The Whitsunday Islands were originally formed by volcanic action. However, after the last glacial period (30 to 50 000 years ago) the sea level rose, leaving the higher coastal peaks as islands.
The Aborigines of the Whitsunday Islands were called the Ngaro and are among the earliest recorded groups in Australia. Often called the 'Island People' their territory expanded north - south along the island chain.
They also inhabited the coast of the adjacent mainland. In their occupation as maritime hunters and gatherers, the Ngaro became well known as skilled navigators.
In 1770, the Cumberland Islands were discovered by Lieutenant James Cook. On Whit Sunday Lt. Cook sailed through and named the passage between the northern islands, the Whitsunday Passage. Later, once surveyed, the Cumberland Islands were divided into smaller groups - the Whitsunday Group, the Lindeman Group, the Anchor Islands and the Sir James Smith Group.
During the mid 1800s the Whitsunday Group were the first to attract the attention of the pioneers of the mainland coast. In the 1880s, grazing leases were granted for the islands. It was not until the 1920s that 'dreamers' built galvanised iron huts for guests. Cruise ship passengers rowed ashore for tropical fruits, tea and scones. The first day trippers from the mainland were the Prosperpine residents. They arrived on the island aboard the weekly mail boat.
In 1962, the islands became more accessible when the road from Airlie Beach to Shute Harbour and the jetty were completed.