If you’re travelling up the east coast of Australia on a backpackers trip as I did when I was 20, then you’ll definitely want to add a visit to the Whitsunday Islands to your Australia itinerary.
We opted for the traditional backpacker option of joining a small group on a yacht for a few days. Expect rather a lot of alcohol (or goon; a cheap box of wine), and an even larger amount of fun. There are other ways to visit the Whitsunday Islands too. You can actually travel there without being part of a tour for a more relaxing experience.
Why visit the Whitsundays?
The Whitsunday Islands are a group of islands off the coast of Queensland in Australia and are visited by about .5 million people a year!
The Whitsundays are known for their white sand beaches and turquoise waters (especially Whitehaven beach). They’re the type of place you’d get as a computer background or screensaver. Something you might not have realised is that The Great Barrier Reef is actually accessible from here too. So, if you’re into snorkeling and diving then The Whitsundays have you covered.
How can I visit the Whitsundays?
On a boat trip
One of the most popular ways to visit the Whitsundays is to join a boat trip. On these trips you tend to hop from island to island and spend your days diving, exploring, snorkelling or relaxing on board the boat.
These trips tend to be most popular with younger backpackers but there are more expensive versions that are more popular with older travellers and couples.
Stay at a hotel
A couple of the larger islands that make up the Whitsundays- such as Hamilton island – have hotels. These hotels don’t come cheap (think £250 a night plus) but if you’re planning a special trip away then they may be worth it.
To get there you’ll have to fly from the mainland out to the island, or catch a ferry. Most hotels will offer a shuttle service to come and collect you.
Camp on one of the islands
Alternatively, you can make your own way over to the island and camp. This is probably the cheapest way to visit the Whitsundays but does involve a bit more preparation. As there are no shops in the Whitsundays you’ll have to pack everything you need for the duration of your stay.
Take a look at this information on camping in the Whitsundays.
How much does it cost to visit the Whitsundays?
Hostel & hotels before the boat trip
Most people will spend the night before and after their boat trip in a hotel or hostel in Airlie Beach. There’s plenty of choice here but in peak seasons they book up quickly. A bed in a hostel here will cost you about £15-20 a night.
Food and drink
The boat companies that cater to backpackers allow you to bring drinks on board which will make your sailing trip a bit cheaper. It’s a good idea to stock up with a few drinks and also snacks. Head to the supermarket before you set sail and spend about £20 on drinks and an emergency chocolate bar or two! .
Cost of a Whitsundays sailing Tour
A 2 day, 2 night sailing tour starts at around £250. This includes you accommodation for two nights, your food and activities for two days too. If you’d like a bit of a longer trip then a 3 day, 2 night sailing experience in the Whitsundays will cost about £300.
Highlights of the Whitsundays
Most sailing trips around the Whitsunday Islands will cover at least a few of these Whitsundays highlights.
Whitehaven Beach & Hill Inlet
Whitehaven Beach is a place you’ve probably seen plenty of pictures of, even if you didn’t know its name. Grab a few pictures from Hill Inlet lookout before heading down to the beach itself.
Whitehaven Beach is award winning and the sand is super white. It’s the sand that makes the beach famous! It’s said that geologists still aren’t sure where the sand has come from – what do you think?
You’ve definitely seen this island on a postcard before. I used to think it was photoshopped but it turns out Heart Reef is for real.
This heart shaped reef is on the outskirts of the Great Barrier Reef. The only real way to see it is to book a flight over the reef and look down from above.
Sailing the Whitsundays
If you’ve booked yourself on to a sailing trip as suggested above then you’ve already got this one in the bag. However, if you were just planning to stop over at Airlie Beach then try and get out on a boat even if just for one day.
Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef
Every island of the Whitsundays has a reef with its own coral and marine life. They make great snorkeling and diving spots with some of the best being Butterfly Bay on Hook Island and Blue Pearl Bay at Hayman Island.
What to pack for a Whitsundays Sailing adventure
- Towels: Pack a couple of these lightweight travel towels. One for the beach and one for drying off after a shower.
- Swimsuit: You’re not going to be able to resist jumping in that water!
- Suncream: It’s hot out there and you’ll burn even easier out at sea thanks to the reflection of the sun bouncing off the water
- Sunglasses: Don’t pack your Raybans if you’re worried about them falling overboard!
- Flip flops or sandals: On board you’ll be padding around barefoot, but for when you dock up on land you’ll want some good sandals or flip flops
- Anti-sea sickness tablets: If you’re prone to seasickness make sure to pack some of these. You can pick them up all over town at Airlie Beach and your guide is bound to have some on hand should you be caught of guard.