I describe the Whitsundays as the Bahamas of Australia.Â They are located of the coast of central Queensland about 560 miles north of Brisbane, and just south of Bowen.Â The Whitsundays are two mountain ranges cut off from the mainland during the last great thaw around 10,000 years ago which flooded the continental shelf (also creating Tasmania and accelerating the creation of the Great Barrier Reef).Â With 74 total islands of varying size, the Whitsundays are continental islands with the same rock, flora, and fauna as the mainland, surrounded with fringing coral reefs.Â
Captain James Cook discovered the islands while sailing up the coast of eastern Australia in June of 1770.Â Cook named the actual islands the “Cumberlands” after Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland and younger brother of George III.Â Cook named the stretch of ocean now referred to as “Whitsunday Passage” in the mistaken belief that it was discovered on Whitsunday.Â However, later research of Cook’s Journals showed that the date was actually June 4, 1770, or Whit Monday, due to a time-keeping error.Â
And yes, I had to look it up.Â A contraction of white and Sunday, Whitsun is a summer baptismal festival originating as a response to the ancient pagan celebration called Summer’s Day. Â Later incorporated into the Christian liturgical calendar, Whitsunday is most often associated with Pentecost which is celebrated 7 weeks after Easter Sunday, which is the tenth day after Ascension Thursday.Â Pentecost commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Christ’s disciples as described in the New Testament, Acts of the Apostles 2:1-31.Â Whit Monday is also known as Monday of the Holy Spirit, second day of Pentecost, Second Whitsunday, or Holy Day of Obligation to Roman Catholics in Germany.Â Whit Monday remains a public holiday in many Commonwealth countries.Â
Captain Cook encountered Australia’s indigenous population for the first time while in this area.Â The Whitsunday Islands were seasonally inhabited by the Ngaro people from about 7000 BC until 1870 when the Australian Native Police forcibly removed the remaining population and relocated them to a settlement on Palm Island and work camps on Brampton Island.Â The word, Ngaro, means “vanishing” in Maori and Tahitian, a name which is unsettling in its appropriateness.Â Â
Whitsunday Island is the largest in the group of islands which are organized by region:Â the Sir James Smith Group (including Brampton Island to the south), the Anchor Islands (southwest), the Lindeman Group (the further north end), and the Whitsunday Group (east of Airlie Beach).Â Whitsunday Island is home to national parks, campgrounds, the Cid Harbor anchorage, the Gulnare Inlet, and the enormously popular and unbelievably beautiful Whitehaven Beach.Â The Whitsundays enjoy over 700,000 visitors annually.Â Humpback whales are common from July through September as they migrate from Antarctica to breed and give birth in tropical and subtropical waters.