If you enjoy boating or sailing, there’s a very good chance that the Whitsundays are on your bucket list. If they are not, then they should be. While there are other stunning and more secluded locations on both the Australian coast and around the world, there are few locations that can rival the ease of access and easy boating that the Whitsundays offer.
The Whitsundays are at their best during winter. While you can visit the area year‑round, the possibilities of cyclones, stingers and temperamental weather over summer should be considered.
While there’s nothing quite like your own boat, chartering in the Whitsundays is also a great option for the time‑poor. Boat owners will appreciate the novelty of stepping on and then off the boat, without a single thought given to maintenance and upkeep. One thing you shouldn’t do is overcrowd your boat if you’re planning on a longer cruise. Even the most easy‑going friends and family can wear a little thin after 10 days in close quarters.
You could spend months exploring the Whitsundays, but here’s a list of the highlights you need to tick off if you do have limited time:Northern Side of Hook Island
Pearl Bay, on the western side of Hayman Island, is a great place for snorkelling but is often packed with day visitors so I’d recommend heading to the bays (Butterfly, Manta Ray, Luncheon, Maureen and Pinnacle) on the northern side of Hook that also offer great coral and fish life for snorkelling. These bays are littered with bommies so take care, particularly when low sun or cloud cover reduces visibility.Nara Inlet
Nara Inlet doesn’t have a beach but its steep banks and rocky shoreline make for lovely scenery. With its fantastic protection, this is a great place to go when the Whitsundays are putting on some less than idyllic weather. Toward the head of the inlet there’s a track up to an Aboriginal cultural site that’s well worth a look, and if there’s been rain the more adventurous might find their way up the creek to a deep swimming pool‑like waterhole.Whitsunday Peak
Walking (although scrambling or climbing may be more accurate descriptions) up to Whitsunday Peak is an absolute must. Pack water and allow a few hours for the climb, and I’ll guarantee you won’t be disappointed by the 360-degree views. The walk starts from Cid Harbour on the western side of Whitsunday Island, and remember to consider the big tidal range when leaving your dinghy on the beach to undertake the walk.Airlie Beach
If you didn’t set out from Airlie you’ll inevitably find yourself here at some point, refuelling and resupplying. And this fun loving town is a great place to visit. Whether you anchor off the Whitsunday Sailing Club or pull into Abell Point Marina, you’ll find someone who will happily point you in the direction of anything you need.
The Saturday morning markets on the foreshore (next to the yacht club) are a nice option to stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables. And while the cafés at Abell Point Marina are great, I always make a beeline for a little place overlooking Airlie’s lagoon, Mr Bones.Whitehaven Beach/ Chalkies Beach
You couldn’t leave a visit to this iconic beach off your list. Visiting Whitehaven Beach will be most enjoyable on a nice calm day, and if there’s wind from a westerly direction put Whitehaven on the day’s itinerary. These conditions will give you the freedom to anchor anywhere along the beach rather than being restricted to the typically busy southern anchorage.
If you share my appetite for personal space, the adjacent and also beautiful white Chalkies Beach may be a good option. And those with shallow drafts or dinghies may enjoy exploring the stunning Hill Inlet at the northern end of Whitehaven.Hamilton Island
While Hamilton Island offers a range of activities (from go karting to day spas), the one thing I’d recommend is a sunset drink at the impressive Hamilton Island Yacht Club or up at the popup bar on One Tree Hill. During busy periods, don’t expect to pull into the marina and make yourself a dinner reservation at one of the nicer restaurants. Yachts with tall masts should also be extra aware of the exclusion zone at the end of the runway.Southern Islands
The islands south of the main Whitsunday group are often neglected but Lindeman, Thomas, Goldsmith and even Brampton are well worth a visit. These southern islands offer great walks, beach combing on the southern‑facing beaches and less crowded anchorages. Many charter companies won’t allow their boats to head this far south, so be aware of the charter limit if you decide to hire a bareboat and want to explore the southern islands.
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