Found in the very heart of the iconic Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Eastern Australia, lies a group of 74 tropical paradisal isles that make up the Whitsundays Islands.
The islands boast sweeping expanses of lush rainforests, glistening beaches, and jewel-coloured waters sheltering the colourful, life-filled reefs.
The Whitsundays are a ‘must-see’ on everyone’s Australia bucket list. The Whitsundays Islands is where the delights of the Great Barrier Reef and multifarious lifestyles, from resorts and hotels, all meet.
If you’re among them, you’ve come to the right place!
In this guide I’ve outlined everything you need to know about doing a day tour to the Whitsundays, including departure points, prices, what to expect, and even alternative tours.
So what are you waiting for? The crystal clear waters of the Whitsundays are waiting, let’s dive in!
- 1 About the Whitsundays
- 2 How to get to the Whitsundays from Airlie Beach
- 3 Our experience doing an Airlie Beach Tours to Whitsundays
- 4 What to Bring on Your Whitsundays Island Day Tour
- 5 Is doing a Whitsunday day Tour worth it?
- 6 More Whitsundays Tours Options
- 7 Where to stay in Airlie Beach for a Whitsundays day trip
About the Whitsundays
Whitsundays forms part of the Cumberland Group of islands – the largest offshore chain of islands along the Australian coastline in the Coral Sea.
The majority of these isles are uninhabited (only eight are inhabited) and form part of the national parks. Several of the islands offer resort accommodation.
Airlie Beach is the main town on the mainland that is used as an entry point to the islands. Other big cities closeby include Cairns, 630km north, and Townsville, around 900km north of Brisbane.
The region provides a warm subtropical climate, with average temperatures around 27.4°C.
It has a well-defined dry season during winter (June – August), with average temperatures reaching 24°C, making it the perfect beachside holiday destination year-round.
The Whitsundays Islands are home to the world-renowned Hill Inlet and Whitehaven Beach (rated the second-best beach in the world). The perfect place to relax on the pristine beaches or stroll through the lush rainforests.
How to get to the Whitsundays from Airlie Beach
The Whitsundays Islands aren’t connected to the mainland. So unless you fly to Hamilton Island, you’ll need to take a ferry regardless of which mode of transportation you take along the mainland.
The easiest way to get to the Whitsunday Islands is by plane. The largest inhabited island, Hamilton Island, is serviced by its own airport, The Great Barrier Reef Airport.
There are also two other light plane airports, Whitsunday Airport at the Shute harbour just 5km from Airlie Beach and an airport on Lindeman Island.
Lindeman Island has domestic and international connections via Sydney, Cairns, and Brisbane airports.
The majority of ferries travel between Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island, though some also run from Shute Harbour, 10km east. The crossing takes around an hour.
Keep in mind, these are passenger-only ferries, so if you are driving by car, you’ll need to leave it at the ‘long-stay’ parking lot. However, many travellers choose to stay in Airlie Beach and take a Whitsundays day trip.
With an organised tour
If you prefer to have everything organised, you can also visit the Whitsunday Islands with an organised tour.
These usually set off from Airlie Beach, take you to explore the islands and then return either the same day or the following day, depending on what tour you choose.
These are great if you’re travelling on a tight schedule, or don’t want to have to organise an overnight stay at the resorts of Hamilton Island.
Our experience doing an Airlie Beach Tours to Whitsundays
We only did a day trip to the Whitsundays since we had a tight itinerary, and didn’t have time to spend longer at the islands.
If you’re up for an adventure, embark on a thrilling Whitsundays ocean rafting tour from Airlie Beach.
The duration of the tour is around 6.5 hours to a full day. You have two options to choose from with this trip – the North or the South Whitehaven option.
We opted for the Airlie Beach day trip to the North Whitehaven side and visited two different snorkelling stops. First on Hook Island and then to Whitehaven Beach.
It’s the perfect option for anyone looking to do a lot of snorkelling. It’s an amazing tour, but you won’t be spending much time on the actual islands with this choice.
We enjoyed lunch at the north end of Whitehaven beach, and then took a guided walk through the National Park and the Hill Inlet lookout point.
There you’ll see breathtaking views of blue and white strips, where the turquoise waters, reefs and sands meet. This was a really phenomenal day trip, and I wish we had stayed longer and explored a bit more of the islands.
The second option is the South Whitehaven tour and is ideal if you’re looking to do more relaxing on the beach.
You’ll explore one snorkel destination at Border or Dumbell Islands, and visit both the northern and southern ends of the pristine Whitehaven Beach.
