We’re swooping low over Whitehaven Beach, a seven-kilometre-long gem on Whitsunday Island, the largest of the 74 islands that make up the Whitsundays, off the coast of northern Queensland.
Whichever way you look it at and regardless who you believe, it’s definitely one of Australia’s — nah, make that the world’s — best strips of sand.
Trip Adviser, for instance, has rated it Australia’s most desirable beach and put it among the world’s top few beaches.
From the air, it’s easy to see why, even though it’s been at least temporarily damaged by Cyclone Debbie, a very unwanted visitor which created mayhem in the area in March last year.
Gone is the fringe of bright green trees and shrubs that provided the beach with such a verdant backdrop. It’s been largely replaced by denuded sticks, but the new crewcut seems almost eerily appropriate.
But the all-important seven kilometres —some say eight, but let’s not quibble — of brilliantly white, almost pure-silica sand remains intact.
Or at least it’s been replaced after round-the-clock excavation and other work by Queensland Parks and Wildlife.
A 350-metre wide beach has been re-established and 700 cubic metres of mulch reportedly created from uprooted vegetation.
The sand on Whitehaven is so pure that it doesn’t heat up, and its unique purity among Whitsunday beaches has encouraged plenty of speculation about its origin. A theory suggests that the sand drifted in millions of years ago and became trapped by the landscape.
It’s also been speculated that Whitehaven’s sand is so pure and fine that it was selected to make the telescopes for the Hubble space probe — but that remains a myth at this stage.
The flight with GSL Aviation, ex Airlie, also takes us right over the wondrous Hill Inlet, at the northern end of Whitehaven Beach, before heading out for a closer look at the Barrier Reef and highlights such as Heart Reef.
At Hill Inlet the sands seem swirled, seemingly magically, while the pristine water make its way to the ocean from the heart of the island, creating intricate and quite mesmeric patterns.
The next day I’m feeling the cool sand of Whitehaven Beach between my toes, after a 40-minute catamaran journey with Cruise Whitsunday from Hamilton Island, where I’m staying in the luxury of the Beach Club.
Near the water it’s compacted hard and easy to walk on, further offshore it gets softer, and, yes, it’s not at all hot, even approaching mid-day.
I’m warned that the sand’s fineness is dangerous to cameras, so I am careful.
I’m not really a beach-goer these days. The thought of donning a pair of cossies and having them gradually fill with sand doesn’t really appeal, but I am knocked out by the sheer beauty of this place and I can readily understand Whitehaven’s top ranking in the pantheon of beaches.
I wander a couple of kilometres up the beach and collect a few shells, I watch a seaplane take off from the glass-smooth water, I watch half a dozen boats, including our catamaran, bob up and down, and I watch a hundred or so people frolic on the beach and in the water while I’m sure that the folk at home in the NSW Central West are hugging heaters.
Yes, I love the cold, but I can also easily understand why people make a beeline for warmer climes, such as North Queensland’s, in winter.
John Rozentals’ trip was a guest of Expedia
IF YOU GO
Whitsunday Islands, www.tourismwhitsundays.com.au
GSL Aviation, Whitsunday Airport, Airlie Beach, phone 1300 475 247, web: www.gslaviation.com.au
Cruise Whitsundays, 24 The Cove Rd, Airlie Beach, phone 07 4846 7000, web: www.cruisewhitsundays.com
Beach Club, 9 Resort Drive, Whitsundays, phone 07 4946 8000, web: www.hamiltonisland.com.au