The must-visit islands of the Whitsundays

Credit: Tourism and Events, Queensland

Joanne Brookfield

Posted December 23, 2021

One of Australia’s most iconic beaches is Whitehaven Beach with its pure white silica sand among the purest anywhere in the world, and vibrant turquoise water calming caressing the pristine shoreline.

While it’s one of the defining images of the Whitsunday Islands, it’s not the only must-see destination among the 74 islands that make up this spectacular archipelago.

Here’s some of the best ways to have an idyllic tropical holiday there and better yet, RACV Members can enjoy special offers and discounts at local attractions, too.

Whitehaven Beach

The Whitsundays are located along Queensland’s central coast, just over 1,100km north of Brisbane and 55 kilometres out into the Coral Sea.

The largest island is Whitsunday Island, home to the seven kilometres of Whitehaven Beach. Despite almost year-round sunshine, the silica composition of the sand, amazingly, remains cool to touch for bare feet. The water, however, is warm.

When the tide changes, it famously causes the sand to swirl and ripple, turning Hill Inlet at the north end into a giant natural canvas of picturesque patterns which can be viewed from Tongue Point lookout.

Other activities include swimming, snorkelling, kayaking and guided walks. For the more adventurous, you can jet ski, enjoy a Thundercat speedboat tour or even skydive.

There’s plenty of ways to get there, too, from scenic helicopter flights that land on the beach, to yachts and ferries, many of which depart from Airlie Beach. All of these experiences can be booked here.

Hamilton Island

The largest inhabited island within the Whitsundays, Hamilton Island is not only a quintessential tropical island paradise in its own right, but the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and an ideal base from which to further explore the region via seaplanes, helicopters or yachts.

The largely car-free island (there's a shuttle bus and golf buggies to hire instead) is also home to classic Aussie wildlife, which you may catch a glimpse of on the many walking and hiking trails across the island.

Hamilton Island also has plenty of accommodation and activity options. To unwind, relax by a pool, indulge in spa treatments, dine at bars and restaurants or play a full 18 holes at Hamilton Island Golf Club.

Catseye Beach, a cove on the resort side of the island fringed by palm trees, has catamarans, paddleboards, windsurfers, kayaks and snorkelling equipment available for hire. Or combine a bit of it all with a holiday package.


Hamilton Island. Image: Tourism and Events, Queensland
Whitehaven Beach. Image: Tourism and Events, Queensland

The Heart Reef

When you think of the Great Barrier Reef, chances are you picture a blue heart, rimmed with grey, against a backdrop of turquoise.

As equally iconic as Whitehaven, and not too far from it, is the Heart Reef, a collection of coral that has, to the delight of romantics everywhere, naturally formed into the shape of a heart.

Given its popularity with sightseers, it’s protected, so you can’t dive or snorkel there. However, it’s best viewed from above anyway.

Scenic flights, on helicopters, light planes or sea planes, depart from Airlie Beach, Whitsunday Coast Airport and Hamilton and Daydream Islands, so you can have your heart sing as you soar above this truly unique landmark.

Hardy Reef

Heart Reef is nestled within a lagoon that’s part of the bigger Hardy Reef, where you can get in the water with the incredible coral and amazing marine life and stay overnight.

Moored 39 nautical miles from the mainland, the recently refurbished Reefworld is a pontoon that provides ways to experience the reef from a different angle.

Overnight cruise packages allow you to snorkel, dive and swim, or if you’d prefer to stay dry, there’s also semi-sub rides and an underwater observatory to view the aquatic action that way.

Reefworld is also home to the reef’s first underwater hotel. Their ‘Reefsuites’ are located below sea level with massive windows to observe dazzling marine life.

On the top deck, the ‘Reefsleep’ option allows you to sleep under the stars instead, with views of nothing but infinite sea and an entire galaxy above. RACV Members can book here.

Reefworld Pontoon. Image: Tourism and Events, Queensland
Airlie Beach. Image: Tourism and Events, Queensland

Airlie Beach

Your mainland base for all things Whitsundays is Airlie Beach, given the multitude of day trips and tour packages depart from here.

With its own palm-lined beaches and small population, it has a relaxed coastal village feel, with Airlie Beach Lagoon a highlight.

This constructed swimming spot, free to the public, provides almost an acre of safe swimming without any sea creatures brushing up against you. It’s also patrolled by lifeguards, making it ideal for all ages to enjoy.

RACV Members save more on amazing travel experiences.
Discover more →

  • Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney
    New South Wales

    What to do in Sydney on a long weekend

    Sydney, colloquially known as the Harbour City, certainly does have something special about it. From the glittery surrounds of the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge to the village peninsula of Balmain, there's something for everyone.
  • Geelong foreshore with sun shining

    What to do in Geelong and the Bellarine

    Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula have long flown under the radar as a holiday destination, but that’s quickly changing as savvy travelers are now discovering the endless gems the area has to offer.