Simply Abu Dhabi XXXVI

2 0 1 S I M P LY A B U DH A B I TheWhitsunday islands were originally part of Australia’s mainland mountain range, and fine sediment suspended in the region’s waters refracts the sunlight creating an aquamarine-coloured sea. More importantly, the 74 islands and surrounding reefs provide valuable habitat for a profusion of marine life. Six of the world’s seven species of turtles are found here, including green, hawksbill and flatback, all of which are at risk of extinction. In the bottom southwest corner of Stonehaven Bay lies Eaglehawk reef, so-called due to Ospreys that nest in the trees and rocky outcrops. During the wet season, between the months of December and March, freshwater falls spring to life, and hiking the cascading waterfalls and rock pools make for an enticing shore excursion. Additionally, many of the islands form an important stop-over for multiple species of migratory birds. “Some fishing is permitted, with lots of spotted Mackerel and even Spanish Mackerel in the Stonehaven area,” says Captain Ben. “If Northerly winds are prominent then Mackerel Bay on Whitsunday Island is great. There are underwater caves here for both snorkellers and divers to explore, and it’s a very good location for spear fishing.” After three years at the helm of Norseman, Captain Ben favours Nara Inlet as an ideal spot for kayaking over coral reefs or paddle boarding above manta rays thanks to its calm and tranquil waters. “There is also a fantastic bush track here that leads up to a cave containing ancient Ngaro Aboriginal artwork, and it makes for a pleasant walk with a breathtaking view over the inlet,” he adds. So too, the fine white silica sands of Whitehaven Beach onWhitsunday Island are a must-visit. Only five of the 74 Whitsunday islands house resorts. Hamilton Island is the most frequented, with its palm-fringed beaches and domestic airport. For a quick overnight stay on shore, qualia offers exquisitely designed light-filled pavilions with on-the-water vistas and uninterrupted views of humpback whales during their migration north from their feeding grounds in Antarctica. For sports enthusiasts a ten-minute tender ride will bring you to the shores of the Hamilton Island Golf Club on neighbouring Dent Island, the only championship island golf course in Australia. Spectacular from both sea and air, Stepping Stones at Bait Reef is another bucket list dive site. Lying 34Nm north-east of the Whitsunday mainland, it forms part of the Outer Great Barrier Reef, and is made up of a series of more than 18 flat-topped coral pinnacles, each one decorated with sea fans and sea whips and topped by hard coral gardens. Bait Reef also houses the Manta Ray Drop Off – a series of underwater cliffs and a plunging wall of coral that drops to 75m. Cruise a few nautical miles east and you’ll encounter Hardy Reef, home to the world famous Heart Reef – a heart-shaped coral bommie with a diameter of just 17m. “The Whitsundays is why we love boating,” says Captain Ben. “Untouched environments with beautiful pristine beaches, bays, reefs and turquoise blue waters. You can spend years exploring this region and still come across amazing surprises, not to mention the beautiful dense rainforests with awesome hikes, wildlife and outstanding views.”