The Wonderful Whitsundays

Wow, what a place! The Whitsundays are one of the most popular tourist destinations in Australia and I can now see why!

Discovered by Captain James Cook in 1770, the archipelago consists of 74 islands lying just off the north east coast of Queensland. However, only 8 of these islands – including the popular Whitsunday and Hamilton islands – are inhabited, leaving a whopping 66 deserted and potentially unexplored. So if you happen to have a boat/know someone with a boat/can rent a boat then what are you waiting for?? Get out there and go explore! Just watch out for spiders and their MASSIVE webs…

Those trees aren’t small you know…

For those of you who haven’t been scared off by spidery thoughts, do still want to visit the Whitsundays, but don’t have the luxury of a private boat, you’re pretty much left with the following two options (any guesses as to which will be cheaper??):

DIY

Do it yourself – do the research, find your favourite resort, get the best price, reap the rewards. (Here’s part of the research for you, ssshh!) Currently only 4 islands host resorts: Daydream; Hamilton; Hayman and Long. However, both Daydream and Hayman are private resort islands at the pinnacle of luxury (plus Daydream is currently closed for bookings, it’s due to reopen in 2018 after renovation into a 4.5 star resort). Therefore unless you’re made of money it’s down to either Hamilton or Long Island, and even then the only currently operational hotel on Long Island is Palm Bay Resort. If you’re flexible enough with dates to find a room here then expect to pay upwards of £140/US$185 per night for 2 people.

Soooo, you’re left with Hamilton Island, which makes sense considering it has the best transport connections in the entire archipelago. Hamilton Island Airport offers daily flights to and from Brisbane, Cairns, Melbourne and Sydney, giving you plenty of options with times and prices (starting from just £63/US$83). There’s also a ferry for those that don’t like planes – one-way from Shute harbour to Hamilton Island or vice versa will set you back around £41/US$54. Ferries are operated twice daily in each direction with the journey time taking around 35mins.

There are 4 main resorts on the island; from the barely-affordable Palm Bungalows and Reef view hotel (starting at £230/US$300 for a double room) up to the more-luxury-than-money-can-buy Qualia where prices start at a mouth-watering £710/US$940 per night! I would LOVE to go to one of these places but simply can’t afford it – if you’ve been/know someone that’s been/plan to go, then let me know – comment below! Thankfully there are a range of holiday homes and apartments offering cheaper alternatives; deals can often be found on many popular booking websites. But is it cheaper than an all-inclusive catamaran package? Read on to find out…

All-inclusive

If you haven’t got the time or simply can’t be bothered to research and plan your own trip to the Whitsundays, which will actually end up more expensive than you expect, then turn no further than an all-inclusive tour package. Usually I’m not a fan of these big-group organised tours that involve sweaty buses and crowded streets, but in Oz, and The Whitsundays in particular, it’s a whole different kettle of fish, here’s why: First off, The Whitsundays are islands (duh!), so no buses or crowded streets in sight. Second, the tours a great way of exploring the islands from completely different perspectives than the one you’d receive if you were just sat on a sunbed at your resort on Hamilton Island. Thirdly, you get to meet a bunch (but definitely not a crowd) of great new people from around the world. Fourth, the all-inclusive tours are, in fact, all-inclusive (to a certain extent). My point is, you’re not paying for everything separately – the boat tours for example include a bed and all food on-board. Fifth, knowledgeable guides will be on hand to answers questions and provide context on the places you visit. Sixth, they’re relatively affordable in comparison to Hamilton Island accommodation; seaplane tours start at £170/US$230, helicopter rides start at £130/US$170 and overnight boat tours are from £220/US$290.

There are loads of boat tours available for varying durations and prices; some are geared towards partying and will include drinking games as standard, whereas others are more relaxed and educational as a result. You can book any of the tours online or just head down to Airlie beach for a great last minute deal – this is where all the boats depart from anyway.

The particular tour that I was on was a 2-day 2-night package on board a catamaran called Wings III, and I couldn’t recommend it more highly! It took us to Hill Inlet Lookout for unbeatable views of the picture perfect Whitehaven beach (the one you’ve probably seen online or on magazine covers).

Then we went down onto Whitehaven beach itself where I was almost speechless – the sand is just so pure, soft and white and the water incredibly crystal clear. If you’re lucky you can spot sting rays and lemon sharks in the warm shallows. Plus, the rumours are true: at 98% pure silica, the sand is so fine that you can brush your teeth with it – just be sure to rinse afterwards!

Different snorkelling spots are available on each day (3 in total), providing greater chance of getting up close to a green sea turtle; it’s not uncommon to be able to swim alongside them as they’re quite inquisitive creatures. Snorkel, mask, sting suit and flippers are all provided by the tour boat so all you’ve got to do is get in there and spot some sea life! The sheer abundance and colourful nature of many of these fish and coral species make spotting something pretty easy.

There’s also time on the tour to check out some other beaches around the archipelago – not quite on par with Whitehaven but still beautifully secluded.

I couldn’t look more like a starfish if I tried!

Other things I like about this tour:

  • delicious meals are freshly prepared every day and there’s plenty of food for 2nds 😉
  • there’s a hot tub on board Wings III which is perfect for enjoying the sunset and a cold beer (you can bring your own alcohol on the tour free of charge)
  • the mooring spots allow viewing of green sea turtles when they come up to breathe in the mornings
  • there’s virtually no light pollution in the Whitsundays so on a clear night and with little or no moon it’s possible to see the Milky Way, and even the odd shooting star
  • depending on the season there’s a high possibility of spotting dolphins and whales

So, what’s it to be? DIY or all-inclusive tour?? Hopefully I’ve persuaded you on the benefits of a tour – let me know in the comments below! Either way, I know one thing for sure – that the wonderful Whitsundays are now on your bucket list (if they weren’t already)! You’d be craaaaaazy not to visit this place, seriously, I promise you won’t regret it!