10 incredible things to do in the Whitsundays

written by Intrepid Travel September 16, 2021
Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays

From whizzing around remote islands on a sailing boat to snorkelling colourful coral reefs, the Whitsundays is brimming with fun-filled things to do.

Tucked away on the Whitsunday Coast with the Great Barrier Reef on its doorstep, the Whitsundays is an archipelago of 74 tropical islands. It’s a true paradise where you’ll find white beaches, shimmering turquoise waters, dense rainforests and just about everything else your typical tropical getaway has. But the Whitsundays offers so much more than lazing around with a cocktail in hand… although, that does sound pretty damn good. It’s a coastal playground filled with activities to quench your thirst for adventure. Check out some of our favourite activities to enjoy your time in the Whitsundays.

1. Go on a sailing trip

Sunset behind a sailing boat in the Whitsundays

Pack your bathers, lather on the sunscreen and get ready to experience life on the open sea. Stop at palm-fringed islands and secluded coves, chill out on hidden beaches away from the crowds, and discover the best spots to slip into your snorkel and see the colourful underwater world. After a jam-packed day of exploring, sit out on the deck with a cool drink and enjoy glistening ocean views as the sunsets over the islands. Bliss. If you’ve ever fancied trying your luck at sailing, you could muck in and help the crew hoist the sails and steer the boat.


2. Beaches, beaches and more beaches 

Whitehaven Beach

You know that iconic image you see on all the Whitsunday adverts and postcards? It’s probably Whitehaven Beach. Stunning doesn’t even begin to describe just how beautiful it is. Whitehaven Beach is just the tip of the iceberg as the Whitsundays is brimming with some of the world’s most gorgeous beaches… the kind you might imagine when a meditation teacher asks you to picture a tropical paradise. Whether you want to soak up the rays on private bays, paddle in crystal clear waters or explore vibrant coral gardens and tropical fish, there’s a beach with your name on it. Some of our favourites include Betty’s Beach, Chalkie’s Bay, Blue Pearl Bay and Catseye Beach. 

3. Go camping 

The Whitsunday Islands are home to some of Queensland’s most luxurious resorts. But if you have a bit more fire in your belly and would rather do something more adventurous, camping might just tick the box. In fact, it’s a pretty special way to do the Whitsundays. You’ll have some of the world’s most famous beaches all to yourself and get to immerse yourself in nature. Wave the day-trippers goodbye as they sail off into the sunset while you walk along Chance Bay or head up to the Whitehaven Beach Lookout in solitude. Wake up to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore, slip into your swimmers and go straight for a dip. There’s no better way to start the day, surely. 

4. Experience a Ngaro First Nations Welcome to Country 

The traditional owners of the Whitsundays and the surrounding coastal fringe are the Ngaro People, also known as the “Canoe People”. Experience a Welcome to Country ceremony and a short talk about the history and culture of the Whitsundays from a local member of the Ngaro family. The Ngaro history and culture goes back thousands of years and the Nara Inlet on Hook Island is one of the oldest Aboriginal sites discovered on the east coast of Australia. 

Related reading: Learn more about First Nations experiences in Queensland 

5. Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef

People snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef

Did you know the Great Barrier Reef is the largest living thing on Earth? It has been around for about 20 million years and is home to some prehistoric creatures that still live here today. You can do a day tour from Airlie Beach or one of the Whitsunday Islands. The companies usually provide all the gear so you can jump straight in and explore. Look out for the ‘Great Eight’: the Great Barrier Reef’s living legends that everyone hopes to see swimming around the coral. These majestic creatures are turtles, giant clams, clownfish (nemos), manta rays, whales, Maori wrasse, sharks and potato cod. 

6. Go whale watching 

A whale breaching in the Whitsundays

If you’re going to the Whitsundays for a winter getaway (with average highs of 23°C, who wouldn’t?!), whale watching is a must. The season runs from June to October when humpbacks migrate from the oh-so-chilly Antarctic waters to the warm waters around this region. Many pregnant whales give birth to their young here as it’s sheltered by the Great Barrier Reef. Humpbacks are also one of the most playful whales and you might get to see them breaching, playing and slapping their tales on the water to communicate with other whales. If you’re really lucky, you’ll see a mumma swimming with her newborn calf. These magnificent beings are a sight to behold. 

7. Explore the bushwalking trails

Native bushland in Queenland, Australia

Lush native bushland meets tropical island paradise. Now that’s a match made in heaven. It might not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think about the Whitsundays, but there are some beautiful walks and hiking trails that take you into dense rainforest of every shade of green imaginable. Winding along trails is great, but let’s be honest… the best part of hiking is being rewarded with spectacular views. There are some pretty amazing outcrops with views that stretch far over the ocean. The Ngaro Sea Trail is one of the best. This 11.5km trail takes you through grasslands, rainforest and beaches, and gives you an insight into the rich Ngaro history and culture. Don’t forget to check out the Aboriginal cave paintings near the Nara inlet. 

8. Swim in Cedar Creek Falls 

People in the waterfall in Cedar Creek Falls

Queensland is full of gorgeous pockets of rainforest with hidden swimming holes and waterfalls. Sandwiched between Airlie Beach and Prosperine is Cedar Creek Falls: a stunning natural waterhole nestled in the coastal hinterland. The clear waters are set in a natural rock amphitheatre that is enveloped in abundant native flora and fauna. You can easily spend a whole day here so bring a picnic, cool drinks and a good book to read in between swims. You could even perch yourself in one of the shallow runoff streams to stay cool if it’s really hot. If you get bored of lounging around in lush waterholes all day (oh, what a hard life it is), you could go on one of the bushwalks that go around and up to the falls for some pretty epic views. The falls are particularly special after a downpour.

9. Take a scenic flight 

An aerial view of Heart Reef from a scenic flight

The Whitsundays is absolutely gorgeous from the sea, but your mind will be blown even more when you take a scenic flight. Seeing the Whitsunday Islands from a bird’s eye view gives you a totally new perspective. You’ll see rocky bays, expansive coral reefs and sparkling turquoise waters, as well as iconic sights like Heart Reef which you can only see from above. Climbing into one of these small planes and ascending into the air is an experience in itself and you might even get to sit with the pilot in the cockpit. 

10. Go island hopping 

A sailing boat cruising past some Whitsunday islands

Only eight of the 74 Whitsundays are inhabited, the rest are wild and underdeveloped with native bushland, rainforest and untouched beaches. Of the inhabited islands, there are many luxurious resorts where you can go to relax and indulge in some of the good things life has to offer. Popular resort islands include Hamilton Island, Hayman Island, Whitsunday Island and Daydream Island. You can choose a day or overnight tour, but if you’re feeling lavish, why not splash out by treating yourself to a stay in one of the resorts. Spend your days on a comfy sun lounger, snorkelling, sipping cocktails and eating delicious fresh seafood. If you’re looking for more of an adventurous or no-frills kinda trip, sailing might be the way to go as you can dip in and out of the islands while keeping the intrepid spirit alive.


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