Whitsundays (Photo:Tanya Puntti/Shutterstock)
5.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Cruise Critic Staff

Port of Whitsundays

Taking in the stunning reef, picturesque islands and luxurious hotels that make up the Whitsundays, you might find it hard to believe that the islands are the result of volcanoes that raged 110 million years ago.

Captain Cook, who first sailed through on June 4, 1770, named the collection of islands. Of the 74 islands, only eight are inhabited with resorts. The region offers more than enough diversions to occupy the curious traveler, though, with a bevy of wildlife on land and sea, high-end eateries, family-friendly lagoons and romantic sandy beaches.

Whitsundays sees an average of 274 sunny days a year, making it the perfect spot to soak up some rays and explore its naturally beautiful features by boat or on foot. As the closest point off the Queensland coast to the Great Barrier Reef, and with an average water temperature of 26 degrees Celsius (79 Fahrenheit), it's very much a diving and snorkeling paradise. Of course, it's just as possible to appreciate the ocean from the shoreline -- especially from the array of sumptuous seafood restaurants that line the coast.

Cruise ships visiting Whitsundays call on one of two ports. Airlie Beach, perched on Australia's northeast coast, is a mainland port acting as both a gateway to the islands and an attractive beach destination in its own right. It has a lively and social atmosphere -- with plenty of restaurants, clubs and bars for evening guests -- and the main street offers boutique shops, day spas and cafes. From Airlie, travelers can take day-trips to the reef, Daydream Island and Whitsunday Island, home to Whitehaven Beach.

Hamilton Island is in the heart of Whitsundays, and smaller ships utilize its port. As the largest of the Whitsunday Island resorts, Hamilton has a wealth of beaches, restaurants and coral reefs worth visiting, and it's also a jumping-off point for day-trips to the surrounding areas.

About Whitsundays


Pro

The pristine, heavenly Whitehaven is the most photographed beach in Australia

Con

One day in paradise is not enough

Bottom Line

Spend a perfect day sailing the tranquil turquoise waters that surround 74 mostly uninhabited islands


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Top Whitsundays Itineraries

Where You're Docked

Whitsundays has two main ports: Abel Point Marina in Airlie Beach, catering to larger cruise ships, and Hamilton Island for smaller ships. Abel Point Marina is right near the center of Airlie Beach, about a 10-minute walk along a scenic boardwalk or a one- to two-minute drive. Hamilton Island's marina is the central hub of the island. Cruise ships don't come into port on the mainland or islands; they have moorings off Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island and need to tender passengers in for shore excursions.

Good to Know

In general, Whitsundays is safe and tourist-friendly. However, the North Queensland sun can be harsh, so cover up and wear sunscreen. Also, October to May is the high-risk stinger season, so it is best to wear a protective wetsuit when swimming in the ocean during this time.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The currency is the Australian dollar. Visit xe.com for current exchange rates. There are extensive ATM facilities throughout Airlie Beach (within a five-minute walk of the marina) and on Hamilton Island. Most places generally accept mainstream credit cards, such as Visa and Mastercard, but ask first.

Language

The language is English, spoken with an Australian accent. Expect to hear the usual "g'day"s and "no worries." However, with the islands attracting so many travelers from across the globe, visitors might well find a fellow countryman to converse with in their native tongue in key areas like Airlie Beach.

Shopping

Pick up a piece of local art at the market on Airlie Beach foreshore as a memory of your visit. Of course, a tastier way to reminisce about your time on the island is over a nice glass of red or white wine. Choose your bottle from the famous Oatley Wines collection, sold at a number of souvenir shops on Hamilton Island. The winery is owned by the Oatley family, who also own the island, and the wine -- which comes from vineyards in New South Wales and Western Australia -- is stocked in every licensed venue on the island.

Best Cocktail

Celebrate Whitsundays' nautical heritage with every sailor's favorite tipple -- rum. Fish D'vine's Rum Bar offers more than 280 rums and promises to find a cocktail for every taste.