Australia has no shortage of spectacular locations, and the stunning beaches and islands of Queensland is no exception. With the colorful Great Barrier Reef sparkling along the coast, with a collection of 74 tropical islands, the Whitsundays need to be on your travel wish list.
Here the natural wonders of Australia converge to produce one of the most beautiful regions in the world with reef, rainforest, beaches and islands…what more could you want?!
Located off the coast of North Queensland, Australia, the Whitsundays rest in the Coral Sea. There are so many things to experience, especially if you’re a big fan of the underwater world. If you love being by beautiful beaches and sea, this is the place for you.
Besides, I’m pretty sure the Great Barrier Reef is on everyone’s bucketlists, am I right?
The majority of the islands that make up the Whitsundays are uninhabited, while the mainland area is Airlie Beach (pronounced air-lee) where you can catch boats out to the islands, tours, book activities, and party like there’s no tomorrow.
The gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, you can opt to base yourself on the mainland or on one of the islands such as Hamilton Island, which has its own airport along with a number of accommodation types to choose between. Only five of the islands have resorts.
The main thing you’ll need to look into is where you want to go and how you’re going to get there.
Having lived in, worked and explored the Whitsundays for six years, I’ve finally compiled a list of my favorite natural wonders for you. These are must visits on any trip to the Whitsundays.
1. The Heart Reef
It’s like mother nature herself carved this beauty with her own hands.
A coral reef that’s shaped like a heart…this is the kind of thing that makes you realize how amazing the world really is.
You’ll find the Heart Reef located within the Hardy Reef lagoon, about 30mins by helicopter from Airlie Beach or 2hours by boat. The only way to really see Heart Reef is from above either in a seaplane or helicopter because at water level, it looks just like any normal reef.
Because it’s located within the lagoon, it’s actually nearly impossible to reach with a boat, so if you’re hoping to witness this natural marvel, take a scenic flight to ensure you get a great view!
If you’re keen to snap some great shots, read my guide to ‘Photographing Aerials of the Great Barrier Reef’ to see some setting tips and advice on the best time to visit.
Quick tip: Mid-morning flights are best to ensure you don’t get the afternoon glare beaming off the water and ruining the colors!
2. Bait Reef
Known as one of the best places to dive on the Great Barrier Reef, Bait Reef is where the underwater world comes to life. Schools of fish, manta rays and sea turtles will greet you in one of the most pristine sections of the reef.
Located west of Hardy Reef, where the main tourist boats go, Bait Reef is home to abundant coral gardens with underwater canyons hiding colorful nudibranchs, Lion Fish and many more exotic species of marine life.
The visibility at Bait Reef is known to be near the best in the region and if you happen to be diving or snorkeling here between May and October, you could also get lucky and have whales swim by or hear them singing underwater.
Access to Bait Reef is via charter boat from Airlie Beach, be sure to check local operators for day trips.
3. Whitehaven Beach
Where sandy swirls meet teal seas in a natural melting pot of beach beauty. Whitehaven Beach is stunning!
A regular on the ‘best beaches around the world’ lists, Whitehaven dazzles with it’s pure white silica sands, meaning the beach is almost glowing under the full tropical sunshine. 98% silica, the sand squeaks when you walk on it, and you’ll be finding it amongst your stuff for weeks afterwards.
Stretching for 7km, the beach is located on Whitsunday Island, the biggest of the 74 islands scattered around the Whitsunday group. At the northern end of the beach is where you’ll find Hill Inlet, one of the most photographed places in Australia!
You can access Whitehaven Beach via day cruise, private boat, helicopter or seaplane…there’s no shortage of ways to get here but of course, seeing this wonder from the air is truly spectacular.
4. Langford Island
A thin strip of sand stretches out from a tiny island, appearing like the perfect place for Johnny Depp to show up as Captain Jack Sparrow with his pirate ship.
Reef wraps around the sand spit and turtles pop their heads up as they float up and down in the shallow waters of the lagoon.
If you’re looking for the ideal picnic location, this is it. Take an umbrella, beach towel and yummy treats then set yourself up for one of the best beach days you’ll ever have.
To reach Langford Island you can hire a yacht and moor it at one of the provided anchorages but beware, space is limited and because of the reef it’s difficult to simply anchor here. Some day cruises from Airlie Beach will stop here to snorkel too or there are the multi-day boats and yacht tours which anchor overnight in the nearby Stonehaven.
5. Blue Pearl Bay
If the idea of taking a two-hour boat trip to the outer reef is already causing you to feel seasick, then Blue Pearl Bay is the place for you.
In fact, having snorkeled and dived at both locations numerous times, I have to say I still think Blue Pearl Bay is my favorite reef in the Whitsundays. Giant coral bombies (coral outcrops) lay just a short swim from the rocky shoreline and the amount of fish in the bay is incredible!
Blue Pearl Bay is located on the northern side of Hayman Island, the northern most island in the Whitsundays. It’s protected from strong southerly winds and has a beautiful mountainous backdrop with pine trees and boulders.
One of the best things about Blue Pearl Bay is Priscilla. She’s a big, beautiful Maori Wrasse that lurks the depths of the bay, appearing to say hello to snorkelers and divers…sometimes even pushing for a pat. If you see her, don’t be scared by her appearance, she might be a little intimidating but just think of her as a friendly puppy dog of the sea.
6. Chance Bay
A shallow, sandy bay that’s difficult to anchor in and not really close to any of the major sights. BUT…if you’re flying from Whitehaven Beach back to Hamilton Island, be sure to keep your eyes peeled out the window.
Chance Bay is quite the haven for marine life, in particular sharks and sting rays that feed in the shallow waters.
Tucked into the southern side of Whitsunday Island, the same island with the dreamy Whitehaven Beach, Chance Bay is best seen at low tide when the sand patterns and of course feeding time is happening.
On one of my trips above Chance Bay I was lucky enough to photograph this scene below with sharks and rays feeding together…so crazy!
Have you been to the Whitsundays or the Great Barrier Reef? Is it high on your bucketlist? Share!