If there is a perfect holiday destination on the Queensland coast it is probably the Whitsundays. It is here that the delights of the Great Barrier Reef, the warmth of the tropics, a range of activities from bushwalking to scuba diving, and a diversity of lifestyles from backpackers and takeaways to luxury hotels and international a la carte restaurants, all meet in a wonderfully harmonious combination of delights. No wonder that in 1989 the Whitsunday Tourism Association was proudly boasting that 'the Whitsundays has blossomed into the largest tourism development region in the world with $3 billion being invested here within the next ten years'.
Over the years the Whitsunday Islands (known affectionately as 'The Whitsundays') have loomed large in the imagination of Australians. Everyone has heard the names - South Molle, Lindeman, Hamilton, Daydream and Hayman to which can be added Long Island and Hook Island. These islands are synonymous with paradise. The very words conjure up images of lying in the tropical sun, having a really good holiday, perfect green tropical seas, exquisite tropical sunsets, good food and drink.
To try and disentangle the myth from the reality is no easy task. Like the Gold Coast, the Whitsundays have recently become an amalgam of sleepy little villages and holiday resorts. Created in 1987 as a 'town' it now combines Airlie Beach, Cannonvale, Jubilee Pocket and Shute Harbour. It is rather amusing, when driving towards Cannonvale and Airlie Beach to come across a sign in the middle of the bush which reads 'Welcome to the town of Whitsunday'. The sign is surrounded by nothingness. There is barely a sign of human life let alone the sign of a town.
Geologically the Whitsunday Islands are all drowned mountains. Prior to the last Ice Age they were connected to the mainland and would have all been prominent mountains in the area. The melting of the polar caps drowned the valleys between the mountains creating a network of 74 islands of which only 7 have resort facilities. Beyond the resorts the whole area is part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the uninhabited islands are all controlled by National Parks and Wildlife.
It is possible to visit the uninhabited islands by charter boat, private boat of water taxi. However it is necessary to obtain camping permits from the National Parks Office if you are intending to stay the night. Many of the smaller islands have no paths or tracks and exploration is often restricted to walking around the lonely beaches and rocky points. The largest island in the group, Whitsunday, has a walking track which connects Sawmill Bay with Dugong Beach. Sawmill Bay was named after the sawmill which was established on the island at the end of the nineteenth century. For some years there was an active timber industry on the island and it is still possible to see the remains of the sawmill.
The first European to explore the area was Captain James Cook who travelled through the area on his journey up the eastern coast of Australia in 1770. He passed through Whitsunday passage, a narrow channel which lies between the mainland coast, South Molle and Daydream Islands to the west and Dent, Whitsunday, Hook and Hayman Islands to the east, on Sunday 4 June which happened to be Whit Sunday (the seventh Sunday after easter) - hence the name of the area.