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Discover the Whitsunday Islands

The Whitsundays are made up of 74 islands on the beautiful tropical coast of Queensland, Australia. The region is right in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef and is a feast for the senses. The stunning natural landscapes of coast and islands are dotted with secluded beaches and friendly towns.

These islands are continental as they once were a part of mainland Australia. For this reason, you will find they are more rocky outcrops and bush vegetation, unlike the white sandy beaches lined with palm trees that you get in the South Pacific.

This area is home to four tribes of the Traditional Owners of the land. The main one being the Ngaro, who were a seafaring Australian Aborigine group of people that inhabited the Whitsunday Islands and coastal regions of Queensland. This area archaeologically shows evidence of human habitation since 9000 BP. Arriving into the Whitsundays Coast Airport, this history is recognised and a Welcome to Country greets arriving tourist.

Who goes to the Whitsunday Islands region

The Whitsunday Islands region is renowned as a prime family destination because of the quality of beaches with sheltered swimming areas around the islands and mainland as well as activities galore to keep the kids entertained. The paradise like islands with stunning sunsets are also a big appeal for couples and weddings with the luxury offering popular for this. There is adventure around every corner with water activities to exploration on the mainland or you can enjoy and wellness groups, and those who just want a laid-back holiday. Solo travellers and backpackers will find there is plenty to do, and on a budget, where friendly locals will make you feel right at home.

It is an adventure seekers paradise, with so many activities on, in and under the water as well as exploration to be done on the mainland. Diving and snorkelling the many reefs with their bright corals and incredible fish life is a draw card while sailing and skippering your own boat is just as exciting.

How to get to the Whitsunday Islands region

There are multiple ways to access the region, including by road, rail and air. There are even a number of boats that will come spend time in the area and arrive by sea.

By air

There are two airports in the Whitsundays region, Great Barrier Reef Airport, Hamilton Island (HTI) and Whitsunday Coast Airport, Proserpine (PPP). Currently the only airport operating flights is Whitsunday Coast Airport, located near Proserpine, and is approximately 25 minutes to Airlie Beach. The airport is currently serviced by Alliance Airlines and Jetstar (Qantas codeshare). Buses and taxis meet every flight to transfer guests to Airlie Beach, or to ferries to the island resorts. Car and limousine hire is also available at the airport.

Approximate Flight Duration:

Cairns to Hamilton Island – 1 ½ hours

Brisbane to Whitsunday Coast – 1 ½ hours

Brisbane to Hamilton Island – 1 ½ hours

Sydney to Whitsunday Coast – 2 hours

Sydney to Hamilton Island – 2 hours

Melbourne to Hamilton Island – 3 hours

By road

If you are going to make the drive to Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays Region, this will be on the Bruce Highway, whic is the major road linking Queensland’s coastal cities and towns. The Bruce Highway runs through Proserpine and Bowen, with Airlie Beach located approximately 20 minutes drive off the Bruce Highway at Proserpine. Just follow the signs to Airlie Beach and the Whitsunday Islands along Shute Harbour Road. Major national coach operators such as Greyhound Australia, Premier and Oz Experience, include the Whitsundays in their regular scheduled services into the coastal community of Airlie Beach from all major centres along the east coast of Australia.

By rail

If you do not fancy flying or the drive time, then there is always the train. Queensland Rail services include the Spirit of Queensland, linking Proserpine to all the major destinations from Cairns to Brisbane and beyond to Sydney and Melbourne. Taxis and Whitsunday Transit buses meet every arriving train to provide transfers from Proserpine to Airlie Beach, Shute Harbour and the island resorts. Coach transfers between Proserpine and Airlie Beach are included in rail travel passes. Find out more here.

Top 10 things to do in the Whitsunday Islands region

While there are so many experiences to be had or things to see in the Whitsunday Islands region, we have narrowed it down to just ten we think are the must dos.

Set sail on a cultural journey

Step on board a million dollar boat and sail your way around the Whitsundays with Portlands Roads. On day one you will have a full maritime briefing and will be taught how to handle the boat. You will also be privileged to have the wonderful Aunty Sue, an elder from the local Ngaro peoples, join you for the day and open your eyes to understanding the region’s past and those traditional owners of the land who walked these shore and sailed the waters long before white people arrived. This will set you off on a sailing adventure where you make a connection with the land in a more immersive experience.

Taste the best of the tropics

What a better way to experience the best of this region than stepping on a boat for a sunset cruise and a feast of local delights. Renowned for first class experiences, the Ocean Dynamics team will take you on a cruise to explore the beautiful Whitsundays on the Taste of the Tropics Sunset Dinner Cruise. The menu is designed to showcase Queensland and Whitsunday seasonal produce. Experience the beauty of the stunning Airlie Beach coastline for the ultimate dinner indulgence. Ocean Enigma has plenty of space to relax and unwind and maintain social distancing on both the upper and lower decks. The 2.5 hours cruise includes a three course dinner on board, with drinks available for purchase.

Fly over the reef

The Reef & Island scenic flight with GSL Aviation, is the most comprehensive tour in the Whitsundays. Departing from Whitsunday Coast Airport, the Reef & Island tour includes views of Conway National Park, mainland river systems, Airlie Beach, Whitsunday Islands, and The Great Barrier Reef. Highlights of the flight include world-famous Whitehaven Beach and the swirling sands of Hill Inlet. Beyond the Whitsunday Islands, is the Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The unique colours and patterns of the reef are best appreciated from the air, including the iconic Heart Reef, which is only visible from the air, and only in the Whitsundays.

