History of the Whitsundays

Cumberland Charter Yachts was named after Cumberland Isles. James Cook named these islands after the Duke of Cumberland upon his discovery in 1770. There are several groups of islands which make up the Cumberland isles. The most well known is Whitsunday islands, Linderman group, Sir James Smith group and the Anchor islands group. These days the 74 islands are more commonly known as the "Whitsundays".

3 June 1770 (Whit Sunday) was the day James Cook discovered the group of lofty islands to the east, with 'Everywhere good anchorages... He named the passage as such "Whitsunday Passage" after the day of discovery.

To understand the Whitsunday landscape, we must go back 110 million years. At that time, volcanoes were active in what was to become Australia,

The Whitsundays lay in a geologically active zone, where volcanic activity continued for 37 million years. Explosive eruptions threw rock and ash into the air raining down on the surrounding land. Layers of volcanic debris built up and gradually formed a solid bedrock. Today, this bedrock, composed of ash and rock fragments 'welded' together, can still be seen on Whitsunday and Hook islands. The hardened rock appears as a smooth greenish grey to brown, and is worn away by saltwater waves.

Later, less violent volcanic activity injected lava flows into gaps in the bedrock, creating upright bands of darker rock, known to geologists as 'dykes'. Examples of these can be seen on Hook Island.

The Whitsundays are the traditional home of the Ngaro Aboriginal people, commonly known as the 'Canoe People'. Archaeological research shows that the Ngaro inhabited the Whitsundays for at least the past 9000 years. Evidence includes stone axes and cutting tools found in a stone quarry on South Molle Island, numerous fish traps were throughout the Whitsundays, and rock art discovered at Nara Inlet on Hook Island. At Nara Inlet, middens (large piles of discarded shells and bones) have enabled archaeologists to determine that people began using the cave there about 2500 years ago. Hundreds of other sites—many much older—have been found across the islands.

The writings of early explorers describe some of the Ngaro people’s skills in using and living in the marine environment. In 1788, James Cook recorded a Ngaro expedition in an outrigger, while others describe sturdy three-piece bark canoes capable of journeys on the open sea. These canoes, much more common than outriggers, were constructed from three diamond shapes of bark, one for the bottom and two for the sides. A fibrous root was used to sew the three pieces together. Ngaro men were skilled navigators. European seafarers reported seeing Aboriginal people paddling from Double Cone Island to South Molle Island, a distance of 21 km.

Ngaro people were also adept at using island plants. Grasstrees provided food and tool materials, yielding starch, nectar, shoots and grubs, and the ingredients for glue, firesticks and spear handles. The Ngaro also used many other plant species, including the coastal she-oak (bark and twigs for medicinal purposes, hard wood for spears and woomera pegs), and the native hibiscus (some parts apparently eaten, while bark was soaked and separated, then woven into dilly bags, fishing lines, nets and ropes). Ngaro women collected vegetables, seeds and fruits, and prepared them for cooking and eating.

A great variety of tools, utensils and weapons were used for fishing, hunting, gathering plants and cooking. The most effective and simple tools were broken pieces of rock used for cutting, crushing grains and as axe heads. Other tools included animal teeth and twists of bark. Woven grass nets were used to gather shellfish and fish, while fishing hooks were made from wood, bone, turtle shell and shells. Detachable harpoons, with points made from wood and bone, were used to hunt dugong. Fire was used for warmth and cooking, and to maintain grasslands and open up areas for hunting in forests.

The Ngaro people welcome visitors to enjoy thier homeland. The Ngaro sea trail was developed by the Ngaro descendents and Department of National parks to provide a unique blend of seaways and walks for all to enjoy. Click on this link to seatrail map to explore.

Click on a point of interest below for text, map and photos. This information is a guide only. During your charter, you will have the official charts, 100 Magic Miles guide and our operations staff to assist you to make good decisions about where to stay during the day and overnight. Or you can review our comprehensive list of approved overnight anchorages.