30 Aug Whitsunday Islands – Explore Australia’s Stunning Archipelago With Your Family
Have you ever been to the Whitsunday Islands off the north coast of Queensland, Australia? Have you seen pictures of glorious Whitehaven Beach on the net and dreamed you could be there? Think of pristine beaches, glistening white sand and crystal blue water?
I know I have. The Whitsunday Islands are known all over the world to be an extraordinarily beautiful spot. Whitehaven Beach unquestionably is one of the most stunning beaches in the world. It’s certainly earned its place on every bucket list of Australia’s East Coast, as well as Fraser Island and Daintree Rainforest. And since kids love beaches too, this trip was kind of a no – brainer.
The Not-So-Dry Facts
To give you an impression, the Whitsunday Islands are a total of 74 islands, mostly uninhabited. They are part of the Cumberland Islands and cumulate to 4 groups: Whitsundays, Lindeman, Molle and Northern Islands groups. Bursting with rainforest, white beaches and hiking trails, their proximity to the Great Barrier Reef also makes them your first opportunity to snorkel or dive at one of the smaller, fringe reefs when you‘re coming up from the south of the country.
Back when the earth was still shaking a lot more, in the age of supercontinent Gondwana, the area of the Whitsundays was still part of the Australian mainland, albeit one one full of active volcanoes. It wasn’t until about 10.000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age, that snow and ice from the melting glaciers submerged the mountains that would eventually become the Whitsunday Islands, with only their summits visible today.. Another fascinating true tale to share with the kids!
Whitsunday Islands were named by James Cook, who in another excellent example of colonial originality, passed the islands on Whit Sunday in the year of 1770. Not only have the oldest traces of aboriginal life been found here, dating back over 9000 years, but the Whitsundays were also the location of the first recorded sighting of the aboriginal people around here. Still, it wasn‘t until the 1920s that the islands opened for leisure and holiday accomodation. Today, the Whitsunday Islands are a true tourist magnet.
There was no question we would have to see the Whitsunday Islands on our first trip to Australia. However, we were facing a few „problems“: How do we choose which islands to visit? Unless you’re a millionaire oligarch or own your own yacht (we’d left ours at home), you won’t have the money to visit them all.
- Where do we find the famous Whitehaven Beach?
- Should we stay overnight?
- If yes, should we stay in a resort or on a campsite?
I’ll do my best to give you a (highly subjective) answer to those questions.
Which One of the Whitsunday Islands is the Best to Visit with Kids? And Where is Whitehaven Beach Anyways?
Luckily, you can whittle the most visitable islands down to seven, which definitely makes things a little more manageable. To start, you need to make your way to one of the closest seaside towns, Shute Harbour or Airlie Beach. Find yourself a ferry, boat, helicopter or plane off the mainland. Whichever one you choose, don’t leave your wallet at home; I wouldn’t call any of them a budget option.. Traveling between the islands also appears to be a bit of a financial headache, with a variety of pricey options available for each.
This is the largest one of the islands and got its name right from James Cook, who discovered it on his journey through the Whitsunday passage. You can reach this island by boat (private tour, no ferry), kayak or by waterplane. Although it is the most famous one of the islands since it’s home to magnificent Whitehaven Beach, it remains almost untouched by humans. It’s an uninhabited island. All there is are tons of hiking trails, stunning beaches, beautiful bays, and Hill Inlet. Still you can spend a night or two on the island, since there are 11 basic camping sites (nor running water, no no mobile phone coverage mostly, facilities consist of hybrid toilets and picnic tables). Need a permit for car and camping, though.
The largest inhabitet island, with an own regular airport and ferry service from the mainland is one of the most visited islands of the Whitsundays. There are wide offers for tourists and accomodation from 3-star-bungalows to an award winning (but child-free) resort. It’s supposed to be one of the best hotels of all of Australia, as I have heard. Everey August, there is a famous sailing race week on Hamilton Island. No camping possible here.
