The Whitsundays is made up of 74 island scattered along the beautiful tropical coast of Queensland, Australia. Right in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, a visit to The Whitsundays is a feast for the senses.
The stunning natural landscapes of coast and islands are dotted with secluded beaches and friendly towns and there is much to explore on land or in and under the water. Whether you choose to base yourself on the coast or on the islands, there’s so much to do, you’ll have to work out how to fit it all in.
The Whitsunday Islands region is renowned as a prime family destination because of the quality of beaches with sheltered swimming areas around the islands and mainland as well as activities galore to keep the kids entertained. The paradise like islands with stunning sunsets are also a big appeal for couples and weddings with the luxury offering popular for this. There is adventure around every corner with water activities to exploration on the mainland or you can enjoy and wellness groups, and those who just want a laid-back holiday. Solo travellers and backpackers will find there is plenty to do, and on a budget, where friendly locals will make you feel right at home.
It is an adventure seekers paradise, with so many activities on, in and under the water as well as exploration to be done on the mainland. Diving and snorkelling the many reefs with their bright corals and incredible fish life is a draw card while sailing and skippering your own boat is just as exciting.
How to get to the Whitsunday Islands region
There are multiple ways to access the region, including by road, rail and air. There are even a number of boats that will come spend time in the area and arrive by sea.
There are two airports in the Whitsundays region, Great Barrier Reef Airport, Hamilton Island (HTI) and Whitsunday Coast Airport, Proserpine (PPP). Currently the only airport operating flights is Whitsunday Coast Airport, located near Proserpine, and is approximately 25 minutes to Airlie Beach. The airport is currently serviced by Alliance Airlines and Jetstar (Qantas codeshare). Buses and taxis meet every flight to transfer guests to Airlie Beach, or to ferries to the island resorts. Car and limousine hire is also available at the airport.
Approximate Flight Duration:
Cairns to Hamilton Island – 1 ½ hours
Brisbane to Whitsunday Coast – 1 ½ hours
Brisbane to Hamilton Island – 1 ½ hours
Sydney to Whitsunday Coast – 2 hours
Sydney to Hamilton Island – 2 hours
Melbourne to Hamilton Island – 3 hours
If you are going to make the drive to Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays Region, this will be on the Bruce Highway, which is the major road linking Queensland’s coastal cities and towns. The Bruce Highway runs through Proserpine and Bowen, with Airlie Beach located approximately 20 minutes drive off the Bruce Highway at Proserpine. Just follow the signs to Airlie Beach and the Whitsunday Islands along Shute Harbour Road. Major national coach operators such as Greyhound Australia, Premier and Oz Experience, include the Whitsundays in their regular scheduled services into the coastal community of Airlie Beach from all major centres along the east coast of Australia.
If you do not fancy flying or the drive time, then there is always the train. Queensland Rail services include the Spirit of Queensland, linking Proserpine to all the major destinations from Cairns to Brisbane and beyond to Sydney and Melbourne. Taxis and Whitsunday Transit buses meet every arriving train to provide transfers from Proserpine to Airlie Beach, Shute Harbour and the island resorts. Coach transfers between Proserpine and Airlie Beach are included in rail travel passes. Find out more here.
Top 10 things to do in the Whitsunday Islands region
While there are so many experiences to be had or things to see in the Whitsunday Islands region, we have narrowed it down to just ten we think are the must dos.
Sail your own boat and learn about Ngaro Country
Step on board a million dollar boat and sail your way around the Whitsundays with Portlands Roads. On day one you will have a full maritime briefing and will be taught how to handle the boat. You will also be privileged to have the wonderful Aunty Sue, an elder from the local Ngaro peoples, join you for the day and open your eyes to understanding the region’s past and those traditional owners of the land who walked these shore and sailed the waters long before white people arrived. This will set you off on a sailing adventure where you make a connection with the land in a more immersive experience.
Get a taste of the tropics
What a better way to experience the best of this region than stepping on a boat for a sunset cruise and a feast of local delights. Renowned for first class experiences, the Ocean Dynamics team will take you on a cruise to explore the beautiful Whitsundays on the Taste of the Tropics Sunset Dinner Cruise. The menu is designed to showcase Queensland and Whitsunday seasonal produce. Experience the beauty of the stunning Airlie Beach coastline for the ultimate dinner indulgence. Ocean Enigma has plenty of space to relax and unwind and maintain social distancing on both the upper and lower decks. The 2.5 hours cruise includes a three course dinner on board, with drinks available for purchase.
