Located on the east coast in Queensland, the Whitsunday islands are a little piece of heaven. There are so many things to do in the Whitsundays!
Crystal blue waters, white-sand beaches, coral reefs… they have it all!
Over a third of the tourists visiting Australia go to the Whitsundays. This gives you an idea of how popular these islands are.
Popular yes and rightfully. The Whitsundays are stunning and should be on everyone’s bucket list!
In this article, you will discover the most beautiful places and activities in the Whitsundays!
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no extra cost for you!
Visiting Whitehaven Beach & Hill Inlet
Whitehaven Beach is one of the most famous beaches in Australia. It’s very often displayed on postcards and for good reason: it’s stunning!
There is just no place that can beat it!
It’s 7km long so you will get plenty of space to go for a walk and swim.
But that’s not all! The best spot to see Whitehaven Beach is not the beach itself, it’s Hill Inlet.
To get there, you will go on a bushwalk up to the Hill Inlet lookout. From there, you will be able to admire the STUNNING views over Whitehaven swirly sand and water. It looks like a painting, almost unreal!
HOW TO GET THERE: The best ways to get to Whitehaven Beach are by boat or helicopter. No ferry goes to this island however you will find many tours from Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island.
If you are short in time, you can also opt for a day trip to Whitehaven beach. Prices & info.
Relaxing on Hamilton Island
Hamilton Island is known for its amazing resorts and beautiful beaches. It’s the perfect destination for honeymooners and families!
If you’d like to enjoy a peaceful and relaxing holiday, it’s the perfect place for you!
You can go to the spa, golfing, working on your tan on Catseye Beach… and plenty more!
Hamilton Island is also a great place to go hiking in the Whitsundays.
Seeing the Heart Reef
This is one of Australia’s most famous natural landmarks! Located in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef and Whitsundays (yep! The pun was intended), the Heart Reef is a beautiful heart-shaped coral reef.
Unlike what you may think, it’s actually not that big. It’s 17 meters wide.
The best way to see the Heart Reef is to go on a scenic flight.
I particularly recommend the scenic flight from Airlie Beach. It lasts 1 hour. You will be taking off from Proserpine airport and fly above Whitehaven, Hill Inlet, the Great Barrier Reef and of course, the Heart Reef.
The best thing about it is that the pilot will also be your guide. S/he will tell you where to look so you can see the Heart Reef and get beautiful photos.
If you want to know more about this, check out my full review of the scenic flight.
If you are staying on Hamilton Island, you can also go on a scenic flight from there. Click here to see the latest prices.
Finally, if you really want to experience the heart reef. You can also book a trip to the heart island. You will first be going on a helicopter flight before landing on the heart island. This pontoon, located by the reef, is perfect to enjoy some relaxing time in one of the most beautiful places in Australia.
Going on a sailing cruise in the Whitsundays
It would be impossible to explore the Whitsundays without going on a cruise. Not only is this the best way to get to some famous places (like Whitehaven) but sometimes it’s also pretty much the only way.
Ferries only go to Hamilton Island, Daydream Island and Airlie Beach. If you wish to visit more, you will need to jump on a boat.
There are many cruises departing from Airlie Beach every day.
If you can, book the summertime cruise. It’s a 2-day cruise during which you will:
– Walk up to Hill Inlet
– Swim at Whitehaven Beach
– Kayak in the sea
– Go snorkelling
– And plenty more!
Chartering a yacht in the Whitsundays
The Whitsundays are a paradise for sailors. More importantly, sailing is accessible to everyone here.
The Whitsundays are one of the only places in the world where you can go bareboating (without a license).
If you’ve always dreamt of having a yacht for a few days, that’s your time to shine!
There are a couple of options to charter a boat in the Whitsundays.
The first one is bareboating. You can directly rent a boat and go explore the islands. The staff will train you before you leave. You don’t need a license for that but previous boat experience is always a good thing.
Alternatively, you can rent a yacht with a skipper and crew. This is a way better option if you don’t know anything about boating but still want to enjoy a private sailing holiday.
When you rent a crewed boat in the Whitsundays, the crew will work directly with you to come up with your dream itinerary. They will give you loads of suggestions but you are free to make it your own.
