Taking home on the front of postcards around the world, The Whitsundays are some of the most beautiful islands on the planet. Whether you like diving, sailing or simply playing in the sand with amazing views all around, the Whitsundays are a paradise destination you’ll never want to leave.
With 74 islands of pure bliss, there’s surely something for everyone in this heavenly collection. In this post, I’m going to take you through some of the best options for exploring the Australian dream islands, as well as some great activities to do whilst you’re there (and yes, sunbathing all day is classed as an activity!).
Table of Contents
- About the Whitsundays
- How to get to the Whitsundays
- How to get around the Whitsundays
- What is there to do in the Whitsundays?
- Places in the Whitsundays
About the Whitsundays
The Whitsundays are a set of islands off of Queensland’s sub-tropical coast. These islands are equipped with amazing hikes, crystal clear waters and pristine beaches and are home to some incredible diving, snorkelling and sailing.
As Australia’s most beloved islands, the Whitsundays are a popular tourist destination for people from all over the world. Don’t worry though, there is more than enough space around the islands to accommodate the people, and you can easily explore the beauty without seeing any other humans if you want to.
Home to beautiful beaches, perfect weather year-round and the world-famous Great Barrier Reef, it’s easy to see why so many people dream of spending their holiday sailing through these islands.
70% of the Whitsundays are National Park, meaning the country is dedicated to preserving the natural beauty of the islands, making it a great destination to be enjoyed for many years to come.
How to get to the Whitsundays
The most common springboard to these fabulous islands is Airlie Beach, located about halfway up the coast of Queensland. There are a few different options to get here, and what you choose to do depends on whether you are planning to just visit the Whitsundays, or if you want to enjoy these amazing islands as part of a larger Australian adventure.
If you have your mind set on just visiting the Whitsundays then lucky for you there is a conveniently located airport just 20km from Airlie Beach. The Whitsunday Coast Airport offers only domestic flights, so if you are booking from abroad it is likely that you will have to transfer at Brisbane or Cairns. Once there, you can easily get a shuttle bus or taxi from the airport to Airlie beach.
If you are thinking of staying a longer time in Australia and exploring the famous east coast, then first of all check out our advice on how long to stay in Aus and our guide on when to visit Australia, as well as our price guide to help plan your budget.
Secondly, you now have many other options for travelling to Airlie Beach. There are many buses that continuously run up and down the coast, providing tourists with many options to travel from town to town. You can easily catch one of these buses to Airlie Beach as part of your coastal trip, fly in from another destination in Aus or rent a campervan and drive into the pretty town yourself.
If you are wanting to skip out the middleman and head straight for the islands without even stepping on a boat, then you can also easily fly direct to Hamilton Island. This is one of the most popular islands in the collective, and probably the most developed. This island is absolutely beautiful and is a great base for exploring the rest of the islands. Hamilton Island is significantly more expensive than Airlie Beach in terms of accommodation, however, so it is worth considering this before booking your flights.
How to get around the Whitsundays
As a set of islands, the most accessible form of transport is, of course, by boat. There are many water taxis that operate around the islands, taking travellers to and from various destinations in the area. These can be booked as a single or return trip and are often the best way to explore whilst keeping to a budget. Once on some of the islands, such as Hamilton Island, you can also rent a car or scooter to help you explore every inch of the beautiful escape.
What is there to do in the Whitsundays?
If you’ve done any research at all on the Whitsundays then you probably already know that it sits beside one of the Natural Wonders of the World, the Great Barrier Reef. This is known worldwide to be one of the best places to go diving and to see some of the incredible marine life that calls the reef their home. The Whitsunday Islands form a perfect shield for the coral sitting between them, making the water conditions very calm and perfect for getting up close to the only living structure that can be seen from space.
From Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island, there are many diving boats operating along the reef, each will be run by experts willing to take you to some of the best diving spots in the area. If you have never dived before then you can still dive with a trained guide, or even take a diving course here to get certified!
If you’re a diving pro, then why not consider hiring a private boat, meaning you can have full reign over the choice of whichever diving spots most appeal to you?
For those not wanting to be completely submerged in the water, snorkelling is a great option to still explore the amazing life that fills the great barrier reef, without fully committing to joining them down there. A lot of the reef is in fairly shallow water and so you can still see amazing marine life without losing your access to air. The Whitsundays are also home to many sea turtles, and snorkelling can be a great way to swim with these majestic animals in their natural habitat.
Due to the sheltered waters between the islands, the Whitsundays offer serene and beautiful sailing experiences. Whether you’re a sailing novice wanting to learn, an ocean pro or someone who just wants to come along for the ride, the Whitsundays have something for you. There are many companies and locals offering sailing tours, boat rentals and courses throughout the year and sailing is by far one of the most popular activities in the area.
