14 February 2017
9 min read

Do you know where Australia’s ecotourism ‘hot spots’ are? Australia is naturally blessed to have some of the best ecotourism experiences in the world right on our doorstep. We start this special series on ecotourism in the world-famous Whitsunday Islands – Australia’s aquatic playground in the tropics.

Located on the northern coast of Queensland, just off the coast from Airlie Beach and Proserpine, the 74 islands of the Whitsundays are made up of stunning natural landscapes, dotted with secluded white sand beaches and surrounded by the largest coral reef in the world; the spectacular, World Heritage-Listed, Great Barrier Reef.

Not surprisingly, this unique location is a popular destination for tourists from around the world, but of course, a great holiday should never come at the expense of the environment. Something as beautiful as the Whitsundays needs to be protected for generations to come.

Luckily, the Whitsundays region boasts over 30 Ecotourism Australia certified products, which means you can travel to the area while ensuring that the companies you deal with minimise their impact on the local environment – especially the fragile marine environment of the reef. Here we've compiled some tips for enjoying the Whitsundays responsibly, including some eco-friendly accommodation, marine tours to try, and nature walks to take.

Ecotourism in the Whitsundays

So what exactly is there to do as an 'ecotourist' in the Whitsundays? Day cruises and tours depart Airlie Beach daily to various locations around the islands, including popular spots like iconic Whitehaven Beach, Hamilton Island, the outer Great Barrier Reef, and other secluded beaches and bays dotted throughout the region. Sailing vessels and overnight island and reef cruises also offer visitors the opportunity to explore the region at a more leisurely pace. Bareboat charters are available to sail or cruise yourself – with either skippered or non-skippered options - no previous experience required.

Accommodation is available in Airlie Beach and Proserpine on the mainland, or you can pop over to one of the islands for a night (or a few), and experience a real tropical island escape.

While most Whitsunday Islands are uninhabited national park islands, four islands have resort accommodation, including the eco-certified Palm Bay Resort on Long Island, which offers all the features of a resort, with minimal impact on the natural environment. Alternatively, you can enjoy camping out under the stars on a tropical island (for campsite details see the Queensland Department of National Parks website).

For more on eco experiences in the Whitsundays, please search Ecotourism Australia’s online Green Travel Guide.

Eco-friendly accommodation

Bedarra Beach House

This holiday rental house near Mission Beach is quiet, peaceful and private. Bedarra Island is a very close point to the Great Barrier Reef, and so makes one of the best places to gain access to this one of a kind, internationally-renowned wonder of natural beauty. On top of that, Bedarra Beach House grants you access to two local beaches. It truly is one of the most beautiful places in the world and the folks at Bedarra are passionate about keeping it this way.

What makes it sustainable: Bedarra Beach House is officially Ecotourism certified. After Cyclone Yasi in 2011, they took the opportunity to upgrade Bedarra Beach House, and embrace the philosophy of sustainability. They have made real changes to the operation of this beautiful beach house, and have significantly reduced their impact on the environment without compromising on comfort or luxury. Thanks to a rare freehold title in the ‘Family’ group of islands, Bedarra Island is zoned in the ‘conservation’ section under the local council planning scheme, and is located directly on the Great Barrier Reef.

Eco-friendly Marine Tours

EXPLORE HAMILTON ISLAND

Explore Hamilton Island provides the only outer and inner reef dive and snorkel tours from Hamilton Island. In addition, they have a magnificent dinner cruise vessel ‘The Hamilton Star’, as well as ‘On the Edge’, their iconic 66-foot sailing catamaran. They’re perfectly positioned among some of the world’s most beautiful natural scenery, including the Great Barrier Reef.

What makes it sustainable: Explore works in conjunction with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to track the marine life of the Great Barrier Reef through the ‘Eye on the Reef’ program.

Each individual staff member has a role as an ambassador of the Great Barrier Reef. This requires them to take on an absolute caretaker role regarding the reef environment, including the way they and their guests interact with the reef. As a business, they are implementing a complete eco-program throughout the company over the coming years.

Whitsunday Escape specialise in ‘skipper yourself’ bareboat yacht charters. They allow you to enjoy the freedom to cruise around the Whitsunday Islands at your own pace, planning your own itinerary, activities and route.

What makes it sustainable: Sail boats are naturally eco-friendly, as they are predominantly wind-powered and use very little fuel. All Whitsunday Escape’s boats are fitted with solar panels to provide free energy from the sun. Boats are governed to reduce speed, reducing impact on the coastline and using less fuel. They encourage using moorings rather than anchoring, and only allow anchoring in areas without reef, so as to preserve the underwater environment. Guests are taught how to safely store and dispose of rubbish to avoid impact on the marine environment. Guests are encouraged to report wildlife sightings, especially any injured wildlife. Whitsunday Escape works together with local, state and national bodies to promote ecotourism and safe ecological practices for the Whitsunday tourism industry.

Whitsunday Rent-A-Yacht is an Australian-owned bareboat charter company, based in Shute Harbour in the Whitsundays. They offer sailing yachts, catamarans and power vessels for long and short duration charter holidays. Their vision is that every Whitsunday explorer should be able to experience the islands from the deck of a boat, and they strive to be the region’s most sought-after cruise provider.

