The best things to do in The Whitsundays


Hamilton Island Air, Whitsundays, Great Barrier Reef

The best way to experience just how big the Great Barrier Reef is to take a scenic flight. Photo courtesy Hamilton Island Air

Ah The Whitsundays. What is not to love when the cold is biting in the southern states. The Whitsundays are situated on the same latitude as Rio de Janeiro and Tahiti. The tropical climate means the temperature gauge is really not troubled much, as the daily temp varies little from month to month. And that turquoise blue, beautiful clear water is beckoning, whether you like to snorkel, dive or just laze on the surface.

The Whitsundays is in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef with 74 islands to explore. Most are uninhabited and are national parks. Others are home to some amazing resorts.

With all the wonderful places to stay, the range of activities to do on and off the water, and the sheer beauty of the place, The Whitsundays is the perfect destination to visit for a soak in the Queensland sun. Here are some of the best things to do in The Whitsundays.

Snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef. Photo courtesy Tourism Whitsundays

Go to Hamilton Island

Everyone loves Hamilton Island, or just ‘Hamo’ to those devotees who make regular pilgrimages to this island of plenty. Plenty of places to stay, plenty of things to do, and plenty of places to eat and drink. Stay in the lap of luxury at Qualia , laze and luxuriate at the Beach Club, choose to stay in a holiday home, in an apartment or at the Yacht Club Villas. Or do as most people do and stay  at the popular Reef View Hotel.  The Reef View is the largest accommodation provider and sits opposite beautiful Catseye Beach.  Explore the island in a golf buggy, have sunset drinks at One Tree Hill, try the water sports on Catseye Beach, play golf at Dent Island. Hamilton Island is also a base for all kinds of boat tours and scenic flights, to go out in the blue yonder to the World Heritage Listed Great Barrier Reef.

Hamilton Island, Whitsundays, Queensland, Beach Club pool

Beach Club pool at Hamilton Island. Image by Hamilton Island.

Scenic flight over the Great Barrier Reef

The best way to get an idea of just how vast the Great Barrier Reef is, take to the skies on a scenic flight. How big is it? A flabbergasting 344,000km2 in area, 2,300 km in length and
from 60km to 230km wide. Like I said … HUGE! You can choose to go on a helicopter flight, a fixed-wing flight or even take to the skies on a seaplane. Whether you do a tour from Airlie Beach or Hamilton Island, the Reef will take your breath away. The colour of the water. The thousands of coral reefs. One of the highlights of any flight is seeing Heart Reef, located in Hardy Reef. Now instantly recognizable around the world, it is spectacular.

I can recommend GSL Aviation – the pilots make excellent tour guides pointing out all the places of interest. Hamilton Island Air also has amazing scenic flights in helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and seaplanes. One of their amazing new tours is Journey to the Heart. This is a must-do. Enjoy a return scenic helicopter flight over Whitehaven Beach, Hill Inlet, Whitsunday Island, Hook Island & Heart Reef. Land on the Heart Reef pontoon then go for a glass-bottom boat tour, snorkelling around Heart Reef and enjoy some sparkling wine to celebrate a sparkling occasion.


Heart Reef, Whitsundays, Queensland, Great Barrier Reef

Heart Reef is located in Hardy Reef and is recognisable around the world. Courtesy Tourism Whitsundays

The Whitsundays by boat

One of the best ways to explore the Whitsundays is by hopping onboard a yacht. The Whitsundays is the perfect place for sailing, with endless secluded coves and anchorages, fringing reefs and isolated beaches to enjoy. It is a great thing to do – charter a yacht for a few days or a week and head off. Be your own boss. Drop anchor when you want, sleep in pristine bays, swim and snorkel.  And you don’t even have to have any experience. You will do a full briefing that teaches you everything you need to know.

Or if you want to play it safe and have a stressless holiday on the water, go with the skippered charter option. There are several great companies to choose from including Dream Yacht Charter, based at Airlie Beach.


Sailing, yacht charter, Great Barrier Reef, Whitsundays

Yacht under sail. Photo courtesy Tourism Whitsundays

Whitehaven Beach

This beach is always named on the best beaches in the world lists. And for good reason. It is located on Whitsunday Island – the largest in the region – and is top of the pops for visitors to the region. The sand is white. It is pure, white silica sand and the seven-kilometre stretch of beach is the sort of place you won’t want to leave. One thing you have to do while there is to do the walk up to the lookout overlooking Hill Inlet.  Most of the tours that go to Whitehaven will include this in their itineraries. The views are magnificent and the colour of the water is unbelievable. Bands of different shades of aquamarine water meandering in ribbons to the mouth. Amazing.

