Top 5 Things to do on the Whitsunday Islands

4 January 2016

The 74 tropical islands that make up Queensland's Whitsundays are famous for their luxury resorts, stunning beaches and glassily calm waters – the latter thanks to the protective effects of the Great Barrier Reef next door. Below, five must-dos.

Sailing the Whitsunday Islands. Credit: iStock.com Sailing the Whitsunday Islands. Credit: iStock.com

 

Take a Sailing Trip

Touring the islands by boat might just be the ultimate way to experience the Whitsundays. Drop anchor at uninhabited beaches and coves; go snorkelling or diving at a moment's notice; or stop in for dinner or a spa visit at one of the islands' luxury resorts. If you want to skipper yourself on a crewed charter you can do that; if you'd rather relax and let someone else take care of everything, you can do that too. Pro-tip: visit between June and September and you're likely to be joined by whales on a near-daily basis. The Whitsundays are an annual stop on humpback and pilot whales' northern migration route, with the calm, warm waters providing an ideal place to give birth.

Whitehaven Beach. Credit: iStock.com Whitehaven Beach. Credit: iStock.com

 

Visit Whitehaven Beach

When a strip of sand is regularly named best beach in the South Pacific, best beach in Australia, and one of the top five beaches in the world, you know it's really something special. That beach is Whitehaven, a 7km stretch of perfectly pristine sand – the world's purest silica – on the uninhabited Whitsunday Island. Beyond the shore, the water is azure-blue and remarkably clear; sea turtles are often spotted in the shallows. Get there by catamaran, yacht, semi-rigid inflatable, helicopter or seaplane.

The Great Barrier Reef. Credit: FarbenfroheWunderwelt/Flickr.com The Great Barrier Reef. Credit: FarbenfroheWunderwelt/Flickr.com

 

Experience the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and the Whitsundays are the ideal place to explore it. The reef is already on every Scuba diver's bucket list, but if you don't want to go deep there are still plenty of ways to experience the reef. Keen on snorkelling? There are numerous boat tours and charters from Airlie Beach on the mainland, or from your Whitsunday resort. Want to see more of the reef? Book a seaplane or helicopter tour, taking you over the iconic Heart Reef (shaped like – you guessed it – a heart). Many air tours include stops at Whitehaven Beach, while Air Whitsunday Airplanes will drop you off at their own glass-bottom coral viewing vessel moored at the Hardy Reef.

Tropical seafood. Credit: iStock.com Tropical seafood. Credit: iStock.com

 

Eat and Drink at Airlie Beach

Airlie Beach on the Queensland coast is the main departure point for the Whitsunday Islands and is an ideal base if you're not staying on an island resort. It's also a great place to experience North Queensland's tropical cuisine. The Great Whitsunday Food Trail is a day-long culinary tour of the area, taking in ocean-fresh seafood, award-winning sausages, gourmet treats, and visits to tropical fruit and coffee plantations.

The Living Reef at Daydream Island. Credit: daydreamisland.com The Living Reef at Daydream Island. Credit: daydreamisland.com

 

Explore the Living Reef at Daydream Island

Daydream Island is one of eight islands with resort accommodation (others include the famously luxurious Hamilton Island and One&Only Hayman Island). Even if you're not staying at the Daydream Island Resort & Spa, it's still worth a daytrip to see the Living Reef, one of the world's largest man-made living coral reef lagoons. Home to more than 100 fish species, and 60 varieties of coral, this is a great place for non-divers and non-snorkellers (especially kids) to experience the wonder of coral reefs. Don't miss the stingray feeding.

Catherine McGregor

Catherine McGregor is the deputy editor of The Spinoff and a travel writer with a too-long travel wish list including Jordan, Mexico, Croatia and Taiwan.