Camping ON the Great Barrier Reef and Other Secret Ways to Explore This Amazing Area
Whitehaven Beach, in the Whitsunday Islands
I’m just back from The Whitsundays in Australia. Say where? Whit-what?
If you’ve been to Australia, chances are you may have been to the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral-reef system where you can snorkel among brilliantly colored fish.
To get to the reef most people start in the populated tourist hotspot of Cairns, in Far North Queensland. A lesser-known part of the reef is the Whitsundays, off the central coast of Queensland. It’s the quieter sibling, and it’s a must-visit. This area is still untouched, with the majority of it dedicated national park.
So just how to navigate this collection of 74 tropical islands? We’ve got the scoop.
If you are flying into Sydney or Brisbane from the US, you need to catch another flight to the Whitsunday Coast Airport (Proserpine) or Great Barrier Reef Airport (Hamilton Island). Of the 74 islands in the chain, only eight of the islands have resorts.
Hiking in Airlie Beach
Lay of the Land
Airlie Beach is the hub of the area and the jumping-off point to the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsunday Islands. You can also hop on a Cruise Whitsundays ferry to transfer to the island resorts. The coastal town of Bowen has eight beaches worth exploring, a coral bay, and great local produce. Bowen is also known as the mural capital of Australia: 19 murals, all within walking distance, showcase the town’s early history. And then there’s the former coal mining town of Collinsville; take the Coal Face Experience to learn about the battles and victories on the goldfields or try your hand at fossicking for jasper, crystal and calcite.
Where to Stay (and Save)
If you want to stay centrally, here are a few smart and well-priced choices. In Airlie, the Airlie Beach Hotel has ocean-view rooms. Bowen’s Rose Bay Resort has rooms that open up onto the beach and — if you want them — kitchenettes. The simple-yet-cheery Collinsville Motel is close to town and attractions and the Bowen River. Hamilton Island Palm Bungalows are mid-priced, family-friendly modern bungalows with all the perks.
Camping on the Great Barrier Reef (Photo: Cruise Whitsundays)