In December 2020 I organised a surprise trip to The Whitsundays; everything was booked for the following March as a birthday celebration for Chris. It was just our luck though that 2 days prior to when we were due to fly up to Queensland, Victoria went into a lockdown! So we rescheduled everything to June, and would you believe the same thing happened again?! We made one last-ditch attempt at rebooking for August and it was as though the universe just did not want us to go as Queensland then went into its own lockdown. Unfortunately at this stage, I was also 8 months pregnant so we couldn’t afford to reschedule to a later date as I just couldn’t risk travelling so late in the pregnancy. We cancelled what we could and accepted vouchers where cancellations weren’t possible. The trip was put on the back burner.
Well, I’m pleased to say after 2 years we finally made it! So I thought I’d give you a little round-up of our week there with a full itinerary and suggestions for if you ever get to The Whitsundays yourself.
For those that have never heard of The Whitsundays, they’re a group of islands in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef off the Queensland coast, with the closest town being Airlie Beach. A 2.5/3 hour flight from Melbourne Airport will get you to Whitsunday Coast Airport (also known as Proserpine Airport); for most, this is where you’ll fly into – there is the option of flying to Hamilton Airport as well, one of the islands about an hour ferry ride from Airlie Beach.
From Proserpine Airport you’re looking at about a half-hour drive into Airlie Beach; now for those of you that are a bit more budget conscious your best option is to book a shuttle bus which will cost you $25 one way or $40 for a return ticket (these are easy enough to book on arrival at the airport). If however, you’re like me and struggle with motion sickness big time you might be better suited to simply jumping into a private taxi – while this will have you forking out roughly $100 one way, the benefit is that it’s a direct trip with no additional stops and you can obviously have the windows down for some fresh air!
Airlie Beach is a relatively small town with a population (from the 2016 census) of just over 1200. There’s one main street lined with souvenir shops, travel booking offices, bars and restaurants, as well as a few accommodation options. Depending on what sort of travel you’re into you have plenty of options when it comes to accommodation from your high- end resorts like Coral Sea and Mirage, to AirBnB options and private apartments, and of course your budget-friendly hostels. Because we were doing some fancy sailing trips and only spending 1 night here and there in Airlie Beach we opted to stay at Magnums, one of the hostels situated right in the centre of the main street, for the nights we’d actually be on land.
Our flight got into Whitsunday Coast Airport just before 1pm and by the time we collected our bag and jumped in a taxi, we arrived at Magnums around 2:30PM. Although it’s very popular with backpackers and there’s really not much to the room itself other than a bed, mini fridge and kettle, we found that it was more than perfect for our needs and a very budget-friendly option – it was only $75 a night for a double room with a shared bathroom. Chris and I are very much the sort of travellers who see accommodation as simply being somewhere to rest our heads at the end of the day and aren’t overly interested in elaborate places!
We opted for a late lunch at one of the local restaurants, Paradiso, which has great views out to the bay and boasts a heavily Italian-themed menu before cooling off with a swim (after all it was about 30° and incredibly humid!). Swimming at the beaches in Airlie isn’t really recommended due to stingers however the large public lagoon on the waterfront makes up for this. With free entry, various pools (including a children’s pool at one end), and plenty of grass spots both in the sun and shade, it’s the perfect place to relax, catch up with friends and just cool off. There are also lifeguards on duty between certain hours for those less water confident.
If chilling out isn’t really your cup of tea, you can always pop into one of the tourist booking offices and have a suss of the numerous day trips and activities they have on offer from jetski tours to skydiving. There are also a number of hiking trails in the area, some that might require catching a taxi or if you have a car you can drive yourself. A lot of the tourist offices also offer the option of e-bike and e-scooter hire so you can zip around the town and explore all on offer.
After a pretty relaxing day, we had dinner right across the road from Magnums at The Deck before ending the night with some true blue Aussie entertainment of cane toad racing, which is held at Magnums every Thursday night.
What I will say, after only being in Airlie for half a day so far, is be prepared to spend a lot of money if you’re going to eat out for every meal. At lunch we shared the dip entrée, had a main each as well as a beer for Chris and ginger ale for me and it came to about $100. While dinner, which consisted of a shared entrée, I opted for an entrée as my main (as I was 11 weeks pregnant and already can’t eat the same amount of food I once could, even more annoyingly I barely touched my meal as I was just too full, so that was a waste of $29), while Chris had a main himself and a couple of drinks between us, broke the bank at $150.
Our first big activity for the trip was our sailing adventure with Sailing Whitsundays. As we weren’t being picked up until 4pm that day and we had to check out of our room at 10am, Magnums offer luggage storage free of charge for the day (they do charge if you’re leaving anything overnight or for an extended amount of time), so we left our bag and opted for another relaxing day spent mostly at the lagoon. It gets pretty hot pretty early so I’d recommend doing any exploring earlier in the day when it’s not reached peak temperature!
It’s suggested that you have lunch prior to boarding your sailing trip due to the late afternoon departure so we treated ourselves to a Korean-themed lunch this time at The Red Plate (for a meal and drink each it was $70) and I’d definitely recommend checking them out!
The particular sailing trip we booked was Entice and the meeting point is at the Coral Sea Marina, while it’s close enough to walk from the main street if you’ve got larger/heavy bags then getting a taxi is the simplest option and only costs around $7-8 from the taxi rank out the front of Magnums.
Entice is a three-day/three-night trip aboard a dual-hull catamaran, which I’ll do a full separate post on – stay tuned!
Day 3 + 4
After boarding on Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday were full days on the catamaran.
This was our final day on board the Entice and we got back to the marina around 2pm. Again we opted to stay the night at Magnums in another double room with a shared bathroom. We were pretty exhausted from our days of sailing and the copious amounts of snorkelling we did, so had a relatively quiet afternoon catching up on some washing at the laundry facilities Magnums offer.
Dinner was another local restaurant this time Indian-themed, literally called Lovely India and was roughly $90. Before we caught up with our fellow sailing guests who we had met on Entice at Magnums for a few drinks and rounds of our new favourite card game Skip-Bo.
Our next big adventure was the Reefsleep, a two-day/one-night encounter with the Great Barrier Reef where you travel out to Reefworld at Hardy Reef – a permanently moored pontoon, located 39 nautical miles from shore on the outer Great Barrier Reef – and spend the day snorkelling, diving or lounging around before spending the night under the stars.
Again I’ll do a full separate post about this experience, but it’s a relatively long day with a 7:30am check-in at Port of Airlie for an 8am departure, you then don’t return until 6pm the following day.
Much of the day was spent at Reefworld with a late return as previously mentioned around 6pm. Again we opted to stay at Magnums this time treating ourselves to a queen cabin with an ensuite as a special last night treat. At only $153 a night, this option is perfect for those wanting some extra space, a private bathroom but not wanting to fork out the hundreds of dollars it would cost to stay at a resort – you also get the added benefit of an 11am check out.
Although we had eaten out at some nice places during our time in Airlie we decided to dress up and head to The Rocks for a final night dinner (it was about $150 again).
After a week of sailing the Whitsundays, snorkelling multiple reefs, and eating our way along Airlie’s main street it was time to head home.
Stay tuned for full reviews and posts about our separate activities of the Entice sail and Reefsleep experience.