Spot Queensland’s heart
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Why ogle other people’s pictures of Heart Reef when you can take your own? Seen only from the air, this heart-shaped coral bommie on the Great Barrier Reef is arguably the star attraction on flights and tours operated by Air Whitsunday. The ideal way to immerse yourself in the beauty of the region is to book a tour that combines a scenic flight with coral viewing from a glass-bottom boat and snorkelling in a sheltered lagoon.
Take a Seawalk
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Wiggle your toes on the bottom of the sandy ocean floor and lose yourself in a school of inquisitive fish, all without getting your hair wet. At the Seawalker at Green Island, a little coral cay about a 50-minute ferry ride from Cairns, guests don a bubble-shaped helmet (you’ll look just like the scuba figure you had in your aquarium as a kid) and, accompanied by a guide, sink around five metres to begin their 20-minute-long seafloor stroll.
Jetski around the islands
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Truly get a feel for the contours of the islands scattered throughout the Whitsundays by navigating their shores on the back of a zippy jetski. A guided tour will give you access to secret beaches tucked away throughout the reef, as well as giving you the chance to really let rip along some of the country’s most pristine waters. Just watch out for omnipresent sea turtles not au fait with how to give way to oncoming traffic.
See the sea at night
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In the light of day, the Great Barrier Reef is a rainbow, full of eye-catching sea creatures and technicolour coral. Come nightfall, the ocean takes on a different mood altogether: magical, soothing, mysterious even. With the Cruise Whitsundays Reefsleep Experience, you and eight other people have exclusive use of the Reefworld pontoon from dusk until the next day’s guest arrive in the morning in order to sleep in a swag under the inky sky and watch – and even feel – what goes on when the depths go dark from the underwater viewing chamber.
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The turquoise waters surrounding Fitzroy Island beg to be explored every which way. On a day tour with Cairns Dive Adventures, transfer to this unspoilt Great Barrier Reef isle by catamaran and then take to the water under your own steam on a guided sea kayaking tour. Later, snorkel in waters inhabited by clown fish and turtles or explore coral beaches, mangroves, open woodland and rainforest via five main walking trails.
Catch of the day
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Bragging rights could be yours when you weigh in after a day of game fishing in the waters off Port Douglas. Book a sole charter with Fishing Port Douglas and set off in a custom-made vessel to tangle with marine monsters such as marlin, tuna and giant trevally that will put up a spectacular fight. Consult the online fishing calendar and time it right to nab the catch of the day.
Golfing on the reef
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When you tee off at this 18-hole championship golf course with its own island, the biggest challenge is keeping your eye on the ball and not the breathtaking views of the Whitsunday Islands and Coral Sea. Hamilton Island Golf Club on Dent Island is one for the golfer’s bucket list, its challenging course designed around ridges and steep valleys. Hats off to those who conquer the wicked winds, thick bushland and “Valley of Death” (aka 14th hole). Image: facebook.com/hamiltonislandgolf
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Make like Tarzan, chest-beating your way through the Daintree Rainforest at Cape Tribulation on a guided zipline tour with Jungle Surfing Canopy Tours. Experience this ancient tropical rainforest (more than 100 million years old) from the perspective of a tree kangaroo as you zipline between six canopy platforms up to 19.5 metres high. Interpretive talks on each platform mean you can learn about flora and fauna on the fly.
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Release your inner thrillseeker on a tandem skydive, jumping from a plane up to 15,000 feet in the air and freefall for a full minute at 220 kilometres an hour. Take the leap with experienced instructors at Skydive Airlie Beach for incredible bird's-eye views of the Whitsundays and the town below and then souvenir photos and DVDs of your skydive to relive the adrenaline rush.
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If you’re looking for some friendly competition on the water, Whitsunday Sailing Club (07 4946 6138) at Airlie Beach invites visitors to join in Wednesday twilight social racing. Simply call beforehand and be at the club by 3pm to join a crew on an offshore monohull. After doing a few thrilling (and winning) laps around Pioneer Bay, join your new-found yachtie friends for drinks, dinner and race presentations at the club.
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When passenger ship SS Yongala sank in the Great Barrier Reef off the coast from Alva in 1911 and remained undiscovered for half a century, the marine megafauna moved in. Today, the coral-encrusted wreck is a dive site famous for the number and diversity of large marine creatures. If you’re a certified scuba diver, join Yongala Dive for an amazing day of diving with gropers, marble rays, trevally, barracuda, eagle rays and sea turtles.