How to get to the Whitsundays

Planning a trip to Queensland and wondering how to get to the Whitsundays? We’ve got you covered!

The Whitsunday Islands are located on the East Coast of Australia. The nearest mainland town is Airlie Beach.

The archipelago is made of 74 islands. Hamilton Island is the most famous and one of the only inhabited ones.

Before even diving into how to get to the Whitsundays themselves, you’ve got to choose a base. You can get to the islands from either Airlie Beach or Hamilton Island. This is an important choice as you will then get different options in terms of accommodation and tours.

how to get to the whitsundays

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Should you go to Airlie Beach or Hamilton island?

Airlie Beach is located in mainland Australia. If you choose to make it your base that means you won’t actually get to stay on an island.

things to do in airlie beach

That having been said, accommodation in Airlie Beach is cheaper and there more tour options. You will also find loads of unique Airbnb in Airlie Beach.

It will give you a bit more flexibility and if you are backpacking, that’s definitely the place to go to. It’s more affordable and getting to the Whitsundays from there is super easy.

Unlike Hamilton Island, Airlie Beach is accessible by car. If you are doing a road trip along the east coast, that will be the right place for you.

Hamilton Island has everything you may expect from a tropical island. If you wish to stay in a resort and enjoy the perks of a proper holiday on an island, this is the place for you. It’s also a popular honeymoon destination!

There are many cruises, diving and snorkelling tours leaving from Hamilton Island so you will never be bored! The beaches are also way nicer than in Airlie Beach.

Hamilton Island, however, is not cheap. It’s a great place to stay if you want to book a resort and enjoy a family holiday.

How to get to Airlie Beach

Getting to Airlie Beach is fairly easy.

You can get there:

  • By car: Hit the coastal highway A1 and turn onto road 59 when you reach Prosperine. Airlie Beach is between Townsville (3h) and Mackay (2h). This is the best option if you are already in north Queensland. From Brisbane, it takes 12h. 10h from Sydney and 25h from Melbourne
  • By plane: The nearest airport is Whitsunday Coast Airport. It’s located in Prosperine which is about 25mins from Airlie. You can find flights here. From the airport, you can take a shuttle to Airlie Beach or directly book a transfer to the islands.
  • By train: Spirit of Queensland is the train that goes from Brisbane to Cairns. It stops in Prosperine. From there you can get a shuttle to Airlie Beach. This is a good option if you want to enjoy a bit of a unique journey.
  • By boat: if you have your own boat then it will be very easy to get to Airlie and stay at the port. Berthing prices and information here.

How to get to Hamilton Island

The best way to get to Hamilton Island is by air. However, you can also jump on a ferry from Airlie Beach.

  • By plane: There are several flights flying every day onto Great Barrier Reef Aiport on Hamilton Island. You can compare the prices here. This is the best option if you want to spend your entire holiday on Hamilton Island.
  • By ferry: you can also take a ferry from Port of Airlie to Hamilton Island Marina. If you are already in Airlie that’s perfect but they also organise transfer from Whitsunday Coast airport to the port and Hamilton Island.
  • By private boat: Hamilton Island Marina has loads of packages if you want to berth your boat/yacht there. Info here.

How to get to the Whitsundays from Airlie Beach or Hamilton Island

Once you get to Airlie or Hamilton, you will need to go on tours (or rent your own boat) to truly enjoy the islands.

There are two ways to make the best of your time in the Whitsundays.

Firstly, you have to give a go to some water activities! Snorkelling, diving, cruising… you name it!

The second option is from the air. The Whitsundays are stunning and seeing them from the air is one of the best ways to enjoy the true beauty of the place.

Whitsundays tours from Airlie Beach

cruise whitsundays

Sailing is a must-do in the Whitsundays.

Depending on how much time you have ahead of you, you can opt for:

  • A day tour: Perfect for people on a timeline and who want to make the best of their time in the Whitsundays. On a day tour, you will get to see Whitehaven Beach, Hill Inlet and cruise around the islands. Click here for more information and prices.
  • 2-day cruise: If you have the time to go on an overnight cruise, it will be well worth it! You will get to see Whitehaven, Hill Inlet but also snorkelling and kayaking in the Whitsundays which is fabulous! I went on the Summertime cruise and can’t recommend it enough! Click here for more information and prices.
  • 3-day cruise: Spending 2 nights on a boat, in the Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef, is a great experience. If you have both the time and the budget for it, aim for that!

view from scenic flight airlie

If you want to see the islands in a different way, you can opt for a scenic flight from Airlie Beach. I personally chose to go on this one. If you want to know more about it, you can check my full review here. Alternatively, you can head here to see the prices.

If you are a thrill-seeker, you may want to consider going skydiving in Airlie Beach.

Finally, you can book each activity individually. There are plenty of snorkelling, diving and kayaking trips.

Click here to see all Whitsundays tours in Airlie Beach.

Whitsunday Islands tours from Hamilton Island

Hamilton Island is one of the Whitsunday Islands but if you want to make the best of it, you need to go explore the other ones!

More importantly, you’ve got to see Whitehaven beach. Nobody should leave the Whitsundays without seeing Whitehaven!

You will get pretty much the same options from Hamilton Island however they are more expensive.

If you are looking for budget activities, go to Airlie. If you are looking for something more private, Hamilton Island will be your paradise.

From there you can choose to go on a cruise. 1-day cruises are more common from Hamilton Island. You can see examples here.

Kayaking and snorkelling are also popular activities and a great way to see the Whitsundays.

In terms of flights, you can opt for a scenic flight or a helicopter flight.

If you want to see all tours on Hamilton Island, click here.

Charter your own boat

This one is an expensive one but it’s also pretty much as good as it can possibly get.

sailing in the whitsunday islands

If you don’t want to opt for a group tour, you can also charter your own boat in the Whitsundays.

As a matter of fact, the Whitsunday Islands are one of the only places in the world where you can charter a boat without a license! You don’t need any kind of experience. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend to just wing it. I mean, it’s still a boat! But technically speaking, you are allowed to!

You will find several options from both Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island.

There are packages available per hour, day and overnight cruises.

You can find more information here.

And, this is it! I hope this article will give you a better idea of how to get to the Whitsundays and enjoy your stay!


You may also be interested in:

Best resorts in the Whitsundays

Best Airbnb in Airlie Beach

12 Best Airbnbs on Hamilton Island for an unforgettable holiday in the Whitsundays

Airlie Beach Scenic Flight Review

Airlie Beach Skydive Review

How to get to Whitehaven Beach

Things to do in Airlie Beach

Things to do in Hamilton Island

Things to do in Daydream Island

Summertime Whitsundays Review

Fun facts about the Great Barrier Reef

How to see the Great Barrier Reef in Australia

Places to see in Australia