What makes it sustainable: Whitsundays Rent-a-Yacht were accredited by Ecotourism Australia’s Eco Certification Program in 2009. They are committed to sustainable tourism, and to ensuring that the Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef remain healthy environments for everyone to enjoy well into the future. They maintain best practice in ecological sustainability, natural area management and the provision of quality ecotourism experiences. They have committed to operating in an environmentally and culturally sustainable manner, now and into the future.

ISAIL TOURS

ISail Whitsundays’ yacht ‘Blizzard’ and their catamaran ‘On Ice’ offer two-night tours of 46 hours, sailing the Whitsunday Islands. Their tours depart from Airlie Beach and visit Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet, providing guests with the opportunity to snorkel great fringing reefs. Each tour is dedicated to uncrowded locations, high quality and personal service. This is only possible with a small group of guests, so their boats carry a maximum of 10 passengers per tour. ISail Whitsundays is owned by Luke Mairs and his family. When creating ISail, Luke simply wanted to do what he enjoyed: going for an exploration sail in one of the best sailing locations in the world, visiting the best beaches on a luxurious, comfortable yacht.

What makes it sustainable: Small group numbers of a maximum of 10 people enable ISail to experience locations in the original way, just like a large tribe would have done. Their footprint on their destinations is minimal, with their small sailing boats using the minimum amount of fuel per person per day. Limiting water consumption to a maximum of around 400 litres per day for 10 people keeps water usage very low. Educating visitors through showcasing the beauty and wonder of nature helps clients understand that this beautiful environment should be protected. This natural experience anchors within their guests a deep connection to the sites they’ve visited in the Great Barrier Reef National Park.

QUEENSLAND YACHT CHARTER

Queensland Yacht Charters are a Whitsundays bareboat charter company, established in 1980 with 29 vessels in their fleet. Their goal is simple: they want to make your bareboat charter a pleasant and fun experience, whether you’re new to chartering or you’ve done it a million times. It all starts with their staff – from their base managers, skippers and personal chefs, to their dock hands – they’re all dedicated to personalised service. A member of Dream Yacht Charter, a worldwide charter company offering the best in yacht charters, they have over 850 Yachts in 47 stunning locations. Dream Yacht Charter has a reputation of offering the ultimate in destination sailing, and that extends to Queensland Yacht Charters, offering a premium Whitsunday yacht charter experience.

What makes it sustainable: Ecotourism Certified, Queensland Yacht Charters follow the guidelines for eco-sustainable practices within the bareboat charter industry. They have a high level of integrity and accountability for sustainable practices on a personal level that they bring into their business, by educating staff and charterers on how to be more mindful of the environment and wildlife when enjoying the benefits of the beautiful protected marine park.

Nature walks in the Whitsundays

What better way to experience all the natural splendour of The Whitsundays than to take a walk in nature herself? These four walks, recommended by Tourism Whitsundays, are a great place to start.

The Ngaro Sea Trail

The Ngaro Sea Trail is the perfect walking option for all fitness levels, as you can pick and choose whether to do one of the shorter trails, or to complete the entire track, which takes about one hour. Starting from Whitehaven Beach, the track winds its way up to a stunning rock platform that provides an expansive vista of Solway Passage and the small islands within it. You’ll weave your way through Hoop Pines and shady rainforest, before emerging to spectacular views from the aptly named ‘Lookout Beach’. Walking to Lookout Beach takes about 20 minutes.

Molle Islands National Park

Exploring the Molle Islands is like taking a step back in time. Perfect for walking or mountain biking, the islands offer amazing views of the Whitsunday archipelago, and are densely vegetated with some amazing wildlife and plant life. You can get to the islands by catching a ferry or going with one of the many tour operators that make daily trips to this stunning location.

Lindeman and Seaforth Islands

On the Lindeman and Seaforth Islands, you can take a guided tour of the National Park (or explore yourself if you’re up for it), go for a snorkel and do some fishing, watch some amazing birdlife, and then finish it all off with a scrumptious picnic lunch looking out over a beautiful view. On Lindeman Island you can walk around Mount Oldfield, Coconut Beach, Gap Beach or the boat port, with the walks ranging in length from two to three-and-a-half hours. On Seaforth Island, you can walk from Orchid to Esme Beach, which only takes about 45 minutes. The islands are home to some precious plant life, so remember to take everything that you brought with you away again.

The Conway Circuit

The Conway Circuit is a beautiful 27km journey through the Conway National Park. Perfect for walking or riding your bike, the circuit starts at Forestry Road, winding through tropical bushland and emerging at the pristine Airlie Beach, depending on where you start. Diving into the crystal water of Airlie Beach at the end of this challenging, all-day walk is a great reward. There are loads of lookouts along the way for you to look out at the beautiful islands of the Whitsundays, with the entire circuit able to be walked in a day. If you fancy a slower pace though, you can camp at the Bloodwood Campsite along the way.

Visit the Whitsundays the ethical way

Visiting the Whitsundays is a spectacular experience for nature lovers, and being able to enjoy it while leaving little trace of your visit makes it all the more special. With a little care in your travel choices, you can return home feeling safe in the knowledge that your holiday imposed minimal impact on the environment – which means more people can enjoy it for years to come.

Keep an eye out for our next instalment of our travel series covering ecotourism around Australia.

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