The Whitsunday Islands are a collection of islands off the central coast of Queensland, Australia that forms 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. The most popular way to see the islands is via a multi-day sailing tour (which is what I did). You go from island to island and sleep on a mono-haul sailboat. It was an incredible experience, especially the diving in the area! I love the Whitsundays and can easily see why half a million people visit a year.
Hostel prices — There are no hostels on the islands since people either stay in hotels or sail around on boats.
Budget hotel prices — Some of the larger islands have hotels, but they are not budget friendly. The hotels here are more like resorts and will cost a lot of money (200+ AUD 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. A 2-day, 2-night sailing tour starts around 450 AUD. A 3-day, 2-night sailing trip starts around 540 AUD. The best way to save money on accommodation, by far, is Airbnb. On Airbnb, a private room in a home starts around 72 AUD. You can find entire homes starting around 100 AUD.
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 high price. Most meals start at 20 AUD!
Transportation costs — Sailing trips leave daily from Airlie beach and usually include meals. You can take longer or shorter tours if you want, but a 2-day/2-night sailing tour starts around 450 AUD and a 3-day, 2-night sailing trip starts around 540 AUD. Read about my 3-day sailing trip for more details!
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Money Saving Tips
- Travel by ferry — 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 exciting!
- 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 sailboats prohibit glass. To stick to your budget, most travelers bring a box of goon for the trip.
- Camp out — If you enjoy being outdoors, there are about 21 campgrounds on the islands, and all you need is a camping permit that costs about 8 AUD per person per night. However, you’ll need your own boat to get to these sites, and will also have to provide your own food.
- Couchsurf — Accommodation in Australia can be quite pricey. If you plan ahead, you can usually find really nice Couchsurfing hosts all throughout the country. This way, you not only have a place to stay, but you’ll have a local host that can tell you the best places to go and things to see. Couchsurfing is one of my favorite ways to learn about life from a local’s perspective.
Top Things to See and Do in the Whitsunday Islands
- Unwind on Whitehaven Beach — Whitehaven Beach is by far the most recognized of all the Whitsundays landmarks on Whitsunday Island itself (see the photo above!). It stretches about 3 miles and consists of fine, brilliant white sand that’s straight off a tourism brochure. It’s one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot!). It lives up to every expectation and I spent a lovely day enjoying this beach. There’s a campsite nearby, too!
- Explore Whitsunday Island — The largest island in the archipelago is home to the famous Whitehaven Beach. Most 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 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). If you’re looking to spend some time at a resort, you’ll find a lot of options here and plenty of companies offer you day tours to the other islands in the Whitsundays. Personally, I found it too developed for me. Then again, I’m not a resort/hotel guy but I can see how it would be romantic if you were!
- Birdwatch on Hook Island — Hook is the second largest island around and a great place to see birds and wildlife. It is a frequent stop while on many of the boat tours that sail around the islands.
- Visit during 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. It’s one of the biggest events of the year and attracts thousands of people coming to enjoy the festivities related to the event.
- Scuba dive — 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 (I went during the rainy season and could barely see anything!). However, if you can see in front of you, you’ll be able to spot a wide array of vibrant fish, coral, and sea turtles (which was the one thing I saw!).
- Explore Reef World — Located along a platform on the Great Barrier Reef, Reef World is basically a party on the water — complete with a submarine, undersea windows, a diving and snorkeling center, and even a helicopter platform. There are waterslides, swimming areas, and a restaurant. It’s kind of a cheesy place to go, but it’s cheesy fun where you can unleash your inner 6-year-old!
- 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 a tropical island paradise.