Sitting in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsunday Islands are an archipelago of green islands and sandy atolls, bordered by seemingly untouched, white-silica-sand beaches and pale-turquoise, shallow waters. The mosaics of coral platforms, lagoons and rich-blue channels in this area are some of the most pristine areas of the entire Barrier Reef system.
Despite the reefs’ whimsical, fishing-themed names (such as Hook, Line, Sinker and Bait), you can’t actually cast a line here. But, you can explore them via snorkeling or by staying on liveaboard catamarans. You can charter these from Airlie Beach, and they rank among some of Australia’s best cruises.
Some 74 islands make up the Whitsundays and each coral-fringed island has its own appeal. Many are uninhabited and are listed as national parks, but a handful have resorts that offer a multitude of places to stay, from budget options to five-star luxury retreats.
Hamilton and Hayman are our go-to islands. We like Hamilton’s family-friendly feel and its variety of places to stay, along with its expanses of wild bushland and lookouts over the Cobalt Sea. You’re at the heart of the Whitsundays here, and while the island does receive a lot of visitors, it’s also relatively easy to escape to its less developed corners on foot or by golf buggy — there are no cars.
Hayman Island is the northernmost Whitsunday and, aside from its crescents of beaches, is largely hilly, covered in hoop pines and eucalypts. It’s a place for relaxing or hiking, but it’s also well-connected to several of the Whitsundays’ scenic highlights. You can, for example, take a speedboat to walk the long spit of Langford Island, which trails into the sea like some great sandy antenna.
From both these islands, you can also take a helicopter flight over Whitehaven Beach, celebrated for its swirls of creamy sand.
Best time to visit the Whitsunday Islands
Visit between May and September for less rain and humidity, and generally cooler, comfortable weather.