Great Whitehaven Beach Run 2019

The best events on the Great Barrier Reef happening in 2020

Each year, two million people make the trip to Queensland, all in the name of visiting the Great Barrier Reef and the events that surround it. Are you going to be one of them?

Whether you’re looking to challenge yourself, get your sea legs or just wanting to party, here are the Great Barrier Reef events that need to be on your radar in 2020.


If you’re looking to discover The Whitsundays, make no mistake, you need to do one, two or all of these events.

New to the Whitsundays? Get the lowdown on everything you need to know before you go.

1. Whitsundays Clipper Carnival

Whitsunday Clipper Carnival 2018
When: 9-11 January 2020

Where: Airlie Beach

Why go? Sail into the new year in style at the final Australian leg of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race at the Whitsundays Clipper Race. The action will take place on the pellucid waters off Airlie Beach and see 12 racing yachts set their sights (and sails) on the finish line. Make sure you nab yourself a seat at the table for the long lunch on the iconic Whitehaven Beach and join the celebrations at the welcome party.

2. Hamilton Island Hilly Marathon

When: 3 May 2020

Where: Hamilton Island

Why go? If getting fit and healthy was your New Year’s resolution (May still counts as the new year, surely), why not challenge yourself to a marathon on a tropical island? Hamilton Island is best known as the place to relax, but it’s also the perfect destination to push yourself in paradise. The Hamilton Island Hilly Marathon includes a diverse terrain 21km route, with up and downhill sections and focus-distracting views.

3. Great Whitehaven Beach Run

Great Whitehaven Beach Run 2019
When: 28 June 2020

Where: Hamilton Island

Why go? You won’t find a better-looking run in the world than the Great Whitehaven Beach Run. Choose from a half marathon, 10km or 5km run along the silica sands of Whitehaven Beach.

4. Great Barrier Reef Festival

When: 30 July – 2 August 2020

Where: Airlie Beach

Why go? Visting the heart of the Great Barrier Reef is worth spending four days in celebration, right?  Say hello to the Whitsunday Reef Festival. Airlie’s famous Main Street closes for the weekend to host two massive street parties featuring live entertainment, plus the region’s warm winter days provide a feel-good backdrop to special events like the popular Comedy Gala and Frocktails fashion show.

5. Airlie Beach Race Week Festival of Sailing

Sailing | Free things to do Airlie Beach Whitsundays
When: 6-13 August 2020

Where: Airlie Beach

Why go? Every week of the year, Airlie Beach has its friendly, fun-in-the-sun vibes down pat, but during Airlie Beach Race Week they’re turned way up. This colourful fiesta of sailing all day and partying, with its non-stop entertainment program including headline musical acts, long leisurely lunches, and an overflowing social calendar, will have you smiling all week long.

6. Hamilton Island Race Week

When: 15-22 August 2020

Where: Hamilton Island

Why go? Directly after Airlie Beach Race Week, head to Hamilton Island for Hamilton Island Race Week for more sailing action with a foodie and fashion edge. Experience all the action aboard a luxury yacht or from the Yacht Club champagne bar, and take the chance to explore this immaculate island and its fringing reef.

7. Hamilton Island Triathlon

When: November 2020

Where: Hamilton Island

Why go? Take on the ultimate test of endurance in the ultimate location at the Hamilton Island Triathlon. This event rewards the body, mind and soul, with its 750-metre swim in Catseye Bay, a 20-kilometre ride around the island and airport runway, and five-kilometre run through the marina and resort side.

8. Whitehaven Beach Ocean Swim

When: November 2020

Where: Hamilton Island

Why go? Swimming in a pool? Been there, done that. If you crave a different kind of challenge, it’s time to make a splash at the Whitehaven Beach Ocean Swim. Nestled in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, this annual 2km and 750m ocean swim meet, plus a fun 350m junior swim for children 13 years and under, is set to become as iconic as its location.

9. Airlie Beach Music Festival

Airlie Beach Music Festival 2018
When: November 2020

Where: Airlie Beach

Why go? What’s better than a tropical getaway? One where you also get to see your favourite band play live. Do both at the Airlie Beach Festival of Music where over 200 musicians play over 17 stages. Your own band can even get in on the action at the Battle of the Bands, where the winners are treated to four nights’ free accommodation, VIP main tent passes and your chance to play live at the festival.

Cairns and surrounds

With the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics Rainforest on its doorstep, it’s safe to say a visit to Cairns is always eventful.

Don’t know where to start when visiting Cairns? Check out our guide.

10. Reef to Reef

When: 6-9 August 2020

Where: Port Douglas

Why go? As one of Australia’s newest mountain biking stage races, Reef to Reef is less of an endurance slog and more of an exhilarating adventure on two wheels. Starting in Cairns and finishing four days later in Port Douglas, the terrain is challenging without being too technical for the average rider. There are loads of flowing singletrack trails through tropical rainforests that will have you drooling over your handlebars in delight.

11. Cairns Indigenous Art Fair

Cairns Indigenous Art Fair 2018
When: 10-12 July 2020

Where: Cairns

Why go? In 2020, the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair will celebrate its 11th anniversary. Aiming to bring visual and performance artists of Torres Strait and Aboriginal heritage to wider audience acclaim, the festival is a striking example of the power of storytelling in all forms, from one of the world’s oldest cultures. At CIAF, rich Indigenous culture is brought to life through colours and visual arts, depicting the diversity and beauty of Queensland’s landscapes, from the reef to the rainforests and mountains.