Whitsundays. One of the biggest highlights of the Australian East Coast.
Since I was lucky enough to call it a home for five months, I know all the tips and tricks that you will find useful when planning your trip to this tropical paradise.
What to expect
The most beautiful scenery you’ve ever seen? Picture perfect beaches surrounded by a jungle and a slow island life?
That’s what people imagine before going there.
Yes, I agree, that’s pretty much what you’re going to see. There’s just one crucial thing that people (including me, lol) don’t realise. All the best spots are only accessible by going on a boat trip. And you’re most likely to be staying in Airlie beach, where the views are amazing but not much else going on.
But if you’re visiting, the boat trips are gonna be the main activity of your holiday anyway, so that’s fine.
Unlike if you live there…, I digress.
Where to fly
When going to Whitsundays, you’ve got two options to fly to and that’s Hamilton island or Prosepine airport. The latter is usually the cheaper one and also, bear in mind, that if you fly to Hamilton, you’ll need to buy an additional ferry from the island to Airlie beach which will cost you an additional 50 AUD one way.
When is the best time to go / Weather
Even though the summer in Australia is during December-February months, it’s not be the best time to visit Whitsundays. It’s tropical weather in north Queensland, so during this time, the temperatures are very high (above 40 degrees), as well as the humidity (around 100%) and the rainfall with a possibility of cyclones. I don’t know about you but that doesn’t sound great to me.
During the winter months, however, the temperatures are mild and the skies are clear with not much rainfall. And since all the best things to do here are outdoors, weather should play a huge part in your holiday planning. I think that the best time would be just after winter when the temperatures are getting warmer but not crazy and the skies are still clear, so around September or October.
Things to do
As I said, all the best things parts of Whitsundays are where the boat trips go. The number of the trips on offer is quite overwhelming though. There are so many companies, travel agencies and boats that it’s hard to get your head around it.
The first thing I’ll say is that the one that you choose depends on your budget A LOT. And the most expensive are the overnight ones. Which are great experience but not really that necessary, in my opinion.
So what are the necessary things that you should see while you’re here? Three things, in my opinion:
Whitehaven beach aka the most photographed beach in Australia
7 km of 99.8% pure white silica sand, which is officially the whitest sand in the world (Maldives are only 66% silica).
It probably will be one of the most beautiful beaches you’ve ever seen so it’s definitely worth going.
Hill inlet lookout aka THAT postcard view
The iconic Whitsundays postcard view can be seen from the Hill inlet lookout, which is accessible by a short hike from south point of the Whitehaven beach. Not all the tours go here though so make sure you double check that yours does. Cause you need that picture for the gram, right?!
An interesting fact is that the colours of this view change every day, depending on the tide and weather, so it never looks the same. Pretty cool.
You’re near the Great Barrier Reef so you need to use this opportunity to explore the waters a little bit. And you don’t need to go to the Outer reef (which is super cool anyway) to see amazing marine life. 10% of the world’s fish species live at the GBR!
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can go for a dive, many trips offer a guided first dive even if you don’t have a diving license.
One thing that I want to note though is that what you see underwater is very largely influenced by the visibility on the day. Two times that I’ve been have been absolutely breathtaking and one time it was totally average. And that’s something you can’t really influence or forecast.
Also, if you go in the water in winter, it will be VERY cold, just saying. And if you go during the stinger season, you’ll need to wear a stinger suit. Which is annoying, but less annoying than dying, for sure.
There are a few one day trips that cover all of these essentials in a day. My favourites were Ocean Rafting, Red Cat Adventure and Cruise Whitsundays. Check out these and depending on what you’re after, I’d go for one of them. These day trips will cost you around 150-200 AUD.
Of course, there are many more different boat trips that you can do here, which range from going to Outer Reef (I would recommend Cruise Whitsundays or Explore), sailing (Camira boat from CW is all inclusive with food AND DRINKS), overnight tours, going to Hamilton island and so on.
Other popular things to do here are scenic flights over the Great Barrier Reef, skydive or helicopter tours. These are pretty pricey.
If you’re bored of doing things on the water, you can go on a crocodile tour or go for a hike. The most popular one is the Honeyeater hike which will give you a great view of Airlie beach at the top. There are also Cedar creek falls and Mt Rooper hike.
Also, watch out for the snakes when doing those hikes. Not kidding, lol.
Where to stay
The best place to stay when visiting the Whitsundays, is Airlie beach, which is a small
weird backpacker town. There are a lot of hostels. YHA, Nomads and Base are all pretty good. But if you can, stay at an AirBnB “on the hill” in Airlie. The view is worth it.
Places to eat / drink
Look, I’ma be honest, I came here after 7 months in Melbourne, the food here is not that great. Your best options are The Deck, La Marina and Coral Sea restaurant. Sorrento’s and Northerlie’s are supposed to be good, but I wasn’t impressed. At all. Sorrento’s is great for golden hour drinks while watching the sunset because of it’s amazing location.
Your coffee options are limited too, the best coffee in Airlie is definitely at Wisdom cafe and then Fatfrog cafe in Cannonvale which also does the best brunch in this area. Bohemian raw cafe is great for smoothie bowls and brunch too.
I’m sorry for my honesty but Airlie beach is full of terrible bars, haha. It’s small and everyone goes to the same ones, so there’s no need to fear missing out on the party. There’s Magnum’s and Boaty’s for daytime drinking, then when it hits 10pm, people go to Shed bar. After that closes everyone goes to Paddy’s or Mama Africa’s. The rum bar at Fish D’vine is the most okay-est cocktails in Airlie. Airlie beach hotel bar has a decent back bar too but that’s it. Totally enough if you’re there for a holiday. Grim if you live there for 5 months, haha.
Something to note is that October-May is a “stinger season” in Whitsundays, which means the waters are full of dangerous, potentially fatal, box jellyfish. During this time, you can only swim with a full stinger suit.
There are markets on in Airlie every Saturday, most notable thing from which is Bowen mango sorbet. Delicious.
Beware, because it’s a small town in North Queensland, the pace is very slow, lots of places shut early, most cafes will close at 2/3pm and even Woolies shuts at 6pm on Sunday. Crazy.
Something that might be a bit surprising is that there is no decent beach to swim in Airlie. Because it’s basically a port the beaches aren’t nice and if that didn’t discourage you enough, there are crocodiles in the area too.
There is an artificial lagoon in the middle of Airlie that you can dip in or just chill by. But the locals have nicknamed it ‘a backpackers’ bathtub’… so make of that what you will.
There are some hotels that have gyms, but otherwise there are NO GYMS in Airlie beach. There are a few yoga studios, I believe. And there are gyms in the neighbouring Cannonvale. You can walk to Cannonvale by a boardwalk along the water for your gym and brunch needs.
It’s insanely beautiful, peaceful and the islands feel out of this world. It’s definitely worth visiting and something you need to see if you’re in Australia.
Writing this article has almost made me miss it a little bit.
Shameless Instagram plug: https://www.instagram.com/sunshine__susan/