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Shute Harbour, QLD

Mainland port for cruising around the Whitsunday Islands.

Shute Harbour is located 11 km from Airlie Beach on a winding road through the Conway National Park. It is little more than a camping and picnic area which car parks and a harbour where the cruises and the ferries leave for the Whitsunday Islands. There is a claim that Shute Harbour is the second busiest harbour (mind you, for small vessels only) in Australia. Another claim, which suggests the scale of tourist operations in the Whitsundays and the lack of airstrips, is that it is now the largest seaplane airbase in the southern hemisphere. While there is a small community beyond the harbour, it is primarily a harbour, car park, slipway and transfer area.


Shute Harbour is located 1,115 km north of Brisbane and 11 km from Airlie Beach on a short winding road through the Conway National Park.


Origin of Name

Shute Island, just off the coast from Shute Harbour, was named by Captain J. F. L. P. Maclear, RN who surveyed the area in the HMS Alert around May 1881. It is believed that one of the crew on HMS Alert was named Shute although there is no firm evidence that was the case.


Things to See and Do

Aussie Towns has specific entries on the three islands with resorts: Hamilton Island, Hayman Island and Daydream Island.

Lions Lookout
Located above the main harbour (access via Whitsunday Drive) is Lions Lookout which has panoramic views over the harbour towards Repair Island, Tancred Island and Shute Island, all of which lie just off the harbour.

There are a range of cruises around the Whitsundays including day and half day cruises to Whitehaven Beach (with stops at Daydream Island and Hamilton Island) and full day Great Barrier Reef Adventures offered by cruise operators at Shute Harbour. The main operators are FantaSea Cruises (https://www.fantasea.com.au) and there is a useful generic site which covers many of the operators. Check out http://www.whitsundays.com.au/cruises-and-sailing.


Other Attractions in the Area

Conway National Park
To the south of Shute Harbour lies the Conway National Park. It can be accessed by following Shute Harbour Road to the park's day use area and from Whitsunday Drive which heads north from Shute Harbour. The park has a number of walking tracks which take the visitor through a variety of vegetation types including lowland rainforest, mangroves and open forest. Take the Mt Rooper track for spectacular Whitsunday Passage and island views. You can access the Swamp Bay camping area on foot or by boat.
The Queensland National Parks website describes the area as "This park includes the rainforest-clad Conway Peninsula and protects the largest area of lowland tropical rainforest in Queensland outside Tropical North Queensland. Hoop pines grow on coastal ridges and in damp gullies, emerging above the rainforest canopy. Rugged, steep, rocky cliffs provide a spectacular 35 km-long backdrop to the Whitsunday Passage and islands. Dry vine thicket, mangroves, open forests with a grasstree understorey, paperbark and pandanus woodlands, and patches of lowland rainforest with twisted vines grow in the park. It is home to two of Australia's mound-building birds, the Australian brush-turkey and the orange-footed scrubfowl. Rising steeply behind busy coastal settlements, the Conway Range appears impenetrable. Through climate fluctuations over tens of thousands of years, the rainforest has persisted here, providing a continuous refuge for wildlife.
"The park's vegetation is very similar to that on the Whitsunday islands because thousands of years ago the sea level rose, drowning coastal valleys and creating the islands. For thousands of years, the Ngaro and Gia people roamed these forests, harvesting riches of the land and the adjoining sea country. Today the adjacent waters are protected in marine parks."

There are a total of eight walks in the National Park.

