The Whitsunday islands are the emerald jewel in the turquoise crown of Queensland’s coastal waters. And whether you plant yourself in the tropical green terrain of Hamilton Island or kick back on the coast at Airlie Beach, there’s plenty to keep you occupied on a two-day getaway.
In fact, you’ll want to stay longer if you can. Fly into Whitsunday Coast Airport at Proserpine (for Airlie Beach) or direct to Hamilton Island, and catch the ferry between the two to make sure you don’t miss a thing.
The glorious Great Barrier Reef is the star attraction in this part of the world, and you’ll want to dedicate at least a day to its magnificence. The options abound, with departures from Airlie Beach or Hamilton Island.
Take a helicopter or seaplane flight for an unforgettable view of the reef stretching out below you like an aquamarine fractal, and have your camera at the ready for the famously romantic Heart Reef. Take a boat tour to set foot on some of the most pristine beaches in the world, like Whitehaven Beach, and sink your toes into the shallow waters and shifting sands of Hill Inlet.
Or head beneath the waves to snorkel and dive among the multi-hued tropical fish and corals of all shapes and sizes. If you prefer to keep dry, see the coral from a semi-submersible vessel. One unbeatable experience is ReefSleep, where you can spend a night under the stars on a pontoon in the middle of the sea.
As for how you might spend your time on your other day in the Whitsundays, here are some ideas on where to eat, stay and play at Hamilton Island and Airlie Beach.
This vibrant hub is the ideal mainland base for fun in the Whitsunday sun. Take to the water, head to the hills for a bushwalk, or browse the boutiques of the main street.
Where to Eat
An early morning stroll along the coast-hugging Bicentennial Walkway, which runs between Airlie Beach lagoon and Cannonvale Beach, will bring you to breakfast and coffee at Fat Frog Beach Cafe. For extraordinary views, have lunch at the Coral Sea Resort’s Clipper Restaurant, Bar & Lounge. Even if you’re not staying there, you can opt for the Swim & Lunch menu, which will let you take a dip in the stunning pool. When the sun goes down, you can’t go past dinner at the award-winning Fish D’vine (it also has a Rum Bar).
Where to Stay
If you’re not staying at the Coral Sea Resort (and if not, why not?), you could always rest your head at the luxurious Peppers Airlie Beach, overlooking the Whitsunday Passage – keep an eye out for whales between June and September. There’s also a range of accommodation to suit all types and budgets, so there’s no excuse not to go.
Where to Play
Right in the heart of town is the Airlie Beach Lagoon. Pack a picnic to eat on the grass or take the littlies to paddle in the children’s pool or stinger-free sandy beach area. It’s also a great meeting spot if you’re travelling in a group. And if you’re there on a Saturday, the Airlie Beach Markets on The Esplanade are just the spot for bargains and souvenirs.
Airlie Beach is also the perfect place for active travellers – step into the rainforest of Conway National Park, head out on a jet-ski tour, or take the leap with a skydive for unforgettable views of the Whitsundays below.
Hamilton Island is a little piece of paradise, forming a sweet community of holidaymakers who get around in golf buggies, admire the sunsets, eat up a storm in the many restaurants and dive into the deep, blue sea.
Where to Eat
The Marina Cafe is a lovely spot for breakfast on the waterfront, and close to where tour boats depart for the day. For lunch on the go, grab a pie, pastry or sandwich from Bob’s Bakery. And don’t miss sunset drinks at One Tree Hill, followed by dinner at coca chu, which serves hawker-style Asian food overlooking Catseye Beach.
Where to Stay
Choose from a range of accommodation, from island-style bungalows to spacious hotel rooms like those at the Reef View Hotel, where you can lie back in your enormous bed and look directly out to sea. Littlies (and adults) will love the great glass elevator ride to your floor.
Where to Play
Hamilton Island has a range of activities to fill your time if you can tear your eyes from the staggering views at every turn. Try your luck on a fishing charter; play a round of golf at Hamilton Island Golf Club’s 18-hole championship course; throw yourself into watersports such as jet boating, water-skiing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding; play tennis; take an art class; or put the kids in the Clownfish Club and pamper yourself at Spa wumurdaylin. Complete the picture of paradise with a sunset cruise.