Queensland: Beautiful one day, perfect the next.
If you’re visiting Australia for the first time, you’d be a lunatic to miss a visit to Queensland and the Whitsunday Islands. Why? Allow me to tempt you with some adjectives: sparkling blue water; white, silica sand; clear, blue skies. That’s Queensland for you and it’s no wonder really that the slogan is ‘beautiful one day, perfect the next.’ While you’re in the area, there are 5 Whitsunday day trips you should definitely experience.
With a total of 74 Whitsunday Islands, it can be overwhelming to figure out where to start. Fear not, the Kaptain has you sorted! Follow this guide to Whitsunday day trips and you will see the best that the northeast coast of Queensland has to offer. From the Great Barrier Reef to Whitehaven Beach, camping and sailing options and where to base yourself, this is the best guide to make your trip perfect.
Spoiler: I’m actually a Queenslander myself. But I only just recently visited for the first time. Shame on me!
Whitsunday Day Trips
1. The Great Barrier Reef and ‘Heart Reef’ by air
There are many ways you can interact with the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), either by snorkelling and diving or from the air. I especially recommend seeing it all from the air – its enormity will then be understood. The GBR is actually 350 000 square kilometres in size and even a little scenic flight will only show you a tiny portion.
In terms of flights in the area, you can charter a helicopter ride over the GBR and over the famous ‘Whitehaven Beach’. Some packages include landing on Whitehaven Beach with a glass of champagne, too!
We were a group of six and decided on a private plane charter, as helicopters cannot fit too many people. The price of the plane trip worked out to be $229 AUD per person. Quite pricey, yes but it’s one of the most striking travel experiences I’ve had.
We started the first of our Whitsunday day trips in Airlie Beach with a company called GSL Aviation and we took a private scenic plane charter which lasted about an hour. Our pilot Matt was incredible and he made sure that all six passengers inside our plane got to see the sights by doing some crafty aerial manoeuvres.
Coral Bleaching: a pro-tip
It’s now common knowledge that due to increasing temperatures, the Great Barrier Reef is experiencing expansive coral bleaching. We all know this is a fact, but did you also know that sun-cream has an effect on this too? My friend Kate recently wrote an Instagram post about this:
‘4-6000 tonnes of sun-cream enters the ocean every year and the majority of it is filled with ‘Oxy Benzone’, an ingredient that is one of the major culprits of coral bleaching. If you’re like me and you love swimming with the creatures of the underwater world, cover yourself in ‘reef friendly’ sun-cream instead.’
I’m sold on the scenic flight – show me a video!
I put together a small YouTube video for you to enjoy showing footage from the scenic flight, swimming at Whitehaven Beach and some beautiful moments from Hamilton Island, too.
2. Whitsunday Island and Whitehaven Beach by boat.
No list of Whitsunday day trips would be complete without a visit to Whitehaven Beach, for sure. Traveller states, ”Not only is it Australia’s No.1 beach, according to TripAdvisor’s Travellers’ Choice Awards, but it’s the fifth best beach in the world.”
It’s no wonder really. The entire coastline stretches 7 kilometres and it’s likely that you will find your own piece for the day, completely interrupted. The sand is also said to be the purest silica sand in the world. Dunking your feet into it will feel like an oceanic scrub of godly proportions. You may even feel like cleaning your jewellery with it. Or you can do what I did – rub it into your skin… all day long. I came back feeling smoother than a baby’s bottom.
The sand consists of 98% pure silica which gives it a bright white color. Local rocks do not contain silica so it has been suggested that the sands were brought to the beach via prevailing sea currents over millions of years. Unlike regular sand, the sand on Whitehaven Beach does not retain heat making it comfortable to walk barefoot on a hot day. Wikipedia
Obviously being ‘Australia’s best beach’ and the number one activity in the area, you will be able to find many Whitsunday day trips tour operators who can take you here.
As we were staying on Hamilton Island, there were limited options for us unless we were billionaires chartering a private yacht (which we were not). In the end, we booked this day trip with Cruise Whitsundays. Please note, this product does cater to a larger number of tourists. Once you arrive close to Whitsunday Island and actually get off the large boat, you’re transported to a smaller dinghy and then your tour becomes a little more personalised with one guide and fewer people.
