Top things to do in the Whitsundays

We’ve got four fabulous things for you to do in the Whitsundays to experience Australia’s northern island paradise. Dip your toes in or try them all.

Palm trees and turquoise water at Catseye Beach, Hamilton Island, Whitsunday Coast. Image credit:
  • Jetstar
  • May 2018
  • Updated March 2021

The Whitsunday Islands are on everybody’s must-do list. After all, they sport the world’s most beautiful beach and photographed reef, a sublime setting for a sailing adventure, and the wide expanse of the stunning Outer Reef.

1. Set sail

For a fun, wind-in-your-hair Whitsundays experience that takes in Hill Inlet on the northern end of Whitehaven Beach, and a snorkelling adventure around a fringing reef, look no further than a full-day sailing adventure on the 68-foot Southern Cross with Explore Whitsundays.

This former Alan-Bond-owned maxi yacht won the right to race for the America’s Cup in Newport in 1974. Since then, its sleek, yellow-striped aqua hull has cut a striking figure on the Whitsundays’ aquamarine waters. Fully retrofitted in 2014, it has a shaded cockpit and plenty of space to admire the views.

You’ll sail through the Whitsunday Passage and Hook Passage to moor at Tongue Bay and take a short walk to Hill Inlet to see the spectacular views of swirling sands and turquoise waters. There’s time for swimming and beachcombing before an on-board picnic as the yacht makes its way to a sheltered cove for snorkelling. Explore Whitsundays also offers a range of multi-day adventure and luxury sailing trips on a range of craft, some with scuba-diving options.

Aerial view of Hill Inlet’s swirling white sands and turquoise water, with sail boats moored off Whitsunday Island, Queensland.
View of Hill Inlet, Whitsunday Island, Queensland

2. Explore the reef

If you want to focus on the Outer Reef, take a full-day adventure on Cruise Whitsundays’ purpose-built, high-speed catamarans. At the Reefworld pontoon, which is moored next to an Outer Reef wall 40 nautical miles from the mainland, there’s a chance to explore the magnificent corals and prolific fish life below. There are also guided snorkelling tours, for a small fee.

Non-snorkellers can relax on the sundeck, view the colourful sea life from the underwater viewing chamber and explore the reef in a semi-submersible craft. Lunch is a feast of all-you-can-eat cold meats, prawns, salads and wraps. For more thrills, there are scenic helicopter flights, scuba diving, and massages on the roof deck, all at an additional cost.

For the ultimate sleepover, stay on the pontoon when the catamaran departs at 3pm. With just nine people at a time enjoying the Reefsleep, you’re in for a serene experience. Go for another snorkel, toast the sunset, and enjoy a delicious gourmet barbecue. As night falls, snuggle into a comfy swag on the top deck and let the ocean lull you to sleep under millions of stars. (There are also proper beds in a private suite). You’ll have a hearty breakfast and more snorkelling time before the boat arrives at 11am.

Underwater close-up of green turtle swimming, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland. Image credit:
Green turtle swimming in the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland

3. Enjoy the islands

If you’d rather spend more time enjoying island life, the Twin Island Escape is a great option, especially for families with young children. It’s a 30-minute trip on Cruise Whitsundays catamarans to Daydream Island where you can swim in the lagoon pools, or at the sandy beach with its resident turtles. A highlight is the Living Reef, one of the world’s largest man-made coral reef lagoons, which weaves through the interior of the island. Enjoy the free twice-daily educational fish-feeding sessions or for a small fee, join a private fish-feed with a marine biologist. Feed and touch stingrays and a small lemon shark, hold sea stars and meet barramundi.

Then it’s a 30-minute ride to Hamilton Island for lunch at the Marina Tavern. The afternoon is free to enjoy Catseye Beach where there’s snorkelling gear, paddle skis, windsurfers and more for hire. You can also feed the animals at the Australian Wildlife Park, try go-kart racing or quad bikes. There’s time for a snooze on the cruise back to Airlie Beach at the end of the day.

Luxury boats berthed at Hamilton Island Marina, Whitsunday Coast, Queensland. Image credit:
Hamilton Island Marina

4. Kayak Adventure

If you’re an adventure seeker, you’ll love exploring the Whitsundays under your own steam or on a guided tour with kayak rental from Salty Dog Sea Kayaks. Options include half-day or full-day tours.

The ultimate trip, however, is a guided six-day excursion, with sea taxi transfers across the Whitsunday Passage to the islands. Starting off with a bang, the first campsite is at Whitehaven Beach. Yes, folks, when all the fancy boats and sea planes go home, you have that pure white sand to yourselves. Spend your days paddling along Whitsunday and Hook islands, stopping to swim, snorkel and hike various stages of the Ngaro Sea Trail, following in the footsteps of the Whitsundays traditional seafaring owners. Best of all, kayaking offers an intimate opportunity to enjoy the Whitsundays’ wildlife, including six species of turtles, sea eagles, dugong, and, if you are lucky, dolphins and migrating humpback whales between July and September.

Whitehaven Beach with white sand and blue sky, Whitsunday Coast, Queensland
Have Whitehaven Beach all to yourself.