Iconic images of blue waters, white-sand beaches and vibrant coral reefs have long been synonymous with the Whitsundays and while they are definitely some of the region’s most celebrated features, there is so much more to be explored in this beautiful part of Queensland.
As well as the 74 islands that frame the coastline, the Whitsundays covers four mainland towns – Bowen to the north, Collinsville to the west, coastal Airlie Beach and inland Proserpine – each offering some of the state’s most diverse landscapes, yet all within driving distance of one another.
Start the day in the outback landscapes of Collinsville before travelling toward the produce-rich farmlands of Bowen, experience the beauty of endless cane fields in Proserpine and end the day (or, indeed, the week) exploring the tropical hills of Airlie Beach and the sun-kissed shores of the islands.
In fact, there’s so much to do in the Whitsundays, it’s hard to pick just a few. Luckily, Tourism Whitsundays has some suggested itineraries to get travellers started and great deals on meals, accommodation and experiences throughout the region. But if you’re a choose-your-own-adventure type, we’ve got some inspiration for you to work from, so read on!
Whether you’re flying into the airport near Proserpine or driving into the Whitsundays, it’s likely Proserpine will be your first taste of the region. Airborne travellers will be greeted by the Whitsunday Coast Airport’s resident mobs of kangaroos and emus that offer a first look at the rich fauna and flora the Whitsundays has to offer.
Surrounded by sweeping cane fields, you’ll soon understand why this verdant region was named after Proserpina, the Greek goddess of grain and harvest. Main Street in Proserpine gives you a glimpse back into the area’s long history as a cane and cattle-farming centre, with its country-style hotels and pubs and art-deco architecture.
But to truly get a taste of what made Proserpine a powerhouse of Aussie agriculture, a visit to Proserpine Historical Museum, which showcases the town’s most significant milestones, is a must.
While you’re in Proserpine, stay the night (or three!) at Lake Proserpine, which offers free, 72-hour lakeside camping spots, where your pets are welcome.
Previously known as Peter Faust Dam, Lake Proserpine is just 30 minutes’ drive inland from Proserpine and is a great spot for water sports, as well as the home to more one-metre-plus barramundi than you’ll find anywhere else in Australia. The Lake Proserpine camping area recently underwent a major upgrade and offers a concrete boat ramp plus two washdown bays, as well as three pontoons for fishing directly off the bank of the lake.
For an even bigger adrenalin rush than reeling in a giant barra, though, the Whitsunday Crocodile Safari offers the chance to spot crocs along the Proserpine River.
Driving into Airlie Beach is one of those moments you’ll remember forever.
During the 20-minute drive from Proserpine, the cane fields gradually disappear into the sweeping mountains of Conway National Park and as you wind your way towards the centre of Airlie Beach, blue waters come into view, then rainforest-covered hills. Before you’ve even reached the centre of Airlie Beach town, you’ll have been awed by the natural beauty of the landscapes!
From the turtle-filled waters of Cannonvale Beach to the picturesque Coral Sea Marina and around into the bustling Airlie Bay, the best way to take in the sights Airlie Beach has on offer is to enjoy a meander along the Bicentennial Walkway.
The walkway is a 4 kilometre-long waterfront walk along the shoreline of Airlie Beach, with plenty of cafes, bars and restaurants providing no shortage of pit-stop options, many with ocean views from their tables, as well as delicious food and cocktails.
After exploring the waterfront of the town by foot, why not finish off the day with a sunset cruise onboard Sundowner Cruises, where you’ll take in the views of the Airlie shoreline and the towering mountain backdrop. And if you travel before 28th Feb 2022, make sure you take advantage of the Sundowner sunset cruise discount – the only thing better than an idyllic late-afternoon on a catamaran is the same experience with 10 per cent off the price!
Airlie Beach has accommodation for all tastes, with a great selection of tourist parks, hotels and self-contained accommodation offerings, with discounts offered on many types of stays.
Travelling in the next few months? The BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort – which is perfect for caravanners who love a fantastic range of facilities (think lagoon-style pool, 18-hole mini golf course, outdoor movie cinema and so much more) – is offering seven nights’ free on any powered site booked for a minimum of seven nights any time from April 18 to June 13. That’s 14 nights from just $371 twin-share!
Or for a truly luxurious experience, don’t miss out on the 20 per cent-off offered on self-contained apartments, villas and the penthouse at Mirage Whitsundays for a two-night stay. Located just a short stroll from Airlie Beach, Mirage Whitsundays offers absolute water frontage and hard-to-beat ocean views that are dotted with the area’s famous islands.
Want a real ‘tropical paradise’ experience? Try Magnums Accommodation Airlie Beach, where you can book three nights in a queen cabin with ensuite and get 15 per cent off the cost of your stay.
While the water, reef and beaches of the area are well known, the surrounding national parks are the hidden gems of Airlie Beach.
Cedar Creek Falls is one example. Located about 30 minutes from Airlie Beach en route from Proserpine, a quick detour from the main road will take you to the park, where you’ll find the stunning waterfall and swimming hole.
Meanwhile, Conway National Park, which surrounds Airlie Beach, has an abundance of bushwalking tracks, including the Whitsundays Great Walk and the Honeyeater Trail that (while not for the faint-hearted) offers panoramic views of Airlie Beach and the islands.
An easier option, still with amazing views, can be found at Mount Rooper. And a short drive from the centre of Airlie Beach, you’ll find the white sands and clear waters of Dingo Beach, which are perfect for a day of kayaking or boating.
