Luncheon Bay

8 ways to do the Great Barrier Reef in The Whitsundays

Welcome to The Whitsundays: a cluster of 74 tropical islands positioned smack bang in the middle of Queensland’s iconic Great Barrier Reef.

This coral-fringed island archipelago is world-famous for diving, snorkelling and sailing – but with so much reef to cover, you might be wondering where to start.

From sailing the high seas on an eco-friendly tall ship to kayaking through World Heritage-listed marine park, here are eight ways to do the Great Barrier Reef, Whitsundays style.

1. Take a snorkel cruise

Snorkel Cruise

With the fringing reefs and tranquil bays of Langford Island, Hook Island and Border Island all easily accessible by boat, an adventure sailing cruise to explore the region’s snorkelling hot spots deserves to be top of your list.

From Airlie Beach on the mainland, hop aboard the historic Derwent Hunter Tall Ship for a day trip with Eco Tall Ship Adventures, or charter your own private yacht for the day with Airlie Beach Day Sailing.  High speed vessels more your style?  Snap up a spot on GSL Marine’s Whitsunday Island Adventure Tour or Ocean Rafting’s action-packed Northern Exposure Tour for a day of wildlife-spotting and snorkelling on The Whitsundays’ ‘wild side’.

For a more immersive experience, pack your toothbrush and your sense of adventure and sign up to a 2 or 3 day sailing and snorkelling tour. Check out the options offered by Explore Whitsundays, Wings Whitsunday Adventures, and Red Cat Adventures.

2. Soar over the world-famous Heart Reef

Fly over Heart Reef

The best way to see this Great Barrier Reef wonder is at 150m above sea level, from the seat of your private charter plane.

Take to the skies with Air Whitsunday Seaplanes or GSL Aviation and treat yourself to a scenic flight over this naturally formed reef in the shape of a heart.  Stop off for a picnic lunch on a deserted beach, or paddle in a private coral lagoon before winging your way back to shore just in time for dinner.  (Here’s a guide to the Whitsundays’ best local seafood joints to save you some work).

3. Sleep on the reef


Ever wondered what it would be like to fall asleep in the middle of the ocean? With Reefsleep –  a unique overnight stay on the Reefworld pontoon, 40 nautical miles from shore – you can do exactly that. Snorkel and dive your way around Hardy Reef by day before bedding down under a blanket of twinkling stars by night.

Prefer a little more luxury? Head below deck to rest your head in the Great Barrier Reef’s first underwater hotel room. Reefsuites is a high end, all-inclusive experience that can only be enjoyed by a handful of travellers at a time. Each room features floor-to-ceiling glass windows with underwater views so spectacular that sleep will be the last thing on your mind.

Reefworld pontoon experiences are run by Cruise Whitsundays, an Advanced Eco-Certified Tour Operator who are all about conserving the Reef for future generations and educating visitors on its importance. Check out this post for more eco-friendly things to do on the Great Barrier Reef.

4. Explore the Reef by sea kayak

Kayak the Whitsundays

Prefer to keep your carbon footprint to the bare minimum? Leave no trace as you wind your way through the Whitsundays’ fringing reefs on your very own sea kayak.

Go turtle-spotting at White Rock Reef with Salty Dog Sea Kayaking’s half day tour, departing from Shute Harbour on the mainland, or make a day of it and kayak on to Sandy Bay at South Molle Island for extra beach and snorkel time.

5. Become a certified scuba diver

Diving on the Great Barrier Reef

Whether you’ve dived before or you’re a complete beginner, there’s no shortage of diving tours to choose from in The Whitsundays. But if you’ve caught the bug and want to spend more than an hour or two underwater, skip the tours and sign up for an open water dive course.

Getting PADI-certified is a commitment, but it’s well worth it: expect two of your four days of training to be spent exploring the Whitsundays’ fringing reef, where you’ll share the water with the likes of sea turtles, angelfish and maori wrasse. At over 2m long and weighing in at around 190kgs, they’re hard to miss.

6. Take the wheel on a bareboating adventure

Sailing Whitsundays

If you know your port from your starboard, leave the tours to the amateurs and skipper your own charter boat. There’s no captain or crew required: it’s just you and your crew adventuring on the open seas.

Go where the mood takes you as you sail from island to island, choosing your next destination and anchorage as you go. Think of it as an all-inclusive hotel on water:  sleep, eat and cook on board, then spend your days snorkelling, picnicking, fishing and exploring the islands at your own pace.

You don’t need a boat license – just expect to be schooled in the basics before you set out. Talk to the folks at Go Bareboating, Whitsunday Escape, Cumberland Charter Yachts or Queensland Yacht Charters to find out what’s involved.

7. Ride a jet-ski through tropical waters

Jetski Whitsundays

Pick up the pace on an eco-adventure through world heritage-listed Marine Park and the waterways of South Molle and Daydream Islands.

Expect to spot native birds, dugongs and even dolphins as you cruise along the Airlie Beach coastline and through the heart of the Whitsundays, led by your eco-certified guide from Whitsunday Jetski Tours.

8. Skydive over the reef

Skydive Airlie Beach

Photo by Skydive Airlie Beach via FB

Get your heart racing with a skydive over the Great Barrier Reef. Admire the views from 14,000 feet above sea-level as you soar above one of the world’s most picturesque drop zones while safely strapped to your guide from Airlie Beach Skydivers.

Feel the rush as you hurtle towards earth for a full 60 seconds, before floating gently down to land on the soft sands of Queens Beach.