Paddle your way around the islands

Explore the awe-inspiring Whitsunday Islands by sea kayak with Salty Dog Sea Kayaking. Immerse yourself in the tropical wilderness of the Whitsunday Islands. Explore the fringing coral reefs and turquoise waters nestled in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. Sea kayak the Whitsundays and become part of nature from mangrove fringed coastline to the brilliant white silica sands of Whitehaven Beach. Explore, enjoy, relax, energise. From a Half Day or Full Day Tour to an adventurous 6 Day Tour. Alternately, “freedom rentals” are an option if you wish to venture out and do your own thing.

Get cruisn’ in a hot rod

With a nod to times past, Whitsunday Hot Rod Tours take you on a journey with their Conway Beach Tour. Enjoy a picturesque drive to the quiet and relaxed Conway Beach. Situated approximately 40km South of Airlie Beach, Conway Beach is ideal for those looking for a longer beach to enjoy a stroll along after a delicious picnic lunch or a meal at the recently opened George’s Diner at Conway Beach Caravan Park. Allow approximately 3 hours for this tour and it can be customised.

Dive under the surface

Jump on Redcat Adveture’s Thundercat for an exhilarating ride around the Whitsunday Islands all in one day.  Visit the world famous Whitehaven Beach, Hill Inlet lookout and stop off for two snorkelling opportunities on the fringing Great Barrier Reef. Thundercat is one of the fastest catamaran in the Whitsundays and has been designed for stability and speed so it’s perfect for passengers who are concerned about seasickness.  The all-inclusive package departs from Airlie Beach and is suitable for families, couples and groups wanting to experience once in a lifetime moments.

Meet the locals on a crocodile safari

Whitsunday Crocodile Safari offers guests a unique Australian nature experience in natural habitat. Explore the unique tropical environment of the Whitsunday coastline as you experience the wildlife and vegetation in the estuaries and wetlands. Enjoy a barbecue lunch and experience the unique tastes of traditional Billy Tea and fresh cooked Damper. Explore a mangrove ecosystem and observe the inhabitants including birds, fish and crustaceans. Meet local experienced guides and enjoy their professional expert commentary. Cruise the calm waters of Proserpine River and watch estuarine crocodiles in their natural habitat. Explore Goorganga Plains on a tractor-drawn wagon train and discover the vegetation and wildlife in a freshwater wetland habitat. Meet some interesting Aussie characters on your tour, like Boofhead the crocodile.

Jam packed fun at the best family spot in town

Stay with the family at BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort in beautiful Airlie Beach, and you will have all you need for a family fun packed holiday. Set on 26 idyllic acres of landscaped tropical gardens you’ll find facilities to suit the young and the young at heart. BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort is one big Whitsundays holiday destination in itself. Nowhere in the Whitsundays will you find so much fun in one place. There is a 32m lagoon style swimming pool which is the perfect resort centrepiece complete with two waterslides, swim in spa and water mushrooms alongside the Waterslide Park with 13 waterslides. There are also two giant jumping pillows, adventure playground, mini golf, full size floodlit tennis court, 4.5m outdoor cinema, basketball, volleyball, Kermit’s Kids Club, pedal karts, animal park or just lie back in the simple sun lounge chairs to relax.

D’vine dining on the main strip

Fish D’vine is an Airlie Beach institution and a favourite with both locals and visitors alike. Located on the waterfront at Airlie Beach central, the restaurant has just relocated and had a total makeover. It’s innovative menu flows with the seasons and you’ll experience surprising and authentic tastes of the Whitsundays. End the night with a rum at the famous Rum Bar and learn about rums you never knew you would like.

Go exploring hidden gems of Airlie Beach area

Absolute Airlie offer boutique, eco, guided walking tours that explore the secret side of the Whitsundays. On the Bespoke Private Tour, discover absolute natural beauty in ancient rainforests, atop awe-inspiring mountains, on secluded coral beaches or beneath refreshing waterfalls on this private, half day, guided tour. Create your very own bespoke tour by choosing from a range of walks and places of natural beauty. With trails ranging in difficulty and length, we welcome everyone from families to retirees, from couples to groups of friends, there is something for everyone!

How to book your Whitsunday getaway

You can either book direct with the hotels, ground operators and tour companies or book through your trusted travel agent. There are plenty of operators keen and eager to welcome back guests with the newly adopted COVID-19 Safety practices implemented throughout the region. As restrictions for this ease, you can keep updated and informed on any changes for your booking through your provider. You can find more information on the current deals on the Visit Whitsundays website here.

Need to know in time of COVID-19

With all the changes currently going on with COVID-19 travel restrictions easing and new rules and regulations, it is important to stay abreast of what is happening. The Whitsundays are ensuring guest’s safety is of utmost concern, in addition, of course, to ensure you have the most enjoyable time! The Whitsundays tourism operators are using the Queensland Tourism and Accommodation Industry COVID Safe Plan, which is the approved industry plan and has been developed by the Queensland Tourism Industry Council with the support of the Department of Innovation and Tourism Industry Development (DITID) and in collaboration with industry stakeholders.  For more information on what is included as part of that plan please click here. The best source of information for your clients will be the Tourism Whitsundays website https://www.tourismwhitsundays.com.au/. Want to know who’s open, closed and COVID clean? Click here for more information.

For more visit Tourism Whitsundays.

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About Kate Webster

Kate Webster is the founder and owner of Captured Travel Media. She is a world traveller, ocean lover and conservation warrior who is determined to make every moment count for not only herself, but the world around her. An editor and travel journalist, Kate travels the globe in search of vivid imagery and compelling stories that capture the essence of the people and places she visits. She is a passionate conservation advocate, sustainable traveller and always travels with reason and cause.