This luxury island is the closest of the Whitsunday Islands to the outer Great Barrier Reef. Also known as honeymoon island, it is a luxurious secret hideaway under coconut palmtrees and romantic beaches. There is a charming spruce forest and many species of animals you can meet: seaturtles, dolphins and humpback whales (from June to September). Enjoy some of the best snorkeling opportunities in the northern fringing reef here (Blue Pearl Bay)! Its resort offers a child and teen club! Rooms are available from AUS 700 upwards! Get there by waterplane, helicopter or resort-owned ferry (AUD 210/adult and 105/child) from Airlie Beach. You might have expected it: no camping here
The Other Islands
Besides Hamilton, Daydream Island and South Molle Island are chock full of family-friendly activities, ranging from minigolf and tennis to open air aquariams and cinemas – along with almost any watersport you can think of. Hook Island (just like Hayman Island) is a go-to spots for honeymooners, and for snorkelling and diving enthusiasts, with fish fanatics flocking to the secret hideaways seeking seaturtles, dolphins and even humpback whales. Lastly, we have Lindeman Island. Once a jewel in the Club Med crown of resorts, but currently undergoing substantial redevelopment with a tentative 2021 reopening date.
Stay Overnight? If Yes, Resort or Campsite?
Hamilton, Hayman, Daydream and South Molle all offer resort options, ranging from the luxurious to the lame, and I would have loved to stay at one. Unfortunately prices start around AUD 200 per night for an adult and AUD 150 for children – if they were allowed at all – which starts to rack up when including transport, food and activities!
Our next best option was staying at one of the „remote campgrounds“, found on Whitsunday, South Molle, Hook or Lindeman. Well, it was until I learned what „remote camping“ means:
- You have to bring your tent. Okay. There went my dream of spending a remote night under the stars on the Whitsundays. Since we didn’t have a tent, sleeping bags or mats, spending the night outside wasn’t an option.
- None of the islands have fresh water, so we would have to bring our own. Officials recommend five litres per person, per day.
- Non-chemical toilets, which would have been fine for us, but maybe not everyone’s cup of tea.
- Bring lots of vinegar?! Unfortunately not for fish and chips, but the most effective way to treat the stings of some of the local jellyfish. And, being Australia, these weren’t the kind that tickle. Well that’s swimming out.
We eventually settled on a one-day-trip to Whitsunday Island, including Whitehaven Beach and a stop for snorkeling.
The day-trip we chose because we weren‘t able to go camping (with our nonexistent tent and lack of various other necessities). Additionally, we didn’t want to sell everything we owned to pay for on an overnight stay in a resort.
Since Whitehaven Beach and snorkeling were at the top of our bucket list, Whitsunday Island was an obvious choice. There are tours that offer a stopover on Hamilton Island too, but that would have been too much of a schedule to stick to, so we decided one island a day would be enough.
Our Cruise Away to Whitsunday Island
Gone Sailing – But Can We Do It on a Budget?
Having been on many ferries and commercial motorboats in the last couple of weeks, this time we wanted to treat ourselves a little to a decent sailing cruise. After some quick research, we decided on Camira, the catamaran of cruisewhitsundays.com. It came in at a reasonable AUD 200 per adult and AUD 100 for the kids. Camira operates from Airlie Beach and to my knowledge, cruisewhitsundays.com offer the widest range of tours including ferry and sailing trips. It was definitely the best choice we could make!
The catamaran is purple, yes. Why? I have no idea.. Nevertheless it’s spectacular, with several spacious decks. It’s also one of the fastest commercial sailing catamarans in the world, according to their website.
I wasn’t sure if a whole day cruise (from 8 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.) would be okay for the kids, since the ride to Whitehaven Beach alone takes more than 2.5 hours from Airlie Beach. But both children were fine all day long, and the short periods of boredom were perfectly managed by the crew. They would weave wristbands for the kids or assign us the challenge to get out of a rope which a crew member had used to tie two people together. Not an easy one! Everybody had fun guessing the right way, especially the kids. And when in doubt, a couple of rounds of rock-paper-scissors always manages to kill some time!
The Camira crew offered us excellent quality food (compared to other day-tour operators) with fresh fruit and salads accompanying a lovely „ BBQ–on-the-boat“ lunch. Cookies and cake were served for morning and afternoon tea. And – importantly – they have the best coffee I’ve ever had on a boat so far. As well as the license to serve alcoholic beverages, they definitely had us sustained and refreshed. And it was all included in the price..
It didn’t take long, and I felt almost like I was at home and the boat was mine.
