The 74 islands of the Whitsundays lay in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, cradled by the tropical waters of the Coral Sea, a truly remarkable icon of beauty. It is not only the majestic wildlife and breathtaking natural sights that make the Whitsundays one of the best places to go on holiday in Australia, but also the huge amount of things to do in the Whitsundays.


Whether its getting in touch with nature while scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, to relaxing on the silky white silica sands of white sands of Whitehaven Beach, find the best things to do on the islands in our Whitsundays Travel Guide.

Whitsundays Top Tips

Wonders of the Whitsundays


Be sure to include these must do's on your Whitsunday itinerary.


Whitsundays, Great Barrier Reef Credit: Tourism Queensland

74 Island Wonders


Lying along the Queensland coast, and dotted with hundreds of tropical islands, the Great Barrier Reef island experience is one that will remain unforgettable. In the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, lie the 74 magnificent islands of the Whitsundays waiting for you to indulge.


Named by Lt James Cook in 1770, the Whitsunday islands are the largest group of offshore islands in Australia. The region’s sparkling azure seas, cradled by the Great Barrier Reef, are dotted with an array of national park islands, coral cays, fringing coral reefs and stunning beaches. For a truly memorable visit to the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef the Whitsundays has it all, a veritable feast of indulgent experiences all within short distance of each other and the Great Barrier Reef.


By far the majority of the Whitsunday islands are designated national park, leaving them uninhabited and in their purest natural state for all to enjoy. Of the 74, eight islands are inhabited with island resorts offering a range of accommodation and attractions.


The Great Barrier Reef and Diving

Michelmas Cay, Great Barrier Reef Credit: Tourism Queensland


The Whitsundays lie at the centre of the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s seven natural wonders and the only living structure visible from space. Stretching over 2,500km in length, the Great Barrier Reef protects the Whitsundays from ocean swells, providing the region with calm, protected waters in which to enjoy this aquatic wonderland. A large variety of day and overnight tours depart the Whitsunday Coast and islands to the Great Barrier Reef each day.


The ‘outer’ Great Barrier Reef is around 50 nautical miles off the Whitsunday Coast, just a short two hour boat ride yet you will feel worlds away as you indulge in its beauty from above, on and below the water. Snorkelling and scuba diving offer stunning scenery of thousands of species of brightly coloured fish and brilliantly coloured corals, and a diverse marine life including humpback whales, dolphins, turtles and dugong. Iconic Whitsunday scuba dive sites such as the ‘Stepping Stones’ and the ‘Cathedral’ are simply stunning to explore and local scuba dive companies cater for every skill level from novice to dive master. You can do a short dive on the outer reef on a day tour, or multiple dives at multiple reef systems on an overnight diving trip. The Whitsunday islands and coast all have fringing reefs of coral gardens, with abundant marine life to explore. At some beaches it is possible to walk straight off the beach to snorkel over stunning fringing reefs.


In the Heart of the Reef

The Whitsundays is quite literally situated in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. Heart Reef is a beautiful composition of coral that has naturally formed into the shape of a heart. Located within Hardy Reef, Heart Reef is best experienced from the air by helicopter or seaplane and seeing it is an experience you will never forget. Many tour companies combine a visit to Heart Reef with trips to other breathtaking locations in the Whitsundays.



Whitehaven Beach


Whitsunday Island Credit: Tourism Queensland


The crystal clear aqua waters and pristine white silica sand of Whitehaven Beach stretch over seven kilometres along Whitsunday Island, the largest of the 74 islands in the Whitsundays. This beach defines nature at its best and provides visitors with an immense sense of relaxation, escape and wonder. The breathtaking beauty of Whitehaven makes it not only a Whitsundays icon, but regularly named in the top ten beaches in the world and the recipient of countless awards for its beauty, cleanliness and environmental protection.


At the northern end of the beach is Hill Inlet, a stunning cove where the tide shifts the sand and the water to create a beautiful, swirling fusion of colours. A short but beautiful walk winds through the tropical rainforest of Whitsunday Island leading to a spectacular lookout over Hill Inlet and down the length of Whitehaven Beach.


At the southern end of the beach are striking rock formations and fringing coral reefs, as well as facilities for day visitors including toilets. Another short walk departs from the southern end of the beach offering stunning views over Whitehaven to Haslewood Island. Overnight campers can stay in the allocated camping spots with a permit. (See page24)


Whitehaven Beach can be accessed in several ways. Many motor cruisers and sailing yachts offer day trips that depart from Airlie Beach and some island resorts. A variety of sailing companies offer overnight tours that include a visit to Whitehaven Beach as well as other locations around the Whitsunday islands. The more adventurous can try ocean rafting, sea kayaking or a jet boat trip out to Whitehaven or for the ultimate experience travel by seaplane or helicopter for a spectacular view of Whitehaven and Hill Inlet before indulging in a picnic on a private part of the beach.


Smooth Sailing

BenSouthall MichelmasCay Credit: Courtesy of Tourism Queensland


The Whitsundays offers some of the world’s best sailing and cruising holidays for two simple reasons – the islands provide protection from the elements and each of the islands offers an array of unique beauty to experience the true serenity that only a sailing holiday can bring.


With the destination a firm favourite in any novice or expert sailor’s book, all you have to do is choose if you want to go on your own adventure of discovery, or have a professional skipper lead your voyage.


Bareboating (skipper yourself) holidays provide a chance to experience the magic of the Whitsundays at your own pace. While some boating experience is preferred to charter a yacht or motor cruiser, there are no formal qualifications needed to skipper yourself on a sailing holiday in paradise.


If you want to meet new people from around the world, and let others do it for you, a package sailing holiday for 1, 2 or 3 nights is perfect. The choice of vessels is extensive; experience a maxi racing yacht, or sail as Lt James Cook did when he discovered the Whitsundays on a traditional tall ship. You will sail to the top destinations for beach combing, snorkelling, diving and that perfect sunset. Each organised cruise has experienced skippers with a story or two to tell, deck hands to assist and an important ingredient, the chef!


Whatever your choice, when you first step aboard your vessel you will feel invigorated with the anticipation of your sailing adventure. You are guaranteed fun, excitement, relaxation and exploration. You will have an experience that you will treasure forever and see a sunset you will never forget.