The Whitsunday Islands are located off the east coast of Queensland in Australia. Part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, each Island in the Whitsundays has a unique drawcard, whether it be a stylish resort, world-famous beach, spectacular snorkelling site or views to stop you in your tracks.
What’s constant throughout all of the islands in the Whitsunday is their natural, jaw-dropping beauty, making it easy to understand why they are a world-class destination.
In this post, we share the different ways to explore the Whitsunday Islands and some unique drawcards on popular islands.
The Whitsundays are a group of 74 islands stretching over 282.8 square kilometres, creating the largest group of offshore islands in the entire country.
The Whitsunday Islands are 54km off the Queensland coast. There are two towns that give mainland access to the Whitsundays, Shute Harbour & Airlie Beach. Getting out to the Islands from the mainland can be done on a tour, bareboat or boat hired and operated by you or of course a private vessel. Alternatively, you can fly to Hamilton Island.
The Whitsunday Islands are Australia’s best sailing destination. The Great Barrier reef offers protection from large ocean swells, which means that the Islands are protected and relatively safe for boating.
A bareboating holiday is when you and your friends hire a yacht or catamaran to live-aboard for several nights. You skipper the boat yourselves (after extensive training) and have the freedom to explore at your own pace. The boat comes fully equipped with everything you’ll need to live comfortably.
Bareboating is the ultimate way to experience the Whitsundays. You're able to explore parts of the islands tourism crowds seldom visit, and you can soak up Island life at your leisure, snorkelling, kayaking, lazing on a beach, reading a book, hiking and cruising among the world-class Whitsundays.
Airlie Beach is the central tourism hub connected to the Whitsundays. There are a plethora of tours available from Airlie to suit all interests and budgets.
It’s also possible to organise customised guided tours on smaller boats; This is a great way to see parts of the Islands which interest you. We recommend chatting to Mars Charters or Whitsunday Paradise Explorer.
Many people choose to fly to Hamilton Island for a convenient resort holiday. Hamilton Island is the largest and most central hub in the Whitsundays. It's where you can find an IGA, loads of accommodation options, restaurants and of course tours out the Islands or Great Barrier Reef.
Those sailing the Whitsundays or on a bareboat charter can book a berth at the Hamilton Island Marina, giving them access to the Islands facilities.
Learn more about transport to the Whitsundays: Different ways to travel to the region.
In early 2022, only four of the 74 Whitsunday islands are inhabited; Daydream, Hayman, Hamilton and Long Islands. There are plans for a new luxury resort to be built on Lindeman Island t by the end of 2022.
The remaining 70 islands in the Whitsundays are completely deserted, with 32 forming the Whitsunday Islands National Park. The low occupancy rate within the Whitsundays makes them naturally spectacular to explore.
The climate in the Whitsundays is subtropical, with the weather primarily warm and sometimes humid. There is a wet and dry season to consider, each unique benefits.
Find out more about the best time of year to travel to the Whitsundays.
The most popular deserted Island in the Whitsundays is Whitsunday Island, home to the world-famous Whitehaven Beach, the Hill Inlet Lookout and several hikes through stunning National Parks.
There are some quality anchorages and coves around Whitsunday Island offering protection from most winds for those cruising the Islands on a yacht.
Hamilton Island is the most famous island in the Whitsundays; it’s also the only island with an airport. “Hammo", as many people call it, has accommodation to cater for all budgets, a plethora of restaurants, bars, pools open to everyone and shops. There’s a resort vibe no matter where you go on the Island; perhaps the gold buggy transport adds to this!
Those looking for adventure or things to do with the kids will find hikes, a koala reserve, ten pin bowling, water sport activities from Catseye Beach and access to various tours around the Islands or to the Outer Great Barrier Reef.
Hayman Island is home to the InterContinental Resort.
The 168 guest rooms, suites and villas of the InterContinental Hayman Island Resort sit among panoramic ocean views, tropical rainforests and spectacular swimming pools, all while maintaining a luxurious private feel.
Hayman Island is about offering a “private island experience and sacred moments of connection with family, friends and yourself.” There are several ways to add touches of luxury to your stay, from spa treatments, romantic picnics on secluded beaches and private tours to other islands throughout the Whitsundays.
There are trails throughout the Whitsundays, all showcasing the diverse landscapes found throughout the islands. It’s worth considering all of the hiking trails on the Ngaro Sea Trail.
For those short on time, the best Islands in the Whitsundays for hiking are South Molle Islands and Whitsunday Island.
The Whitsunday Islands are part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park with fringing reefs and many snorkelling spots skirting the Islands.
Hook Island is the best Island in the Whitsundays for snorkelling. We highly recommend snorkelling at Hook Island’s Butterfly Bay, on the western reef ledge deep into the bay. Snorkelling is also great at Manta Ray Bay. Look out for the underwater sculpture!
Follow the links to articles where you can learn more about the specific island including the best ways to see it from a bareboat charter.
Please note that those sailing the Whitsundays with Whitsunday Rent a Yacht will have a set charter limit and cannot visit every Island listed below. To find out more about our charter limits, see our interactive map of the Whitsundays.
Exploring the 75 Islands in the Whitsundays might not be possible in one trip, which is why so many people come back to the Whitsundays year after year.
Experience the Islands in the Whitsundays from a yacht