Sometimes we are drawn to a place because it is a historical wonder, like Machu Pichu. Sometimes it’s the significance and geological wonder of a place like Uluru. Other times it’s the overwhelming natural majesty of places like Torres del Paine.
But with the Whitsundays, it was a photo. The now-seemingly-proverbial Instagram moment when you see a photo and every fiber of your being is telling you to go there, go to that place, and experience that moment. Even before we arrived in Australia I kept seeing stunning photos of the Whitsundays. Many of the tourist booths here have brochures depicting blue water snaking out a white sand inlet. It instantly made its way into our must-see list.
The 74 islands that make up the Whitsundays are in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest living structure. The iconic white sands of Hill Inlet draws visitors from around the world – at least during times when there is no pandemic.
Pirates running on the beach
The beauty of this inlet even drew the attention of the director and location scouts of the movie franchise Pirates of the Caribbean. The fifth installment of the series features Jack Sparrow scuttling across the Whitehaven beach chased by pirates. Most of this movie was filmed in Queensland. It’s a stunning location with plenty of options for any movie.
Since there were no pirates chasing us like they did Captain Sparrow we walked to the end of the beach rather than try and recreate the scene.
Hill Inlet, Whitsunday Island
How to get to Whitsundays
There are multiple ways to get to the Whitsundays. Ferry service takes guests to various accommodations on the islands. One of them is a five-star resort called Qualia that rings in at $3,900 a night! Many outfitters also arrange day trips to the most popular locations. Tourists can even rent their own boat or jet skis.
Camping is available at three locations in the Whitsundays, two locations on South Molle Island, and one location on Deman Island. Scamper provides a boat transfer service to these camp sites.
Camping might seem like the most cost-effective way to spend time on the islands, but between the transfer service and camping fees, it can be more expensive than a day tour. The kicker is that these campsites are not even close enough to Hill Inlet, the third most photographed place in Australia.
We chose to do a day tour with Ocean Rafting. It would not only take us to the key locations we wanted to see but there was also a bonus of two snorkeling stops in the afternoon. We were excited about having another experience on the fringing reefs of the Great Barrier Reef.
Ocean Rafting was also the least expensive tour and the small boat promised a small group and an exciting ride.
Rollar Coaster ride on the water
As soon as we left the no-wake zone of Airlie Beach on the small ocean raft, our pilot Brandon blasted the speakers with a thumping number by Nine Inch Nails. Then he swung the boat in sharp alternating turns as we wove in and out of our own wake.
There was laughter and screaming and even the most stoic folks onboard couldn’t keep the massive smile of pleasure from growing on their faces.
Finally, Brandon straightened out the boat and we sped out towards the islands, the anticipation of things to come palpable in the air.
Tongue Point Lookout
Our first stop on the Whitsundays was on a peninsula called Tongue Point. We piled out of the raft into the water and onto the rocky beach. From there we followed a trail through the woods to the top of the hill for our first view of the famous Hill Inlet.
Our guide Sherry told us that this was the third most photographed place in Australia (Take a guess on which ones are first and second. I will place the answer at the bottom of this article). Australia is filled with amazing places all picturesque.
Contenders for the claim of being the most photographed icons in Australia include the iconic Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road, and the white sand beaches of Le Grand National Park near Esperance. When people ask us where our favorite spot in Australia is I always respond with, “I’ll need to give you a book with our list.”
The lookout at Tongue Point has three large platforms. There was plenty of room for our small group to spread out and take pictures.
The water was so clear we could see stingrays swimming around in the bay. The deeper blues of the water as it snaked out of the white sand of Hill Inlet did not disappoint. Without a doubt, it is an Instagram sight that lives up to the hype.
After enjoying the view from Tongue Point, we clambered back into the boat and sailed into Hill Inlet itself. After the boat was anchored we ate our lunch and had a swim at the very beach where Jack Sparrow fled from the pirates.
Brandon told us that scientists from the United States searched the globe for the purest silica sand. He said that they found it here on Whitehaven Beach. They then melted this sand to create the glass used in the Hubble telescope. If this is true then one of the most beautiful beaches on earth brings us closer to the beauty of the universe beyond.
Unfortunately, this might possibly be a myth. The glass for the Hubble telescope is made from silica manufactured by Corning Glassware, NY. I found no evidence that the sand was sourced from Whitehaven but I also couldn’t find where it was sourced. I’d love to find out someday.
Trin and I walked to the end of the beach which placed us in the middle of the Hill Inlet. There we were surrounded by white sand and water of varying shades of blue. A lemon shark swam by. Trin and I both pointed to it at the same time and smiled with glee. Then we walked back towards our anchored boat and jumped in for a swim. Lemon sharks are not considered to be a threat to humans.
This beach held something we have not found on any other beach, something that made us bubble with joy – Champagne sand. The pure silica sand is very light and traps air underneath it as it is tossed by the wind between the low and high tide.
Trin and I walked into the clear water until it was chest high. In the deeper water we began to stomp on the sand, not unlike a pink flamingo trying to rouse its prey on the salt flats in Chile. Each step released air that came up in bubbles all around us. It was like standing in a champagne glass that had been filled with recently shaken golden liquid.
“Do you think this is better than Le Grand National Park or Boracay?” Trin asked. So far, these are the two best beaches we have been to in the world. Miami’s South Beach is a close third.
“Hmm, Le Grand is spectacular to look at but the water is freezing cold. Boracay is warm but it is impossible to relax with all the vendors constantly asking us to buy things. This is certainly a contender,” I responded.
Snorkeling on a fringing Reef, great barrier
After a full morning in and around Hill Inlet it was time check out a few fringing reefs of the Great Barrier Reef.
Our first snorkel site was all about the turtles. Trin and I found a large turtle and we swam with it for a bit while keeping our distance.
On the second site, we saw lots of coral, schools of colorful fish, and a very large clam. The clam was so large that if I curled up tight I might even fit inside.
Places of great beauty
The striking display of salty water drew me in tantalizing me to taste more of her beauty. I wanted to feel the clarity of the water around me and drink more of her healing beauty. It creates a thirst that is at the same time filling.
I wonder how much more joy there would be in the world if we all focused on being like the beauty of salt that glimmers in the sun. The salt that produces a savor, a taste that makes us thirsty. What greater beauty is there than love? What if we listened to each other despite differing political views and sought to understand?
Sometimes the blue door of opportunity is in being. Being the salt that enhances life, an effervescence from the sand that brings joy.
Be The Blue Door
Answer to the most photographed place in Australia: According to Ocean Rafting it is 1) The Sydney Opera House 2) Uluru and 3) Hill Inlet on Whitsunday Island