There are a lot of fully organised overnight sailing tours around the islands too, which will include different activities, food and accommodation on the boat. These will usually stop at many of the top destinations and are often the best way to economically explore the islands. There are many different ‘themes’ of boats, from party cruises to luxurious tours and everything in between, so make sure to do your research in order to pick the best tour for you. The activities will also vary from boat to boat so also make a note to check this so you don’t miss out on anything you really want to do.
As a novice sailer, the gentle waters here are perfect to learn the art, and how better to learn how to sail than by looking at the incredible views the Whitsundays have to offer?
The Whitsundays are home to some of the most beautiful beaches you will ever see in your life, and many of them are so long and remote that you can easily be the only group on there at a time, giving you the freedom to relax, unwind and enjoy the warm ocean waters at your leisure, in your own time. I mean, did you even go to Australia if you don’t come back with a killer tan?
Although an area famed for its tranquillity and serenity, there are also many activities out there for any thrill seekers wanting to visit the islands. You can easily rent a jet ski to bounce along the gentle waves, or even your own power boat/speed boat to independently explore the many beaches, coves and hikes that can be found on the islands. There are many docks dotted around the islands for you to use, but make sure you do your independent research on this as some may be private or you may have to get a permit or pass.
Another great activity is to go skydiving over the famous swirling sands of the Whitsundays. This is one of the most beautiful places in the world to skydive and includes the perfect combination of thrilling freefall and peaceful views. There are also many spots where you can cliff jump into the ocean below, but obviously make sure you check out the locations beforehand.
Imagine waking up in the morning, you unzip your tent to see the sun gracefully rising over the forested islands. You step out of your tent and walk straight onto the beach, stretching warmly knowing that you are at complete peace and completely alone within the beautiful nature of the islands.
Sounds amazing, right?
Camping can be one of the best ways to really immerse yourself in the incredible nature of these islands. You’ll need to either have your own boat to access many of the campsites, or take a water taxi. Once you are there you can explore your chosen island with ease, accessing the hiking trails and playing in the sand. You’ll need to get a camping permit to do this, but they are fairly inexpensive and easy to get.
Places in the Whitsundays
As well as being the easiest access point to the islands from the mainland, Airlie Beach has also become known as a vibing town in its own right. There are many activities in the area, and it is also a hub for all things ocean-related. In addition to this, there are many cool restaurants and bars, as well as cute stores with handmade goods, nice walks and local markets. This is a great place to make your home whilst exploring the islands as it offers a wide range of accommodations from hippie hostels to 5-star resorts.
As possibly the busiest of the 74 islands, Hamilton Island is home to many incredible resorts and activities. Virtually anything you would want to do within the islands can be booked from Hamilton Island, making it another great option to base your stay whilst in the Whitsundays. In addition to all the island-based adventures, you can also go go-karting, bowling, and take an animal safari amongst many other fun activities.
Consistently voted Australia’s best beach, this famous location stretches 7km along Whitsunday Island, the largest island in the collection of the same name. This beach features some of the softest sand you will ever experience, with crystal clear waters and beautiful forests. There are also multiple hikes in the area, so if you want to explore before settling in the sand then there are good options.
Many of the hikes take you to beautiful viewpoints of the area and are definitely worth the short trek. Another thing to see Is Hill Inlet, a cove sitting north of the beach where you will see the swirling sand which makes this beach so famous.
As a bit more of a luxurious choice for visitors to the islands, Hayman island boasts a beautiful resort accessible by yacht, seaplan or helicopter. This tranquil island Is the perfect stopover for those wanting to be immersed in nature, whilst still having that luxurious feel.
As most of this island is National Park, this island has a very untouched feel to it. Long Island is a treasure trove for hikers, having beautiful walking tracks well laid out and many amazing sights to be seen. After wandering through the bushland, you can easily relax on one of the island’s many beaches. There are a couple of resorts on the island, or you can access by boat, with many cosy coves for you to dock up for the day.
Similar to Long Island, much of Hook Island is National Park, making this an amazing place to explore through any of the islands many hiking trails. Here you will experience lush rainforests, rocky coastlines, waterfalls, and even ancient Aboriginal caves.
If this isn’t enough for then you might want to know that some of the best sorkelling and diving in the Whitsundays can be done here, with most boats making a visit to its coral-rich shores. This is a great island for anyone wanting to camp on the Whitsundays and really immerse themself in nature.
No matter your budget or sense of adventure you’re going to find some incredible scenery on these paradise islands. Make sure to take lots of photos and to take all your trash out with you when you’re there, but don’t forget to simply take a moment to soak it all up, for the Whitsundays truly are some of the most beautiful islands on earth.