Whitsunday Islands / Airlie Beach, Australia (3/28-4/1)

Whitsunday Islands – The Gems of the Great Barrier Reef

Aerial view off the coast of Australia


Why Travel to Whitsunday Island / Airlie Beach, Australia ?

The Whitsunday Islands are a collection of 70+ islands off the northeast coast of Queensland that border the Great Barrier Reef. These islands are best known for picturesque coasts, glowing white sand beaches, and access to some of the most beautiful reefs and fish in the world. Generally, those that wish to enjoy the islands set up camp in the town of Airlie Beach, the region’s central hub.


How Long to Stay in Whitsunday Island/ Airlie Beach, Australia?

Being able to sail through the islands and enjoy the sights are a top bucket list item for many people. To get a full experience, we did a two day and two night sail and snorkel with Wings. We were happy with doing the two day/two night cruise and didn’t feel the need to extend our stay, however you could certainly spend more time here sailing the islands, snorkeling, and scuba diving.


Top Thing to Do in Whitsunday Islands/ Airlie Beach, Australia

Sail and Snorkel the Whitsundays

If you are traveling to the Whitsundays, it would be a travesty not to do a sailing/catamaran tour of the islands. During our stay, we took a two day and two night sail and snorkel adventure to North and South Whitehaven Beach with Wings. Both stops were on Whitsunday Island. The sleeping corridors were tight and we were unfortunate enough to have an Irishman who snored louder than a freight train in our cabin. However, the catamaran was comfortable and the experiences we had on the cruise were unforgettable. Special thanks to the great crew who gave us tours of the islands and cooked up some delicious food. They even catered to my vegan diet, which I started around this time (and never looked back).

Our ship before the adventure began
Lounging while sailing the ocean blue

During our catamaran cruise we stopped at several great locations:

South Whitehaven Beach

Our first stop was the secluded South Whitehaven Beach which is considered to be in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. 

There were hundreds of Soldier Crabs digging holes along the beach

This incredible beach stretches just over 4 miles and is only accessible by boat, seaplane or helicopter. After strolling the beach and meeting some soldier crabs we were gifted a gorgeous sunset.

At night we spent time playing games on the boat, listening to music, and getting to know our fellow sailors. It was also cool seeing giant trevally swimming up behind our boat which had a light illuminating the ocean below.

North Whitehaven BEach

The next day we stopped at North Whitehaven Beach, home of the stunning Hill Inlet Lookout that has spectacular views over the cay and of the surrounding islands.

The changing tides in the lagoon create unique views each day as the tides rise and fall. One hour the lagoon is completely submerged and then the next hour, as the tides fall, there is a sandbar walking path right through the lagoon.

View from the famous Hill Inlet Lookout

At one point you are swimming to a fallen tree in the water…..

to climb….

and the next moment you can walk to it….

At low tide the tree stump becomes accessible by land
This picture is of the lagoon after the tide had fallen (remember the picture overlooking the lagoon above that was completely submerged)
Having fun in the alabaster white sand
Whitsundays has some of the finest white sand in the world, so fine you can exfoliate your feet with it which Kurt was doing here

While we were wading through the lagoon at low tide, I began jogging playfully through the shallow water when I heard a seagull above me squawking. I glanced above quickly to see what the fuss was about and as I looked back down I noticed, just in time, that I was about to step on a small lemon shark. Holy smokes that was a close call! After this, we started seeing the lemon sharks all over the place and enjoyed walking aside them watching them swim.  

Video: “Walking alongside lemon sharks
Sitting on the couples swing on the beach

We had a lot of fun exploring the islands but it was equally enjoyable spending time on the catamaran enjoying the views of the islands and lounging.

Lounging on the sundeck nets
Sailing around Whitsundays
Enjoying the views of the bays and beaches of Whitsunday Islands

Leaving the pier we took the scenic way back to our lodge.

The beauty continues alongside the Coral Sea Marina
The vibrant marina village in the background


Where  to Stay in Whitsunday Island/ Airlie Beach, Australia

Magnum Backpackers

We stayed here the night before our two day cruise and were lucky enough to get another room the day we returned. I say lucky because our bus to magnetic island got canceled because of a tropical storm and all other cheap accommodations were fully booked. We had to wait around a couple hours for “no shows” before they gave us a room.

This place got great reviews online. It certainly had good facilities but it was a bit dingy and dirty (at least during our stay). May have just been our room because most reviews are highly complementary.


Where to Eat in Whitsunday Island/ Airlie Beach, Australia

The majority of our time in Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays was spent on our two day sailing cruise where the meals were included. However, on our last day we did visit a cafe.

Cafe One 3 (Airlie Beach)

This cafe offers delicious breakfast and lunch options (vegan options available).

Just check out these delicious Acai Bowls.


Other Recommendations of Things to Do

These are all adventures that we unfortunately didn’t have time to do on our own but would have considered if we had more time:

  • We would definitely do another sailing trip, as there are a lot of islands to see. Perhaps one focused on hitting up various snorkeling or scuba destinations.
  • Day trips to the various islands such as:
    • Hamilton Island:  Unfortunately, it is a pretty expensive ferry to get here (1 hour), but this seems like a great place to visit.
    • Daydream island: A tiny island with a lot of beauty to offer.
    • Hayman island – Ok, maybe not for us. As this is an extremely expensive place to stay at if staying overnight. But if luxury is your thing, look no further.  
  • Honeyeater Lookout Trail – a hiking trail that is mostly uphill and steep but worth the view of Airlie Beach coast and the stunning Coral Sea Marina. 
  • Boathaven Beach – If looking for an “unwind” day, this quaint beach is less busy compared to Airlie Beach


Question For You

  • Have you been to any of the surrounding islands of the famous Great Barrier Reef? If so, which was your favorite you would recommend?



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