(1) Coastal Fringe Circuit (Grade 2) walking track which is 1.2 km one way. It starts at the day-use area, passes through lowland rainforest and crosses a small tidal creek.
(2) Hayward Gully (Grade 2) walking track which is 1.6 km one way from Mt Rooper day use area. This track branches off the Coastal Fringe Circuit to Hayward Gully, with its lowland rainforest and rocky gullies.
(3) Swamp Bay (Grade 3) walking track which is a distance of 2.1 km one way starts at the Car Park and passes the foot of Mt Rooper to arrive at Swamp Bay, where a coral-strewn beach offers views of the Molle islands. Signs along this track describe Indigenous use of local plants.
(4) Mount Rooper - The turn-off to Mt Rooper is 200 m along the Swamp Bay track. The track passes through low woodland growing in shallow, stony, clay soils where brushbox, grasstrees and wattles are prominent. Although grasstrees here are small, they can grow to 4 m tall elsewhere. Their pale yellow flowers on spear-like stalks provide food for many insects. There is Conway Outlook (Grade 3) walking track which is 800 metres and climbs up through mixed forests for a view over Shute Harbour to the Conway Range.  There is another Mt Rooper (Grade 3) walking track which is 2.3 km long and passes across shallow, stony clay soils support brush box, grasstrees, wattles and other woodland vegetation to a panoramic vista of the Whitsunday Passage and the islands.
There is a Mt Rooper Circuit (Grade 3) walking track which is 5.4 km and has views of Daydream and North Molle islands. It descends through mixed forest to the Swamp Bay track.
There is also a Mt Rooper Circuit and Swamp Bay (Grade 3) walking track which is 7.2 km and tincludes both the Circuit and Swamp Bay tracks for a one-day walk.
(5) Coral Beach (Grade 3) walking track is 1.1 km which starts and finishes at Coral Beach car park. A brochure describing Indigenous use of the coastal environment is available from the leaflet box at the start. It has impressive views across Whitsunday Passage from Coral Beach.
(6) The Beak (Grade 3) walking track is 620 m from Coral Beach. It continues from Coral Beach continue on to The Beak. Walk east along Coral Beach and watch for the lookout symbol.
(7) Kingfisher Circuit (Grade 3) walking track is 2 km which winds down into a moist rainforest valley then ascend to meet up with the Conway circuit. Turn right to return to the car park or left to find the Wompoo way turn-off, a further 1.5km along the Conway circuit.
(8) Wompoo Way (Grade 3) walking track which is 7 km return to Forestry Road car park. Follow the Conway circuit 2.3 km from the Forestry Road car park and then turn left onto the Wompoo way turn-off to reach a calm creek lined with Alexandra palms. Listen for wompoo fruit-doves calling from the canopy. Check out http://www.nprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/conway/about.html for more details.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was occupied by members of the Darumbal Aboriginal language group.

* In 1770 Captain Cook sailed up the coast and named Cape Conway.

* The area was surveyed by Captain J.F.L.P. Maclear in the HMS Alert in May 1881. He named the island off the coast Shute Island.

* In 1904 an early settler, Thomas Abell, took up land at Airlie Beach to grow vegetables and fruit.

* In 1932 the waters north of the harbour were named Shute Bay.

* In 1935 the Queensland Lands Department offered land beside the beach for sale. It was named Airlie Beach which was probably a reference to Abell's home in Scotland.

* In 1959 Shute Harbour became the main mainland tourist terminal for the Whitsundays.

* In 1960 the tiny settlement was officially named the Town of Shutehaven.

* In 1985 Prosperine Council agreed to rename the location Shute Harbour.

* In April, 1986 the name Shute Harbour became official.

* In 2010 Cyclone Ului caused damage to the town.

* The town was again hit by a cyclone - Cyclone Yasi - in 2011.


Visitor Information

There is no visitor information at Shute Harbour. The closest is at Airlie Beach Information Centre, 259 Shute Harbour Road, tel: 1800 677 119 or (07) 4946 5299.


Useful Websites

There is a useful, official website. Check out http://www.tourismwhitsundays.com.au/regions/shute-harbour.

Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

4 suggestions
  • Has this little town any industry?
    Are there any shops at the wharf providing food and drink for the travellers?

    The industry is tourism but much of what it used to do (i.e. ferry people around the Whitsundays) has been replaced by the new harbour to the east of Airlie Beach.

  • Thank you. Your site was helpful.

  • On 17 and 18th January 1970 major intense cyclone Ada hit the Whitsunday Islands and Shute Harbour and surrounding coastline. Of the 23 vessels in the harbour 19 were completely wrecked, 14 people lost their lives, 12 died at sea. 7 persons drowned from the Whakatane trawler, 2 crew and a family of 5, their bodies were never recovered. 90% of all buildings in the area were either completely destroyed or damaged. The Bruce highway was cut at Proserpine where the flood waters washed away the bridge approaches.

  • Hello, my name is Daniel Shute. I live in America on a small farm in Missouri. I’d like to know more about the sailor that the island was named after.. So far all I know is that he was onboard the HMS Alert. Any more INFO you might have would be much appreciated. Thank you. . Plus some day I’d like to visit there.

    Daniel Shute