The Whitsunday Islands
The Whitsunday Islands are a collection of islands off the central coast of Queensland, Australia that form part of the Great Barrier Reef. The vast majority of these islands are designated national parks and major attractions include access to coral reefs for snorkeling and diving, pristine beaches (especially Whitehaven Beach), and clear aquamarine warm waters. Over half a million visitors go to the Whitsundays each year. The most popular way to see the islands is via a multi-day sailing tour. If you want to have a more luxury experience, you can even stay on the resorts on some of the islands.
Hostel prices – There are no hostels on the islands.
Budget hotel prices – Some of the larger islands have hotels, but they are anything but budget friendly. The hotels here are more like resorts and will cost a lot of money ($100+ USD per night). A more economical way to see the islands is to do a sailing tour which will include food and accommodation—and be a much more unique experience.
Average cost of food – If you’re sailing, all food is provided on the boat. If you go on your own, you can buy food at the resorts and hotels, but at a price.
Transportation costs – Sailing trips leave daily from Airlie beach cost around $300 USD, including meals. You can take longer or shorter tours if you want, but the average is a 3 day sailing cruise.
Read more on the costs of traveling around Australia.
Money Saving Tips
Ferries — Ferries are a good option if you plan to visit just one island. However, since there are mostly luxury resorts on the larger islands, it’s still a better value to hop on a boat cruise. Plus, it’s much more fun!
BYOB — With the exception of day trips on large boats with licensed bars, you can bring your own alcohol on board—keep in mind though that most sail boats prohibit glass. To stick to your budget, most travelers bring a box of goon for the trip.<
Camp — If you enjoy being outdoors, there are about 21 campgrounds on the islands, and all you need is a camping permit that cost $4.50 USD per night. However, you’ll need your own boat to get to these places, and will also have to provide your own food.
Top Things to See and Do in the Whitsunday Islands
Whitehaven Beach – Whitehaven Beach is by far the most recognized of all the Whitsundays landmarks on Whitsunday Island itself. Stretching about 3 miles and consisting of fine, brilliant white sand, it’s straight off a tourism brochure. One a warm sunny day, anyone would fall in love.
Whitsunday Island — The largest island in the archipelago is home to the famous Whitehaven Beach. Most boat day trips come here to explore the dozens of little coves and inlets where people with yachts or boats can pull in away from it all. Many boats also go to Tongue Point, where there is a trail that leads to a lookout point over Whitehaven.
Hamilton Island – One of the most developed and populated islands, Hamilton has its own airport, post office, and bank. Despite being fairly developed, the island remains a haven for those heading out to the reef or Whitehaven Beach (about 1/2 hour by boat, Great Barrier Reef about 2 hours).
Hook Island – Hook is the second largest island, and a great place to see birds and wildlife. It is a frequent stop on many of the boat tours that sail around the islands.
Hamilton Island Race Week — During August, Race Week kicks off as hundreds of yachts from 30 foot boats rented for the week to billion dollar super yachts compete in some serious racing.
Scuba diving — The islands are known for their amazing diving, though reefs are best viewed during the summer time as the rainy season makes the water murky and visibility gets pretty bad. However, if you can see in front of you, you’ll be able spot a wide array of fish, coral, and sea turtles.
Take a ride on the Yellow Submarine – For those of you that don’t want to explore the sea via snorkeling, the Yellow Submarine is a fun way to check out what is below the surface. Just off of Black Island, it’s pretty hard to miss this big, yellow vessel!
Explore Reef World – Along a platform on the Great Barrier Reef is an array of things to do—complete with a submarine, undersea windows, a diving and snorkeling center, and even a helicopter platform. It’s kind of a cheesy place to go, but if you don’t have a lot of time, it can give you a good overview of the marine life in the area.
Take a resort vacation – The beauty of these islands has encouraged many resorts to pop up where you can enjoy an array of included accommodations. Many resorts offer package deals with sailing trips, swimming pools, golfing, arcades, snorkeling tours—the list is endless. There is a package for just about every price range and activity interest. It’s Australia’s version of tropical island paradise.