TravelTravel the World

Ultimate Travel Guide: The Whitsundays

Heart Reef in the Great Barrier Reef

Summer is just around the corner, which means it is time for you to start planning a sizzling vacation up north.

Get that tan you always wanted, soak up a fresh batch of energy, and simply relax. And for the ultimate holiday experience, there is no better place to head to than the Whitsundays.

Located 1,000km north of Brisbane in North Queensland, this balmy holiday destination is made up of 74 islands, most of them uninhabited and ripe with adventure. But four of those islands offer resort accommodation, and we cannot forget the luxurious spots on the mainland.

Whether you are looking for a place to unwind – like sitting next to a crystal clear pool or along a finely crafted beach with a novel in one hand and a cocktail in the other – or whether you are looking for a bit of adventure – like snorkeling through the coral sea and taking in the breathtaking underwater scenery – or even if you want to propose to that special someone as you hover over the famous Heart Reef in a helicopter, this guide will be your go-to for the most lavish places in North Queensland’s greatest tourism hotspot.

We’ll spend some time in particular locations, revealing the most luxurious places to stay, the most captivating things to do, and the ultimate must-see. So, without further ado, let’s start with:

Airlie Beach

Sky shot of Airlie Beach

Sky shot of Airlie Beach. Image: Tanya Puntti

It may look like a tiny spot on the map, but Airlie Beach is anything but small. Throughout the summer it is teeming with life, and rumour has it the nightlife here is rather robust. Imagine Coogee Beach in Eastern Sydney having 10 nightclubs and bars on the main strip.

Luxurious accommodation in the area is ripe for the picking, with resorts offering decadent interior design, wide edge pools, and oceanfront restaurants:

Peppers Airlie Beach offers majestic views of the Coral Sea, while enticing guests to enjoy their wide edge pool as they sip cold beverages under a cascading horizon.

Coral Sea Resort showcases stunning waterfront views with a restaurant situated right on the edge of the water, giving you the perfect spot to dine with your loved ones – or even just by yourself.

Heart Hotel and Gallery captures the classic tropical Queenslander through its carefully designed architecture and glamorous interior design, with a gallery on the top floor featuring monthly exhibitions from local Whitsunday artists.

And while you stay in Airlie Beach, remember to leave your hotel once in a while and see what makes this beachside town a truly popular destination.

Captivating activities at Airlie Beach are also ripe for the picking, which can bring you either the most rambunctious evenings or the most eye-opening days to your holiday.

Airlie Beach Nightlife: If you have decided to travel to Airlie Beach with your best mates, or if you perhaps want to show your lover a proper night out, then definitely check out this town’s extensive list of bars. From the African-inspired nightclubs to the true Irish heritage bars, and even the local backpacker pub (if you feel like something wild). Whatever your choice, it’ll be a night to remember.

60-Minute Heli Reef Tour: Now this is a proper experience! Take a breathtaking helicopter ride over the Whitsundays and hover over the great barrier reef and see the reef shaped like a heart, then finish it off with a sweep over Whitehaven Beach.

Bicentennial Walk:  Want to enjoy the scenery while catching up on your exercise routine? Then hit the coastline at Airlie Beach and take in the enchanting sea breeze which also includes a stunning backdrop of the Whitsundays. Simply start at Airlie Beach and follow the coastline towards Cannonvale Beach.

And the ultimate must see?

Airlie Beach Lagoon after sunset

Airlie Beach Lagoon after sunset. Image: Olga Kashubin

Airlie Beach Lagoon is situated in the heart of Airlie Beach and is the perfect spot to relax and unwind. Swim in the open lagoon or lie on the grass adjacent and collect some much-needed rays or even meet some locals and tourists. And if you want some waves, just scooch over a couple of metres and you’ll find yourself at Airlie Beach.

Hamilton Island

Hamilton Island

Hamilton Island. Image: Tanya Puntti

If you are flying up to the Whitsundays on a 737 or equivalent, then Hamilton Island is where you will land. Unless you are one of the few who’ll charter their own private jet, then you could land at the privately owned Whitsunday Airport, just west of Airlie Beach.

