10 Reasons to Visit the Whitsundays

Swim with turtles, walk barefoot along one of the world’s most beautiful beaches and sail around the Great Barrier Reef.

things to do whitsundays
Photo: @pianemec

The Whitsundays is one of nature’s most remarkable gifts, which sounds redundant when talking about Australia’s diverse landscape. But with 74 islands, it’s the world’s greatest aquatic playground, boasting laid-back coastal towns, famous beaches, protected rainforest, and a diversity of experiences.

READ MORE: The Most Beautiful Places in Queensland

Whether you want to sink your toes into the white silica sands of famous Whitehaven Beach, snorkel with the local turtles, or soak up a sunset cocktail, you can here, without hassle. There are endless reasons to visit the Whitsundays, but here are our favourite 10.

things to do whitsundays
Photo: @daydreamislandresort

Escape to and stay on a tropical island

With only eight of its 74 islands inhabited, staying on a tropical island in the Whitsundays is an easy feat. Hamilton Island is always a popular choice for laid-back luxury. It’s home to Qualia, which was voted one of the best luxury resorts in the world, more than once. Think of it as where the celebrities go when they visit. Although, you can find several options to fit your budget. Another great island, which just had a makeover is Daydream Island Resort and Living Reef. This stunning property is its own island, offering rooms and suites, restaurants and bars, and the main event, a living reef. This huge free form coral lagoon wraps 200 metres around the central building and is home to over 100 species of fish, 80 coral species, and even starfish and sea cucumbers.

Palm Bay Resort is a Balinese-inspired island, offering a self-catering style of living, with a shared dining room and the option to cook your own feats in the resort kitchen. There’s a pool and the ocean is right on your doorstep, waiting to be explored.

Hayman Island is another luxury resort island, offering beautiful rooms, gourmet restaurants, and all the makings of a romantic getaway. The beaches are pristine, and there’s plenty to do on the island, including paddleboarding, hiking and yoga.

things to do whitsundays
Photo: @cruisewhitsundays

Sail around the islands

They don’t call the Whitsundays Australia’s home of sailing for no reason. Feel the wind in your hair, brush up on your sailing skills, or let the professionals take the helm, so you can sit back and enjoy the island adventure. There are a few options to choose from, Camira Sailing does it best. They have a fleet of luxury catamarans—the fastest in the world— to take you around the islands, and to the exotic swirling sands of Whitehaven Beach, as well as a few other secret snorkel spots they know about.

Your day starts with morning tea and a cruisy ride to your first snorkel spot, which is a beautiful fringing coral reef, home to colourful fish. You might even spot a turtle or a stingray. Once you’ve explored the underwater world, enjoy a BBQ lunch, which is no ordinary sandwiches and salads. Think prawns, burgers, wings, potato salad, and of course, an Esky full of booze. The next stop is the famous white sands of Whitehaven Beach and to the lookout. They provide stinger suits and snorkelling gear for all water activities. It’s a breezy cruise back to Airlie Beach, or your pick up point, with afternoon tea provided on the way back home. Keep an eye on the waters, there are plenty of sea turtles and jellyfish bobbing about.

The cruise experience starts from $165 per person. You can book here.

things to do whitsundays
Photo: @fish_dvine

Sip on the world’s best mojito

No, we’re not joking, you can find the world’s best mojito in the Whitsundays. On Airlie Beach, a charming, laid-back coastal town, is Fish D’vine Rum Bar, which also happens to be home to the world’s best mojito. After securing your mojito, you can peruse the over 100 rums on offer or grab a menu and make it a lunch date. The fish and chips are sublime, but the chilli prawn pizza is a winner in our books.

things to do whitsundays
Photo: @coralsearesort

Chill out in Airlie Beach

Airlie Beach is the gateway to the Whitsundays Islands and the Great Barrier Reef. It’s only a 25-minute bus ride from the Whitsunday Airport, which you can book via Whitsunday Transit. Once you get to town, you can soak up the sun, kick back by the pool, and eat your way through the alfresco restaurants. You can always take the adventurous path, explore the tropical rainforest and waterfalls, or walk the palm-fringed beaches.

If you’re looking for accommodation that’s central, but still has a resort-style offering, then look no further than Coral Sea Marina Resort. It’s a short walk to town, including restaurants and a manmade lagoon, which is where you got to swim during stinger season. The resort itself has a stunning pool, with beach and ocean views, a bar and restaurant where you can order anything from snacks to dinner, and a buffet breakfast. There are plenty of room types, including apartments for families, suites and spa deluxe rooms that have a spa tub on the balcony.

