Thursday, August 24, 2023


Mackay and Whitsunday Life

Come Alive With The Reef At The Great Barrier Reef Festival

It’s been over two decades since one local began what was originally the Whitsunday Reef Festival, starting an event that would bring together the coastal community of the Whitsundays in celebration of their lifestyle.

Now, 22 years on and with a new name, that vision has become one of the region’s biggest events, with the Cruise Whitsundays Great Barrier Reef Festival carrying on the original legacy of “what it means to live in the Whitsundays.”

But at the time, its founder didn’t know whether it would even survive its first year.

Whitsundays, 2001: The region was on an astronomical, tourism rise, growing a name for itself as a Great Barrier Reef destination, but David Hutchen didn’t feel it was properly recognised as such.

The region needed an event.

“A reef festival just seemed obvious to me,” David said.

“And it was also obvious we had to do something to get the whole community involved.”

David funded the inaugural event himself, utilising the 200 staff at his Great Barrier Reef operation, Fantasea Cruises – the first Reef Festival was afloat, and it certainly pulled a crowd.

“Lots of people came from Mackay and Proserpine and Bowen, so it was pretty easy to see we could expand it,” he said.

From there, it was nothing but smooth sailing – the local business community picked up the sponsorships, and the rest is reef history.

David spent many happy festival years running his baby, but time brings all things to an end, and he eventually sold Fantasea Cruises and left the Whitsundays in 2006 - but the idea he started has become the region’s mainstay event.

It turns the main street into the reef itself, it brings together hard-working volunteers – it encapsulates the Whitsunday Spirit.

Now the Great Barrier Reef Festival has come full circle with one of the region’s iconic tourism operators, Cruise Whitsundays, onboard as naming sponsors.

As well, carrying the torch of David’s legacy is event chairwoman Margie Murphy and her team of passionate volunteers, who are proud to have taken on the reigns.

“We can’t wait to show you what’s in store for this year’s Cruise Whitsundays Great Barrier Reef Festival,” she said.

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