Made up of 74 islands, all but five of which are uninhabited, the Whitsundays are the ultimate tropical paradise, with their dazzling white sand, warm clear water, and, of course, extensive coral reefs.
A handful of luxury resorts offer a touch of style and comfort while snorkellers and divers will be spoilt for choice, with countless fascinating underwater sites to explore.
With so many islands scattered over a large area along the coast, it can be difficult to know where to spend your time, but here is our pick of the best of the Whitsunday Islands.
The largest island in the archipelago is Whitsunday Island itself, which has no permanent population. Its most famous attraction is the award-winning Whitehaven Beach, widely considered one of the most beautiful in the world. It has been named the number one beach in the South Pacific and the world’s top eco-friendly beach.
Stretching for 7km along the east coast of the island, the sand on this pristine and dazzlingly white beach is 98% pure silica, meaning that it’s very fine and powdery and even on the hottest day it’s comfortable to walk along the shore here.
The water is warm, shallow and crystal clear and it’s no wonder that millions of tourists stop by to enjoy Whitehaven Beach every year. Come late in the afternoon if you want to avoid the crowds of day-trippers, or step ashore at dawn to experience a spectacular sunrise.
Just a little further up the coast, on the other side of Hill Inlet, you’ll find the more secluded Betty’s Beach and Lookout Beach, which are bypassed by most visitors. As on Whitehaven Beach, the soft sand is almost pure silica, and lead down to warm, shallow water perfect for swimming.
The nearby Hill Inlet is lined with mangrove trees, and is a spectacular sight at low tide, with its shifting sands and shimmering turquoise waters. It’s also an important marine life habitat, and you can spot stingrays and a variety of tropical fish species here.
Lying to the south of Whitsunday Island, Hamilton Island is the largest inhabited island in the group. It is home to the Great Barrier Reef Airport, the main air hub for the Whitsundays, with direct flights to major cities in Australia. Also here is a full-service marina, making it the ideal starting point for your yacht charter in the Whitsunday Islands.
Hamilton Island hosts one of Australia’s most luxurious resorts, Qualia, if you would like to spend some time here either before or at the end of your charter, and there is a fine selection of restaurants on the island if you’re just stopping for lunch.
Catseye Beach, on the northern shore of Hamilton Island, is a great place for snorkelling, swimming and enjoying a variety of watersports such as kayaking and paddleboarding. Turtles can often be seen in the shallow water, along with an array of colourful fish species.
Quieter and more remote, Coral Cove is a small curve of sandy beach on the south coast of Hamilton Island, facing the deep inlet of Driftwood Bay. It’s the perfect place to simply relax on the sand under the shade of the trees or to enjoy a swim. If you have more time, there’s a marked walking trail along the bay heading into the bush, and a picnic site where you can pause to take in the view.
Towards the northern tip of the island, One Tree Hill is a popular lookout point providing 360 degree views over the sea and nearby islands, ideal for enjoying spectacular sunsets with a glass of champagne from the onsite cocktail bar.
If you’re looking for more active pursuits, neighbouring Dent Island is home to the Hamilton Island Golf Club and its 18-hole championship course, the only one in Australia on its own island.
North of Whitsunday Island, wild and rugged Hook Island is less well known than its neighbours, but its many bays and coves and surrounding coral reefs make it an unmissable destination for snorkellers and scuba divers.
There are plenty of safe mooring sites around the island and many deserted beaches where you can come ashore to relax or enjoy a beach picnic. During the southern hemisphere winter you might spot dolphins and humpback whales swimming through these waters.
Manta Ray Bay, on the northern shore of Hook Island, is one of the best dive sites in the Whitsundays, with underwater caves and valleys to explore, along with an array of hard and soft coral species. You may also encounter the resident manta rays and numerous reef fish.
In 2019, two aluminium and steel statues of manta rays were placed on the seabed in Manta Ray Bay, as part of the Ngaro Underwater Marine Sculpture Trail. As well as being points of interest for divers these should also encourage coral growth in future.
Novice divers will enjoy discovering nearby Luncheon Bay, with an easy beach entry to the reef, which lies between 3 and 15m below the surface. Here among the underwater canyons and coral gullies, you’ll see turtles, rays, humphead wrasse and many other Pacific species flourishing their natural habitat.
Tiny Hayman Island, off the northwest coast of Hook Island, is the most northerly of the Whitsunday Islands and the closest to the outer reef. It’s best known for the exclusive Hayman Island Resort, where you can take a break to enjoy a relaxing massage in the spa or stay for lunch.
There are a number of excellent diving and snorkelling sites on the reef that surrounds the island.
Blue Pearl Bay, on the west coast of Hayman Island, is an excellent spot, with a variety of coral to be seen in shallow waters off the beach and coral ledges and rich marine life in deeper water. On the seabed you’ll also see a large aluminium statue of a Maori wrasse fish, part of the new underwater sculpture trail in the Whitsundays.
South of Haywood Island, Langford Island is another top diving spot. Its distinctive sand spit, which stretches for several hundred metres at low tide, makes an inviting private beach, while snorkellers will enjoy discovering the countless fish swimming close to shore. Look out for the giant stainless steel statue of a turtle, which was recently installed here, too.
Off the east coast of Whitsunday Island, Haslewood Island sees fewer visitors but boasts some stunning sandy beaches and excellent snorkelling sites.
On the west coast of the island, Chalkies Beach is a more secluded version of the much more popular Whitehaven Beach, with the same soft white sand. You can swim straight from the beach into rich coral gardens in shallow water not far from the shore, where you’ll see green turtles and hawksbill turtles feeding on seagrass.
More diving spots can be found all around Haslewood Island, including along the fringing coral reefs and tiny islets off the east coast.