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.
- 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
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.
Things to do and top attractions in the Whitsundays
Stay in luxury on Hamilton Island
Hamilton Island is the largest 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. Hamilton Island Golf Club has its very own island just a short boat ride away. Try not to let the views put you off your game as you navigate this 18-hole championship course. The 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. It is an adults-only retreat with an award-winning spa, two superb restaurants, a library, two bars and an excellent catalogue of water activities. qualia also hosts special events including the annual sailing regatta Hamilton Island Race Week.
Explore Hayman and Daydream Islands
While there may be 74 islands that make up the Whitsundays, there are only four that offer resort accommodation. Hayman Island sits at the northernmost point of the archipelago, giving it prime position to access Whitehaven Beach and the outer reef. Arrive by private yacht, helicopter or seaplane from Hamilton Island and stay in serenity at InterContinental Hayman Island. On Daydream Island you'll find stunning resort-style amenities paired with hands-on experiences like their educational Living Reef. Meet the resident marine biologists and learn about the unique species of marine life, including stingrays, starfish and sea cucumbers, living in the reef. Access Daydream from Hamilton Island or Shute Harbour (just ten minutes from Airlie Beach on the mainland).
Visit the swirling waters of 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. 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 as you explore the variety of beautiful coral while snorkelling or scuba diving the magnificent Great Barrier Reef. Snorkelling and diving day trips to the Great Barrier Reef depart 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). For a really special experience, sleep on the reef in an Australian swag at ReefSleep, a permanently moored pontoon on Hardy Reef. Cruise Whitsundays will take you snorkelling on its luxury catamaran, and when the day crowd leaves, you and up to 17 other guests will have dinner and a night dive or snorkel before sleeping under the stars.
Skydive above the Great Barrier Reef
One of the most exciting ways to see the Whitsunday Islands is from the air. Take in the incredible views with the wind in your hair as you float down from above on a tandem skydive with Skydive Airlie Beach. You will freefall from 15,000 feet for an exhilarating 60 seconds before floating for five to seven minutes to your drop zone. Take in the crystal clear waters of the Great Barrier Reef, Whitsunday Islands and Airlie Beach from above for an unforgettable experience.