Activities - Explore
- Hamilton Island
- Whitsunday Island (Whitehaven Beach)
- Great Barrier Reef
- Dent Island
- Hook Island
Hamilton Island is the most developed and populated Whitsunday island and has its own airport, post office and bank. It is privately owned by the Oatley family, founders of Rosemount Wines in Australia, and boasts some of the most valuable real estate in the country. Despite development, the island remains the central hub for fine accommodation, good restaurant options and getting out to reef areas and Whitehaven Beach (about half and hour by boat, Great Barrier Reef about two hours).
Don't expect a deserted tropical island, Hamilton is more like a small town, and it can get very busy during peak season (September/October and Christmas period). It has a nice community atmosphere with quite a few locals who have been on island for years, but also a huge number of young "transients" who only stay a few months.
The island's populated areas are loosely divided into three main areas: Marina Village where most of the shops, restaurants, the general store and the newsagency are located; the resort side along Catseye Beach; and the northern end where most of the apartments and houses are. None of these areas are more than 5-10 minutes by golf buggy (the main mode of transport) away from each other.
Whitsunday Island (Whitehaven Beach)
Whitsunday Island is the largest island in the archipelago, and home to Whitehaven Beach. It is by far the most recognized of all the Whitsundays landmarks, stretching about 4.5 km and made of fine, brilliant white sandy shoreline. It presents the local image that is used most often in tourism brochures and TV advertising in Australia. The view from the Hill Inlet Lookout on Tongue Point just north of the beach is remarkable, and on a sunny day (most days are), it is nothing short of spectacular. Most day boat trips come here and it’s on most people's "must see" list of things while in the Whitsundays.
Whitehaven Beach faces east towards the open sea, making some boat journeys there very choppy, but the beach itself is sheltered so the water where the sea meets the shore is often crystal clear and makes for perfect swimming. The main attraction of Whitehaven Beach is its pure white silica sand, so sunglasses are essential (seriously!) Different theories about the sand exist, one of the more interesting is that Australia's tectonic plates rubbed together and the silica oozed up from the Earth, before being washed up here. Because of the sand's purity it was almost mined by the American government in the 1960’s. Luckily that did not come to pass and the beach is now protected as a National Park.
The size of the island also means there are dozens and dozens of little coves and inlets where people with yachts or boats can pull in and get away from it all. Some of the boat packages on offer for first time visitors can have the feeling of a troop march from one camera shoot place to the next, so if doing a day-trip, choose your boat company wisely. Well over a hundred people dock here daily on tours, and it is always being voted one of the best beaches in the world, by the people who vote for these things. But between about 4pm and 10am it is entirely deserted apart from the intrepid few who camp overnight (or people who own yachts). For these, there is a pit toilet behind the beach but no running water.
Great Barrier Reef
One on the seven natural wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef is the largest living coral formation in the world, located just off the east coast of Queensland, stretching 2,600 km from northern Queensland to the south. It is home to a spectacular array of marine life and offers awesome diving opportunities. Visiting this reef is an absolute must if you’re in the Whitsundays.
This is a world heritage site and must be taken care of, so when you’re there never drop any rubbish or touch any of the coral or harm any sea creatures. If you see any of the tour operators or fellow visitors doing this, give them an ear-full. You can also take a scenic flight over the reef, and it is quite special to see the blue waters and shapes of the reefs, Heart Reef being a particular highlight. Most of the charter boats listed in the 'Get There' section of this guide have reef tours, or for a range of tours including overnight diving, snorkelling, helicopter flights and cruising check out Australian Explorer.
Just because you're island hopping from tropical location to tropical location does not mean you can't get a day of golf in! The Hamilton Island Golf Club resides on Dent Island, just west of Hamilton Island, in fact it has been known in the past as Hamilton Island West. Currently it's mostly uninhabited national forest with some camping options...and an 18 hole championship golf course! Go online to check the tee off times, they tend to co-ordinate with the ferry docking times. To play nine holes costs $125, 18 holes $185, and the price includes a golf cart and return Hamilton Island transfers.
Hook Island is the second largest in the archipelago. The first maps of the area were drawn incorrectly, and depicted Hook Island in the shape of a... well you can guess! In fact, Hook is shaped something like the Peloponnese in Greece, looking like three downward pointing fingers. Hook is home to a sole small resort on the very tip of the third finger, the Hook Island Wilderness Resort leaving 95% of the island as National Park.
Hook Island's more recent foothold in Whitsundays history was that a local businessman built an underwater coral viewing station here in 1969. Apparently, in order to build The Coral Observatory's foundations, he exploded the coral bed and thousands of dead fish floated to the top. Frustrated at what he had just done he exclaimed, "Struth, I wanted people to see the bloody coral, but I can't get to it without blowing the bastard up!" Today the observatory is distinctly unremarkable. The windows for your "observing" are 30 centimetres wide and fogged up. It does however serve as a pier to the island. Try not to be sold this as a reason to come, because snorkeling is a better option, and the rest of the island is lovely anyway.
Charter a yacht and skipper yourself, or take a cruise and let someone else do the sailing for you, around the 74 islands. See: Get There for boat charters.
With fish abundant in the Whitsundays, it's as simple as casting out your line and reeling in a coral trout, a red emperor or sweetlip. For a more adventurous fishing experience, head out to the Great Barrier Reef on one of the fully equipped game fishing vessels, there you can expect to catch anything from spanish mackerel to queenfish. Try Reel Deal Fishing Charters, they offer a five hour fishing tour for $125 per person.
