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Australia's Whitsundays: Luxury Resorts, Island Hopping and Unforgettable Experiences

The jewel in Australia’s crown, this archipelago of paradise sand islands on the Great Barrier Reef is calling out to be explored.

Naomi Chadderton
Naomi Chadderton
An experienced editor and journalist specialising in news and lifestyle.

To many of us, Australia often feels far out of reach. Yet thanks to its peaceful land with perfect weather, especially for those who cannot tolerate harsher climates, it regularly tops the list of popular destinations for mature travellers. And nowhere is more desirable than the Whitsunday Islands.

Presenting an idyllic haven for those seeking both adventure and tranquillity, there’s no shortage of pristine beaches and lush rainforests scattered around the tropical paradise, which offers a plethora of activities tailored to suit every pace and preference. After all, if it’s good enough for Oprah Winfrey, Hugh Jackman and Brad Pitt…So, what are you waiting for?

The best things to do in the Whitsundays

Go Island Hopping on a Yacht

With 74 different tropical islands in the Whitsundays, you won’t be short of choice when it comes to deciding where to visit, so be sure to take the stress out of planning and instead hire a skipper and yacht for a few idyllic days of sailing and dolphin spotting. Starting off from Airlie Beach, opt for a day trip or longer and embark at the likes of Daydream Island for water sports and reef snorkelling, Hayman Island for private sunset beach picnics and Whitehaven Beach for some of the most pristine sands you have ever seen in your life. But more on that later.

Travelling with the grandkids in tow? There are even family-friendly options where the boat comes with its own waterslide.

For those who fancy going it alone, unlike most other sailing destinations in the world you don’t need a licence to skipper your own boat in The Whitsundays - insurance paperwork and a half-day training session is all that stands between you and a private island-hopping holiday.

Sink Your Toes in the Sand at Whitehaven Beach

While the Whitsundays is defined by its gorgeous beaches, there’s none quite as beautiful as Whitehaven Beach. Regularly topping the ‘World’s Best Beaches’ lists, as the name suggests, it’s quite literally a haven of soft white sand and feels untouched, plus, this is where you go to check out the ridiculously photogenic Hill Inlet.

Find the Best Dive Sites

Many islands may claim to have the perfect snorkelling and diving conditions, but do they all have the Great Barrier Reef? No, they do not. It’s one of the seven natural wonders of the world that is so large that it can be seen from space, and the Whitsundays is the perfect jumping-off point.

Among its many great dive sites there are more than a few noteworthy options for keen explorers. For those who prefer to stay a little closer to land, for example, The Hangover, located off Airlie Beach, is a wall dive with exciting terrain and large marine life including giant trevally, barramundi, cod and mackerel, while there are also plenty of dive sites on Bait Reef worth exploring – one being the Manta Ray Drop Off, where shallow underwater cliffs lead to a huge 75m plunging wall covered with gorgonians, soft corals, sponges and sea whips, all full of resident reef fish and invertebrate species.

Elsewhere look to Hook Island, Hardy Reef and Cateran Bay, to name a few.

Admire The Scenery from Above

There’s nothing quite seeing the Whitsundays and Heart Reef by helicopter, which trips offered exclusively by Hamilton Island Air. You’ll even get to land on 'Heart Island' (a permanently moored helipad) to sail and snorkel around this naturally occurring heart-shaped reef after your adrenaline-pumping journey.

Stop Off at Nara Inlet

Located on Hook Island, aside from being a highly protected anchorage, you’ll also find a fantastic bush track at the Nara Inlet that leads up to a cave containing ancient Ngaro indigenous artwork. You don’t want to miss it.

The Best Hotel in the Whitsundays

Intercontinental Hayman Island

One of the Whitsunday Islands' most glamourous spots, the Intercontinental Hayman Island is the perfect hotel for a special occasion, boasting eight sumptuous private beachfront villas and the 4,300-square-foot Hayman Beach House set up steps from the ocean. Guests can even snorkel to a six-sculpture underwater exhibit, which we highly recommend.


Regularly ranked among the world’s best hotels, this high-end resort occupies its own peninsula on the northern tip of Hamilton Island at the heart of the Whitsunday Islands, about half-way down the Great Barrier Reef. A great shout for anyone after an exceptional island escape, this eco-friendly adults-only establishment is comprised of 60 timber-and-glass villas, some with their own private infinity pool, plus its Long Pavilion restaurant which specialises in casual Australian dining.

Reefsleep Hotel

For an overnight stay with a difference, this is Australia’s first underwater hotel that offers a front row seat to the dazzling world of the Great Barrier Reef. Always in high demand, it consists of just two suites suspended beneath a floating pontoon, so be sure to book way in advance to secure your spot.

When to Visit the Whitsundays

While the Whitsundays are perfectly placed within the tropics and blessed with average daytime temperatures from 23 to 30C all year round, September to October is peak season thanks to consistently sunny weather, low humidity, light trade winds and perfect swimming, snorkelling and diving conditions. It’s also just outside the stinger season too, which falls between the end of October and May.

During the Aussie winter (June to October), you also have the chance to see majestic whales along the coast.

Getting to the Whitsundays

The easiest way to reach the Whitsundays is to fly into Cairns International Airport, which is accessible from all major UK airports (there are no direct flights available, so traditional stopover destinations include Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Dubai).

From Cairns take a short 1h 10min domestic flight to Hamilton Island Airport.