The Whitsundays

Scattered like emeralds on aquamarine velvet, the Whitsunday Islands are one of Australia's loveliest destinations, an unmatched playground for boaters, divers, campers, fishers and resort-loungers. Sheltered by the Great Barrier Reef, these warm, rarely ruffled waters are particularly perfect for sailing, as exploited by the 100-plus yachts that gather here each August for Airlie Beach Race Week. Traditional home of the Ngaro people, these 74 islands also shelter some of the oldest archaeological sites on Australia's east coast. Five of them have resorts, but most are uninhabited, and several offer back-to-nature beach camping and bushwalking. Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island is acknowledged as the finest beach in the Whitsundays (some say the world), while mainland hub Airlie Beach, the major gateway to the islands, offers a wealth of tours and activities, plenty of eating and sleeping choices, and a hard-partying backpacker scene.

Top attractions

These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout The Whitsundays.