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An easy 9km paddle around the northern tip of Whitsunday Island leads you into Hook Passage, the narrow expanse of water between Whitsunday and Hook Islands. Directly off Hook Island Resort, a run-down affair in a picturesque setting, the snorkelling in the passage is superb. Towering above, the knobby head of Whitsunday Cairn entices hikers with its promise of spectacular views; find the trailhead on Whitsunday’s Cairn Beach directly across the water from the resort and begin the steep 2km hike through rainforest, open woodland and groves of giant grasstrees. The hoop pine’s distinctive radiating branches jut above the treetops and, far below, the sea spreads indigo fingers into rocky bays. A cool dip after the hike followed by a restorative cold beer at Hook Island Resort will fuel you for the 6km paddle around the point to the lovely Curlew Beach campsite on Hook Island. As with most of the beach campsites plan a high tide arrival to glide onto soft sand or face a long haul across sharp coral and mud flats. During the night, the mournful wail of a curlew bird may wake you, its eerie cry seeming to echo voices from the past. In the morning, a 6km paddle around the headland will take you deep inside Nara Inlet (the next bay on Hook Island) to the Ngaro Cultural Site, where archaeologists have dated the cave paintings and middens (discarded shells and bones) found here to 500 BC.
The trail’s most challenging hike is accessed from Sawmill Beach on the western shore of Whitsunday Island, 13km south of Curlew Beach. From coastal vine forest and mangroves, the trail traverses rainforest gullies strung with hanging strangler figs, climbs through windblown heaths and emerges through a cloud forest of palms to Whitsunday Peak. At 437m, it is the highest peak in the Whitsunday archipelago and offers superb 360-degree views over the islands and the mainland. Middens on the shores of Cid Harbour below reveals the prominence of the region for the indigenous people. Undoubtedly, many thousands of years ago, the Ngaro people climbed the peak and stood at the summit. And perhaps, in 1770, British explorer Captain James Cook, the first European to discover, map and name the Whitsunday islands, may have sent one of his party to climb the peak and scope the land. According to local legend, Cid Island (located directly opposite the trail access at Sawmill Beach) was named for Captain Cook’s dog -- supposedly buried at sea by being shot out of a cannon.
Although campsites can be found all along the western shore of Whitsunday Island, Joe’s Beach, 5km south of Sawmill Beach, has a true castaway feel. After days of kayaking, bathing in the ocean and sleeping under the stars, the islands bewitch with their simple yet seductive treasures: waking to the music of waves lapping the shore, palm fronds rustling in the breeze; finding an exquisitely delicate seashell on a deserted beach; and gazing at sunset’s riotous palette of reds and golds or the night sky’s star-studded glory.
From Joe’s Beach, Sandy Bay, the final campsite on the west side of South Molle Island, is a 16km paddle west across the Whitsunday Passage. The relatively exposed waters of the passage can be choppy and dangerous; leave early in the morning before the wind picks up. Of the campsites available on South Molle Island, Sandy Bay is the most popular. The beach is a white expanse of dead coral, sharp underfoot, but its campsites are grassy and lined with coastal she-oak trees .