• Saturday

    27-30 ℃
  • Sunday

    25-29 ℃
  • Monday

    26-29 ℃
  • Saturday

    27-30 ℃
  • Sunday

    25-29 ℃
  • Monday

    26-29 ℃

Main Menu

Other Menu

History of the whitsundays

The Whitsundays - 74 Islands in the Heart of the Great Barrier Reef.

Recent History for the Whitsundays :

  • 1870-80s Sugar Cane growing commenced around Proserpine
  • 1883 Pastoral Lease was made available on South Molle Island
  • 1897 Proserpine Sugar Mill Opened
  • 1904 Thomas Abell, owned and cleared land at Airlie Beach
  • 1920s The Bauer Family grazed sheep and cattle on South Molle Island
  • 1933 On Hayman Island Edwin Erwin set up a research centre to study marine life
  • 1951 Proserpine (Whitsunday Coast) Airport opened
  • 1961 Shute Harbour Terminal and Jetty opened

Growth of Tourism in The Whitsundays during the 1920s

Passengers on the coastal trade vessels were given a day ashore, usually on South Molle Island.

School holiday camps were also held twice a year studying the reef and marine sciences, from 1933 students were able to use the base on Hayman Island. This is most likely one of the first locations in the Great Barrier Reef for marine science research and studies.

Lindeman Island was owned by the Nicolson family.

The Whitsundays from 1930 through to the 1960s

1932 West Molle (named Daydream Island after the owners yacht).

1936 Happy Bay and Palm Bay resorts on Long Island open.

1947 Hayman Island was purchased by Sir Reginald Ansett.

1947 Daydream Island was purchased by Ansett Airlines.

1950 Catalina Sea Plane lands at Hayman Island.

1960s Hook Island Resort and Underwater Coral Viewing Observatory opens.

The Whitsundays during the 1970s

Early 1970s Whitsunday Sailing Day Trips started on yacht Nari for house guests from Daydream Island.

1975 Hamilton Island owner Keith Williams started development on Hamilton Island Resort.

1978 Bareboat (self-drive) Charters permissions were developed with the government authorities.

The Whitsundays during the 1980s

Bareboat and Crewed Charters and Whitsunday Ferry services grow, including Fantasea.

The market was mainly domestic guests flying in for a week long break with Ansett Holidays or Sunlover Holidays.  
Whitsunday Sailing Tours were then typically 6 days and 5 nights in length.  Southern Cross, the ex America's Cup Yacht was converted with a new interior built and crewed and catered charters started in 1985. 

Most tours departed from Shute Harbour, which is located by road 11 kms to the east of Airlie Beach.

In 1984 the first Hamilton Island Race Week was held.

Whitsundays Tourism History since 2000

2000 to 2004 tourism growth continued and levelled out between 2005 to 2006. The Tourism Industry moved into International Marketing, less reliance on locals sales desks, more overseas representation and wholesale distribution really puts the Whitsundays on the map as a world class holiday destination.

In 2006 the Port of Airlie Development commences on Muddy Bay.  The Port of Airlie Development included a new marina, commercial ferry terminal, hotel development and retail precinct.

The Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2007-08 was difficult for the mainstream tourism industry & developers in the Whitsundays, eg. Whisper Bay project valued at $282M collapsed.  The backpacker market not really impacted and Backpackers kept travelling to Australia.

Crewed Tours around the Whitsundays shorten in duration from the 6 day tour in the 1990s, offer now consisted of Day Tours, 2 day 1 night tours, 2 day 2 night tours, 3 day 2 night tours with departures from Airlie Beach available daily.

Growth in the Cruise Ship industry sees more and more cruise ships doing a day stop in the Whitsundays with shore visits to Airlie Beach.

In 2017 Cyclone Debbie a category 4 cyclone passed directly over the Whitsundays. While considerable damage was done, marine tourism operations were able to operate just 4 days after the cyclone. To help with recovery, the State and Federal Governments put $5M into Tourism Infrastructure Recovery Fund. From this project during 2018 new walking tracks on the islands were funded, including Langford Island Walk, Border Island Walk and South Whitehaven Beach Walk. Further, design and installation of underwater artworks at Langford Reef, where a trial was conducted with 4 pieces of art from July to October 2018. Permanent artworks being ready for installation at Blue Pearl Bay, Langford Reef, Mantaray Bay in 2019. The addition of the new island walking tracks and underwater artworks provides greater opportunity for visitor experiences while dispering the visitors over more locations which improves visitor access. 

What sets the Whitsundays apart from other Australian Holiday Destinations ?

Whitsundays is unique in that we offer Island Resorts, Self Hire Yachts, Crewed Yachts and accommodation options from Camping to Backpackers to Mainland Resorts and Apartments.  The charter yachts alone offer accommodation on board of over 600,000 bed nights a year anchored around the islands. 

This leads to an interesting market mix, eg. Self hire yachts may run 90% Domestic and 10% International guests, while crewed yachts are the reverse with most guests coming in from the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada and USA. Day tours are closer to an even split of 50% domestic, 50% international. 

This also varies by season, market segment & country of origin.

Not only does Tourism in the Whitsundays support the local area, but the Whitsundays are a drawcard to disperse visitors (particularly International visitors) the length of the Queensland Coast following the Bruce Highway.  Particularly UK and European Travellers have iconic Queensland Natural Experiences as a bucket list must see: Fraser Island; the Whitsundays; Cairns and the Rainforest.

These visitors hire motor homes and cars and drive the length of the Bruce Highway.  They do overnight stops in van parks or accommodation, buy fuel, food and beverages and they generally disperse money into the regions. This is very different to the point to point arrivals, tending to fly into the Whitsundays and spending from 3 to 7 days on a holiday. 

The Whitsunday Plan of Management was first implemented in 1998.  The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority prepared the Whitsundays Plan of Management (the WPOM ) to protect and conserve the values of the Whitsunday Planning Area while allowing for a range of experiences and reasonable opportunities for access and use.

The WPOM covers an area of 1% of the entire Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP). To the end of 2016, Whitsundays was 43% of all tourism in GBRMP, with a footprint of just 1%, generates more tourism revenue per kilometre than any other area in the Great Barrier Reef.

Our natural features set the Whitsunday Islands up as a Niche high quality and unique destination, eg. Anchored on a yacht in a pristine uncrowded  bay.  The Whitsundays need to be careful that our success does not lead us to mass market, crowded natural locations and ultimately a lesser visitor experience. 

To ease pressure on the islands destination tourism plans from 2017 to 2022 focus on expanding the tourism offer to include more mainland based visitor experiences.  For example building a camping ground at the dam at Proserpine will provide a different visitor experience, including fishing for Barramundi.  Plans are also underway to build on our agriculture with paddock to plate food experiences which would extend to the farms in the Bowen area.  Also building a new cultural experience at Flagstaff Hill in Bowen.  It is also hoped that the Great Walk that leads into the Conway National Park and follows the coastal range behind Airlie Beach could be accessed by a Cable Car or similar means which would allow for an amazing visitor experience and unparalleled views over the Whitsunday Islands.    

In 2012 the Deloitte Access Economics Report stated that the economic contribution of Tourism in the Great Barrier Reef is $6.4B per annum.  With the Whitsundays generating 43% of all GBRMP tourism in 2016, we are surely a regional tourism economic powerhouse. 

Our ultimate challenge for the Whitsundays is the manage the growth of tourism while protecting the wonderful nature both above and below the water.