Making up half the country’s east coast, it’s no secret that Queensland holds some spectacular sights for visitors on their travel to Australia. Then, there’s the Whitsundays, a collection of islands that offer both a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, and an experience that somehow transcends it. These islands are locked in a year-round tropical climate where the calm waters remain at a steady 26°C (just under 80°F). They contain what many consider to be the world’s most beautiful beach, along with resorts to suit all tastes and budgets, from family-friendly, to high-end luxury, to eco-minded.
Here are the four Ws that add up to the wow factor of the Whitsunday Islands.
Why You Should Go
There are a whole host of reasons to visit the Whitsundays on your travel to Australia, so it’s a mistake to go just for the Great Barrier Reef. It’s certainly close by, and is a huge attraction. The Whitsundays also make a great base for an easily arranged Reef cruise. But the islands are in fact positioned much closer to the mainland, supporting their own unique ecosystem. While only 6% of the Whitsunday marine park is made up of reef, the majority of the Islands’ land area is also national park, making the Whitsundays one of the best preserved natural regions along the Australian east coast. The islands are ideal for bushwalking, with several of them crossed by eco-friendly trails. And of course, you can relax on the beach, swim, or enjoy watersports (in designated areas). But sailing is a particularly popular activity, given the natural shelter the islands offer the surrounding waters.
What to Do in the Whitsundays
Honestly, the Whitsundays are the kind of destination that offers as much or as little to do as you’d like. They’re a prime spot for relaxation, with luxury resorts offering plenty of low-impact options for getting close to nature. Hamilton Island is undoubtedly a favourite for many reasons, offering superb snorkelling and hiking. Its highest point is a particularly great spot to get a view over the islands! If you really want to admire the Whitsundays from above, there are scenic flights available, while brave Globetrotters can opt to skydive.
A big part of the Whitsundays’ appeal can be discovered on the water. The calm bays and gentle currents provide excellent conditions for sailing year-round. If you’d rather cruise with a destination in mind, take a boat out to the Great Barrier Reef, the Heart Reef, or depart Airlie Beach on a Reefsleep to spend the night over one of the world’s great natural wonders. Note that this is a slightly rustic experience that won’t be for everyone. Another popular destination is Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island. A half-day excursion from Airlie Beach, Whitehaven has been named the world’s best beach multiple times for its soft white silica sands.
2-Day Reefsleep Overnight Experience
Where to Go
The Whitsundays cover a surprisingly long stretch of Queensland’s coast. Sheltered between the Great Barrier Reef and the mainland, just north of Mackay, the Whitsundays are made up of 74 islands, only seven of which are inhabited – Daydream, Hayman, Hook, South Molle, Hamilton, Long, and Lindeman. Each is a little different, offering its own resorts, ecology, beaches, and individual “wow factor” on travel to Australia.
Of course, one of the best places to experience the Whitsunday Islands – particularly for budget travellers or adventure seekers – isn’t on the islands at all. Airlie Beach offers a plethora of excursions, cruises, and day trips, including those to the Great Barrier Reef. Dining options are obviously more flexible than those at the resorts, and hikers enjoy easy access to the hinterland as well as the islands. Airlie Beach also moors the largest sailing fleet in the southern hemisphere.
Besides its snorkelling and hiking, Hamilton Island is a particular favourite for honeymooners and others in search of pampering. The island is home to a number of luxury resorts including qualia, tucked away at its northern tip. 70% of this large island is in fact national park, so the resorts here put the emphasis on immersing guests in nature, all while giving them a luxury experience they’ll never forget.
The archipelago’s namesake island, Whitsunday, is the largest in the group, and is easily reached by boat from either Airlie Beach or one of the resorts. But Whitsunday’s biggest attraction faces no competition. Whitehaven Beach draws a perfect line between the island’s green hinterland and the flawless turquoise water. Like a Photoshopped image come to life, this is, sure enough, the most photographed beach in Australia, and is consistently ranked one of the best beaches in the world.
For nature lovers, Daydream Island is a haven for sharks, rays, dolphins, turtles, and other marine creatures. Another resort that emphasizes nature is Hayman Island, a quieter, more luxury-focused experience on the most northerly of the Whitsundays. Culture vultures aren’t left out either. On Hook Island, you’ll find cave art by the native Ngaro people dating back thousands of years.
Currently Daydream Island and Hayman Island are closed for upgrades and refurbishment and will reopen in mid 2018. The significant refurbishment of Daydream Island will see major infrastructure upgrades including accommodation refurbishments, as well as renovations to existing attractions and installation of new features which will transform Daydream into an upscale 4½ star, world-class resort.
When to Go
Altogether now… There is no bad time to visit the Whitsundays.
There. With that cliché out of the way, let’s talk about specifics.
While the islands enjoy year-round warm weather, the different seasons can bring out various aspects and attractions that appeal to different types of visitors who travel to Australia. Summer days can get a little hot in this tropical landscape, but with such inviting waters, who’s going to complain? The warm nights aren’t such a bad benefit either, and a late night swim is a favourite local activity. If you’re arriving in winter, you can expect warm, temperate days, with evenings requiring no more than a light jacket or sweater. Of course, winter does bring one big attraction to the Whitsundays – whales! Whale watching season begins in June and runs until about September, when the pods return south with their adorable baby calves in tow. If you’re looking to avoid crowds and enjoy lower prices, the shoulder seasons of autumn (March to May) and spring (September to November) are probably the best option.
How to Get There
Okay, we’re cheating. But the “How?” is important, right? Goway has a wide variety of Whitsunday packages to choose from, including top level resorts such as qualia, as well as more family or budget-friendly options. For those looking to sample a little of everything and don’t need to stay on dry land, a cruise from Airlie Beach can take you to the highlights of the Whitsundays.
With Australia’s largest domestic network, Qantas makes crossing Australia’s vast distances quick, easy, and comfortable. Its partnerships with airlines in North America reach cities across the continent, and passengers on travel to Australia enjoy a generous checked baggage allowance of at least two 50lb pieces with every ticket.
Ultimate Guide to Australia’s Whitsunday Islands