in 1770; he proceeded to name the area after the day he arrived, and various locations after his expedition’s sponsors. Today, dense green pine forests, vivid blue water and roughly contoured coastlines give the 74 islands instant appeal, and the surrounding seas bustle with yachts and cruisers.

Airlie Beach, around 149km north of Mackay via the workaday sugar town of Proserpine, is the gateway to the islands. Despite an attractive setting, nobody comes here to spend time in town – it’s just a place to be while deciding which island to visit. Island ferries generally leave from Shutehaven (aka Shute Harbour), 10km on from Airlie past Cape Conway National Park. Other cruises leave from Abel Point Marina in Cannonvale, a sprawling community lying in the wooded shadows of the Conway Range, just around the headland from Airlie Beach.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Australia features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

The world's quirkiest food festivals

The world's quirkiest food festivals

Tomato-drenched crowds wading through a lake of passata at Valencia’s La Tomatina festival might be a familiar image, but such passionate and eccentric cele…

22 Dec 2017 • Lucy Cowie insert_drive_file Article
A Rough Guide to: visiting Australia's Great Barrier Reef

A Rough Guide to: visiting Australia's Great Barrier Reef

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s greatest natural wonders – it’s the largest structure ever built by living things and is even visib…

25 Oct 2017 • Penny Walker insert_drive_file Article
The best aerial views in the world

The best aerial views in the world

Got a head for heights? If you're craving a new perspective on your travels, the best thing to do is get up high. From mountain-top panoramas to cityscapes, her…

17 Oct 2017 • Olivia Rawes camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right