Stroll the squeaky silica sand of Whitsunday Island’s Whitehaven Beach, which has made more than one list of the world’s top-10 beaches. A four-mile-long strand on the eastern side of the island, its snorkel-perfect shallow waters are home to giant manta rays, sea turtles, and schools of dolphins. And because it’s part of the national park, this white-sand wonder will remain unchanged.
In aquarium-like Manta Ray Bay, off the northern end of Hook Island, underwater valleys, caves, and swim-throughs lead all the way to the seafloor, about 60 feet below the surface. The sponges and corals are a perfect backdrop for extremely tame fish that, in a bit of a roll-reversal are likely to follow you around.
Set off from the region’s charter center, Airlie Beach, on the nearby Queensland coast, and cross the Whitsunday Passage to sheltered Nara Inlet, on Hook Island – it’s one of more than 120 main anchorages in the archipelago. Spend the next week or so cruising south to Cid Harbour (a sheltered anchorage nearly surrounded by islets), Whitsunday Island, Hamilton Island, and South Molle, where you can explore the beaches of pristine Molle Islands National Park, then relax in a casual resort atmosphere.