Always dreamt of white beaches, crystal clear waters and amazing wildlife? Not much compares to the Whitsunday Islands. It’s pricy, but priceless. If you do it right.
Starting off your journey to the Whitsundays
The Whitsundays are a group of 74 islands just east of Proserpine and Airlie Beach. The first, a small town, solely known as the cheaper Whitsunday airport – the latter, a place to accommodate drunk backpackers seeking a cheap bunk bed, or more upscale travelers who prefer the mainland as a hub to explore the islands. Whatever you do, don’t spend more time in Airlie than what it takes for you to sleep. Airlie is to the rest of the islands what Jersey is to Manhattan.
Arlie might also house the most sightseeing tour agents per capita in the world, as everybody you’ll meet will try to put you on a plane, boat, jetski (or actually anything that moves as long as it’s salable), so do your best to separate the wheat from the chaff. As I’m far from being a party animal, I prefer the 1-day sailboat excursion with Southern Cross which covers a visit to Whitehaven Beach and some reef snorkeling. The party seeker would probably choose the overnight option with drinks on a cat or powerboat. A family or group of 6+ will however be much better off with their own sailboat and skipper as it will give you the most freedom, luxury and adventure for your buck.
Not a big tour fan, just looking for an island that has it all?
Fly directly to Hamilton Island and skip the rest. It oozes quality and offers great comfort, and you’ll arrive in style at Whitehaven beach too. Especially with the seaplane. Landing on the most beautiful beach of the world is a cool experience, even for someone who has done it all.
And while Airlie stuffs your body with cheap beer and junk food, Hamilton Island is the complete opposite. A great variety of good, healthy cuisine. And wine, of course. Not too surprising as the entire island is owned by the Oatley family (as in Rosemount Winery). Coca Chu is our top choice for tropical gastro. One Tree Hill for cocktails. And a must-do is Wildlife Hamilton Island where you get to eat your breakfast together with the koalas!
Hamilton Island’s real advantage is their love for sports.
Your exercise is included in your stay. And we’re not talking about using the hotel gym. Catseye beach offers free use of catamarans, kayaks and paddle boards for island guests, which is a privilege for your morning exercise. The avid golfer must pay a visit to neighboring one-of-a-kind Dent Island. The entire island is a golf course! And a stunning one too. The green fee includes transfer to the island and the use of a club car, or a buggy, as the locals say. Dent as well as Hamilton Island is completely engine-free, leaving the electric buggies as the only mean of transportation, except the free shuttle bus.
So where to stay?
Qualia is an all-inclusive resort on top of the island for the honeymooners and the big spenders, but the price tag is too hefty. I stayed at the Palm Bungalows as they offered the most space, good bedding, a terrace, hammock and a parking place where you can charge your buggy.
If you still prefer to stay overnight in Airlie, stay away from the backpacker strip. And always expect to pay small, ridiculous extra charges or prepare yourself for a minor battle with every transaction! Funniest example was when I arrived at my rented apartment in Airlie Beach. The owner wanted 10 extra dollars for the Wi-Fi, saying that ”free wi-fi” doesn’t mean it’s free of charge. It’s just free for everybody to use it.
Private sailing with a skipper, Whitehaven Beach and Hamilton Island Wildlife Park. If you have kids, you will appreciate that kids under 12 stay and eat for free.
Stay away from Daydream Island! You’ll be stranded on an island that has less to offer, and is less beautiful than all the other ones. And wherever you are, be a wise spender.
Best time to come
The weather is good all-year round, but I prefer September or March. Even the race week in August is a good pick.
Much better than the country’s average (Australia can be really terrible, though)
Value for money
Accessibility & transport