Whitsundays and Hamilton Island: Everything you need to know (2023)

Are the Whitsundays worth going to?

If you like beautiful, clean beaches and the kind of stunning scenery that you’ve only ever seen in the famous “Where the bloody hell are you?” ad with Lara Bingle, then yes – the Whitsundays are certainly worth going to. The Whitsunday Islands are between the northeast Queensland Coast and the Great Barrier Reef. But nearby mainland areas like the towns of Airlie Beach, Bowen and Proserpine are also considered part of the Whitsunday region. You can snorkel, dive, explore reefs and much more. But budget travellers take note – you may have to adjust your finances (and itinerary) to suit. The luxury options cost megabucks, so how much you spend depends on what you plan on doing there.

What to do on the Whitsundays?

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island: Known as one of the best beaches in the world, a visit to Whitehaven Beach is a beachlovers essential. Although its reputation draws the crowds, it is seven km long, meaning you can certainly find a quiet patch in paradise.

Seeing the heart reef (from the air): This naturally formed reef is best seen by air, with scenic flights departing regularly from Airlie Beach, Hamilton Island and the Hardy Reef pontoon.

Sailing: You can charter a boat between friends, take a tour or hire a skipper and/or crew.

Snorkelling and diving: Its location on the Great Barrier Reef makes the Whitsundays a great location for snorkelling and diving.

Spotting turtles: There are turtles at the Whitsundays all year long, upping the chance of seeing one or more when you’re on the water.

Be pampered: It’s on the upper end of the budget, but stopping by one of the island resorts day spas could be a perfect way to spend a rainy day during the wet season.

What is the best island in the Whitsundays?

Hamilton Island: Arguably the most popular island destination on the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsundays. It has modern conveniences as well as the natural beauty the area is known for.

What to do on Hamilton Island?

On Hamilton Island you can hike up Passage Peak, take part in adventure sports, go on a shopping spree at marina Village, get pampered at one of its resorts (or simply hang by one of their pools). Also, make sure to check out a sunset at One Tree Hill and hit up the golf course for a round or two at hamilton island Golf Club on nearby Dent Island (return ferry transfers and buggy are included in the price of a round).

Where is Hamilton Island?

The busiest of the Whitsundays islands is located between the mainland and the Great Barrier Reef.

How to get to Hamilton Island?

You can either fly in directly to Hamilton Island with commercial airlines, or you can get a 60-minute ferry from Airlie Beach or a 35-minute ferry from Shute Harbour to Hamilton Island Marina. You can also charter private flights if you contact Hamilton Island Airport, or take a private boat and dock at Hamilton Island Marina (book a berth in advance)

Can you do a day trip on Hamilton Island?

You can certainly do a day trip to Hamilton Island, if you time your crossover right. But it might be worth your while to stay at least one night to get the most of this patch of paradise.

What is the best island in the Whitsundays (that isn’t Hamilton Island)?

Long Island: Popular amongst those who like those who want those ‘Castaway’ vibes, Long Island has only two resorts on it, yet is closest to the mainland. It is quiet and great for snorkelling and beach times.

Hayman Island: A private island that is open to the public, the Whitsundays most northerly island is home to the luxurious InterContinental Hayman Island resort (around $750 a night). Here you can snorkel, dive, feed giant groupers, take glass-bottomed boat tours, hot up the spa and much more.

Daydream Island: A tiny island (one km by 400m), Daydream Island has two resorts on it and ferries, with Hamilton Island and Airlie Beach on the mainland. It is famous for its Living Reef: a coral lagoon that wraps 200m around the Daydream Island resort’s main building and hosts 1.5 million litres of water, as well as countless sea creatures.

Langford Island: The famous set of the Tourism Australia “Where The Bloody Hell Are You” ad is a little, but impressive, island. Great for a day trip, but get here early to avoid the crowds by chartering a boat with friends.

Hook Island: Almost uninhabited and famous for its inlets and colourful coral (ideal for snorkelling), Hook Island is also home to some of Eastern Australia’s oldest archeological sites. Daytrippers can bushwalk, snorkel and beach hop.

Where should I go in the Whitsundays (that aren’t islands)?

Airlie Beach: More affordable than the islands themselves, Airlie Beach is on the mainland south of Bowen and a popular departure point for those wanting to visit the Barrier Reef in the Whitsundays. It is an ideal base from which to explore the Whitsundays and surrounding region. There are two beaches here that you can swim at, as well as a few more further afield.

Bowen: North of Airlie Beach by 45 minutes, it is a quiet, old-style coastal town, with typical regional unpretentiousness. It is unspoilt and peaceful (and famous for its Big Mango). It is home to three quiet white sandy beaches (Grays, Horseshoe and Coral Bay) that are reminiscent of Southeast Asian beaches.

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island: Known as one of the best beaches in the world, a visit to Whitehaven Beach is a beachlovers essential. Although its reputation draws the crowds, it is seven km long, meaning you can certainly find a quiet patch in paradise.

Heart Reef: This naturally formed reef is best seen by air, with scenic flights departing regularly from Airlie Beach, Hamilton Island and the Hardy Reef pontoon.

How to get to Whitsundays and which airport to fly into?

Most domestic airlines fly from the major capital cities into Hamilton Island or Proserpine (Whitsunday Coast Airport), about 50 minutes drive from Airlie Beach.

From Sydney to Proserpine and Hamilton Island the flights are two hours and 30 minutes.

From Cairns it is a seven hour drive to Proserpine. From Cairns to Hamilton Island it is a one hour 15 minutes flight.

From Brisbane to Hamilton Island, the flight is one hour and 45 minutes. From Brisbane to Proserpine the flight is one hour and 40 minutes.

From Melbourne to Proserpine is a two hours and 55 minutes flight. From Melbourne to Hamilton Island it is a three hour flight.

You can reach the Whitsunday Islands themselves through taking a local or chartered ferry or yacht. Alternatively, you can fly onto Hamilton Island and make your way from there.

What is the best way to see the Whitsundays?

By boat: Either hire a skipper and host or choose to hire just a boat itself. Whether bareboating (where you’re the captain and crew) or letting someone else do the work, sailing by day and sleeping at night in sheltered coves is an awesome way to see the Whitsundays.

Stay on the mainland: Stay in dorms at cheaper spots, like Airlie Beach, and adventure out by day. Alternatively, book an apartment for yourself and your friends or family.

Stay on an island: Whether staying at a luxurious resort with all the trimmings or staying at a cheaper campsite.

Stay underwater (at ReefSuites): Staying on a pontoon and sleeping underwater to see all the fishes is a once in a lifetime way to experience the Whitsundays.

Best time to visit the Whitsundays?

May to September: Generally seen as the best time when the days are cooler, the seas are calmer, and you might spot whales. This is also the high season (with higher prices).

September: Hitting the shoulder season of September might be an option for those who want less tourists but still less chance of encountering jellyfish.

October to May: Also known as ‘stinger season’, if you visit and swim make sure to wear a protective ‘stinger suit’.

December to February: This is a wet time of year where the chance of experiencing cyclones heightens.

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