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. 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 sail boat. 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. This travel guide to the islands will help you plan your trip!
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 (150+ 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.
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. Meals are start at $20 AUD!
Transportation costs – Sailing trips leave daily from Airlie beach cost around 400 AUD, including meals. You can take longer or shorter tours if you want, but the average is a 3 day sailing cruise.
Money Saving Tips
Take the 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 costs about 8 AUD per person per night. However, you’ll need your own boat to get to these site, 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 (see the photo above!). Stretching about 3 miles and consisting 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 spend a lovely day enjoying this beach. There’s a camp site nearby too!
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). If you’re looking to spend some time on a resort, you’ll find a lot of options here and plenty of companies to 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!
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. It’s one of the biggest events of the year and attracts thousands of people coming to enjoy in the festivities related to the event.
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 (I went during the rainy season and could barely see anything!). However, if you can see in front of you, you’ll be able spot a wide array of vibrant fish, coral, and sea turtles (which was the one thing I saw!).
Explore Reef World – Along a platform on the Great Barrier Reef is basically a party on the water – complete with a submarine, undersea windows, a diving and snorkeling center, and even a helicopter platform. There’s 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 tropical island paradise.