For many people travelling through Australia, a trip to the Whitsundays and the stunning Whitehaven beach (recently voted the top beach in Australia) is a highlight.

I’ve been living and working in the Whitsundays for the past 6 months, and have seen many travellers cross my path. All have enjoyed their time in the here, but I’ve noticed that few people have properly researched the variety of trips available, which is a shame.

There are many ways to experience the Whitsundays, so I’ll take you through some options which will help you make the most of your time in this beautiful part of Australia.

Jumping off point – how to reach the Whitsundays

There are two main gateways to the Whitsundays; Prosepine and Hamilton Island. The majority of boat trips (especially the budget ones) depart from Airlie Beach.

Prosepine is on the mainland, less than 30 minutes’ drive from Airlie Beach, the departure point for boat trips. Prosepine airport is the best option if you want to stay in Airlie Beach, which is where you’ll find all the backpacker hostels and budget accommodation located on a strip with plenty of bars and restaurants.

Hamilton Island is your other option; just under an hour’s ferry ride from the mainland, costing about $50 per person. I recommend Hamilton Island as your Whitsunday base if you’re looking for a resort-style holiday with an element of luxury.

I flew to Hamilton Island as it was cheaper than Prosepine, but be warned; the island has mostly upmarket, beachfront hotels with spectacular views over the island. You may have to give into temptation (as I did) and spend any flight savings on a fancy hotel – we stayed at the Reef View hotel which was a gorgeous place to relax after a long flight.

You can organise Whitsundays sailing trips from Hamilton Island as your base, and here you can snorkel from the shore which isn’t possible from Airlie Beach. Hamilton island has a small selection of beachside restaurants (I recommend Coca Chu for it’s Asian fusion dishes– the summer roles are divine!), and essential amenities like a small supermarket, bakery and cafes.

How to get out into the Whitsunday Islands

Most people choose a boat trip to explore the islands. Most boats will follow a similar route; a trip to Whitehaven beach combined with the opportunity to snorkel or dive on the reef.

Between boats there can be big differences in comfort levels and the clientele you’ll be sharing your experience with.

Day trips

These are ideal for families, those short on time and anybody who would prefer to sleep on dry land.

Day trips use a faster boat which will whip you round the Whitsundays in a day, bringing you back to your hotel at night. Big Fury or Mantaray charters are perfect for this and Mantaray includes the option to dive as well as snorkel.

These are both motor boats so if you get your kicks from sailing, try a day trip on the Derwent hunter instead (a Maxi sailing vessel).

Overnight trips

These trips tend to suit backpackers, adventurous couples and the young at heart.

I was inspired to write this blog by a girl in her thirties who I met on one of my boat trips who felt out of place sharing her experience with a bunch of backpackers in their 20’s who were drinking and comparing selfies…

Many overnight trips cater to this market and if you’re a young backpacker, they may suit you perfectly. You’ll sail round the Whitsundays with 25 others, sunbathing on deck, snorkelling and toasting the sunset with a glass of goon or two. You’ll be fed hearty meals with no instant noodles to be found. Sleeping conditions are basic, with the cheapest boats having open plan bunks and little privacy (fine for those that are used to hostel dorms).

When booking, consider whether you want to snorkel or dive and check passenger numbers. There’s a big difference between a boat like the Atlantic Clipper which houses up to 50 people (the Whitsundays’ only real “party boat”), and the more couple-orientated Whitsunday Blue which only sleeps 8.

Private or ‘Bareboat’ charters

These sailing options suit freedom-seekers who want to plan their own Whitsundays tour.

If you want the freedom of setting your own Whitsunday sailing agenda, you can charter a boat and sail yourself. These charters are incredibly well organised, with all the information needed to plan your route and constant contact with staff on base to get advice on anchorage spots and the latest weather reports.

As most boat tours take what is lovingly referred to as the ‘milk run’, they tend to visit the same islands and snorkel the same spots; so chartering your own boat can take you off the beaten track to less-visited islands. No formal sailing qualification is required, but some sailing experience is a must. If you don’t have experience, you can hire your own skipper who will take the stress out of your hands and even teach you some skills for next time.

Take to the sky

This one will appeal to dare-devils and those who don’t want to sail!

Last Christmas I was gifted a flight in a Tiger Moth which was an amazing experience. You can opt for the adventurous ‘acrobatics’ option (which I did - not for the faint-hearted), but you could choose a simple scenic flight over Whitehaven and beyond. The Tiger Moth planes only sit one person so if you’re travelling with friends or family, a fixed wing scenic flight or helicopter trip is more suitable if you all want to fly at once.

Reef World, Hardy Reef (Outer Barrier Reef)

This one is for visitors who want to see a bit of everything!

If you’re travelling in a group and some people want to dive, whilst others fancy a helicopter flight and others want to sail and sunbathe - how do you choose what to do? Reef World gives you a bit of everything.

A 3-hour trip from Airlie Beach (2 hours from Hamilton Island) will bring you to Reef World - a pontoon next to Hardy Reef (the beautiful heart shaped reef that you see in many pictures).

From here, you can snorkel, dive or take a helicopter flight to see the reef from above. If don’t want to get into the water, you can opt for a semi-sub tour with views of the reef and a guide talking you through everything without getting wet.

Trips here allow for you to spend 4 hours on the pontoon which is plenty of time to try a few different activities. If you choose the ‘Reef Sleep’ option you can also stay over, which means you’ll settle down under the stars in a comfy swag and watch the sun go down with a sumptuous BBQ dinner. Staying overnight means you can do a night dive, plus you’ll have the following day to experience all the activities on the pontoon too!

How to do this trip

Flights

The nearest international flights into Australia arrive in Brisbane or Cairns. From there, you’ll want to fly into Hamilton Island or Prosepine.

Arriving overland

Many people rent a campervan and make their own way up to Airlie Beach, or you could get here via Greyhound bus.

Tours

We can book a wide range of Whitsunday sailing adventures from day trips to live-aboards; majestic tall ships to exclusive catamaran adventures. Contact us for a recommendation and for an idea of what would suit you best and we’ll find one to suit.

Interested?

If you’d like to plan a trip to Australia and the Whitsundays, we can talk you through all the options and help find the most suitable way to do this. Most trips can be booked as ‘open-dated’ through Travel Nation, which means you can cover the cost in advance, then choose your exact dates when you arrive in the Whitsundays!

To plan a trip, call one of our Australia specialists on +44 1273 224522 or request a quote by email.