Hill Inlet, Whitehaven Beach, Whitsundays, Queensland

An aerial shot of Hill Inlet and Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island. Image courtesy Tourism Whitsundays

InterContinental Hayman Island

Oh Hayman. Such a blissfully beautiful place to escape to. The resort has 168 guest rooms, suites and villas in three wings – Pool, Lagoon and Beach. They are all intertwined with spectacular swimming pools, panoramic seascapes, and tropical rainforest gardens. Then there are the two Hayman Residences sitting pretty on the hillside. They are architecturally designed, immaculately styled and will have you feeling like a real A-lister. Hayman has one of the biggest pools I have ever seen. Spend your days enjoying activities at the resort, around the island or head out to the Reef.

Hayman Island

Sleep underwater in a Reef Suite

You really can sleep underwater in the Great Barrier Reef! Reefsuites opened in late 2019, located at Cruise Whitsundays incredible Reef World pontoon in Hardy Reef. This pontoon is half resort and half aquarium.

The suites have a queen-sized bed and while there are push-button blinds, who would be able to resist just looking out the floor-to-ceiling glass walls at the big blue beyond. The ensuite bathrooms are beautiful, with the shower and the toilet giving water views.

If that freaks you out a bit you can sign up to do a Reefsleep – the difference being that you sleep on top of the pontoon rather than under the water. The beds are comfy though – a type of tent pod that you can either open up or close depending on the weather. Whichever you do, you also get to do all the fun stuff Reefworld offers. See below!


Cruise Whitsundays, Journey Beyond, Whitsundays, Reefsuites

Where is everyone? A fishy visitor peers at one of the Reefsuites at Reefworld in the Whitsundays. Pic courtesy Cruise Whitsundays

Play for the day at Reefworld

Do the next best thing to sleeping underwater in the Great Barrier Reef – do a full day adventure at Reefworld with Cruise Whitsundays. Reefworld is a wonderful facility permanently moored at Hardy Reef. The modern and fast Cruise Whitsundays boat will pick up at Airlie Beach, Hamilton Island or Daydream Island and take you to Reefworld where you can do a guided snorkel tour – wetsuits and stinger suits provided – swim, dive and explore. If you don’t want to get wet you can experience the reef from the underwater observatory or take a ride in the semi-submarine. A great thing to do is to do an introduction to scuba diving. It is super safe and a great way to put a toe in the water if you are a little scared of scuba diving but want to give it a go.

Cruise Whitsundays, Reefworld, snorkelling, Great Barrier Reef

Snorkelling at Reefworld on a day trip or overnight stay at Reefsuites or Reefsleep

Hang out at Airlie Beach

Airlie is a laid back centre and is the base for a lot of reef tours. Soak up the sun and enjoy a swim at the Airlie Beach Lagoon, a massive swimming pool bordered by sandy beach areas and grassy knolls, located within close distance to the main street of Airlie Beach. From Airlie you can arrange all kinds of water tours – from elegant vessels like the Lady Enid to the super-fast Red Cat Adventures and a plethora of yachts and motor cruisers. For landlubbers, why not check out crocodiles in the wild on the Proserpine River, take a tuk-tuk ride through Airlie Beach or see the lush rainforest of the National Park via Segway! Or go for a tootle around in a Hot Rod.

Airlie Beach, The Whitsundays

View over Airlie Beach. Photo courtesy Tourism Whitsundays

Visit Bowen

Bowen is another place worth visiting. This under-the-radar town is 45 minutes north of Airlie Beach and is home to the Big Mango. We do love our big things! Bowen has eight spectacular beaches that are strikingly beautiful, including Horseshoe Bay. Horseshoe Bay is a top spot for divers and snorkelers. Be sure to explore Bywa, a 3.4m high underwater sculpture that forms part of the Whitsundays Ngaro Underwater Marine sculpture trail. Then there is Grays Bay, Rose Bay, Murrays Bay, Kings Beach and Queens Beach. With the inner reef just metres from some of Bowen’s bays, you can be snorkelling in no time and without the need to go anywhere in a boat. There are some excellent and scenic walking tracks, with Cape Edgecumbe one of the prettiest. Flagstaff Hill is the place for the best views in town and make sure you take the time to stroll around town to see some of the 27 murals that bring the town’s history to light.

Whitsundays, Tourism Whitsundays, Bowen, Grays Bay

Grays Bay in Bowen. Image courtesy Tourism Whitsundays