Looking for food? Anchor Bar is a local favourite. It’s inside a hotel, which sits by the hotel’s pool, but the views are phenomenal and the food and drinks are equally as satisfying. There’s an $88 can’t decide platter, which is a table-long board stacked with smokey pork ribs, hot wings, calamari, arancini, mussels, and more. It’s the perfect option for when you don’t know what to eat and have to feed two or more people.

things to do whitsundays

Hang with the locals at Northerlies Beach Bar and Grill

This local spot is one of our favourite places in the Whitsundays. It’s off-the-beaten-track, a 15-minute car ride from Airlie town centre, but well worth the venture. Set right on the water, this bar and grill is home to an award-winning restaurant, serving everything from the usual pub grub to deluxe seafood platters. They have craft beers on tap and an impressive wine list.

You can sit outside by the water for a long lunch, or grab a table under the twinkling lights at night. The atmosphere is buzzing with locals and the few tourists who know about it. When it comes to experiencing the best of the Whitsundays life, Northerlies is part of it.

things to do whitsundays
Photo: @th3rddimensionmedia

Zig zag your way through the Whitsundays on a speed boat

Unlike Camira Sailing, ZigZag Whitsundays is a heart-pumping speed boat adventure, jumping waves and thrashing around in the idyllic turquoise waters of the region. Although, unlike other jetboat experiences, this one takes you to snorkelling spots and Whitehaven Beach. Embark on a full-day tour, which includes amazing snorkel locations, a chance to relax on New Whitehaven Beach, including the South Lookout, and an island resort stopover to Palm Bay Resort. Prices start from $135 per person and include all food and snorkel equipment.

Be warned, it can be a bumpy ride, so if you get seasick, choose a spot on the back of the boat, or maybe skip this one. For the adrenaline junkies, take a seat at the front and hold on, it’s a wild ride.

things to do whitsundays
Photo: @saltydogseakayaking

Start the day kayaking with turtles

Is there a better way to start the day than a kayak with turtles? Salty Dog Sea Kayaking is a local business, operating in the Whitsundays since 1997. You will be guided by experts through mangroves, above fringing coral reefs, and to a tiny island, where you can stop for a snorkel and spot turtles swimming by.

They offer half-day tours, which is great if you have other tours booked for the afternoon, a full-day tour, which takes you to several tropical islands, or if you’re up for it, a six-day tour, which includes camping on islands and the chance to witness once in a lifetime marine encounters. You can hike mountains and snorkel coral reefs for six days. All camping gear is provided, as well as meals. Your expert guide will show you the best of the Whitsundays and then some.

things to do whitsundays
Photo: @whitsundaysqld

Sink your toes in impeccably white sand and view the famous swirling sands

Whitehaven Beach is famous for its white silica sand, which is no ordinary sand. It doesn’t get hot and is near luminescent colour. The pristine environment is protected by the Whitsunday Islands National Park, so you can’t take anything from the area—not even a grain of sand or a shell. But you can enjoy it, in all its natural wonder. Hike up to the lookout, which is only 10-minutes each way. From the wooden platform, you can see the island and the famous swirling sands, which is a name given to the tides washing the sands into an inlet, creating a swirl pattern. You can find a spot on the sand, or wade into the warm turquoise-hued water, for a swim.

things to do whitsundays
Photo: @jamesvodicka

Sleep near Heart Reef

Heart Reef is an icon, but not the easiest place to get to. You can see it from above in a helicopter or seaplane, but when it comes to getting close to the beautiful reef, things get difficult, until now. Reef Sleep by Cruise Whitsundays lets you have a sleepover on the reef. included in the experience is a day tour to snorkel spots and a semi-submarine guided tour, but once all the day-trippers go back home, the pontoon and reef are exclusively yours. Slip into a cozy reefbed or book a reefsuite, Australia’s first underwater accommodation on the Great Barrier Reef and sleep with the fishes. Each suite has floor-to-ceiling underwater views, big beds and an en suite. All meals are included, and you can purchase beverages throughout the day. Enjoy a spectacular dinner under the stars, and will have access to an underwater observatory. You can also opt for a scuba diving tour.

things to do whitsundays
Photo: @hugomotte

Watch a sunset from a tall ship

Whitsunday Sailing is a local eco-friendly family business with two classic 62ft tall ships, from which you can watch a golden sunset disappear behind the tropical rainforest of the Whitsundays. The Providence V appeared in a Hollywood movie called Survive the Savage Seas. The sunset cruise departs from Airlie Beach, and once onboard, you can hoist a sail, or relax as you let the wind carry you out to sea. They provide a free glass of bubbles once onboard and a cheese platter. As a fully-licensed venue, enjoy more wine and beers as you slip into a sunset in style.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.


Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.


Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.