Go local: Whitsundays secrets you won’t find in the guide books
Consider yourself a Whitsundays local, with enough insider’s knowledge to guide the uninitiated? Yes? Well, no need to read on then. Because this is a deep-dive into hidden and off-the-beaten track things to do in Queensland’s island paradise: your guide to the very best Whitsundays secret spots.
Or, if you’re a first-timer to the Whitsundays but prefer your travel with a side of authentic, you’re in luck. There are hidden gems aplenty to discover dotted along these stunning shores.
In fact, actual Whitsundays locals might be a little peeved.
Take your pick: secluded beaches and sunset spots; rainforest walks, waterholes, fun food finds and camping galore. These spots may not make the top 10 lists but they’ll certainly up the ante on your local knowledge and credibility.
(Not sure what kind of Whitsundays holiday you’re after? Read this handy guide).
In case you missed it, the clue is in the name. This is a sans sand beach. Forget dusting tiny silica particles from your feet. Instead, you’ll hear the tinkling sound of coral as you walk this remote beach to find the perfect spot. You won’t be competing for real estate since access requires a 2km bushwalk from the nearest carpark. Explorers rejoice!
To get there: Head towards Shute Harbour from Airlie Beach and locate the carpark on the left, just past the Harbour.
Airlie Beach’s lesser-known neighbour, Cannonvale, has a beach complete with a shipwreck right off shore. With a walking track from Airlie that delivers you directly there, it’s not hard to access.
Bear in mind there’s also limited parking available for those who have a lot of beach gear in tow.
Hydeaway Bay Beach, Cape Gloucester
Bring your own picnic and stay for the day. Or if you’re a light traveller, pull up a chair at Monte’s Reef Resort for lunch or an afternoon drink to cool you off.
To get there: Head towards Proserpine from Airlie Beach and follow signs to Cape Gloucester.
Any Whitsundays local guide would tell you: an afternoon beach crawl around Cape Edgecumbe is must-do. From Gray’s Bay, wind your way over to the award-winning Horseshoe Bay – Queensland’s answer to Tasmania’s Wineglass Bay.
Stretch out on the sun-drenched granite boulders that dot the shoreline. Or feel the calm, turquoise waters of the Coral Sea envelop you.
Getting there is easy. Head North on the Bruce Highway from Proserpine and turn off the highway at Bowen. Make your way through town to Horseshoe Bay Road, which dead ends at the tip of Cape Edgecumbe. There is parking on the right at Lions Park.
Camp on a beach
There’s little that compares to the feeling of lying on a secluded beach, with naught but the cosmos illuminating the night sky. From counting stars to the caress of a salt-scented breeze, beach camping is the way to true Whitsundays local status.
Swamp Bay, Conway National Park
Ah, what a misnomer this is. On name alone, you’d think mosquitoes and mud. But as luck (or nature) would have it, it’s the complete opposite at this stunning beach camping spot. So roll up your swag and head to this hidden-in-plain-sight gem, just 20 minutes from Airlie Beach in Conway National Park.
Dense rainforest aside, this camping spot is easily accessible. It’s just an easy 2.1km stroll from the Mount Rooper carpark until you’re in beach camping bliss.
Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island
Look, Whitehaven Beach is certainly no secret. But what you may not know, is that it’s not just a beach for a good time. You can experience the beautifully brilliant, silica sand gem of a beach for a long time, too. Well, overnight at least. For a lowly permit fee of only $6.65 per person per night, you can have your beach camping cake and eat it too.
Scamper Water Taxi will help make your beach camping dream a reality with transfers and gear included. Now all that’s left to do is live your best Whitsunday Island life.
Secret walks, lookouts and water holes
If you’re looking for more than the Whitsundays’ island views, palm trees and tropical blue water, don’t stress. There’s enough magic in the green hills of Conway National Park to keep you busy.
Based in Airlie Beach or Shute Harbour? The second largest tropical rainforest in Queensland is right on your doorstep. And it’s full of things Whitsundays locals don’t want you to know and the guide books won’t tell you. It’s also one of the many free things to do in Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays.
Cedar Creek Falls, Conway National Park
A quick drive towards Conway Beach from Airlie Beach and you’ll find a hidden tropical oasis that begs you to bring your swimmers. A gorgeous waterfall greets visitors during the wet season (November – March). If the falls aren’t, well, falling, Cedar Creek Falls turns into a refreshing, emerald-green swimming hole.
Swim with the turtles or simply relax among the gum trees and blooming wattle. Just don’t forget the insect repellent.
To get there: Take Conway Road off Proserpine-Shute-Harbour Road, then follow the signs to Cedar Creek Falls.
Conway Circuit, Conway National Park
Queensland is known for its plethora of great walks. Luckily, you’ll have your pick of ways to explore the Conway circuit, previously known as the Whitsundays Great Walk. The 27-kilometre Conway circuit meanders through Conway National Park’s lush rainforest and follows an old logging road. It also crosses several seasonal freshwater creeks.
Accessed from either Airlie Beach or Brandy Creek, the track is an arterial for a network of shorter tracks. Perfect if you prefer your trekking on the bite-sized side.
