How to island hop your way around the Whitsundays
With 74 islands and the Great Barrier Reef as its backdrop, The Whitsundays is an island hopper’s paradise.
If you’d love to experience the best of these Whitsunday islands, as well as a few new and not-so-well-known places, then grab your tent, snorkel and sunscreen and get ready to explore this tropical paradise in true island-hopping style!
Most famous for being the island that Lara Bingle’s “Where the bloody hell are you” tourism campaign was filmed on, this sparkling sand spit is popular with day trippers.
With a brand new walking track that winds a short distance up to a lookout and views overlooking the sand spit and Black and Hook Islands, Langford Island is a great first stop for your island-hopping adventure.
At low tide the sand spit is a spectacular picnic spot however at high tide the sand disappears below the waterline so it’s important to check the tides ahead of your trip and plan your time here accordingly. Also make sure you bring an umbrella for shade as it can warm up on the sand quite quickly.
Luckily you’ll be surrounded by the Whitsundays’ world famous turquoise waters that are perfect for cooling off in. If you’re here during the warmer months, a stinger suit is a good idea if you’d like to jump in for a quick dip around any of the islands.
A popular anchorage not too far from Langford is Nara Inlet on Hook Island. As well as all the stunning landscapes and blue hues on offer here in the Whitsundays, there’s also a fantastic Ngaro Aboriginal cultural site.
Here, interactive displays set in ancient caves and rock wall paintings will teach you about the Ngaro people and their fascinating history that dates back over 9000 years.
After a big day exploring Langford Island and Nara Inlet, a great option for your first night camping out in the Whitsundays is Crayfish Beach on Hook Island. Located on the eastern side of Hook Island, this camping area is only accessible at mid to high tide and in a shallow watercraft.
The campsite looks out over Crayfish Bay and makes for a great view to wake up to.
The site itself is well maintained and very clean with several picnic tables and two composting toilets. It’s important to note that open fires are prohibited here and with a limit of 12 people able to camp at any time, pre-booking your site via the Queensland National Parks website is advisable.
The perfect way to start your next day island-hopping around the Whitsundays is with some snorkelling at Manta Ray Bay on the northern side of Hook Island. The fish are very friendly and are used to swimming with guests on the snorkelling tours that regularly stop here.
The biggest of the fish are the curious Maori wrasse that love coming right up to snorkellers and feeding on the surface. Giant trevally, yellowtail fusiliers and turtles are also very common and it’s easy to spend a few hours swimming in this underwater paradise.
One of the newest walking tracks and lookouts in the Whitsundays is at beautiful Border Island. Accessible from the beach at Cateran Bay, it’s a 10-minute walk to the first lookout and then a short two-minute stroll to the second lookout that takes in vistas from the opposite side of the island.
The views on the walking track are almost as stunning as from the lookout and are amongst the best in the Whitsundays. As there are no tour operators that visit Border Island, you’ll most likely have it all to yourself!
Home to one of the most photographed places in Australia, Whitsunday Island is on every island-hopper’s must-see list when visiting the Whitsundays.
Most visitors arrive on day-trip tours and depending on the tides, the lookouts can start to get busy from around 10:30am through to 3pm. If you’re doing a camping trip and have chartered your own boat, you’ll have more flexibility, can beat the crowds and even score one of the lookouts all to yourself!
When it comes to getting photos of this iconic natural wonder, the best time is about two hours either side of high tide as this is when the water and bright white sand are at their breathtaking best.
For those island hoppers keen to tick off one of the highest points in the Whitsundays, the Whitsunday Peak hiking trail is also on Whitsunday Island. Beginning at Sawmill Beach, it’s a 5km return trek that offers sensational views from the ‘roof of the Whitsundays’. Allow four hours to do this physically demanding trail and as always bring plenty of water.
For your second night camping out in the Whitsundays, Cairn Beach at the northern tip of Whitsunday Island is hard to go past. It’s a great access point to the neighbouring Whitsunday Cairn walking track and with a beautiful beachfront, it’s an idyllic little site.
The facilities are similar to Crayfish Beach with picnic benches and a composting toilet and it also has a limit of 12 people. A reef that runs parallel to the beach means you’ll need a boat with a shallow draft to come ashore here too.
What about food and drink?
As with all camping trips, you’ll want to stock up with some supplies and a great option for all your catering needs is Whitsundays Provisioning. From pre-prepared platters all the way through to complete three-meal-a-day packages, the team will look after all your food and drink needs. They’ll even deliver your supplies directly to the boat ramp so you can then just jump in and go!
Self-catering? Woolworths Airlie Beach is right in the middle of town, just a short drive from the Port of Airlie.
Need a boat?
If you haven’t got enough time to spend a few days camping but still want to check out a couple of the Whitsunday islands, another option is to do an eco-tour or private charter for the day with John from Whitsundays Paradise Explorer.
With over 17 years’ experience in the Whitsundays, John knows all these places intimately and can take you to the best spots depending on the weather and tides.
Another benefit of his extensive knowledge is the commentary he provides about all the local flora, fauna, reefs, islands and marine life you’ll come across during the day. Add in a gourmet picnic lunch and you’re in seventh heaven!
If you prefer to be the captain of your own island-hopping adventure, here’s everything you need to know about bareboating in the Whitsundays.
Want to get to the outer Great Barrier Reef?
An island-hopping adventure around the Whitsundays wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Great Barrier Reef! One of the best snorkelling and diving sites in the Whitsundays is Bait Reef and the Explore Group offer daily tours to this underwater stunner.
The day trips depart from Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island and include a minimum of 3.5 hours at Bait Reef. It’s a great way to experience one of the seven natural wonders of the world and the beauty of choosing Explore Group is that they can choose the perfect spot on Bait Reef to suit the conditions.
Keep an eye out for the friendly turtles that love swimming through here as well as the many wrasse, giant trevally and batfish that sneak up for a feed off the back of the boat!