I found myself sitting on the front deck in the afternoon sun, wind in my hair and a glass of fine white wine in my hand; enjoying my little bit of luxury. My family were sitting next to me, loving the trip as much as I was. Minus the wine.
If you want to take a unique trip to the Whitsunday Islands without breaking the bank, I’d definitely recommend checking out the Camira. You can’t go wrong here!
Our Whitsunday Island One-Day-Itinerary
Our first stop was the famous Hill Inlet lookout on Whitsunday Island. When you’re wondering where all the stunning pictures of Whitehaven Beach are taken, with its white silica sands and pristine waters in every shade of blue, this is it.
It’s only a short 10-minute stroll from the small shingle shore where the crew drop you off. With an average of 350 visitors a day, prepare for the masses of people accompanying you on your way up. Thankfully our guides were superb at keeping the group together without being pushy. We met up at the lookout, everyone took some pictures and one of the guides plied us with interesting facts about the flora and aboriginal life in former times. At least I assumed that’s what he was saying. With the kids running around like crazy and basically just being loud, I couldn’t really hear a word. But I‘m sure it was informative and witty.
Soon we were wandering down the hill to approach the one and only, Whitehaven Beach. The experience really was breathtaking! Tons of white sparkling sand, blue skies and blue waters and, thanks to the length of the beach – 8km – all of the people were distributed along the shore, leaving everyone their own slice of paradise.
When you’re walking along the beach, you‘ll have the feeling you are almost by yourself – at least in the months of fall and winter, I guess. There‘s even enough space to take pictures that look like you’re alone on your own secret beach.
Whitehaven Beach is the whitest, cleanest beach I have ever seen. Apart from the tourists and a couple of information signs, there is no trace of human impact. It must a whole lot of work to keep it that way!
Everything that could possibly harm nature is prohibited here, so leave cigarettes and dogs at home. Visitor numbers are limited by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority; the reason you aren‘t allowed to explore Whitsunday Island on your own (you must register with a tour guide) and why the duration of your stay at the beach is limited to about 1.5 hours.
We spent our time walking around, having a picnic (of course taking our rubbish back with us) and climbing up and down the huge old tree that has probably been washed up on the shore.
Although the crew had provided us with stinger suits and it wasn’t jellyfish season, we avoided the water since it was just not warm enough.
After lunch we went to a secluded snorkeling spot at the fringing reef, where everybody could try their luck in spotting a sea turtle or colorful fish. We saw a few, but in honesty, it wasn‘t an extraordinary experience. It got pretty cold too, even with the neoprene wetsuit.
The ride back was completely relaxed. The crew continued to joke around and employ their infectious sense of humor while we enjoyed our glass of wine and beer, watching the sun go down as we reached the harbour.
We had a great day (maybe except for the moment our drone crashed onto the rocks on Whitehaven Beach), and it was a great tour thanks to the funniest crew ever. They were not only knowledgable, but really knew how to keep us entertained! They made us, strangers, feel much more at home with the vessel and with our fellow travelers! This definitely was the best cruise on our whole trip up the Australian east coast!
Finally: Is a Trip to the Whitsunday Islands Really Worth It?
If you haven’t been to the South Seas or the Maldives, Whitehaven Beach will be THE most beautiful beach you have ever seen. The Whitsundays are stunning, no question. Since we had spent part of our honeymoon on the Maldives (back in 2011) we might have been a little less impressed. Still, it’s a picture perfect spot and, unlike other places we have visited, the dream does live up to reality here! We loved the clean wide open beach, the adorable views from Hill Inlet and the untouched nature.
So yes, they definitely are worth the visit!
The Whitsunday Islands truly are a one-of-a-kind natural attraction and the Aussies go out of their way to preserve them. If you happen to come here with your family, be sure not to miss it. Whitehaven Beach defintitely ranks up there among the most stunning beaches in the world. In fact, it’s not only known as one of the most beautiful, but has also been recognized as the cleanest and the most eco-friendly in all of Australia.
Should you ever think of splashing out on a scenic flight: do it here – it must be worth it! What sight can beat the Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef from up above?
Have you been to the Whitsunday Islands already? What’s your favorite one and how was your experience? Please let us know in the comments, we’re always glad to hear from you!