Unlike with group tours, renting a boat has the advantage of being more private and the itinerary is bespoke.
You can rent a boat for up to 10 people.
Now let’s talk about prices. You can rent a boat from Hamilton Island. This can get pretty expensive but the services are amazing.
You can also rent this crewed yacht from Airlie Beach. It will, of course, cost a bit more than a tour however, if you are a big group, it gets pretty interesting in terms of budget.
Hiking in the Whitsundays
The Whitsunday Islands National Park is home to a lot of great hikes! If you want to discover off-the-beaten-path places in the archipelago, it’s a great way to do so.
Here are some popular walks in the Whitsundays:
– Whitsunday Cairn on Whitsunday Island (4km)
– Whitsunday Peak on Whitsunday Island (5km)
– Passage Peak on Hamilton Island (5.5km)
– Bauer Bay on South Molle Island
– Honeyeater Lookout in Airlie Beach (8km)
– Hill Inlet Lookout on Whitsunday Island
No matter what, make sure you are wearing good walking shoes, a hat and sunscreen.
Snorkelling in the Whitsundays
The Whitsunday islands are ideally located by the Great Barrier Reef which makes them the perfect places to go snorkelling.
There are a lot of snorkelling spots in the Whitsundays. Some of them are pretty famous and therefore popular. Loads of tours go there and they can get a bit overcrowded.
But there are also a lot of secret snorkelling spots!
Depending on your budget and tastes, you can opt for either option.
The best places to go snorkelling in the Whitsundays are Hook Island, Border Island and Hayman Island.
If you are staying on Hamilton Island or Daydream island, you will also find a few snorkelling spots there.
Finally, there is the ultimate snorkelling spot: the hardy reef! This means you will be snorkelling in open waters though.
If you don’t feel comfortable with this, make sure to opt for one of the islands where you can snorkel off the beach.
HOW TO GO SNORKELLING IN THE WHITSUNDAYS: Again, if you are staying on one of the islands, you can go snorkelling directly from the beach. Make sure to either bring your own equipment or rent some beforehand.
The other option is to go on a tour. Snorkelling is often included in most sailing trips.
Here are some recommendations:
– 1-day cruise from Airlie Beach with Ocean Rafting. It includes an hour at Border Island, Dumbell Island or one of the secret snorkel spots. Prices here.
– Snorkelling day tour from Hamilton Island. It includes several spots around Bait Reef. Click here to see the price.
– 2-day sailing cruise from Airlie Beach with snorkelling near Hook Island. Click here to see the latest prices.
Scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is the holy grail for scuba divers. If you have your PADI, I’m sure you are already obsessed with the idea of going diving at the GBR.
And so you should! It’s absolutely amazing!
It’s actually so beautiful that you are kind of spoilt for life after that! Nothing can beat it!
If you don’t have your PADI, you can still opt for an introductory dive.
HOW TO GO DIVING AT THE REEF: There are a lot of diving centres in Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island.
If you are looking for a bespoke itinerary, you can just drop by once you’re there and ask them what they can do. They will work with you to plan the trip of your dream.
If you are short in time and just want to go for 1 or 2 dive (or don’t have your license and want an induction dive), you can also opt for a diving cruise to the Outer Reef. Prices here.
Enjoying a luxury holiday in a resort
The Whitsunday Islands are home to some of the best resorts in Australia. Whether you want to enjoy a full week in one of these beautiful resorts or just treat yourself for a day or two, that’s possible!
The best resorts in the Whitsundays are located on Hamilton Island, Daydream Island, Hayman Island and Long Island.
They all have direct access to the beach and offer wellness services. Massages, treatments… everything you need! If you want to be pampered, that’s the best place to do so.
They also feature amazing pools with views over the islands.
Going on a scenic flight in the Whitsundays
The best thing about the Whitsundays is that there is more than one way to explore them. Sailing is must-do of course but if you can, going on a scenic flight is well worth your time (and money).
The Whitsundays are a pretty big archipelago. There are loads of islands! 74 to be exact. And, the Great Barrier Reef is also very big.
The only way to truly understand how beautiful the Whitsundays and GBR are is by seeing them from the sky.
The landscapes are jaw-dropping and you get to see so much, so differently! It’s a very unique experience.