Luxurious accommodation on this island has an intimate selection of resorts and hotels waiting for you to lap them up, with some featuring ultimate indulgent experiences and others showcasing pristine solitude:

qualia is considered the most unique and ultimate luxury experience – so unique they dislike capital letters in their name. In Latin, ‘qualia’ means “a collection of deeper sensory experiences”, and it truly delivers in this area through its offering of private and seclusive accommodation. Check out their video:

Hamilton Island Beach Club is for those who prefer luxury beachside experiences that are much more relaxed and easygoing. Wake up with your lover to the absolute view of Catseye Beach on Hamilton Island and lounge on your very own furnished terrace.

Coral Sea View Rooms at the Reef View Hotel offers a stunning view of the Coral Sea and beyond, and is much more appropriate for those who wish to travel to the Whitsundays with friends and family rather than lovers. And if you want a larger bed, upgrade to the Coral Sea View King Rooms with a king-size bed facing the balcony.

And, if you choose to leave your private sanctuary, there’s plenty of activities to choose from on the island.

Captivating activities include:

Hamilton Island Golf ClubThis place has everything you’d want in a golf club, with an all-inclusive 360-degree view of the Whitsundays. Scratch up on your golfing techniques with an 18-hole course or hire a personal trainer to show you the ropes.

Go Kart RacingRace your friends, family or loved ones around a purpose-built racetrack, while taking in the landscape of Palm Valley on Hamilton Island. Aim for speeds of up to 45 kilometers an hour in a vehicle that does not require a drivers license.

BushwalkingPerhaps you want to see Hamilton Island at your own pace. Well, you are always welcome to do that too. Hamilton Island features a nice selection of walking tracks that’ll get your heart pumping, and work on your summer body, all while finding the secret nooks and crannies of this island paradise.

And the ultimate must see?

The crystal clear waters of Whitehaven Beach

The crystal clear waters of Whitehaven Beach. Image: Andrey Bayda

Whitehaven Beach: You’d be kicking yourself if you head up to the Whitsundays and forgot to visit Australia’s most amazing beach, with its impossibly white sand and crystal clear waters. And getting there is half the fun! Hop aboard a catamaran, hire a yacht or even take the sky in a helicopter or seaplane.

Other Attractions

Aerial view of South Molle Island, part of the Whitsunday Islands.

Aerial view of South Molle Island, part of the Whitsunday Islands. Image: Angelina Pilarinos

Hamilton Island and Airlie Beach are considered the main places to visit but do remember there are plenty of other resorts to immerse yourself in and plenty of other activities to undertake.

Other luxurious accommodation include:

Palm Bay Resort is situated in the neck of Long Island and offers seclusion within Balinese-themed accommodation while showcasing unique views of the Whitsundays and the Coral Sea beyond. But I’ll let them tell you:


Two of the Whitsundays’ most famous island resorts – Hayman Island and Daydream Island – are currently under renovations and refurbishments due to the impact of Cyclone Debbie earlier this year in 2017. They are expected to reopen mid-2018.

Hayman Island is another secluded getaway that is nearest to the Great Barrier Reef and offers a classy luxury experience. The resort is complete with 160 rooms, onsite restaurants, and bars, with a spectacular pool and two floodlit tennis courts. The resort is taking bookings for early 2019 but is expected to be fully restored and opened mid-2018.

Daydream Island offers relaxed accommodation among tranquil gardens and living reef coral lagoons, while also offering the resort standards like a swimming pool and spa. The island resort is currently undergoing a $65 million refurbishment and is expected to be opened mid-2018.

Other captivating activities include:

BareboatingThis is the ultimate holiday-at-your-own-pace experience. Hire out your own sailing boat and glide across the expansive waters that make up the Whitsundays. And best of all, you get to anchor down at some beaches and coves that only true locals would know of.

Snorkeling toursTour the Whitsundays’ waters and reefs, and see its underground habitat through snorkeling tours.

Jet ski toursNo experience necessary for this one! Hop aboard a rented jet ski and tackle the pristine waters with a small group of other holidayers.

SkydivingGet a proper birds-eye view of The Whitsundays by jumping out of a plane at 15,000 feet in the air.

Fishing chartersTravel with the experts in fishing as you try to snatch up the big one.

Segway toursForget walking and hop aboard a Segway to see the sights of The Whitsundays through a guided tour.

Crocodile SafariSpend a full day out with experienced tour guides as you observe the crocodile habitat of Northern Queensland, Aussie barbeque lunch included.

And for a final expert traveling tip, always remember to ask the locals. Because they can tell you about places most travel guides can’t.