Day Trips in the Whitsundays
Our original plan was to camp for a few nights on Whitsunday Island off the coast of Airlie Beach, but our plans changed a bit due to the ute (truck) spraying diesel in Yeppoon. We managed to get up to Airlie in a rental car, as our friend Andrea was flying back to Brisbane from an airport nearby. Thankfully we were all feeling flexible and just happy to be continuing the trip! Day trips in the Whitsundays are practically endless, depending on your budget and what you're interested in seeing.
Airlie Beach has quite the reputation for being a party town. Luckily for us, due to COVID the usual hordes of backpackers were absent, making the town oddly clean and quiet. Although this limited our day tour options a bit, we really didn't mind getting the place mostly to ourselves.
Planning the Whitsundays
We did very little pre-planning for the Whitsundays. We’d spoken with Salty Dog Sea Kayaking, which offers day trips as well as shuttles out to the islands. We were planning on booking this when we arrived, but because of the delay in Yeppoon we didn’t have our camping gear sorted or enough days to do it all. We also thought perhaps we’d book a dive, maybe even a live-aboard (multi-day sailing with dives and snorkeling included), but after talking to multiple people they said not to bother. There isn’t great coral here due to a cyclone that hit in 2017, and the big fish in the outer reef weren’t enough of a draw for us.
We wandered the main street, picking up brochures from GSL Whitsundays and then visiting Sailing Whitsundays, where we found some answers to our questions. The day tours are all pretty similar, and there were limited options because of COVID. After getting some direction from Dave, a hilarious guy from the UK wearing an epic party shirt, we booked a full day tour on the Whitsunday Bullet.
In hindsight I wish I'd also booked the scenic flight with GSL as the weather was perfect and it was half the regular price... Maybe next time! We also considered a jet ski tour, since I've never been on one. GSL does a package including both of these, if you're looking for something extra. Shop around until you find exactly what you want, as there are many storefronts along the main drag owned by different companies.
Just a Casual Sail
Want to know the best (and possibly cheapest) DIY activity in Airlie Beach? Sailing a dinghy in Airlie Bay! After booking our tour for the next day, we spent a few hours on the water.
The Whitsunday Sailing Club is right smack in the middle of town, and will rent you a boat for $30 + 1 day membership for $10. We had a blast thanks to Bobby's sailing expertise, and somehow managed to not run into the 5 million boats moored in the harbor.
It was a fun day out, and we returned to the apartment for some delicious homemade gnocchi (thanks Chef Andrea!).
Day trip to Whitsunday Island
A shuttle for the Whitsunday Bullet trip picked us up around 7:30am and we were dropped off at the main marina, which is lovely, especially in the early morning light. The water was smooth as glass.
We admired the massive sailboat pictured below and the super yacht behind it. Renting super yacht Mischief is just $15,000AU per hour or $495,000 per week! Totally affordable! Did we mention it comes with jet skis and a rock climbing wall?!?
We grabbed wetsuits, boarded the boat, and were given morning tea. After a brief safety induction, we cruised over to a snorkeling spot on an island about 40 minutes away. It was a perfect day, cloudless with almost no wind.
The coral was pretty, and the water wasn't too cold with wetsuits. It was very weird snorkeling without fins, which I assume are too much hassle for the tour guides to keep track of. We do wish the company had been a bit more emphatic about preserving the coral, as a few of the girls were seen standing on it.
South Whitehaven Lookout
After another scenic drive, our boat dropped anchor at the southern end of Whitehaven, where most of our group stayed put and enjoyed the beach. We opted to hike to the lookout, which was about a 20 minute walk with lots of stairs.
Well worth the hike. The water and surrounding islands created a great backdrop for the hundreds of butterflies flitting about!
Bobby made some friends who invited us to come sailing in their yacht, which we still hope we can tag on to our road trip at some point... We got back to the beach too late for paddle boarding, so hopped back onto the boat for lunch and the trip around to the other side of the island.
Hill Inlet deserves to be famous. I really wish I’d done the scenic fight to view it from the air, as the different shades of blue are mesmerizing. Whitehaven is probably the most stunning beach I’ve seen so far in Aus.
There's a series of 3 lookouts, the views getting better with each one. Sadly we did not have much time here, as the changing tides meant we had to get back to the boat. I could've used another day here just to photograph the water from every angle. Our guide also told us that the colors change with the tides and with the weather. I'll be back, Whitehaven!
I was very disappointed that our tour didn’t stop at this end of Whitehaven beach, because I really would’ve loved to go for a swim here instead of the less-pretty beach near the South Whitehaven Lookout. Because of this, if given the option I'd choose a tour other than the Whitsunday Bullet.
Our captain made a brief detour to watch a whale and her calf before heading back to the marina. We passed a few sailboat day tours that were motoring in, due to lack of wind.
After changing out of our swimsuits, we treated ourselves to some Italian food, and headed back to watch Farmer Wants A Wife, which is like a country version of The Bachelor with A LOT more contestants.
Sadly the next morning it was already time for Andrea to head back to Brisbane. After almost 3 weeks together we were sad to say goodbye! We walked her to the airport shuttle and went to relax at a fancy resort for one last night in Airlie.
Of course after getting back on the water in a little sailboat, Bobby had to go for a real sail! He booked us a sunset cruise on the Providence. It was a lovely evening, with just enough wind for us to glide across the water.
Romantic? Only if your boyfriend doesn't spend the entire trip swapping stories with the skipper...
We really didn’t want to leave Airlie... But it was time to head back to Yeppoon and pick up the truck and trailer to continue our road trip!
Next destination? Platypus spotting at Eungella National Park - Coming Soon!
Where to Stay in Airlie
With Andrea, we stayed at the Seaview Apartments in the center of town. They were a bit expensive but for us the location and access to a kitchen were worth it. The apartment was huge, with 2 bedrooms, a large kitchen and living room, and patio next to the pool. Would recommend for a family or group of friends looking for something a little more private.
After Andrea left, Bobby and I treated ourselves to a night in a fancy resort. The Club Wyndham Airlie Beach blew us away, with a spacious ocean-view apartment, jacuzzi tub big enough for 6’ 4” Bobby, and gorgeous infinity pool and spa.
What else is there to do in Airlie Beach other than drinking?
Visit the waterfront and lagoon
Markets and live music on Saturdays
Shopping - Found some decent swimwear deals at Ripcurl and City Beach
Playing on the most intense playground I've ever seen