There are loads of scenic flights in the area.
If you are staying in Airlie beach, you can book this scenic flight. You will get to see Airlie, Daydream Island, Whitehaven Beach, Hill Inlet, the Heart Reef and the Outer Reef.
Skydiving in Airlie Beach
Any thrill-seekers here? If you are a bit of an adrenaline junky or just want to try skydiving, there is no better place than Airlie Beach.
There are a lot of places where you can go skydiving in Australia. Some of them, like Mission Beach, are pretty famous too!
However, nothing can really beat the Whitsundays. It’s a magical place!
There is a skydiving centre in Airlie Beach where you can experience the thrill of a tandem skydive.
If you are interested in what it is like to skydive for the first time in Airlie Beach, check out this article.
I’m terrified of flying and heights. Yet, this is one of the best things I’ve done in my life.
You start at Proserpine airport and go on a 20-min flight before jumping. Once you jump, there is 30 minutes of freefall before the parachute opens.
The landscapes are so incredibly stunning that you completely forget what you are actually doing. It’s like being struck by pure beauty.
Once you are gliding, you will get to enjoy the views for quite a while and even stir the parachute if you want to.
It’s such an incredible experience and I can’t recommend it enough.
Relaxing on Catseye Beach
The sand is soft and white, making it the perfect place to relax and work on your tan!
When the tide is high, you can also go snorkelling. If you are lucky, you will see some turtles!
It’s also a good place to visit with low-tide. You can go walk on the rocks and look for crabs!
Visiting Daydream Island
Daydream Island is a small inhabited island located between Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island.
It’s quite secluded which is why it’s a great place to either stay or go on a day trip.
Amongst the best things to do on Daydream island, there are:
– Seeing and feeding the stingrays
– Relaxing by the pool of Daydream Island Resort
– Watching the sunset at Lovers Cove
Going on a jet ski tour
Another way you can go around the islands is by booking a jet ski tour!
This is a pretty cool thing to do. It lasts 2 hours during which your guide will take you to some of the most beautiful places in the Whitsundays.
Not only will you discover stunning gems, but it’s also really good fun.
There are different places you can explore with a jet ski:
– Daydream and South Molle Islands. Prices here.
– Airlie Beach surroundings. Prices here.
– Long Island. Prices here.
Visiting South Molle Island
South Molle Island used to be a popular destination back in the days. It was home to one of the most stunning resorts in the Whitsundays.
Unfortunately, this resort was destroyed by a cyclone a few years ago. Nowadays, South Molle Island doesn’t host guests anymore but it’s still a good place to explore.
It’s mainly known for its hikes and beaches. Bauer Bay is particularly stunning.
If you like spooky things, you can also visit the abandoned resort.
You can easily get there from Daydream island, with a private boat or a taxi boat.
Chill out at Airlie Beach Lagoon
If you are staying in Airlie Beach, make sure to head to the lagoon. It’s located on Shute Harbour Road and is the perfect place for families or visitors wanting to swim and relax in Airlie.
The views are beautiful and it’s ideally situated near the beach. You can quickly go on a walk if you want to and come back to sunbathe.
The advantage of going to Airlie Lagoon is that you don’t need to wear a wetsuit. A normal bikini is enough.
At the end of the day, that’s a pool! This means there is no danger.
You will also find a lot of facilities there including toilets and lifeguards.
Eating delicious seafood in one of the Whitsundays restaurants
If you love seafood, you are in for a treat! There is no better place than a coastal town or an island to taste delicious fish. The Whitsundays are no exception!
Due to their proximity to the sea, restaurants in the Whitsundays get supplied with delicious products.
Because the Whitsundays are also a world-class destination, there are loads of amazing restaurants.
If you are staying in Airlie Beach, make sure to go to Shuckz Oyster & Champagne Bar or the Whitsundays Sailing Club.
On Hamilton Island, book a table at Long Pavilion or at the restaurant of the Beach Club. Make sure to book in advance for this last one though. They give priority to their guests so if you are not staying at the Beach Club, you will need to book early.
Going on a glass-bottom boat tour
The Whitsunday islands are all about water activities however, everything doesn’t like being in the water (or know how to swim).