Cruise around in a hot rod
With a nod to times past, Whitsunday Hot Rod Tours take you on a journey with their Conway Beach Tour. Enjoy a picturesque drive to the quiet and relaxed Conway Beach. Situated approximately 40km South of Airlie Beach, Conway Beach is ideal for those looking for a longer beach to enjoy a stroll along after a delicious picnic lunch or a meal at the recently opened George’s Diner at Conway Beach Caravan Park. Allow approximately 3 hours for this tour and it can be customised.
Reef and beach delights
Jump on Redcat Adveture’s Thundercat for an exhilarating ride around the Whitsunday Islands all in one day. Visit the world famous Whitehaven Beach, Hill Inlet lookout and stop off for two snorkelling opportunities on the fringing Great Barrier Reef. Thundercat is one of the fastest catamaran in the Whitsundays and has been designed for stability and speed so it’s perfect for passengers who are concerned about seasickness. The all-inclusive package departs from Airlie Beach and is suitable for families, couples and groups wanting to experience once in a lifetime moments.
Family fun and more at Big 4
Stay with the family at BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort in beautiful Airlie Beach, and you will have all you need for a family fun packed holiday. Set on 26 idyllic acres of landscaped tropical gardens you’ll find facilities to suit the young and the young at heart. BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort is one big Whitsundays holiday destination in itself. Nowhere in the Whitsundays will you find so much fun in one place. There is a 32m lagoon style swimming pool which is the perfect resort centrepiece complete with two waterslides, swim in spa and water mushrooms alongside the Waterslide Park with 13 waterslides. There are also two giant jumping pillows, adventure playground, mini golf, full size floodlit tennis court, 4.5m outdoor cinema, basketball, volleyball, Kermit’s Kids Club, pedal karts, animal park or just lie back in the simple sun lounge chairs to relax.
Dine in paradise
Fish D’vine is an Airlie Beach institution and a favourite with both locals and visitors alike. Located on the waterfront at Airlie Beach central, the restaurant has just relocated and had a total makeover. It’s innovative menu flows with the seasons and you’ll experience surprising and authentic tastes of the Whitsundays. End the night with a rum at the famous Rum Bar and learn about rums you never knew you would like.
Get a birds eye view of the reef
The Reef & Island scenic flight with GSL Aviation, is the most comprehensive tour in the Whitsundays. Departing from Whitsunday Coast Airport, the Reef & Island tour includes views of Conway National Park, mainland river systems, Airlie Beach, Whitsunday Islands, and The Great Barrier Reef. Highlights of the flight include world-famous Whitehaven Beach and the swirling sands of Hill Inlet. Beyond the Whitsunday Islands, is the Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The unique colours and patterns of the reef are best appreciated from the air, including the iconic Heart Reef, which is only visible from the air, and only in the Whitsundays.
Kayak around the islands
Explore the awe-inspiring Whitsunday Islands by sea kayak with Salty Dog Sea Kayaking. Immerse yourself in the tropical wilderness of the Whitsunday Islands. Explore the fringing coral reefs and turquoise waters nestled in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. Sea kayak the Whitsundays and become part of nature from mangrove fringed coastline to the brilliant white silica sands of Whitehaven Beach. Explore, enjoy, relax, energise. From a Half Day or Full Day Tour to an adventurous 6 Day Tour. Alternately, “freedom rentals” are an option if you wish to venture out and do your own thing.
Explore hidden secrets in Airlie Beach area
Absolute Airlie offer boutique, eco, guided walking tours that explore the secret side of the Whitsundays. On the Bespoke Private Tour, discover absolute natural beauty in ancient rainforests, atop awe-inspiring mountains, on secluded coral beaches or beneath refreshing waterfalls on this private, half day, guided tour. Create your very own bespoke tour by choosing from a range of walks and places of natural beauty. With trails ranging in difficulty and length, we welcome everyone from families to retirees, from couples to groups of friends, there is something for everyone!
Spot a croc on safari
Whitsunday Crocodile Safari offers guests a unique Australian nature experience in natural habitat.
Explore the unique tropical environment of the Whitsunday coastline as you experience the wildlife and vegetation in the estuaries and wetlands. Enjoy a barbecue lunch and experience the unique tastes of traditional Billy Tea and fresh cooked Damper. Explore a mangrove ecosystem and observe the inhabitants including birds, fish and crustaceans. Meet local experienced guides and enjoy their professional expert commentary. Cruise the calm waters of Proserpine River and watch estuarine crocodiles in their natural habitat. Explore Goorganga Plains on a tractor-drawn wagon train and discover the vegetation and wildlife in a freshwater wetland habitat. Meet some interesting Aussie characters on your tour, like Boofhead the crocodile.
For more on the Whitsundays visit www.tourismwhitsundays.com.au
Disclosure: The writer travelled with assistance from Whitsundays Tourism.