Many of the islands have some wonderful walking tracks affording panoramic views of the surrounding islands. The 4.5 km return walk to the scenic lookout on Spion Kop on South Molle Island is a pleasant trip, and there are many trails on Hamilton Island. The most popular walk is the track to the Hill Inlet Lookout on Whitsunday Island, just north of Whitehaven Beach, where you can walk over the point to the inlet and see some of the finest views in the Whitsundays, including the vista of the blue-green waters of Hill Inlet itself, and the expanse of pure white sands below.
If you're looking for an adrenaline rush why not see the the Great Barrier Reef by air. Enjoy a scenic flight in a helicopter and gain a birds eye view, or dare to be dazzled by an outer reef adventure onboard a seaplane. If you're looking for more of a rush, tandem skydiving and bungee jumping is also a popular and exhilarating activity. Try Skydiving Airlie Beach or Air Whitsunday for seaplane tours, prices vary but, for example, a seaplane tour of Whitehaven and the Great Barrier Reef is $260 for an adult.
You can parasail out of Airlie Beach, Long Island or Daydream Island with Island Parasail, it’s $70 and quite exhilarating.
Snorkel among some 1500 species of fish and 400 types of coral. The Pinnacles and Manta Ray Bay on Hook Island are some of the best snorkel sites (good dive sites too), and also Cataran Bay on Border Island which has very colourful coral accessible at low tide. You can rent snorkel, mask and fins from the charter boats or resorts, but most have them for free.
There are many jaw-droppingly pretty dive sites around the Islands. On Hook Island there is Maureen’s Cove, allowing for shallow diving around ledges and caves, on Hayman Island is Blue Pearl Bay with a 15m coral reef wall and on North Molle Island is Hannah Point which is popular for night dives. If you’re interested in learning to dive try the Whitsunday Dive Centre which runs dive and snorkel tours and a dive school out of Airlie Beach. And remember, the awesome experience of diving the Great Barrier Reef is just a short boat ride away!
The Outrigger Cup
Outrigging is a Hawaiian sport using canoes with one "outrigger arm" to balance the boat on the ocean. During a week in June or July each year, the Outrigger Cup action is mostly centred on Catseye Beach (on the resort side of Hamilton Island) with one, two and six person canoes competing over days in various events including short sprints and longer marathons. The most difficult of these is the Hamilton Cup Marathon where the paddlers navigate the entirety of Hamilton Island. For the fitter crews this takes about three hours - that's hard paddling! The atmosphere is festive, the competition fierce and well known Australian iron woman Lisa Curry-Kenny is a regular, and fierce, competitor. Her Noosa team often wins in the women's divisions!
Hamilton Island Race Week
Hamilton Island Race Week is held in August and sees hundreds of competing vesels gather, from 30-foot rented boats to billion dollar super yachts, for a serious week of racing. Famous yachts that regularly compete include Skandia, Alfa Romeo and one of the Wild Oats yachts, owned by the island's owner Bob Oatley. Various classes of racing range from cruising division (despite the name some crews in this division are very competitive!) to IRC divisions for the yachting professionals.
Race Week is when the island really comes alive with hundreds of sailors filling the marina and hotels. You’ll see the bustle of morning crews getting ready to race, the colourful spinnaker starts (on the last day various tourist boat operators take their vessels out with guests to watch the starts) and the hardworking sunburnt sailors coming into the marina after a solid days racing to crack open a beer, put some music on and then head to the Marina Tavern for some equally hard "relaxing".
The night life is almost as important as the day's racing! Many Australian entertainers, such as Jimmy Barnes, have regularly performed during Race Week and there is live music every night from various performers. By far the most anticipated highlight is the Whitehaven Beach Party - no-one wants to miss it! Only two divisions race over to Whitehaven but all the yachts go, along with the tour boats and ferries and barges. Bars and barbeques are set up on the beach and everyone plays beach cricket, throws a frisbee or a footy, plays volleyball and generally mucks around. Footwear is not required, but bikinis or boardshorts, hat and sunnies essential. Some local girls plan their bikini outfit well in advance!
Tours are plentiful in and around the Whitsundays, and can considerably enhance your enjoyment of the islands, as well as add some bite to your holiday adventures. The following attraction passes, tours and cruises can help you get the most out of your stay, and experience something a little different on the way. Enjoy!
- Whitsunday Islands Hopper Pass Explore at your leisure with a one-day ferry ticket that allows you to hop on and hop off as many times as you like between Airlie Beach, Daydream Island Resort and Long Island Resort for $79.
- Whitehaven Beach Day Cruises A large, high-speed and air-conditioned catamaran will whisk you away to Whitehaven for an afternoon in the sun for $115 per person including lunch.
- Whitsunday Crocodile Safari A day tour departing Airlie Beach that incorporates a river cruise along the Proserpine River sighting wild crocodiles and an open-air wagon tour through wetlands. It's full guided and includes lunch for $120 per person.
- Whitsunday Islands and Whitehaven Beach Sailing Adventure A day-tour by sailing catamaran to Whitehaven Beach from Airlie Beach or Daydream Island for $175 per person including meals and hotel transfers. Good value and a lot of fun!
- Great Barrier Reef Day Cruise to Reefworld A day cruise out to Reefworld, a floating dock on Hardy Reef where you can dive, snorkel and sunbake to your hearts content, or just check out the underwater observatory. It departs Airlie Beach or Hamilton Island and includes lunch, snorkeling gear and hotel transfers for $213 per person.
- Whitsunday Islands Luxury Cruise A fancy yacht trip where you'll dine wonderfully, explore thoroughly and have losts to do! It starts at $1,000 for two days including meals, departing Airlie Beach. Feel like a treat?!