From dense, lush rainforests to sprawling white-sand beaches and turquoise lagoons, we’ve found the tropical destination you need to book into your 2020 travel calendar, stat. Boasting an incredible archipelago of 74 islands, the world’s largest coral reef and a slew of stunning outdoor activities, the Whitsundays really is the ultimate adult’s playground.
And the best part? It’s right on our doorstep. Only a short flight from Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne with Virgin Australia, it means minimal annual leave days and maximum holiday mode. Swimsuits at the ready? Here’s everything you need to check off in this sun-soaked tropical destination.
Snooze Under The Sea At Australia’s First Underwater Hotel
Yes, you read that right, you could be setting your head to rest under the sea, and we’re so ready for this Little Mermaid moment. Reefsuites is an out-of-this-world project brought to you by Cruise Whitsundays, who have been thoughtfully restoring the Reefworld pontoon at Hardy Reef over the past year. The new, intimate underwater rooms will score you front-row-seats to spectacular marine life and sights of the reef as you nod off, plus dining under the stars and a string of sea sports like scuba diving, snorkelling and a submarine tour to enjoy.
Go Island Hopping, Obviously
A mandatory activity when touching down in the blissful Whitsundays is to explore some of the 74 islands dotted along the coastline. You might choose to make one of the main islands or opt for a more free-spirited approach and set sail on an overnight excursion in search of breathtaking beaches, secluded swimming coves and crystal clear lagoons—our pick for an undiscovered gem goes to Champagne Bay on Thomas Island. There’s no shortage of sailing charters available for hire from Airlie Beach on the mainland—our pick of the bunch would be Bareboating—so it’s only right to send this activity to the top of your Whitsundays wish list.
Discover The Beauty Of The Great Barrier Reef
Another must-do in this tropical paradise is exploring the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef. Stretching a whopping 2,300 kilometres long, it’s no surprise this is the largest coral reef in the world, home to more than 1,500 species of fish and marine life. But don’t just take our word for it, you have to see it to believe its beauty. Set out and snorkel in prime spots like Blue Pearl Bay on Hayman Island or head out to Hardy Reef. Should you wish to dive deeper, opt for The Cathedral off Whitsunday Island or make friends with manta rays at Manta Ray Bay on Hook Island (be sure to book during winter if you want to get up close and personal with these gorgeous creatures).
Fly High Over Heart Reef
Because of its protected status, the only way to get a good look in at this magical heart-shaped reef is by taking to the skies. Opt for a helicopter, seaplane or fixed-wing aircraft departing from Airlie Beach, your gateway to the spectacular views above. But that’s not all, you’ll also score sights or Hardy Reef, Great Barrier Reef and the surrounding Whitsunday Islands, and most flight packages will up the ante with add-ons like snorkelling in a private lagoon, lounging on white-sand beaches and sampling Australian wine and snacks—it’s pure bliss.
Get Off The Grid And Go Camping
Who’s to say you need to splash out on resorts when heading to the Whitsundays? Equally beautiful (and slightly more affordable) options are out there for those looking to get off the grid for a night or two of wanderlust in the wilderness. If you’re dreaming of seeing Australia’s most beautiful beach, Whitehaven Beach, without the crowds, simply grab a permit and book in at one of the campsites. Only 36 people are allowed to stay over on the entire island so you will truly have the place to yourself. Should you wish to hop between the islands, book in your transfers with Whitsunday Island Camping Connection who are experts in both camping spots around the area, and getting you there.
Chase Magical Sunsets On Land And Water
Any avid traveller will know that in order to truly get a feel for a destination, you need to seek out the best viewpoints for sunset. Luckily in the Whitsundays, you’re spoilt for choice. On land, scout out ‘Gram-worthy vistas at One Tree Hill on Hamilton Island, Hydeaway Bay Beach in Cape Gloucester or Abell Point Marina in Airlie Beach. Alternatively, take to the sea on a sundowner cruise. Sip on a glass of bubbly while taking in the magical array of pinks, purples and oranges set to the backdrop of surrounding islands and the twinkling lights of Airlie Beach.
Day Trip To Bowen
Just an hour north of Airlie Beach you’ll stumble upon the untouched town of Bowen, one of the Whitsundays’ best-kept secrets. Stroll along the main street for a nostalgic look at an Australia from yesteryear, or head out to the bays and discover secluded coves along the coast. Start with Horseshoe Bay which offers great views of the coast via the Rotary Lookout. Then make your way on to the adjoining spots of the Cove and Greys Bay in Edgecumbe for sand, sea and some rather impressive large granite boulders—the perfect viewpoint to perch on for sunset.
Trek Through The Luscious Conway National Park
Seeking a break from the sun, but not vibing a day inside blasting the aircon? Make a beeline for Conway National Park which will shelter you in cooling shade thanks to the tall, green trees and dense forest walkway. Pack some snacks and set out on a serene trek through the trees, where you’ll stumble upon some secluded swimming spots, mangroves and woodlands. We recommend opting for the Mt Rooper Circuit, a 5.4km trail boasting spectacular views of the Whitsundays.
Splash Out At Cedar Creek Falls
Less than half an hour west of Airlie Beach, through a slew of sugar cane farms, you’ll stumble upon the magical Cedar Creek Falls. This dramatic rocky alcove is home to a plethora of native bush and plants, as well as soaring cedar trees. The crystal-clear swimming hole is flanked by soaring cliffs and a stunning waterfall, making it the perfect spot for a picnic and a dip. Our advice? Hit this one up late afternoon for fewer crowds and bask in the glow of the evening sunlight.
Get Amped With Adrenaline-Pumping Watersports
Raise your heartbeat with some exhilarating watersports in and around the Whitsundays. Carve out some waves and try your hand at wakeboarding, opt for a banana boat and jetski combo if you’re looking to impress the crew, or take to the skies and get around reef parasailing. However, if you’re looking for something more low-key, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding are always a solid option for water-lovers. With plenty of hire shops around Airlie Beach, you’re sure to nail a day at sea no problem.
Not quite ready to grow up? Us either. Channel your inner child on your next escape with a dreamy holiday to The Whitsundays. Virgin Australia flies daily to the Whitsunday Coast from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, so consider your next vacation sorted.
Image Credit: Tourism and Events Queensland