Whitsunday Islands

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The Whitsunday Island group offers myriad opportunities for sailing, snorkelling or just cruising around the islands.

The islands are renowned for their lovely beaches, particularly the world famous Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island. The 6km long Whitehaven Beach is the most popular with day-trippers but somehow that doesn’t spoil its allure. Make sure you do the 650m walk to the lookout at Hill Inlet.

Many of the islands including Daydream, Hamilton, Hayman and South Molle have upmarket resorts. Although you may feel out of place here, the island resorts provide pockets of civilisation among the wilderness.


Many backpackers opt for a sailing package, which allows you to see a variety of islands and for many people it is the only chance they will ever have of sailing a yacht.

Airlie Beach has a huge range of yachts ranging from modern catamarans and racing maxi yacht to historic tall ships and encompassing everything in between. Two-night sailing excursions start at $384 and go up to around $2000 depending on the boat and the type of onboard accommodation provided, although most backpackers spend between $580 and $620 for a three day/two night sailing trip.

With the exception of day trips on large boats with licensed bars, you can bring your own alcohol but most of the sailing boats prohibit glass, which means you can’t enjoy a nice wine aboard the yacht (just beer and cask wine).

You will also need to pay the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park levy and administration charge, which most sailing companies do not include in their prices (although this fee is included in the price of many of the day trips).

Generally the smaller boats offer a more authentic hands-on sailing experience, but the bigger boats are more comfortable and usually cheaper. Most sailing trips have two to three crew and eight to 20 passengers, although some of the larger boats carry over 30 passengers.

Most sailing trips include barbecue meals, free use of snorkelling gear and a visit to Whitehaven Beach.

Companies operating multi-day sailing trips in the Whitsundays include:

Atlantic Clipper
This 34m schooner claims to be the largest boat in the Whitsundays. It has a party reputation and being big it packs more people in, making it a good value option for the budget conscious.
Departs Abell Point Marina
2 days/2 nights $460

Australian Tall Ship Cruises
This company has cruises on classic vessels including the Solway Lass, a classic square rigged tall ship and the three-masted schooner Whitsunday Magic.
Departs Abell Point Marina
3 days/3 nights $579–739; 6 days/6 nights $969–1239

Oz Adventure Sailing
This company has a fleet of 25 vessels with a great selection of classic yachts including several tall ships and timber ketches as well as sleek racing yachts including winners of the Sydney–Hobart and Pamelia London–Australia races.
Departs Abell Point Marina and Port of Airlie Maritime Terminal (depending on the boat)
1 day $179; 2 days/1 night $380; 2 days/2 nights $475–735; 3 days/2 nights $619–819; 3 days/3 nights $895

OzSail has a fleet of yachts that include sleek 60ft racing yachts as well as more spacious catamarans and trimarans.
Departs Abell Point Marina
2 days/2 nights $454–534

ProSail Whitsundays
ProSail Whitsundays have several maxi yachts with good value sailing trips around the Whitsundays.
2 days/1 night $349–389; 2 days/2 nights $419–533

Southern Cross Sailing Adventures
Southern Cross has a fleet of boats that feature ex racing yachts including Ragamuffin II, Southern Cross and Maxi Boomerang.
Departs Abell Point Marina
1 day $169; 2 days/1 night $359; 2 days/2 nights $429; 3 days/2 nights $529; 5 days/4 nights $859; 5 days/5 nights $899

Tongarra Cruises
Tongarra is a spacious catamaran that runs flexible two night sailing trips around the Whitsundays. It is good value and has a reputation as a party boat.
Departs Abell Point Marina
2 days/2 nights $384

Day trips

If your time is limited and you don’t mind missing out on the authentic sailing experience, then a launch day trip is a good option for exploring the islands. You may feel like a tourist on these trips but you can pack a lot into one day and most of the trips offer excellent snorkelling opportunities.

Awesome Whitsundays
Awesome Whitsundays run good value sailing trips on the Camira, a high-speed sailing catamaran.
Departs Port of Airlie Maritime Terminal
1 day $145–189

Cruise Whitsundays
Cruise Whitsundays operate several day trips to various islands in the Whitsundays. One of their most popular trips is the day trip to Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island although there are also day trips that visit both Hamilton and Whitsunday Islands. Another popular day trip goes to Reefworld, a floating pontoon at Hardy Reef, which includes underwater observation decks, semi-submersible coral viewing vessels, snorkelling and a buffet lunch. One important note about Cruise Whitsundays day trips; these trips are on a passenger ferry as opposed to a sailing boat so it’s not quite the same experience that you get when sailing with other companies.
Departs Port of Airlie Maritime Terminal
Day trip to Whitehaven Beach $195; day trip to Reefworld $230

Ocean Rafting
Ocean Rafting’s day trip is on a large high-speed inflatable raft that visit several islands and includes a guided national park walk and snorkelling on the reef.
Departs Abell Point Marina
Day trip $134

Whitehaven Xpress
Whitehaven Xpress visits Mantaray Bay on Hook Island and includes a barbecue lunch at Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island.
Departs Abell Point Marina
Day trip $175


Apart from pricey resorts or sleeping on a yacht, camping is the main accommodation option in the islands. The Queensland Parks & Wildlife Service runs 21 campgrounds on the islands, but you’ll need to buy a camping permit from the Marine Parks Authority office in Airlie Beach (corner Mandalay Street & Shute Harbour Road, Airlie Beach; tel (07) 4946 7022). Camping permits cost $5.75 per person per night.

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