Mountain bike enthusiasts can conquer the length of the track on two wheels. Walkers can take in circuits or various segments depending on fitness level. For those who don’t do the whole exercise thing, there’s an option for you too: the Conway circuit is the only place in Queensland where you can actually Segway through national parkland.
To get there: Access from Airlie Beach is via the Kara Crescent trailhead. The opposite end of the track is accessible from the Forestry Road carpark via Brandy Creek Road.
Honeyeater Walk & Lookout, Conway National Park
If you want to get on top of it all, The Honeyeater track is the one for you. With a steep ascent calling for average to above-average fitness levels, it’s not one for the newbie trekker. It’s worth it though. A spectacular lookout over the Whitsunday islands will bestow instant bragging rights – and the Instagram feed to prove it.
To get there: Access from Kara Crescent trailhead. Follow along the Conway circuit to the Honeyeater lookout turn off.
Secret sunset spots
The splendour of the sun slipping past the horizon in the Whitsundays is a visual treat your eyes will not soon forget. You could ask a Whitsundays local to guide you to their secret spots. Or, we’ve scoped out a few of the best seats in the house for your viewing pleasure.
Gray’s Bay, Bowen
A perfect westerly perspective makes Gray’s Bay in Bowen a sunset-seekers paradise. Find a sun-warmed granite boulder to perch on as you watch the sun sink into the horizon. Add bubbles, a local (and famous) mango and it’s the sunset picnic of your dreams.
Monte’s Reef Resort, Cape Gloucester
Spend the afternoon, the evening or several nights at Monte’s Reef Resort on Cape Gloucester. The beach and resort is open to day visitors and is a perfect spot for swimming and other water sports. Consider yourself a real sunset fanatic? Stay for a night (or five) to fully appreciate the serenity.
Without the hustle and bustle of the tourist hubs, you’ll be fully immersed in Mother Nature’s splendour at this quiet local secret.
One Tree Hill, Hamilton Island
One Tree Hill is a Hamilton Island icon thanks to its retina-searing views and west-facing vantage. This Whitsundays local haunt is made for sundowners with a side of dramatic hues, so let your eyes guide you.
If you want the views and beverage but can’t wait until evening, you’re in luck. The bar is open daily from lunchtime for coffee, wine and cheese, or cocktails.
Abell Point Marina, Airlie Beach
If you’re staying in Airlie Beach and don’t have transportation to get you to one of the other spots listed, don’t worry! You’ve got one of the best underrated gems for a Whitsundays sunset at your fingertips.
Practically any spot overlooking Pioneer Bay will reward you with golden rays at sunset. Coral Sea Marina, though, is the best vantage point with direct views to the west.
Pick a spot along the boardwalk or stop at one of the local restaurants like Sorrento Restaurant & Bar or The Garden Bar Bistro.
There’s no shortage of good eats in the Whitsundays. With top-tier restaurants like Fish D’vine and qualia’s Long Pavillion in the lineup, foodies have a lot of options for indulging. If you’re more of an off-the-eaten-path type though, there’s plenty of local haunts for your list.
(Looking for more local Whitsundays dining secrets to guide your taste buds? Check out this post.)
Fat Frog Beach Café
A funky, child- and dog-friendly local favourite, this Cannonvale Beach waterfront café serves up healthy nosh and Campos Coffee. The breakfast and lunch menu is a showcase of the region’s freshest produce, changing seasonally.
With options for “little tadpoles” and “four-legged furry friends” it’s a staple for locals and visitors alike.
Oar Bar & Restaurant, Cape Gloucester
Hiding away at the Cape Gloucester Resort, Oar Bar and Restaurant is one of the Whitsundays most hidden gems. Fresh seafood and classic pub grub is served up on the beach under the shade of cabanas. If you’re looking for a quiet place to appreciate the sunset with a sundowner in hand, head north from Airlie Beach. Or, if you’re keen to soak up the relaxed dining vibes breakfast, lunch and dinner, the resort is a great secluded option.
Seafood at Bowen Marina
Prawns with a side of authentic ambience – seagulls cawing, the sounds of a bustling marina. It doesn’t get fresher than this, folks.
Buy seafood fresh from the trawlers at Bowen Fishermans Seafood Co’s Birds Fish Bar. Then make your way to the tables out back (overlooking the water) to scoff it while it’s hot.
Bowen mango, of course
This one’s not exactly a Whitsundays secret: if the giant tribute to the region’s most famous product isn’t a clue, then you might not have eyes. This is mango country. Bowen’s Big Mango announces its status on the A1 Bruce Highway, putting the city’s best asset on show.
And there’s good reason to associate Bowen with the mango. The tastiest, juiciest mangoes are born in this region. Any local doubling as a Whitsundays guide will tell you the real secret: the legit mango sorbet. Refreshing and fruit-driven, it’s just like the real thing but frozen. Find it at the Bowen Visitor Information Centre (also home to the Big Mango) to see what the fuss is about.
To market, to market
Nothing says local experience like perusing rows and rows of handmade wares, produce and knick knacks. The Lion’s Airlie Beach Community Market, pops up on the palm-fringed foreshore every Saturday morning and when a cruise ship is visiting.
Find unique holiday mementos or just grab a coffee and soak up the stunning location and ambience.