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Guide to the Whitsundays

Swim with sea turtles and rainbow-coloured fish, sail the clear waters of the Great Barrier Reef and sink your toes into the world's most beautiful beach on a tropical Whitsundays holiday.


By Paul Chai

An archipelago of 74 tropical islands, the Whitsundays lie just off the Queensland coast, next to the Great Barrier Reef. People travel here from all over the world to see the white sands of Whitehaven Beach and the stunning beauty of Heart Reef, and to stay at some of the world's best hotels, including qualia. The Great Barrier Reef protects the islands from large swells, making them ideal for sailing, swimming, snorkelling and relaxing on secluded beaches and in hidden bays.

HOW TO GET THERE

The easiest way to reach the Whitsunday Islands is by plane. The largest inhabited island of the Whitsundays, Hamilton Island, has its own airport (Great Barrier Reef Airport), to which you can fly direct from the cities of Brisbane, Cairns, Sydney or Melbourne. Alternatively, fly into nearby Whitsunday Coast Airport, on the mainland near the popular coastal town of Airlie Beach, known as the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands. From Airlie Beach you can board a ferry or take a helicopter transfer to the island of your choice. 

DON'T MISS

  • Snorkel or scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef
  • Spend the night at a world-class resort
  • Set foot on the best beach in the world

Whitsunday Islands highlights

Top things to do in the Whitsundays


Stay on Hamilton Island

Hamilton Island is the largest, busiest and most popular inhabited island in the Whitsundays. It has shops, a post office, an airport, restaurants, bars and several different types of accommodation. Water activities on offer here include sailing, snorkelling, kayaking and jetskiing, and there's a yacht club with stunning views and architecture that brings to mind a boat in full sail. Hamilton Island Golf Club, designed by British Open winner Peter Thomson, has its very own island just a short boat ride from Hamilton. Try not to let the views put you off your game as you navigate this par 71, 18-hole championship course.

Enjoy luxury at qualia

Hamilton Island is also home to the unfettered luxury of qualia, a resort of 60 secluded pavilions hidden away on the northern tip of the island. qualia is frequently recognised as one of the best hotels in the world. In 2012 US travel publication Condé Nast Traveler labelled it the best resort on earth. It is an adults-only retreat with an award-winning spa, two superb guest-only restaurants, a library, two bars and an excellent catalogue of water activities, including sailing lessons with a former world champion. Qualia also hosts special events including an annual outdoor performance by the Australian Ballet, and the sailing regatta Audi Hamilton Island Race Week.

Visit unspoiled Whitehaven Beach

Whitehaven Beach is considered by many to be the most beautiful beach on earth. Its sand is 98 per cent silica, and so white that it can appear unreal. It is on the uninhabited Whitsunday Island, and only accessible by seaplane, helicopter or boat. Day trips to Whitehaven depart from Hamilton Island and Airlie Beach. Don't miss Hill Inlet at the northern end of Whitehaven Beach (pictured above). It's a stunning, shallow inlet where the shifting tide creates a beautiful fusion of white sand and aqua water.

Fly over romantic Heart Reef

In a small patch of the Great Barrier Reef, coral has formed into the shape of a large love heart. Amazingly, this quirky phenomenon is entirely natural, and was first discovered in 1975 by a local pilot. You can see it on a scenic flight departing from Hamilton Island or from the mainland town of Airlie Beach via helicopter or seaplane. If you choose the seaplane option, you can also land in the nearby waters and snorkel the Great Barrier Reef straight from your seat. Most flights also offer the option to land at Whitehaven Beach too.

Go bareboating around the islands

Be the captain of your own ship on a “bareboating” holiday, in which you hire a boat and sail yourself around the Whitsunday Islands (the name "bareboat" describes boats that don't come with a crew). You don't need a boating licence to hire a bareboat. A drivers licence and common sense is sufficient. After a thorough briefing, you are free to explore the sights and resorts of the Whitsundays. Most boats sleep between six and 12 people.

Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef

Be surrounded by Nemo and his colourful friends, and marvel at the colour and variety of the beautiful coral when you don a snorkel or scuba mask and explore the Great Barrier Reef. Snorkelling and diving day trips to the Great Barrier Reef depart from from Hamilton Island and Airlie Beach. Some of the most popular and beautiful places to explore include Manta Ray Bay off Hook Island and Black Island (or Bali Hai).

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