A match made in heaven, the Whitsundays is synonymous with pristine beaches kissed by an ocean warm enough to swim in year-round. Sail and snorkel around the Whitsunday Islands and call into secluded remote beaches on the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.
Beaches and the Whitsundays go together like gin and tonic – it’s hard to imagine one without the other! When deciding which beach to visit there are just two things to consider: island or mainland beach?
Airlie Beach and neighbouring Cannonvale are the best-known mainland beaches but don’t forget the treasures northwards at Bowen, Cape Gloucester, Dingo Beach and Hydeaway Bay.
In the Whitsunday islands, it gets a little trickier. With 74 Whitsunday Islands dotted across the Coral Sea, there are at least as many beaches to choose from. Well-known favourite, Whitehaven Beach boasts sand is so soft it squeaks like a field mouse as your toes sink into it. Happy Bay on Long Island, the sand spit of Langford Island and Hayman Island’s glorious crescent of dazzling sand and of course Hamilton Island are just a few notables.
A year-round beach destination, the best time to visit the Whitsundays is generally considered from March to November, though truth be known, the Whitsundays is one of those dream destinations where there really is no ‘bad’ season and our favourite times as locals is from November to May as there is usually no wind, the seas are flat clam and the underwater visibility is amazing.
At this time of year it is also coral spawning season so marine life from the world over make there way here for the feeding frenzy which makes for great sports fishing, snorkeling and scuba diving
Read on to learn more about the stunning beaches of the Whitsundays.
Few beaches are as well-known as Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island. A regular on ‘Best Beaches’ lists around the globe, it’s considered by many to be the most beautiful beach in Australia.
Whitehaven Beach rocks with just three simple ingredients: water, sun, and sand. Even on a bad day, the ocean is rarely less than the boldest hue of turquoise and water temperatures average approximately 25 degrees year-round. It’s the sand though that steals the show.
Whitehaven’s sand is so soft it squeaks like a field mouse as your toes sink into it. As fine as talcum powder, and almost pure silica, it’s so fine it's suitable for polishing jewellery. Clasp a handful of it and it runs through fingers like gold dust.
Walk the 7km length of the beach (or run it during the annual Great Whitehaven Beach Run) and you’ll come to Hill Inlet, where the tide carves winding channels into the sand, leaving behind aquamarine pools large enough for a boat to anchor in.
Take the steps up to the Hill Inlet lookout for the best view over the inlet and insta-worthy beach beyond.
Guests can book a tour to Whitehaven Beach on yachts, jet boats, scenic flights and private charter boats.
Airlie Beach, the vibrant mainland gateway to the Whitsunday Islands, is an aquatic playground with plenty for thrill seekers and nature lovers to choose from.
Heaven for backpackers, multiple hostels and beer gardens sit opposite the beautiful Airlie Beach Lagoon, the focal point of the area. The man-made lagoon is surrounded by grassy knolls and landscaped gardens, with a family-friendly sandy beach area at one end as well as a children’s pool.
Airlie’s buzzing restaurant, café and bar scene is just a few steps away, where beachwear-clad diners are welcomed as warmly as a cold beer on a hot day. The grassy foreshore is the venue for Airlie Beache’s popular Saturday Community Markets – a melting pot of food and drinks, trinkets and clothing served up with typical Airlie Beach charm.
Port of Airlie is another waterfront marina precinct with a modern apartment-style hotel, restaurants, cafes and a fabulously intimate cocktail bar called Walters Lounge. The terminal at Port of Airlie offers boat cruises and ferry services to the islands. At the other end of town, Coral Sea Marine Resort (formerly Abell Point Marina) is the departure point for cruise boats and bareboat yacht charter fleets.
A combined walkway and cycle path along the waterfront links Port of Airlie with downtown Airlie Beach and Cannonvale.
Cannonvale Beach foreshore ticks all the boxes for a family-friendly beach with something to suit everyone.
A few minutes west of downtown Airlie Beach, parents will find plenty to keep the little ones amused with a calm-water, gently sloping beach, along with a net for safe swimming during the warm summer months. As the ocean recedes low tide rock pools in the western corner reveal marine critters left behind for beachcombing rock hoppers to discover.
A paved pathway known as the Bicentennial Walkway winds through waterfront parklands between Port of Airlie and Cannonvale and is popular with joggers, walkers, and cyclists and you can join a walking tour to learn all about the history of the region.
Don’t miss beachfront Fat Frog Beach Café which is a favourite with breakfast fiends, dog walkers, locals and visitors who come for healthy home-made food and to linger over the views.
The shipwreck of the three-masted schooner and former luxury yacht Whitsunday Magic lies askew off Cannonvale Beach after running aground during wild weather. The wreck has become popular at low tide with photographers as its masts are silhouetted at sunset.
Few towns enjoy the pleasure of registering a new beach on their visitor maps, but that’s exactly what happened at Airlie Beach in 2013 with the opening of the upmarket new waterfront development and marina at Port of Airlie. Boathaven Beach was created along the northern breakwater known as The Beacons.
60,000 cubic metres of soft white sand were shipped in to create a north-facing all-tides beach. Swimming, sunbathing or simply enjoying the view of the Whitsunday Islands and coastline should keep most beach babies happy.
With the Whitsunday Sailing Club on one side and Port of Airlie with its boardwalk cafes and bars on the other, slaking a salt-addled thirst is easy.
With a name such as Hydeaway (regardless of how you spell it), it will come as no surprise to learn that this little gem of a place is far from the entertainment strip of downtown Airlie Beach. About an hours’ drive to the north (on the way to Cape Gloucester), Hydeaway Bay and her partner in crime Dingo Beach offer a beachfront holiday oozing old-fashioned charm.
Quiet, secluded and blessed with year-round sunshine, days revolve around the falling tide and the rising sun. Kids go bare-chested, adults go barefoot and the fashion police are nowhere to be seen. Fishermen puff out their chest at the boat ramp, trading stories about those they landed and the ones they didn’t. Kayakers and SUP boarders lazily paddle the shallows.
A series of sweeping beaches and coves run from west to east, occasionally interrupted by a rocky headland hosting fishermen, rockpool hoppers and beach combers. Small groups gather on the foreshore at dusk, with the sinking sun behind Gloucester Island creating a beguiling backdrop for BBQ beach picnics.
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