Collinsville is the outback heart of the diverse Whitsundays region. This historical town is located less than an hour’s drive inland from Bowen. On the drive, you’ll pass through winding foothills, open plains, orchards and farmland before arriving in Collinsville. Away from the well-beaten tourist trail, this country town is exactly the Aussie outback experience you’re looking for.
Collinsville has been known for its gold and coal mines since the 1860s and the town’s many historical murals today tell that story, as does a visit to the Collinsville Coalface Museum that explores the lives of the early settlers and their pit ponies. Collinsville’s rich history can also be explored at the Collinsville Historical Display Centre, which has rooms filled with historical photographs and objects.
So far, Collinsville may sound like a quaint small town … but don’t be fooled. During June, the town comes alive for the annual Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft, where you can cheer on competitors in various ‘bush sports’. Covid-19 prevented the rodeo and campdraft going ahead but it’s back with a vengeance this year from June 6-7!
Stay overnight at the Collinsville RV Park and enjoy a free Monday night barbecue, or enjoy a Friday or Saturday night at the 4-star Opal Ridge Motel and receive a food and drink voucher to the value of $50 or use it toward a second night’s stay.
For a small, outback town, your eatery options are pleasantly abundant in Collinsville, with the Opal Ridge Motel offering a fine dining venue, a bistro, cafe and bar onsite.
Nearby, you’ve also got great pub-grub available at the Collinsville-Scottsville Workers Club on Railway Road – and the friendly locals will tell you that you can’t visit Collinsville without a visit to the Pit Pony Tavern’s beer garden.
While Airlie Beach and the islands are best known for offering the Whitsundays’ trademark sparkling turquoise waters and white sand beaches, its underrated neighbour 45 minutes’ drive north, Bowen, deserves time in the spotlight. And not just because it’s the home of the Big Mango (where you’ll also find the Bowen Visitor Information Centre)!
The largely undiscovered seaside town is almost entirely surrounded by shoreline because it sits on a peninsula, so offers eight sandy beaches, as well as tranquil bays and beautiful coastal walking tracks, all within a short distance of town.
Surrounded by granite outcrops, Grays Bay, Horseshoe Bay and Rose Bay are picturesque swimming spots, with reefs just offshore for keen snorkelers. A short (but steep) walk from Horseshoe Bay, Rotary Lookout offers great views across the bay below. If you’re feeling a bit more energetic, you can continue along the coastal walk for panoramic views from Mother Bedrock, a stop at a WWII Radar lookout and continue down into Rose Bay for a nice cooling dip.
Bowen itself is home to a small community, with wide, open streets and welcoming locals. Whether you’re stopping in for a pint at the Grandview Hotel or taking in panoramic views of the sunset from Flagstaff Hill, there’s plenty of exploring to do.
So if you plan to hit Bowen for more than a day trip and need somewhere central to stay, the NRMA Bowen Beachfront Holiday Park is perfectly located to explore the nearby beaches and walks because it sits on the shores of Queen’s Bay, with direct access to Bowen’s longest beach. On a Sunday, the local market is held right next door to the NRMA holiday park in Hansen Park, offering a taste of Bowen’s renowned produce.
Better still, the NRMA Bowen Beachfront Holiday Park has a generous offer available now that lets travellers stay four nights and pay for just three.
Rightly famed for its mangoes, you can’t leave without a visit to the Big Mango and a large serving of fresh mango sorbet. Also well worth a visit is Bird’s Fish Bar for a helping of freshly caught seafood right off the boat docked at the back.
The Whitsunday Islands are famous around the world for a reason – they’re what everyone imagines a tropical paradise to be.
Dotted throughout the Coral Sea and in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsundays archipelago of 74 Islands are mostly uninhabited and protected as national parks, only a few offering resort accommodation or camping opportunities.
InterContinental Hayman Island Resort and Daydream Island Resort & Living Reef are two of the best known for their luxurious resorts, while Camp Island Lodge offers the amazing opportunity of having a whole island to yourself, and Hamilton Island has a range of accommodation, from the high-end qualia to self-contained Palm Bungalows. Long Island is closest to the mainland and has just two unusual resorts set within its national parks; Balinese-style dwellings at Palm Bay Resort and Elysian Retreat, which offers a boutique experience to just 20 guests at a time.
The best way to explore the islands, though, is by taking one of the many single-day or overnight sailing or boat trips that depart from Airlie Beach, and there’s a host of tempting offers from local on-the-water tour operators.
The largest island in the group, Whitsunday Island, is home to famous Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet, destinations not to be missed on your Whitsunday adventure. Experience the beauty of the famed beach with a day trip aboard the beautiful Australian yacht, Lady Enid Sailing and enjoy 10 per cent off your ticket price by using the promo code startsat60.
Or, for a 20 per cent discount on half-day tours available with Cruise Whitsundays, use the promo code SA60WHB.
If you want more time to explore the islands, an overnight cruise will give you more time to relax, explore and enjoy being rocked to sleep by the gentle waters of the Coral Sea.
Explore Whitsundays will take you through the incredible Ngaro Sea Trail, visiting Whitsunday Island, South Molle and the Hook Island. You’ll sail through tranquil seaways, swim at secluded beaches and have the chance to adventure through rainforests and over rugged peaks.
Sound paradisical? Then don’t miss out on this exclusive offer from Explore Whitsundays just for Starts at 60 readers – $100 off the ticket price PLUS a $50 bar tab on select cruises and dates on the Whitsunday Explorer and Walk the Whitsundays tours. What a way to start, or end, your time in the magical Whitsundays!
The Whitsundays is located in the Heart of the Great Barrier Reef, with 74 island wonders and a myriad of mainland experiences. Come and experience the breathtaking beauty of The Whitsundays with some incredible deals.