“Let the waves hit your feet and the sand be your seat” – Unknown
The Whitsundays, Australia
Considered to have some of the most stunning beaches in the world, the Whitsundays are nothing short of picture-perfect. On Queensland’s east coast, this region consists of many mainland must-dos and 74 idylic islands. No visit to Australia would be complete without time to explore and marvel at the natural beauty held here. This Christmas, we enjoyed 7 nights of Whitsunday magic as part of our road trip from New South Wales. Here’s what we loved and why we recommend this location for every style of traveller.
If you think you can only enjoy beauty like this on a large budget, think again! There is a price range to suit everyone in popular Airlie Beach, a good base for accessing the Whitsundays. When it comes to accommodation we chose caravan parks for our first few nights before upgrading for the festive period. You will find sites for camping both on the edge of town and nestled closer to the national park. Pitches start from around 30 AUD per night and camping is a great way to enjoy authentic Australia. If you have a vehicle, we recommend Flametree Tourist Village, an 8 minute drive from the centre. Enjoy their salt water pool, excellent shower blocks and luscious, green grounds. Your friendly hosts will help you with anything you need and welcome you to this stunning area.
If you are looking for a little more luxury, we throughly enjoyed 3 nights in Peppers Airlie Beach, a 4* hotel with incredible views of the ocean and great service. We chose a self-catering apartment costing around 200 AUD per night over Christmas and feel Peppers is a fantastic option for celebrating a special occasion. Staff are happy to provide you with ‘golf-buggy service’ between buildings in this hilly spot and a complimentary shuttle bus runs to the town centre every hour. The infinity pool is a great place to watch the sun go down and the outdoor restaurant has a fantastic breakfast buffet. Once you’ve enjoyed these two areas with their spectacular ocean views, imagine being able to relax out of the sun for an afternoon in your own private hot tub bath!
As a popular gateway to the Whitsundays, Airlie Beach is a fairly small tourist town that boasts shops, a marina and the Lagoon for swimming. Its many tourist desks will assist you with booking any manor of water adventures from jet skis to scuba diving, speedboats to sail boats. Tours to the islands vary in length and style, whether you want to get out and back within a day on a thrilling high-speed boat, or leisurely explore for 3 days, enjoying overnight stops in calm cays and sunrises on the ocean with breakfast. If you are without a car, Airlie Beach has everything you need. We say grab some wheels though, as you will definately want to explore some of the overland gems of the Whitsunday region.
In this part of Australia, you are in crocodile territory. For swimming on the mainland, we ventured to Cedar Creek Falls which is roughly a half hour drive from Airlie Beach. Here you will find a small waterfall when there’s been rain, but even without rain, this is a great swimming hole. Suitable for children and adults alike, this natural location is a great road trip stop, a day trip in itself or perfect on the drive around Conway National Park. We stopped for a swim before continuing another 10-15 minutes to Conway Beach, where we enjoyed a picnic lunch in complete isolation overlooking the glistening, summer water. Conway National Park offers walks of varying lengths for all levels of ability. Mount Rooper is considered one of the best with a lookout point offering panoramic views of the Whitsunday islands.
Hideaway Bay is my favourite place on the mainland here. It is literally hidden about a 50 minute drive from Airlie and we were sharing it with just one other couple when we visited. Choose Hideaway in the morning, then make your way to Dingo Beach whilst you are out this way. Dingo is a little bit more built up than Hideaway, but just as beautiful. Here you will find benches, bathrooms and a swimming enclosure. Take a walk along the stunning coastline and admire the beautiful shells the sea washes up. You can eat overlooking the ocean by bringing a picnic or stop in the local pub to buy food. You might even be lucky enough to spot wildlife from the shore. Adhere to all crocodile warnings and swim only in designated safe areas.
For those typical Whitsunday postcard shots, you want to visit Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet. Most boat trips will help you reach these jaw-dropping locations, but we recommend booking a seaplane or helicopter and getting a bird’s-eye view. From Airlie, you can fly over Heart Reef, Bait Reef, Hook Reef, Hamilton Island and more, with Helireef Whitsundays. We saw manta rays, turtles and reef sharks from the air, with the the crystal clear waters being ideal for spotting wildlife. Our flight circled heart reef for photographs, before making its way to Hill Inlet and landing on Whitehaven Beach. Just when you think it can’t get any more pristine, the real treasure of choosing a helicopter is it will stop on a section of the beach with no people. Enjoy an hour on the world’s purest sand completely alone with a bottle of bubbles, a picnic blanket and a shade umbrella. If you want to swim, be aware that summer is the season for jellyfish. We visited at this time and the company provided stinger suits so that we could enjoy a swim. Flattering? No. Great fun? Yes! Scoop up white silica sand, laugh at each other’s outfits and enjoy serenity and isolation in one of the most beautiful places you’ll ever see.
For food, camping or a self-catering apartment are both fantastic options for cooking your own meals, which if you are travelling on a budget, allows you to spend more money on activities. I’ll happily cook a bit whilst on holiday if it means I get to enjoy something as wonderful as a helicopter! If you do want to eat out, we can highly recommend Zambrero in Cannonvale. Zambero offers a wide range of Mexican cuisine, can turn anything on the menu vegan and donates meals to children in need based on orders purchased. The food is delicious, the portions are super generous and it feels great to give something back too. On the water at Abell Point Marina, we also loved Bohemian for morning juices and smoothies, and Sorrento for afternoon pizzas or late live music.
Just north of Airlie Beach, take the time to visit Bowen, around an hour drive from the town centre, or less from Hideaway Bay or Dingo Beach. Bowen is well known for delicious and juicy KP mangoes. Stop into the tourist information centre where you can buy 100% mango sorbet which goes down perfectly on a humid, summer day. Here you can also learn how the community supported the filming of Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Australia’ 10 years ago. For lunch, we recommend award winning Queens Beach with a picnic and a walk along the sand. If you want to stay in Bowen, Rose Bay Caravan Park offers reasonable prices in a peaceful setting, with a much needed pool to cool off in the intense Queensland heat. Our favourite spot in Bowen is Flagstaff Hill. Head up for fantastic views of the Whitsunday islands and the turquoise water surrounding them. Take a minute to admire the benches and tables at this lookout point, made from 3500 recycled plastic bottles.
The Whitsundays are without a doubt a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list experience. Whether you go with the family and enjoy the Lagoon and National Parks, whether you go with friends and enjoy the high-adrenalin water activities and the nightlife, or whether you are looking for romantic isolation and private picnics, this region is quite simply out-of-this-world beautiful. An unmissable Australian east-coast destination, you will never be disappointed you came. Whether you’re a swimmer or a non-swimmer, get in or over that water. You can’t say you’ve visited paradise until you’ve witnessed the Whitsunday’s whitest silica sands, unique marine life and the clearest of clear sea water.
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Matt and I got engaged in a helicopter!