Not all beach: unique things to do in the Whitsundays

Don’t let first impressions fool you. Sure, this region offers up a relaxing beach holiday like no other. But there’s also a plethora of unique things to do in the Whitsundays.

A visit to this beaut region reveals 74 turquoise-girt islands, all with their own distinctive character.

In fact, if the Whitsundays was ice cream, you’d be sampling every flavour. Forget the vanilla and chocolate though, this is the Whitsundays of a different kind.

Looking for marine adventures and those get-back-to-nature feels? How about a luxe resort with an underwater twist? Or floating above a love themed reef with your amore?

From the new to quintessential, here are some of the most surprising ways to experience the Whitsundays.

Escape to a private island

Camp Island Bowen | Surprising ways to do the Whitsundays

It stands to reason that with so many to choose from, there are going to be a few Whitsundays Islands that have managed to fly under the radar. And one of them is available for you to rent all to yourself.

Camp Island is the second most northerly island in the Whitsundays, sitting just 3km off the coast of Abbott Bay, which is 50kms north of Bowen (about 1.5 hours drive’ north of Proserpine Airport).

The exclusive 2.4-hectare resort-style property offers up to 14 guests the chance to lap up private beaches and 15 hectares of national park with diverse fauna and flora. Hosts Broc and Dave will meet you on arrival at Elliot River and transfer you to the island. Choose between four private bungalows – each with their own ensuite – and a three-bedroom house. The buildings are constructed from beautiful brushed box hardwood with polished timber floors underfoot. Everyone can converge in the guest lodge for meals.

The resort is completely self-catered and can be stocked with provisions at your request.

A little closer to Airlie Beach, the new Elysian Eco Retreat (formerly Paradise Bay Eco Resort) on Long Island has a maximum of 20 guests and can be hired sole-occupancy. Designed for intimate holidays for both couples and families (with 12+ aged children), Elysian nails boutique seclusion. The recently refurbished luxury getaway also boasts the honour of being the first 100 percent solar-powered resort in the Great Barrier Reef.

Drink cocktails in General Douglas MacArthur’s WW2 vessel

Freedom Shores Resort offers something a little different for landlubbers. Here, you can sleep in a boat on dry land and have your sundowners sitting atop General Douglas MacArthur’s WWII vessel, the Shangri-La.

Just 15 minutes north of Airlie Beach in Woodwark, the 10 boat rooms have been designed to replicate boats docked at the marina. While the rooms are made from the hulls of old ships, the resort itself is based on the old Shute Harbour jetty poles. There’s also three one-bedroom apartments and a beach house with two bedrooms, ensuite and cooking facilities available to rent.

The resort’s tavern, Northerlies Beach Bar and Grill, is popular with guests for good reason. But it’s also a firm favourite with the locals, offering a free shuttle service to and from Airlie Beach.

MTB on South Molle Island

South Molle Island

It may come as a surprise, but there are plenty of unique things to do in the Whitsundays that don’t require being in the water. Head for the hills with a mountain bike and hitch a ride on Scamper to South Molle Island. Here, 14kms of mountain bike trails provide the perfect way to discover the grasslands, eucalypt forests and rainforests covering the island.

Heart-rate goes the same way as the steep climbs: up. But you’re rewarded with epic views across the famous Whitsunday Islands and fringing reefs once you reach the summit.

Heads up: It can be a little tricky to organise and prices start at around $65 per person, so make the most of it by camping for a night or two.

Snorkel the Living Reef

Cruise Whitsundays Reefsuites | unique things to do whitsundays

Photo by @jamesvodicka

It’s the centrepiece of Daydream Island Resort‘s $100 million new-look. The brand new Living Reef lagoon is even bigger than before, wrapping 200m around the central resort building. But it’s not just the structure that impresses. The kaleidoscopic marine beauty of the Great Barrier Reef is on full display all without stepping foot in the ocean.

