72 hours in The Whitsundays

Cherished for its turquoise waters, pristine sand and picture-perfect views, the Whitsundays is a non-negotiable bucket list destination. With an abundance of chic beach bars, world-famous islands and underwater adventures, there’s no better time to take a short break in paradise.

 the whitsundays

WHAT TO DO

Is spending some time underwater the first thing on your to-do list? A day trip to Reefworld will allow you to experience the Great Barrier Reef in every way possible. This impressive pontoon is located in Hardy Reef, around 75km from Airlie Beach. A full-day adventure here brings you an unforgettable itinerary, including snorkelling (all gear is provided) with reef fish and turtles, an underwater observatory, semi-submarine guided tours, and food provided throughout the day. Want more? Why not see the reef from the sky with a helicopter tour directly from the pontoon? If the water is more your thing, explore more than 1,400 species of coral with a diving tour.

the whitsundays

Baby tall ship Providence V’s Day Sail tour is the ultimate way to see the Whitsunday Islands. Your day begins sailing to Tongue Bay, a picture-perfect spot that’s suitable for swimming or just relaxing on the classic 62-foot schooner. Your captain will then guide you from Tongue Bay to Hill Inlet, a short and easy 15-minute walk. Here, you’ll take in the mesmerising blue and white swirls of the Inlet, overlooking Whitehaven Beach and off into the vast horizon. Depending on the tide, you’ll clock countless shades of blue in the ocean – probably the most Instagram-worthy part of your entire trip! After basking in the beauty here, make your way to Betty’s Beach, a 10-minute stroll from Hill Inlet. Be ready with your stinger suit to explore the crystal-clear water of one of the world’s most captivating beaches. Once you’re ready to move on, you’ll sail to Dumbell Island or another spectacular snorkelling spot, depending on the tide and weather on the day. Get ready to see a colourful cast of locals including clown fish, dolphins and more.

There’s more to the Whitsundays than underwater activities, though. Airlie Beach Adventure Tours offers numerous boutique land-based tours within the region. Their luxury transportation will have you feeling like royalty as you’re guided through some of the most beautiful and secluded parts of the Whitsundays. These tours are customisable, so if you have somewhere in mind you’d like to see, just let them know and they’ll make it happen. Our recommendation? Cedar Creek Falls is a magical waterfall not far out of Airlie and requires zero hiking – jump out of the car, and you’re there!

the whitsundays

WHERE TO STAY

Located centrally in Airlie Beach, Heart Hotel and Gallery is a winner for location. Surrounded by local restaurants, bustling nightlife and the Airlie Beach lagoon and boardwalk, this is the perfect spot to soak up the Whitsundays vibe and experience everything this region has to offer. Plus, it’s just a short five minutes from Coral Sea Marina, your gateway to the islands. Heart Hotel and Gallery’s boutique accommodation captures the essence of tropical Queenslander homes with its high-pitched roof and wide verandas.

the whitsundays

For an unforgettable escape, it’s hard to go past Mirage Whitsundays. Their spacious self-contained apartments feature generous outdoor living spaces and luxury in-room facilities, with breathtaking views of the ocean that make for some magical sunrises and sunsets.

Treat yourself to a rejuvenating stay at Freedom Shores Resort, tucked away in a hidden valley 15 minutes outside the hustle of Airlie Beach. Stay in one of the coveted boat bungalows or resort suites, or take it up a notch and enjoy having a private beach all to yourself in the bright and breezy beach shack. The resort’s nautical theme will get you on island time instantly, and it’s perfectly combined with the wide range of activities and tours to fill your time here.

Still drawn to the water? You’re in the right place. Now’s your chance to really live out your mermaid dreams with an overnight stay on the Great Barrier Reef at Reefworld. This two-day, one-night experience begins with a day of water activities and a buffet lunch. Then the day-trippers head back home, and the pontoon (and reef!) is all yours to enjoy.

the whitsundays

Choose between a stay under the water (no, that’s not a typo!) in the Reefsuites, or camp out on top of the pontoon under the twinkling stars. Spending the night in your underwater bolthole will be an experience you’ll remember forever. Wake up to the view of crystal clear waters and, if you’re lucky, a good-morning wave from the turtles as they pass by your window. Alternatively, stay on the upper level of the pontoon and cosy up in your Reefbed. It’s just you, the stars, and the reef. Magic.

WHERE TO EAT

the whitsundays

You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to relaxed dining in the Whitsundays’ main port of arrivals and departures, Airlie Beach. The Garden Bar Bistro at Coral Sea Marina serves up lush views over the water – sunset here is particularly stunning. Their menu offers a range of self-proclaimed ‘Whitsundays way of life’ meals – think locally caught seafood and Aussie burgers, fused with international influences.

If you need to take it easy after all that adventure, Peach & Pear Catering can deliver delicious hampers to your room, perfect for a quiet night in or a relaxed and romantic waterside picnic. Order your dinner hampers ahead of time when you know you’ll be having a busy day, or organise a gourmet breakfast hamper to arrive in time for your early morning start.

the whitsundays

Northerlies Beach Bar & Grill, located next to Freedom Shores in a little pocket just outside of Airlie Beach, is a popular beachfront restaurant and the perfect combination of outstanding food and cocktails and a laidback atmosphere.

Words by Maddie Joslin | Photos: Queensland Tourism & Events and R Jean Photography.