Great Barrier Reef Tour
Food and Drink in Whitsundays (Airlie Beach, Hamilton Island)
Fresh, local produce is abundant in the Whitsundays. Among the freshest is the seafood, caught from local waters and perfect for a light lunch in the tropical climate. If you're not so keen on fruits de mer, contemporary Australian fare combines many types of cuisines, so there really is something for everyone.
In Airlie Beach, try Fish D'vine Fish Cafe and Rum Bar. Seafood and rum star here. The extensive menu includes some non-fish options, but fresh sea fare is the key attraction, with tempting highlights such as local chili mud crab and barbecued tiger prawns. For a post-lunch tipple, the bar offers more than 100 rums or rum-themed desserts, such as banana fritters with spiced rum maple syrup. (303 Shute Harbour Rd; 07 4948 0088; open daily 5 pm till late).
Other suggestions include The Pub (16 The Esplanade; 07 4964 1777; open daily, 10 am till late) at the Airlie Beach Hotel, Sorrento Restaurant & Bar (22 Shingley Drive; 07 4946 7454; open daily, 11 am till midnight) and Coral Sea Resort Marina. For delicious Italian dishes head to La Marina Italian Restaurant and Bar (1/33 Port Drive; 07 4948 0052; open daily, 8 am to 10 pm), a five-minute walk from the Cruise Whitsundays terminal at the Port of Airlie.
Beaches in Whitsundays (Airlie Beach, Hamilton Island)
Best for couples: As one of the most naturally beautiful spots on Earth, the Whitsundays is the place to go for gorgeous beaches. Most famous is the multiple-award-winning Whitehaven Beach, a renowned must-see for romantics and nature-lovers. Its 7 km of pristine silica sand and crystal-clear waters are perfect for a few hours of blissful relaxation. Set on Whitsunday Island, the largest of the 74 islands in Whitsundays, it can easily be reached by ferry, powerboat or yacht. However, in peak times, it's advisable to pre-book to guarantee availability on the day you're planning to visit.
Best for families: The Airlie Beach Lagoon is in the centre of Airlie Beach, with natural and manmade features for all types of visitors. However, with its central location, children's pool and stinger-free sandy beach area for little ones to play in the shallows, it's perfect for families. Parents can relax on the grassy knolls between the lagoon and landscaped gardens. There is no admission fee.
Don't Miss in Whitsundays (Airlie Beach, Hamilton Island)
With 74 islands in the Whitsundays, natural attractions are very much the star of the show, and no trip is complete without a day exploring the waters. Airlie Beach is the main launching point for Whitsunday attractions, and you will find a host of tours by helicopter, seaplane, ferry, and luxury yacht.
Great Barrier Reef: One of the seven natural wonders of the world -- and the only living structure that is visible from outer space -- the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef stretches for more than 2,300 km along the coast. As home to thousands of species of colourful fish, coral and other marine life -- including whales, dolphins and turtles -- it is also heaven for scuba-diving and snorkelling. Alternately, you can view the ocean floor in comfort on a glass-bottom boat trip. Half-day tours are offered from Airlie Beach including island stops at Hamilton Island, known for its stunning resorts, beaches and restaurants.
Whitehaven Beach: Whitehaven Beach is renowned for having some of the whitest sand in the world; the 7 km slice of white silica sand is surrounded by turquoise waters and a must-visit from Airlie Beach. Hill Inlet is an impressive cove at the end of the beach and there's a lookout at Tongue Point. See the highlights of the Whitsundays, including the naturally formed romantic Heart Reef. You can do a half-day trip from Airlie Beach either by boat or helicopter.
Wildlife Safaris: Check out alternative wildlife on the Proserpine River. Whitsunday Crocodile Safari provides return transfers from Airlie Beach, and the tour includes a relaxing river cruise to spot freshwater crocodiles, an open-air wagon train tour through the Goorganga Wetlands, BBQ lunch and traditional billy tea and damper (skillet bread). For bookings, call 07 4948 3310.
Bird's Eye View: Travel like a rock star on Air Whitsundays' half-day Panorama Tour which flies to the World Heritage-listed Whitsunday Islands National Park and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Snorkelling is offered as well as coral viewing from a semi-submersible reef location inside the calm waters of Hardy Lagoon. The vessel has an underwater viewing chamber, sun and shade deck areas, along with easy access into the water. For bookings, call 07 4946 9111.
Skydiving: An adrenalin rush is assured along with great views when you freefall for between 20 and 55 seconds over the Whitsundays with Skydive Airlie Beach. The company offers a return courtesy pickup from Airlie Beach. For bookings, call 1300 663634.