You’ll get to relax on the world-renowned white silica sands or frolic in the waters for around 2-hours. Doing a day trip on a speed boat is ideal since the travel time is usually reduced.
Big sailing boats or catamarans are comfier to cruise on, but will take much longer to reach the islands. We also had a bit of an adventurous captain who did some speed tricks out at sea, which were pretty exhilarating!
The islands were so stunning that I wish we had been able to spend longer there. However as far as day trips go, the one we did was pretty awesome.
What to Bring on Your Whitsundays Island Day Tour
Although we all know how to pack for exciting tours, here are some of the general trip essentials and must-haves for a Whitsundays day tour.
Sunscreen – is your absolute trusty steed if you’re travelling in Australia. You’ll want to get a lotion that will protect you from the sun and to also be reef friendly.
Sun hat – it’s always good to have a sun hat when spending a day at the beach. The Australian sun can be really harsh, so having some shade to protect your face is essential.
Flip flops – you’ll want a pair of light shoes/flops to easily pack into your bag for exploring the shores.
Light waterproof jacket – is an essential item I like to take along with me, wherever I go. Although Whitsundays provides a subtropical climate, you may find it getting chilly if it rains or in the late afternoons. Taking a light waterproof jacket doesn’t need much space, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Reusable water bottle – not only provides you with water, but you also help conserve the environment when on tours. Most tour operators provide water and snacks, but it is always great to keep your own reusable water bottle at hand.
Fast-drying towel – is perfect for all purposes – camping, travel, beach, backpacking, swimming. It’s lightweight, absorbent and dries quickly. It’s certainly a popular travel accessory and one of my ‘must-have’ items.
Is doing a Whitsunday day Tour worth it?
To put it shortly, absolutely! With a subtropical climate and stunning tropical islands, you’ll certainly want to take a visit and see the paradise for yourself.
And if you take a ferry, it’s a short 1h 5m to get there, which is not bad at all.
You can explore these idyllic islands by snorkelling, scuba diving, sailing and swimming from the many beaches or the tour boat.
The day tour we took in Whitsundays is ideal if you want to do more snorkelling. It’s a lovely day trip, but you’ll spend a lot of time at sea and not actually on the islands.
More Whitsundays Tours Options
The Whitsundays day tour is a spectacular excursion, but for the next time, I will certainly opt for the overnight option to explore the surrounding areas more.
If you have more time, I’d suggest doing an overnight tour around the Whitsunday Islands. You’ll get the most out of your trip sailing, snorkelling, hiking and kayaking in these magical gem clear waters.
Not only that, but you’ll also get to embark on an eco-friendly exploration of hidden bays hugging around the reefs.
You’ll also get to visit the famous Whitehaven Beach, the Hill Inlet, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and other Whitsundays Islands.
Another excellent option is the 2-day combo tour to the outer Great Barrier Reef and some of the best locations in the Whitsundays.
Your first day is a 10-hour trip to explore the outer Great Barrier Reef on a cruise and pontoon, passing by Whitsunday islands. There you’re able to snorkel and enjoy a buffet lunch in paradise.
On your second day, you’ll embark on a 10-hour Catamaran Sailing tour to Whitehaven, the Hill Inlet and enjoy snorkelling in the crystal clear waters.
Where to stay in Airlie Beach for a Whitsundays day trip
In Airlie Beach you will find accommodation for every traveller, ranging from backpacker hostels to lovely family resorts. I listed below some options of accommodation in Airlie Beach for every budget.
Budget – Nomads Airlie Beach: I stayed in multiple Nomads Hostels during my Australia trip and was always happy with the friendly and sociable atmosphere.
Mid-range – Water’s Edge Resort: Considering this hotel has a beautiful infinity pool with view over the town and sea, we were not expecting it to be that affordable. They have lovely apartments with a great view.
Luxury – Mirage Whitsundays: If you’re looking to pamper yourself, this is the place. Modern luxurious apartments, infinity pools and sea views, this hotel has it all.
Final thoughts on doing a Whitsundays tour from Airlie Beach?
Get ready to swim with rainbow-coloured fish and sea turtles. Sink your toes into some of the most beautiful beaches in the world on your tropical Whitsundays vacation.
Now that you have a tour in mind, are you ready to set sail on the transparent waters of the Great Barrier Reef? The idyllic tropical islands of Whitsundays are something out of a dream, a magical paradise.
See for yourself why Whitehaven Beach is said to be the second best beach in the world, and Hill Inlet Lookout is said to be so spectacular.
I hope you find this guide useful in planning your own day trip to the Whitsunday Islands from Airlie Beach! I cannot wait to go back and do an overnight Whitsundays tour to explore even more around these dreamy waters.
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