Taking in the stunning reef, picturesque islands and luxurious hotels that make up the Whitsundays, you might find it hard to believe that the islands are the result of volcanoes that raged 110 million years ago.
Captain Cook, who first sailed through on June 4, 1770, named the collection of islands. Of the 74 islands, only eight are inhabited with resorts. The region offers more than enough diversions to occupy the curious traveler, though, with a bevy of wildlife on land and sea, high-end eateries, family-friendly lagoons and romantic sandy beaches.
Whitsundays sees an average of 274 sunny days a year, making it the perfect spot to soak up some rays and explore its naturally beautiful features by boat or on foot. As the closest point off the Queensland coast to the Great Barrier Reef, and with an average water temperature of 26 degrees Celsius (79 Fahrenheit), it's very much a diving and snorkeling paradise. Of course, it's just as possible to appreciate the ocean from the shoreline -- especially from the array of sumptuous seafood restaurants that line the coast.
Cruise ships visiting Whitsundays call on one of two ports. Airlie Beach, perched on Australia's northeast coast, is a mainland port acting as both a gateway to the islands and an attractive beach destination in its own right. It has a lively and social atmosphere -- with plenty of restaurants, clubs and bars for evening guests -- and the main street offers boutique shops, day spas and cafes. From Airlie, travelers can take day-trips to the reef, Daydream Island and Whitsunday Island, home to Whitehaven Beach.
Hamilton Island is in the heart of Whitsundays, and smaller ships utilize its port. As the largest of the Whitsunday Island resorts, Hamilton has a wealth of beaches, restaurants and coral reefs worth visiting, and it's also a jumping-off point for day-trips to the surrounding areas.