One of Australia’s most iconic destinations, the Whitsundays are a group of 74 jewel-like islands that sit right in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. Hop from Hamilton to Whitsunday or Long island, relax on Whitehaven Beach – one of the world’s best beaches – or get out on the water in the sailing capital of the country.Don’t forget about the mainland, though. The Whitsunday Coast has charms of its own, with great beaches, national parks and the buzzing town of Airlie Beach.
You could discover a new island, a new beach or a new snorkel site every day in the Whitsundays. It’s a region jam-packed with bucket-list experiences.
The Whitsundays are made to be explored by boat. Be your own skipper on a bareboat, or charter a boat with a full crew and relax on deck with the wind in your hair (and a glass of champagne in hand).
The Whitsunday islands are at the heart of one of the world’s natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef. Spend the night on the water on a floating pontoon, snorkel or dive at sites such as Blue Pearl Bay and The Woodpile on Hook Island, venture to secluded islands with a kayak, or see it all from above with a scenic flight.
Hundreds of picture-perfect beaches are dotted across the Whitsundays. The best of them all is the award-winning Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island, a 7km strip of powder-white sand that’s been named one of the best in the world. Hire a boat and admire the pure white sand from the water, see it from the vantage point of Hill Inlet lookout or simply dig your toes in on the beach.
There’s so much to see in the Whitsundays, from the coastal town of Airlie Beach to the resort island capital Hamilton Island and out to deserted islands covered in untouched forest.
The gateway to the Whitsundays, Airlie Beach has boat tours and ferries departing daily. The town has a relaxed holiday atmosphere during the day and a vibrant nightlife after sunset. Plus, it’s surrounded by beaches and national parks.
The most developed of all the Whitsunday islands, Hamilton Island has a selection of high-rises, multiple resorts, restaurants, bars, shops and even a golf course on a separate island just offshore.
One of the best beaches in the world, Whitehaven Beach is famous for its dazzling white silica sand. You can cruise in for a day-trip, arrive by seaplane for a private picnic, or stay longer and camp in the forest just behind the beach.
A delicate heart-shaped coral outcrop on the outer reef, this spot looks almost too perfect to be real. It’s best seen from above with a scenic seaplane flight, before landing to snorkel in the crystal-clear waters of Hardy Reef.
The coral is pristine, there are lots of amazing fish, there's a beach you can reach at high tide and you can walk most of the way round the island, and hardly anyone goes there so you often get it all to yourself. Christina Unterwurzacher
Bali Hai on Black Island
Events in the Whitsundays are centred around the water, so you can experience the fun of a week-long sailing regatta, join in a foot race along the sand, compete in an ocean swim or watch a concert with the sand between your toes.
Choose to stay on the mainland or head out to the islands. Once you’ve decided, you have your pick of everything from ultra-luxe resorts to beachfront camping as well as plenty of apartments and holiday houses for families and groups.
Airlie Beach is a backpacker’s haven, but it’s become more sophisticated in recent times. So you can now choose from good-quality properties that are great for families as well as some more high-end options.
On the Whitsunday Islands, you’ll find some of the best luxury resorts in the country as well as budget beachside motels, self-contained apartments and stylish villas perfect for larger groups. If you want to stay close to nature (or are on a really tight budget) you can camp on some of the islands, though you’ll need to book in advance.
Proserpine Airport (also known as Whitsunday Coast Airport) is on the mainland, about half an hour from Airlie Beach. Three airlines fly direct from Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.
Great Barrier Reef Airport on Hamilton Island is the main airport for the Whitsunday Islands. It’s a small airport with just one runway, but there are flights to and from Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Cairns.
If you want to take a road trip, you can drive to Airlie Beach from Brisbane or Cairns. The journey north from Brisbane is more than 1000km and will take at least 12 hours. From Cairns, the drive south takes about seven hours.
Hamilton Island is car-free, so one of the most efficient (and fun) ways to get around is via golf buggy. There are also scheduled shuttle buses. Of course, sailing and bareboating will allow you to make the most of this incredible location.
Boat transfers operate between Hamilton Island and Daydream Island, taking about 30 minutes. To reach other islands, you will need to take a private tour or charter boat, or even a helicopter flight.
To explore the Whitsunday Coast on the mainland, a hire car is your best option. You can pick one up in Airlie Beach or Proserpine.