If you wish to listen to the heartbeat of the Great Barrier Reef then Whitsunday Islands is a perfect destination for you. Being formed millions of years ago they still bewilder with marine and terrestrial landscapes. The calm waters around the Islands are ideal for beginners, night diving, and underwater photography.
Stretching from Bowen in the northern part up to Mackay in the southern part, 74 spectacular islands form a group which is called Whitsunday Islands. This is the central part of the Great Barrier Reef, and 8 islands host resort accommodation. The main islands are Whitsunday Island, Hook Island, Hamilton Island, Hayman Island, South Molle Island, Long Island, Lindeman Island, and Daydream Island.
Hamilton Island is a commercial centre of this area and it also serves as the main air gateway to the islands and to the whole Great Barrier Reef. Virgin Australia, Qantas, and Jetstar service regular flights to Whitsunday Islands from different destinations of Australia.
You can also use Proserpine Airport as the closest airport on the mainland. You will need to take a 30-minute transfer to Shute Harbor or Airlier Beach with the following boat transfer to your island.
Whitsunday Islands are connected by ferry services. The biggest islands also have public buses, taxis, and car hire. For transfers between the islands, you can take an air taxi or charter a private yacht, a boat, a helicopter or a seaplane.
Whitsunday Islands are perfect for beginners. You do not need to travel far away, as diving is usually possible around the local dive sites. Most of the dive sites are located in shallow calm waters making it easy to access and to enjoy the beautiful underwater world.
Experienced divers can take an opportunity to discover farthest destinations on a liveaboard departing from Whitsunday Islands or the mainland. The largest number of dive centers can be found on Hamilton Island.
Best Dive Sites Overview
This dive site is often referred to as the best in the area of Whitsunday Islands. It is situated near Hook Island. The maximum depth here is 18m (59ft.). Usually, the entrance is made from the western beach. The dive site is full of coral pinnacles covered with a great variety of hard corals like Table Coral, Staghorn Coral, and Finger Coral. The site is popular for watching Manta Ray between May and September. Among the residents of the area, there are Napoleon, Whitetip, and Blacktip Reef Shark.
Manta Ray Bay
Manta Ray Bay can be found near Hook Island. Only 2 boats maximum are allowed to visit it at the same time. The average depth here is 3-15m (9-49ft.). The Bay is famous for its beautiful hard and soft corals over pinnacles which are surrounded by the sandy bottom. The seascape also consists of swim-throughs, caves, and coral canyon of 10m (32ft.). As the name promises you can expect to see Manta during the months of May-September at this dive site. Besides you can encounter a large number of Damselfish, as well as Napoleon, Angelfish, Parrotfish, Coral Trout, and Batfish here.
Mackerel Bay is located on the eastern coast of Hook Island. It can be visited only when the weather is good as the Bay is exposed to strong winds. However, it offers one of the most spectacular caves in the Great Barrier Reef. There is a wall going down to 12m (39ft.) with crevices. If you swim inside you will find beautiful cathedral with several entrances and exists. As there are many cracks in the ceiling, there is plenty of light around the area which makes it great for photography. It is common to spot Turtle, Bluespotted Stingray, Coral Trout, and Sweetlips. If you are lucky you might find a Shovelnose Ray on the sandy bottom.
This is a well-protected dive site on the northern side of Hook Island. You will notice plenty of hard and soft corals around the area with giant Mushroom Coral, Honeycomb Coral, Sea Fan, and Black Coral. It is possible to find many Anemones with their traditional partners, Clownfish. You can enjoy the picturesque reef fish, Trevally, Napoleon, Sweetlips, Morays, Grouper, and Nudibranch. It is possible to see Whitetip Reef Shark and Turtle passing by through the canyon along the dive site.
Blue Pearl Bay
This diving spot is located to the north-west of Hayman Island. The dive depth ranges between 3-18m (9-59ft.). Here you can enjoy a combination of coral formations, walls, crevices, and swim-throughs. This place is famous for a great variety of reef fish, Whip Corals, and huge Gorgonians. Some of the local Napoleons love to pose for the underwater camera.
Best Dive Season
You can enjoy breathtaking diving around Whitsunday Islands all the year through. The best conditions are usually encountered between the middle of August and December.
It might be useful to know that September-October and December-January are the most popular months to visit Whitsunday Islands. That is why you should be ready for a larger number of people as well as for the highest pricing on the Islands.
The water temperature at Whitsunday Islands stays about 25ºС (77ºF) all the year round, however, at different spots you can also witness 24 ºС (75ºF) and 29 ºС (84ºF).
There can be some heavy rains during the wet season which lasts from January to March. This can decrease the visibility around the Islands. Standard visibility ranges between 8-15m (26-49ft.), 30m (98ft.) is the best visibility which can be seen here.
Current is usually gentle in most of the dive sites as they are well protected from the winds and deep waters.
Dive sites around Whitsunday Islands offer a great variety of the representatives of the Great Barrier Reef marine life. There are not so much pelagic as in outer reefs, thought you still can encounter Whitetip and Blacktip Reef Shark, Wobbegong Shark, Guitar Shark, Green Sea Turtle, Stingray, Barracuda, Trevally, and Napoleon.
