How to island hop your way around the Whitsundays
When you’re visiting a destination with 74 islands, why settle for only visiting one? Island-hop the Whitsundays instead and see why this destination delivers its promise as the heart of the Great Barrier Reef.
The quantity of islands makes choosing where to go difficult, but it’s the quality of the island escapes that makes it downright impossible to settle on just one.
Step 1: Choose how you’re going to get around
When planning to visit an island wonderland, it makes sense that you’ll need a boat to get around.
Unlike anywhere else in the world, you won’t even need a licence to skipper your own adventure. Insurance paperwork and a half-day training session is all that stands between you and an island-hopping adventure.
For those more comfortable in the passenger seat, Cruise Whitsundays can also take care of your transfers with daily services between Shute Harbour, Hamilton Island Marina and Daydream Island, along with the airports too.
Of course, if you’ve come to the Whitsundays wanting the A-list treatment, Great Barrier Reef helicopters can give your island adventure wings.
Step 2: Choose where you want to go
The Whitsundays certainly delivers on its tagline with 74 Island Wonders to choose from, so you’ll want to be selective in where you want to go. We’ve done the leg work to bring you these recommendations:
THE WHITSUNDAY ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK
This stretch of beach is no stranger to the spotlight. It has a string of trophies and awards to its name including the number one beach in Australia, and the number one beach in the South Pacific in the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards.
It’s unlike the other beaches you’ll find in this list, in that its beach is made entirely of pure-white silica sand – AKA sand so pure you can actually polish your diamonds on it.
When you’re not picnicking on Whitehaven’s white sandy shores or paddling in the bright blue shallows, take a stroll to the Whitehaven Beach lookout (approx. 970m) for views over this island playground.
Moor your boat, come by ferry transfer or chopper in and discover the original Whitsunday Island.
When it comes to Queensland’s islands, Hamilton Island has access on its side. Seriously, you can fly directly to it from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne or Cairns, putting just a few episodes of Modern Family between you and this destination that incidentally also featured in that hit television show.
It’s no surprise to find a commercial airport here. Hamilton Island is the biggest island in the Whitsundays suite with 740 hectares for you to roam – most likely by golf buggy.
It’s also made up of four resorts, 13 restaurants and four pools which make it an activity playground, even if just for a day trip.
Set your sights on Hamilton Island for the day if you want to experience the dining scene on the island, whether its something casual at Coca Chu or a more romantic, four course degustation at Bommie.
No matter your resort of choice, you’ll have access to the Hamilton Island activities desk which will give you an access-all-areas pass to the Great Barrier Reef and water sports hire for use on Hamilton’s own Catseye Beach.
Don’t let its name mislead you, there’s no actual camping to be done at Camp Island. Surprise!
You’ll find this island off the coast of Bowen on the Whitsunday Coast, and you’ll be able to rent the whole thing for yourself, rockstar-style.
Forget tents. On Camp Island there are four bungalows which lead onto a large guest house, perfect for groups wanting an experience island-side that won’t blow the budget.
You can even leave your meal plans at home and dial up the experience by booking a personal chef.
Getting there is easy. BYOB (that’s bring your own boat), join a barge transfer from Elliot River, or get to the chopper with Great Barrier Reef Helicopters.
Put the invitation out, gather your friends and make plans with this guide to Camp Island.
It’s safe to call Daydream Island the ultimate comeback island.
After ex-tropical cyclone Debbie flattened the resort in 2017, the team set to work to rebuild a completely new resort experience. And a new resort they’ve achieved, following a $100-million renovation.
Daydream Island re-opened its doors in January 2019, and it’s every bit as good as the original – bringing the best elements of the former resort (Living Reef) into the new design.
On the accommodation front, there’s 277 rooms to choose from. They cater for everyone from loved-up couples wanting to sink cocktails and escape the outside world to families needing inter-connecting rooms and suites.
Most guests don’t end up spending much time inside though, with a pool (complete with swim-up bar and burger cafe) that winds through the resort, The Living Reef which is a free-form coral lagoon, and Daydream’s three new restaurants on site.
Getting there is easy with Cruise Whitsundays operating a 30-minute ferry transfer to Daydream from Hamilton Island and 30-minute ferry from the mainland.
Langford Island might have been put on the map in Lara Bingle’s “Where the bloody hell are you?” tourism campaign, but day trippers prove this island in the Whitsundays passage is worth a permanent spot on the map.
You’ll want to bring a tide guide with you, as parts of this island dip below the waterline in high tide.
When you’re not exploring its short, 300m walk through the native vegetation, take a dip in the Whitsundays’ world-famous turquoise waters that surround this island.
If you’re here during the warmer months, a stinger suit is recommended if you’re planning a dip around any of the islands. For more tips like this, don’t forget to check out our ultimate guide to the Whitsundays.
You’ll feel a bit like Captain Hook if you anchor your own boat at Hook Island – this island is one for the adventurers.
Hook Island is the home of Nara Inlet as well as the Ngaro Aboriginal cultural site, which celebrates the original custodians of the Whitsundays land.
You’ll find interactive displays set in ancient caves, and rock wall paintings that share a 9000-year-old history of the Ngaro people.
Unless you plan to stay the night on your own boat, it’s camping-only on this island. You’ll find the campsite on the eastern side of the island, accessible at mid to high tide and in a shallow watercraft.
What Hook Island might lack in accessibility, it makes up for in uninterrupted views, looking out over Crayfish Beach.
Did we mention a maximum of 12 people only are able to camp at any one time here? Exclusive much?
Step 3: Plan your provisions
Forget the game “what three condiments would I pack if I was stranded on a deserted island?” It’s easy to pre-plan your island-hopping catering.
Most of the islands in this list have onsite restaurants (apart from Whitsunday Island and Hook Island). So, you can park any ideas of having to trade provisions like they do on Survivor.
Captaining your own adventure? You’ll want to stock up with supplies, or let the pros like Whitsundays Provisioning take care of the meals for you.
From pre-prepared platters all the way through to complete three-meal-a-day packages, the team will look after all your food and drink needs. They’ll even deliver your supplies direct to the boat ramp, so you’re always topped up.
Self-catering? Woolworths Airlie Beach is right in the middle of town, just a short drive from the Port of Airlie.
Shopping local is a particularly good idea in the Whitsundays. Did you know this region is the largest winter growing region in Australia, contributing more than $450-million-a-year to Australia’s produce industry? Reason enough to wait for the Whitsundays to stock up indeed.