Major port for trips to the Whitsunday islands and the outer Great Barrier Reef.
Located 8 km from Airlie Beach on a short winding journey through the Conway National Park, which has a camping and picnic area, the tiny settlement of Shute Harbour is effectively nothing more than a lot of parking spaces and a harbour where the cruises and the ferries leave for the Whitsunday Islands.
The publicity claims that Shute Harbour is the second busiest harbour in Australia after Circular Quay. This is somewhat misleading as (a) Circular Quay is not a harbour and (b) it doesn't really define what it means by busy. However the point probably is that there are a lot of boats and cruise vessels which depart from Shute Harbour for journeys to the Whitsunday Islands. One of the most appealing of all these journeys would have to be sailing in the original Gretel, Australia's first challenger for the America's Cup (it lost 4-1 to Weatherly in 1962), which now sails daily from Shute Harbour. For bookings (07) 4946 6184.
Another claim made by Shute Harbour, which shows the scale of tourist operations in the area, is that it is now the largest seaplane airbase in the southern hemisphere.
Conway Range National Park
Undoubtedly the greatest attraction in the area is the Conway Range National Park which covers over 19 000 hectares and is the largest coastal national park in Queensland. It has a number of excellent walking paths. There is a short 1 km walk which starts at the camping ground and passes through rainforest. It is ideal for bird watchers particularly at dawn and dusk. Another 2 km walk (more strenuous) climbs Mount Rooper and offers excellent views of the whole area from Mount Rooper Lookout while there is a 2 km walk known as the Swamp Bay Track which leads down to the coral beach at Swamp Bay. Detailed maps and information on all these walks can be obtained from the National Parks Office 1317468 or check out: http://www.derm.qld.gov.au/parks/conway/index.html
For more detailed information on the Whitsunday Islands see Whitsunday.