Feed baby stingrays with resident marine biologists and snorkel among 100 species of fish, coral, starfish, sea cucumbers and crabs sans boat. If you’d prefer to stay dry, signature restaurant, Graze, looks into the Living Reef, too.

A little further offshore sits the Reefworld pontoon on Hardy Reef. It’s the ultimate platform for snorkelling, diving, and learning all about the Great Barrier Reef. And in terms of unique things to do, this is Whitsundays at its best. Cruise Whitsundays runs day trips from Airlie Beach, with activities and lunch included. Or you can camp out under the stars in deluxe double swags thanks to the Reefsleep experience.

For an extra touch of novel, Reefsuite – an Australian first – is available for overnight stays below the surface. It’s like your favourite luxury hotel had a love-child with the lost city of Atlantis. Spend the day exploring above water, then retreat to your underwater suite, complete with floor-to-ceiling windows. Enjoy a front row seat to the colourful action of this stunning section of reef with the usual all-inclusive trappings. Only available for two lucky couples at a time, think of it as your own private undersea expedition.

Have a pedal-powered progressive dinner

Just Tuk'n Around | Surprising ways to do the Whitsundays

Photo by Just Tuk’n Around via FB

No-one likes to draw the short straw and be the designated driver when it comes to eating out on holidays. Instead, join a posse of peddlers for a progressive dinner with a difference around Airlie Beach.

Just Tuk’n Around will pick you up in their bright yellow pedicabs for a three-hour degustation made up of some of the best restaurants in town. Start at Sorrento for pizzas and sundowners. Then onto Shucks for oysters and Denman Cellars for share platters. And then finish at KC’s Chargrill & Bar for live music.

Waterslide off your own private yacht

Alani yacht charter | Surprising ways to do the Whitsundays

When you have your own motor yacht, you can do pretty much whatever you want. That’s the view of the owners of Alani, a luxury 82’ Sunseeker, which comes complete with a giant inflatable slide.

Up for charters from Hamilton Island, you can head out for a few days of sailing around the Whitsunday Islands, or just grab a bunch of friends for an epic day adventure on the high seas. Throw in some stand-up paddleboards, jet-skis and a private DJ and voila: a gathering that would float the boat of any A-lister, and create never-to-be-forgotten memories.

Be an underwater art critic

Step aside, Louvre. There’s a new – underwater – art gallery in town. Divers will be awestruck swimming through otherworldly sculptures dotted along the seafloor in accessible locations throughout the islands.

Part of Reef Ecologic’s Whitsundays Reef Recovery and Public Art Project, it’s one of the most unique things to do in the Whitsundays. Designed and created by six Australian artists, the pieces celebrate the rare beauty of the surrounding marine environment.

A Maori wrasse, gliding manta rays and a giant turtle are just a few of the installations already in place.

Journey to Heart Reef

When nature itself creates a heart shaped reef for your viewing and snorkelling pleasure, it’s hard to argue. One of the most unusual experiences in the Whitsundays – and the world – Heart Reef will woo you in an instant. Sure, you could take a simple heli tour over the reef. Or you could whizz your way to the new world-first pontoon at Heart Reef for the day. Go on, treat yourself.

Exclusive to guests of Hamilton Island, the state-of-the-art split-level pontoon is built for day trips. Perfect for small groups up to six, you’ll heli your way Heart Reef Lagoon in true rockstar fashion. With light catering, snorkelling equipment and and a glass-bottomed boat tour all included, it’s easy to rationalise the almost $1k price tag.

Join the Coral Sea Academy

Coral Spawning on the Great Barrier Reef | coral spawning

Photo by The Great Barrier Reef via FB

Championing all things ocean-based sustainability, the Coral Sea Academy is a series of events and experiences made for wildlife warriors. Hosted by, and at Coral Sea Resort, the community workshops are just some of the free things to do in Airlie Beach.

Learn about marine conservation, sustainability and better boating, while meeting other like-minded travellers and locals. The Coral Sea Academy is open to anyone interested in protecting the Great Barrier Reef and unique beauty of the Whitsundays.