If this is your case but you still want to enjoy the beauty of the environment, you can opt for a glass-bottom boat tour.
It’s ideal to make the best of both worlds. You will be going on a 70-min cruise to the reef. Not only will you soak up the views of the islands but you will also get to see the marine wildlife!
No need to get wet, you will be able to see the corals, turtles and other marine life from the boat!
Watching the sunset in the Whitsundays
Australia is famous for its beautiful sunsets but I must say something, the Whitsundays set the standard!
Watching the sunset in the Whitsundays is an amazing experience. The colours are incredibly bright and warm. The orange, red, pink… so beautiful!
More importantly, you can look at the horizon and see the islands, the sea, the sailing boats and dolphins!
Catching a glimpse of dolphins jumping in this stunning place is just a magical experience.
You can see the sunset from most beaches on the islands; however, the best place to see it is from a boat.
Again, if you opted for the summertime cruise, you will get to see that (and the sunrise too!). If you don’t want to book a multi-day cruise, you can also opt for a sunset cruise.
The crew will bring you to one of the best sunset spots in the Whitsundays. You will get drinks and snacks and bring back wonderful photos.
Enjoying a retreat on Long Island
Long Island is a pretty secluded island where you can truly enjoy a retreat. If you dream of massages, treatments, swimming in the pool while looking at the islands… Long Island is for you!
Alternatively, you can also go there by yourself and explore.
Partying in the Whitsundays
Want to experience the nightlife while visiting the Whitsundays? Good! Because you are in for a treat!
There are several places where you can go partying in the Whitsundays.
Airlie Beach is a popular place, especially for backpackers. There are loads of bars, clubs and restaurants. In the evening, make sure to hit the main street and you will find plenty!
The islands are also a good place to party as some of the resorts have nightclubs and organise things in the evening.
Finally, the ultimate way to party in the Whitsundays is to go on a party boat. You will get to explore the islands and the famous sites and enjoy some crazy nights on the boat. Music, drinks, games… everything is there.
The Tongarra is known as the ultimate party boat in the Whitsundays. It’s a 3-day, 2 nights cruise. Click here to see the latest prices.
Exploring Hook Island
Located in the northern part of the archipelago, Hook Island offers very well preserved landscapes.
It’s particularly known for its snorkelling and diving spots. Luncheon Bay, Butterfly Bay and Manta Ray Bay are particularly popular.
If you choose to go on the summertime cruise, you will go there.
Learning about the native-Australian culture and seeing rock art at Nara Inlet
There are a lot of stories and traditions in the Whitsundays. The Great Barrier Reef is very important for the aboriginal culture.
If you want to know more about this, check out these fun facts about the GBR.
If you wish to learn more about this, you can go on a tour with a Ngaro Indigenous guide. S/he will tell you everything you need to know about the legends, stories and how they live in the Whitsundays. This tour is part of the ROC (Respecting Our Culture) program which reinforce the indigenous cultural heritage in Australia.
Another site that you should check out is Nara Inlet. You can access it by going on the Ngaro Cultural Site Track. It’s only 340m return and takes about 20 minutes. You will discover a fantastic 9,000 years old rock art site.
Going to Shute Harbour
Shute Harbour is a beautiful natural harbour located 10 km away from Airlie Beach.
It’s ideally located on the edge of the Conway National Park, in the middle of rainforest mountains! A true little piece of paradise.
If you are into hiking, you will love Shute Harbour. There are a few scenic walks that will bring you to lookouts with breath-taking views over the islands. Coral Point, Mount Rooper Circuit and Swamp Bay track are particularly good.
Please note, Shute Harbour area was particularly touched by cyclone Debbie back in 2017 and the damages are still very visible. The local authorities are working very hard to rebuild everything but I have to mention this to avoid any disappointments.
Going on a Segway tour in Airlie Beach
If you are into history, going on a segway tour is a very fun thing to do in Airlie Beach.
The guide will take around the town and along the Whitsunday Bicentennial Boardwalk. S/he will tell you heaps about the history of Airlie Beach, the Whitsundays and Australia!
You will also go to amazing photo spots. The local guides know the area better than anyone and they know exactly where to go to take great shots!
Here are some of the sights you will discover: Abell Point Marina, Shingley Beach and the Whitsunday Botanic Gardens.
