The Whitsundays is one of the most famous Queensland island destinations, revered for it’s pristine beaches and access to the Great Barrier Reef. It consists of 74 islands across a 109.2 square mile area, and over 500,000 eager travelers flock to the area each year (well, erm, before COVID at least). Whitehaven Beach, the crown jewel of the Whitsundays, has consistently been ranked as one of the top beaches in the world, and any “what to do in Queensland” search labels the Whitsundays as a must see locale.
If money isn’t an issue, you can plan an epic vacation involving helicopter rides, sea planes, fancy villas, yacht charters, and scuba diving. Sounds like your cup of tea? I’ll direct you to our pal Google to get the details! If you’re on a budget like me, you can still get a taste of what the Whitsundays has to offer.
The frugal truth…
A booked tour is the way to go for travelers on a budget.
We did hours of research trying to figure out an affordable way to see Whitehaven Beach, the Hill Inlet lookout (where you see the iconic swirly sandbars), and get a snorkel in. The ferry from Airlee Beach to Hamilton Island would be AUD$120pp round trip alone. Then we’d need a couple more ferries to get around from there.
After a few more hours of looking for the right tour, we settled with a day trip through Big Fury Island Tour when we found a flash sale for AUD$119 pp (down from AUD$180ish).
We met at a marina in Airlee beach where a charismatic man named Braydon checked us in and gave us our stinger suits (for my US pals, jelly fish are commonly called stingers Down Under). There were a surprising amount of international people on the tour given Australia’s shut boarders.
The speed boat jetted off towards Hamilton Island at a comfortably brisk pace. The sun was shining, the water was outrageously blue, and spirits were high.
Stop One: Hill Inlet Lookout
Unfortunately, the tides were not working in our favor and the swirling sand patterns were mostly masked under high tide. However, I have never seen such blue, vibrant water. It was like I was looking at an edited photo.
Stop Two: Whitehaven Beach
A short 10 minute boat ride took us over to Whitehaven beach for lunch and free time.
Lunch consisted of a platter full of lunch meat, bread, and a few side salads. The highlight was 3 giant lace monitor lizards that were lurking around the picnic tables. They looked like dinosaurs, menacingly edging closer and closer. Suddenly, they’d race after each other at speeds that could certainly outpace many of the fellow tourists. Lunch and show! How great!
The beach was stunning with clear turquoise water and silky white sand. The sand is 98.9% pure silica that comes from eroded quartz. It is extremely fine, which makes it soft and velvety as well as a great jewelry cleaner and camera destroyer. It also felt nice and cool despite the baking sun.
While the water was warm, we were strongly advised not to go in without a stinger suit. Jellyfish in Australia are responsible for thousands of stings, some being deadly. (More info on this to come in future posts!) Swimming around in a stinger suit doesn’t have quite the same magic as splashing around in a bikini.
Was the beach beautiful?: yeah!
Was it the best beach I’ve ever been to?: No….
While there was soft sand and blue water, there were too many people and wearing stinger suits took the magic away. Hay Moon Cay in the Caribbean has Whitehaven Beach beat in terms of pure aesthetics, if you ask me.
Sand and water are all well and good, but what I love about a beach is the experience surrounding it. Some of my favorite beach experiences have been drinking out of coconuts on the beaches of Koh Samui, a daybed and champagne on some random beach in Mykonos, and a $6 massage on Koh Rung.
The main activity at Whitehaven is observing and taking photos. Which is fine. But is it worthy of the title “best beach in the world?” Maybe not.
Stop 3: Snorkeling
The Big Fury boat cruised off around the island to a snorkeling spot. The tide was still a bit too high, meaning it was hard to really see what was living below. Not to mention, the mask didn’t fit my child sized head and it kept on filling up with water.
There was some nice coral and a handful of impressive fish, but if I’m being frank, it didn’t hold a candle to the snorkeling on the Great Keppel Island (click HERE). Pictures and the internet suggest that there is some incredible snorkeling to be had, but hey, you can’t win them all! (I’m sure scuba diving would have been better, but #budget)
We loaded onto the boat and jetted off back towards the marina.
Wrapping It All Up
Paying a visit to the Whitsunday Islands is completely achievable for travelers on a budget via a guided tour.
While Whitehaven Beach was lovely and snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef is a cool bucket list experience, was it worth the cost? Ehhhhh, I’d say no. Head over to the Keppel Islands instead!