If you wish to see a timid Dugong, then you’d better try to visit less crowded spots like Double Bay and Mackeral Bay. From time to time they have also been spotted in Repulse Bay, Muddy Bay, Cid Harbour, and Tongue Bay. These mammals like to feed in shallow waters around the grassy seabeds.
The months of June-August are famous for Minke Whales watching while June-November usually gives an opportunity to see Humpback Whales.
Coral Spawning takes place after the full moon in October and November.
Whitsunday Islands offer a great variety of accommodations to suit everyone: family-friendly resorts, eco-style hotels, luxury islands attracting the rich and the famous as well as camping in National Parks. The largest number of accommodations is concentrated on Hamilton Island. If you wish to avoid the crowds, then you’d better choose some remote and secluded islands.
If you are interested in camping there are plenty of options at different islands. Before enjoying your vacation you need to get a camping permit from Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. Bookings can be made online, via the phone or at the booking offices. The current camping fee is 5.95 AUD (4.45USD) per person per night. A family of 2 adults and children under 18 years can use the family rate of 23.80AUD (17.82USD) per night. You can bring your own tent or rent it in the nearby locations.
One & Only (Hayman Island Resort)
Hayman Island is located in the northern part of Whitsunday Islands. The luxury One & Only resort was built by an Australian millionaire. This private Resort with 2km (1.2mi) long white sand beach offers different types of Rooms, Suites, a Beach Villa with a pool, and One or Two Bedroom Penthouses. There are 4 restaurants and 2 bars on site. The guests can enjoy Spa treatments and a fitness centre. This exclusive Resort also features one of the largest swimming pools in the world.
Daydream Island Resort and Spa
The Resort is famous for its Living Reef which features more than 80 species of coral and 140 species of fish. Free feeding and educational sessions are regularly held here. The guests can interact with huge Stingray, Lemon Shark, and a large Barramundi. You can choose to stay in Rooms or Suites each featuring great views over the sea or rainforest.
Paradise Bay Island Resort
This is a romantic luxury resort oriented on couples, newlyweds, and honeymooners with minimum check-in age of 18. It is located on Long Island and it can accommodate up to 18 guests in Waterfront Bungalows. Packages usually include accommodation, all meals with wine at dinner, boat excursions, snorkeling equipment, kayaks, and paddle boards.
La Bella Apartments
These 3 bedroom Apartments are situated in the north-eastern part of Hamilton Island. Each apartment features a balcony, fully-equipped kitchen, a dining area, and BBQ facilities. Guests are provided with a golf buggy which can be used for the Island exploration.
There are several boat operators offering vessels for charters at Whitsunday Islands. The typical itinerary covers 2 or 3-night accommodation. Besides staying on a boat you can try accommodation in a pontoon catamaran hotel.
This vessel is ready to take up to 20 guests aboard. The guests are accommodated on the lower deck in Double, Twin and Quad Share Cabins with en-suite bathrooms. There are an air-conditioned salon and a sun deck. The liveaboard usually visits Hook Island, Luncheon Bay, Whitehaven Beach, Bait Reef, Hayman Island, and Blue Pearl Bay.
This is a 42m (140ft.) liveaboard with an onboard Spa and a huge water slide. There are Double, Triple, and Quad Share Cabins aboard. All of them feature A/C and most of them have en-suite bathrooms. There is also a salon where meals are served and a bar on the boat.
Kiana can accommodate up to 14 guests in Single or Double Cabins. There are shared bathrooms and toilets aboard. Diving can be performed from a Zodiac attached to the boat. The boat offers 1st scuba dive for free for those who are just thinking of starting their underwater adventure.
Summertime is a 21m (70ft.) traditional sailing vessel. It offers a 2-night accommodation with itinerary around Whitsunday Islands. You can stay in Double or Single Cabins. There are 2-person kayaks which can be used by the guests.
Reef Encounter is a pontoon catamaran hotel. It is 35m (114ft.) long and it can accommodate divers and snorkelers in 21 Double or Twin-shared Cabins. The Hotel features a lounge area, a dining area, a bar, a huge sun deck, and an open air hot tub. Divers and snorkelers benefit from a spacious diving and snorkeling platform. You can also ask for a glass bottom boat excursions which are usually included in the package. In order to get to the Hotel, you need to take either a speed boat from Cairns or a Helicopter.
Other Activities For Non-Divers
Whitsunday Islands are famous for dozens of great snorkeling spots. Usually, you can snorkel right on your island or you can join one of the boats for a daily trip. Among the most famous snorkeling sites, there are Bait Reef, Blue Pearl Bay, Cateran Bay, and Alcyonaria Point. It is recommended to use Jellyfish wetsuit protection all the time which can be rented from any dive center.
Activities and Excursions
You can enjoy plenty of activities on the Islands. Whitehaven Beach is the most awarded and the most photographed beach in Australia. It stretches for 7km (4.3mi) along Whitsunday Island.
If you enjoy marine life, you can visit the Living Reef on Daydream Island. This is the largest man-made living coral reef. You can get acquainted with baby stingrays, participate in a guided fish feeding, as well as touch a shark in a shark nursery.
Currently, there are no official Whale watching tours at Whitsunday Islands. However, if you take a daily trip, a fishing trip, or a sailing cruise along the islands between June and September, most likely you are to see the magnificent Humpback and Pilot Whales.