You will then stop at Sorrento’s for dinner. This is one of the best restaurants in Airlie Beach. They serve Australian food and the views from the deck are beautiful!
Finally, you will head to Cannonvale to watch the sunset.
It’s a very complete tour and so much fun!
Exploring the Whitsundays Hinterland
This may surprise you but the Whitsunday Coast doesn’t only include the islands. The Whitsundays Hinterland is also a beautiful place to visit.
It’s often overlooked by visitors but it’s a great place to find beautiful hidden gems!
It takes about 30 minutes from Airlie Beach to get there.
The most beautiful sites in the hinterland are:
– Airlie Creek Trail
– Cedar Creek Falls
– Honeyeater Lookout Trail
– Conway National Park
– Whitsundays Great Walk
– Fair Tree Walk
You can easily get there by car.
If you don’t have a vehicle, you can also opt for a day tour from Airlie Beach. Prices here.
How to get to the Whitsundays
Getting to the Whitsundays is fairly easy. There are two airports. One is in Airlie Beach, the other one on Hamilton Island.
From Proserpine Airport, you can book a transfer to Airlie and the islands or rent a car.
From Hamilton Island airport, you can take a shuttle to your hotel.
Best Whitsunday Islands tours
Although a lot of Whitsundays tours were mentioned before, here is a summary of the best ones!
Summertime 2-day Sailing cruise in the Whitsundays: you will spend 2 days in the Whitsundays, visit Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet, go snorkelling and kayaking. It’s absolutely amazing! You can check out my full review here and see prices here.
Scenic flight from Airlie Beach: this is the only way to see the heart reef! You will also love the views of the islands, Whitehaven and the Outer Reef. Check out my full review here or check directly the prices here.
Accommodation in the Whitsundays
When it comes to places to stay in the Whitsundays, you will be spoilt for choice!
The area is known for its world-class resorts but even if you are on a budget, you will find many options!
Budget and mid-range travellers:
If you are backpacking or on a budget, it’s better to stay in Airlie Beach. Everything is way cheaper there! This includes both accommodation and tours.
Here are some recommendations:
– Airlie Beach hotel is very good value. If you don’t want to stay in a backpacker but still don’t want to stretch your budget too much, they have great budget-friendly rooms. They also have more fancy rooms so it will suit most people.
If you want to experience the proper resort holiday in the Whitsundays, then you must stay on one of the islands!
Here are some of the best resorts:
– Reef View Hotel on Hamilton Island: an all-time favourite! It’s located by Catseye beach. See prices here.
– Beach Club on Hamilton Island: this is an adult-only resort. If you are travelling with kids, it won’t be suitable but if you are a couple and want to stay away from children, this will be your paradise. See prices here.
– InterContinental Hayman Island Resort is more secluded and the perfect couple getaway. See prices here.
– Daydream Island Resort is a stunning resort, away from the crowds. See prices here.
Travelling with a dog?
Dogs are not allowed on the islands so you will have to stay on the mainland. You can find the full list of pet-friendly accommodation in Airlie Beach here.
Please note that you should be opting for day trips instead of overnight cruises as dogs are not allowed on boats either.
Best time to visit the Whitsundays
The Whitsundays are a great place to visit all year round. A lot of people choose to visit at Christmas time and during the summer holidays. However, this is also the wet season and you could be finding yourself on a very rainy holiday.
Winter is a pretty good time of the year to visit. It’s dry and the temperature is around 20 degrees which is very pleasant. It never really gets cold there so you shouldn’t worry about that.
As a general thing, September is known as the best time to visit the Whitsundays. It’s warmer and dry, basically the ideal weather to explore the islands!
Whitsundays Packing List
You will be spending a lot of time on the beach and in the water so make sure to pack:
– Dresses or shorts
– Light trousers
– A jumper (just in case)
– A jacket for the evening (rain jacket if you are visiting in summer)
– Camera and photography equipment
– Sunscreen (eco-friendly preferably)
– Beach towels
– Snorkelling equipment (most tours will provide it but it’s worth bringing your own)
We hope this will help you plan your trip and figure out exactly what to do in the Whitsundays. No matter what you do, you will love it. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world!
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