“CAPTAIN Cook named these islands The Whitsundays because he discovered them on Whitsunday, which is what they call Pentecost Sunday back where’s from in England. Funny story though, he actually discovered it the day after on the Monday as he didn’t know how many hours ahead of London he was.”
“So it’s actually supposed to be called Whit-Mondays but I guess Mondays are too depressing, so why bother.”
It’s a bit of a lame joke, but I couldn’t help but smile. To be honest though, I was quite distracted by the scenery ahead of me — as were the pairs of honeymooners (I’m assuming they’re honeymooners) sitting behind me in the small plane.
It’s my second day in The Whitsundays and Airlie Beach region, and I decided to splurge a little with a scenic flight over the world-famous islands and World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef. It’s early July, with dry season in full swing and not a single cloud in the sky.
Sitting in the co-pilot’s seat, what strikes me first and foremost was the turquoise colours of the Coral Sea below me. It was simply gorgeous. But my main reason for taking this scenic flight was to see the Great Barrier Reef from high above. I’ve already done some snorkelling of the natural wonder in Cairns a few years ago, so it was time to get a different perspective.
It takes about an hour to reach the outer reef from the mainland, and along the way my pilot continued to provide commentary and background information.
The Whitsundays lie just off the far north-east coast of Queensland, in between Rockhampton and Townsville. Spread along the Coral Sea, the sandy beaches of these 74 islands disappear into stunning shades of crystal, aqua, blue and indigo waters. Thanks to the natural shelter of the Great Barrier Reef, the waves are calm and gentle, great for sailing and also teeming with marine wildlife.
The two largest islands are Hook and Whitsunday islands, both of which stand out along the horizon with the steep, heavily-forested hills — remnants of a majestic, pre-historic mountain range. While the vast majority of the 74 islands are uninhabited and protected as a national park, there are a few that offer luxury resort options such as Hamilton Island, Daydream Island and the exclusive, five-star resort on Hayman Island.
Of the numerous drop-dead gorgeous beaches and secluded bays, Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island stands out. According to my pilot, it is consistently given the coveted title of the best beach in Australia, and the fourth best worldwide. It’s not hard to see why: flying over it, its pure white sand is simply unique. My pilot adds that the beach is only accessible by boat or helicopter, but it’s easy to get there if you arrange it from the mainland. It’s also worth combining it with a trip to Hill Inlet just for the breathtaking lookout. I make mental note to take a day trip there the next day.
As we pass the islands, my pilot begins to tell us about the plight of the Great Barrier Reef, which is being threatened by the onset of climate change and global warming. It’s a story I’ve heard before, and I was glad he was explaining this to the honeymooners sitting behind me, none of whom were from Australia.
Before we knew it, the reef was visible beneath us — and boy, was I glad I took that scenic flight. Seeing the Great Barrier Reef in all its glory from above is something you will never forget.
Perhaps the highlight of this scenic flight was seeing Heart Reef. As we approach it, my pilot explains that the world-famous, heart-shaped reef structure is only 15m wide, so we should all get our cameras ready. Flying over it was fleeting, but incredible. I can see why both Queensland and Australian tourism boards have used Heart Reef so much in their promotional campaigns.
After a few more minutes of flying over the outer reef and taking in the majestic sight, we begin to head back — this time flying past Hook and Hayman islands.
By the time we land back on the mainland and I was chauffeured back to my hotel (Blue Horizons Resort), the whole thing had taken just over two hours of my morning. And you know what? It was so worth it.
The next day, I honoured my mental to-do list and took a day trip to the Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet. It was an incredibly relaxing day, and it was amazing being able to walk along the fine sand of Whitehaven and bathe in the turquoise waters of its beach (apart from a man-made lagoon, you can’t really swim at Airlie Beach).
In addition, the views from the Hill Inlet lookout went down as one of the most striking natural landscapes I have ever seen.
Most organised tours and activities on the Whitsundays are based and can easily be organised from Airlie Beach, which is where I stayed during my holiday — although many of these same tours can be booked from individual islands.
But would I ever visit the region again? Yes. In a heartbeat.
Post-Madis Gras Recovery
When: March 1-15
Where to stay: 4.5-star Blue Horizon Resort, Airle Beach
Inclusions: Three nights accommodation at the self-rated 4.5-star Blue Horizon Resort in a one bedroom spa apartment. Also includes free wifi, free movies and free parking.
Price: $345 per person
Travel Dates: October 1-11, 2015; or March 1-15, 2016.
For more fantastic gay and lesbian holidays, visit flightcentre.com.au/holidays/gay-and-lesbian