The Whitsundays, a bucket list destination, a must-do if you’re in Australia. The whitest beach in the world, next to it the most beautiful tides and on top of that the most luxurious hotels in its area. Although this archipelago is popular with honeymooners and wealthy people, young families and backpackers will also find what they’re looking for. In short, you can visit this beautiful destination with all budgets. We found it extremely difficult to plan the Whitsundays. The internet couldn’t tell us clearly how to start discovering this exotic place. Hopefully after this post it’ll be a piece of cake.
What are the Whitsundays?
Let me just go full Wikipedia on you. The Whitsundays are an archipelago on the east coast of Australia, located in the state of Queensland. Airlie Beach serves as a port city to visit this attraction. The archipelago was discovered by Captain James Cook who sailed past it at Whitsunday. Therefore the name, The Whitsundays.
The archipelago is a collection of no less than 74 beautiful islands that connect to the Great Barrier Reef. Despite this large number, only a few are available to the general public.
The best known islands are:
- Whitsunday Island
- Hamilton Island
- Daydream Island
- Hayman Island
- Long Island
How do you get to the Whitsundays?
- From Cairns you’re driving to Airlie Beach. A distance of 622km or a 7 hour drive.
- From Brisbane it’s a long drive. No less than 12 hours and a whopping 1100 km.
- The nearest airport is Proserpine. It’s a half-hour drive from there to Airlie Beach.
- Direct flights to the Whitsundays land on Hamilton Island Airport.
How to get the most out of the Whitsundays?
You’ll probably book your first night at Airlie Beach. Either book in advance or wait until the last moment to find a good deal. The locals are all over the place on Airbnb. Although you can find expensive penthouses, there are also rooms with families. In short, the whole price range is on offer. Plus, last minute we were able to rent a loft for a bargain. In addition, Airlie Beach has two ports: Abell Port Marina and Port of Airlie.
- Abell Port Marina: This port is used by private individuals and all other tour operators.
- Port of Airlie: Although this port still looks new, it’s owned by the Whitsundays’ largest company, Cruise Whitsundays.
Despite all this information, how do you go about discovering Australia’s most impressive archipelago? Below are your options:
You’ll stay several nights at Airlie Beach and book tours on the main street. List everything you want to see in the area around the Whitsundays and take it to several tour operators and they’ll give you the best tour. As this is a tourist attraction, there is a wide range of possibilities:
- Sunrise tours
- Sunset tours
- Half Day tours
- 2 Day Tours (sailing)
- 3 Day Tours (sailing)
- Ferry to the different islands
You don’t have to choose from the 74 islands. Since most of the islands are in private hands or they are a no limits nature reserve. If you want to stay a few days on the Whitsundays you have a choice between:
Hamilton Island is the most obvious choice. Since the island is only an hour from Airlie Beach. Moreover, Hamilton Island offers the most accommodations of all the islands. You can book through the commercial websites as well as Airbnb. This island is known for the golf buggies that drive around and the laidback atmosphere. If you book accommodation, chances are very high that there’s a golf buggy included. Hamilton Island has shops, restaurants and a supermarket, so you shouldn’t really expect the Robinson Crusoe feeling here. Moreover, tourists come here mainly for weddings, parties, business and family holidays. In short, something for everyone.
Protip!If you have found a place to stay that you’re interested in, go and see if you can find the direct website of the stay. Furthermore, you contact the owners directly and usually you can book for a cheaper price.
Daydream Islandis exclusively bound to a luxury resort with 280 rooms. Although the resort has much more to offer, their biggest crowd-puller is the Live Reef. Daydream Island offers rooms where you can admire the splendour of the coral from your bed. Also, three restaurants are nearby and available for guests. In addition, the resort offers exclusive tours to discover the Whitsundays.
Hayman Islandis one of the world’s most exclusive islands. The cheapest overnight stay you can find is around $1,000 a night. For that you will be picked up and dropped off by helicopter. Moreover, you can admire one of the most impressive swimming pools in the world from your balcony. Although I don’t know you, I still think this island is not for you 😉
Whitsunday Island can realistically only be visited during tours. Despite his name as a national park you can still camp here. For this you need to apply for a license or anchor a private boat at Whitehaven Beach. The latter option can be achieved if you invite nine to nineteen of your best friends and rent a boat together (= at least 1000 dollars per person).
Protip! If you book a tour to Whitsunday Island, make sure you don’t only go to Whitehaven Beach, but also to Betty’s Beach or the Whitsunday Lookout. Usually it’s the Full Day Tour!
Great Barrier Reef
Although you’ll find 74 beautiful islands only a few miles from Airlie Beach, the focus of many tourists is on the Great Barrier Reef. And rightly so! On land, at sea and in the air, Airlie Beach has enough tourist offices to visit the reef all year round. In short, you have four possibilities to visit the Great Barrier Reef:
Boattours are extremely popular amongst backpackers. As they are relatively cheap because of the inclusive nights. You usually sleep on deck or in a small cabin. The choice consists of sailboats, catamarans and yachts. However, keep in mind that the longer your trip, the more you will see. The Great Barrier Reef is 245km from Airlie Beach, so on a half-day tour you will probably not see the reef. The routes include the following:
- First you pass Whitehaven Beach.
- Then a visit to Betty’s Beach.
- Followed by a walk to Hill Inlet.
- Optional some snorkeling, depending on your package.
- Closing the Great Barrier Reef as the icing on the cake.
Airplanetours are done by young and old, rich and… backpackers. It’s the ideal choice if you want to use your time efficiently. However, the plane is a more expensive choice than the boat, but you probably figured that out yourself. In exchange, the view from the air is infinitely more beautiful. By the way, when you book a flight, you will be picked up by bus from Airlie Beach to go to the airport in Proserpine. Although the flight is only one hour, it’s best to add a good two hours to your travel time of driving there and back. The most popular option is the one hour Whitsundays Scenic Flight:
- First you fly over Whitehaven Beach.
- Then circle over Hill Inlet a few times so you can take a picture.
- Then you float above Heart Reef.
- Finally, you’ll admire the Great Barrier Reef.
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Helicoptertours are your most expensive option because of the limited seats. So why choose this option? Freedom! Moreover, you can tell your pilot where you want to stay a bit longer so you can shoot the perfect shot. You can also land on a quiet part of Whitehaven Beach. On top of that, as the icing on the cake you might say, you can take a closer look at Heart Reef by landing on the nearby pontoon. If you have the money we definitely recommend this. In summary:
- First you may land on Whitehaven Beach.
- Then you float a few meters above Hill Inlet.
- Next you land on the pontoon of Heart Reef.
- In addition, you have the option to snorkel at Heart Reef
- In short, you enjoy ultimate freedom.
- Afterwards it is a private experience with your lover, partner, friend, …
Seaplaneis in our opinion the best choice you can make. Since it has all the advantages of a helicopter. On top of that, you enjoy the luxury of an airplane. In addition, a visit to the Whitsundays seems the perfect moment to fly with a seaplane. In addition, the tour operator will provide you with a luxury drink on the beach where you can enjoy it privately. Now let’s be real, landing on this beautiful piece of nature defies all imagination, doesn’t it?
Protip! Should you wish to have this experience, you will have to book in time.
If you would like to combine the Whitsundays with other highlights of the East Coast of Australia, please click here.
Moreover, you can find out everything about the Working Holiday Visa here. This allows you to travel the whole of Australia and earn a penny on top of that. In short, everything you need to know about Australia can be found here.