If you’re staying on the mainland, many smaller and local operators depart from Airlie Beach.
When planning this part of Whitsunday day trips, I highly recommend reaching out to John from Whitsunday Paradise Explorer – although we weren’t able to book with him due to our location constraints, I have had a lot of telephone and Instagram chats with him and am convinced he’s one of the best private operators in the area. His company is also a new #ecotourism certified member. Tell him Kaptain Kenny sent you and maybe he’ll offer you something special!
Whitehaven Beach lookout point – pro tip
If you want to get that quintessential ‘Whitehaven Beach’ shot from the lookout point, then you must book a tour which includes a small bushwalk and a visit to ‘Hill Inlet’. Lots of tours are only half Whitsunday day trips and do not provide this. As the entire island is 7KM long, you’ll need the full day to experience the beach, the lookout point, a lunch stop (provided by your tour operator) and some downtime.
3. Stay on Hamilton Island and rent an oceanfront villa
If your budget allows for it, one of the best places for Whitsunday day trips is Hamilton Island. For a large group, you can find yourself some beautiful beach view villas on the island. Go to the supermarket, cook a big BBQ on your verandah and watch the sunset. This is really the calm and quiet island life which happens to be teeming with nature and wildlife. From our villa, we spotted whales, cockatoos and possums. I recently wrote a post about staying on Hamilton Island where I discussed the pros and cons – have a look to see if it’s right for you.
Here is the official Hamilton Island website where you can do everything from book accommodation and restaurants to selecting tours and trips.
4. Sailing Whitsundays
There are many types of sailing experiences: sailing for just one day, backpacker style sailing (with a lot of loud music and a lot of people on the boat but cheap), young active/couple sailing cruises with smaller groups, family-friendly sailing with no partying and easy activities and some other sailing boats go around for more than three days – even going to the reef. There are so many possibilities and I recommend booking through: Sailing Whitsundays.
If you want to see the Whitsundays without rushing, I would suggest booking a boat with 10 to 12 people maximum so it’s intimate but still affordable. I personally wouldn’t go for the big party boats unless you’re really in the party mood and don’t mind sleeping a bit rough.
We ended up on a family-friendly boat called Prima which was super relaxing and nice to sail on! We opted for a two and a half day package and had some meals included which was really convenient and pretty cost-effective in the end.
5. Camping Whitsundays
A friend of mine Natasha has recommended camping in the Whitsundays as an absolute must-do experience.
I can’t recommend camping in the Whitsundays enough. I first visited seven years ago and did the standard Whitsunday day trips but the last time, I decided to camp there. There are many camp sites to choose from but with just a long weekend, we decided to choose the jewel in the Whitsundays’ crown – Whitehaven Beach.
She says that in order to do Whitsunday day trips this way, you will need to book a camping permit via the QLD Department of National Parks which can be done in a few easy clicks online. It costs $6.35AUD per person per night which is about half the price of a piece of avocado on toast!
Scamper Water Taxis are really the only way to get there and that’s where it becomes a bit more expensive – at $155AUD per person return. If you stay a couple of nights, it’s better value for money and quite economical considering the costs of staying in Airlie Beach or the Whitsundays in general. The taxi service also gets cheaper when you visit the closer Whitsunday Islands starting at around $65AUD per person.
You can also hire all your camping gear through Scamper for $40AUD for the first night and $20 for each additional night. She says they did this and brought food and beer with them.
At 5 PM when all the tour boats leave, you have 7KM of white beach all to yourself. Top tip: don’t delay getting off the boat and make sure you nab the only beach/sea facing camping spot for amazing morning views. (Click on her QLD Instagram story highlights to see more.)
For more information on camping Whitsundays, I’ve found this helpful guide for you from Tourism Whitsundays.
Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty aspect of Whitsunday day trips. Queensland (QLD) is a hot and humid state. It’s not uncommon for it to be more than 25 degrees (Celcius) during 90% of the year. If you don’t enjoy feeling like you’re half a kilometre from the sun, I advise you to visit when I did: in August. The weather will be a moderate 20-25 during the day.
And finally, if you still need some more information, I found a couple of other links to help with your Whitsunday day trips planning.
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