Whitsunday and Airlie Beach
The Whitsundays consists of 74 islands that lie between the northeast coast of Queensland and the barrier reef.
From above the Whitsunday islands glow with aqua, indigo, yellow and green and boasts some of the oldest archeological sites in the world.
Whitehaven beach is the most popular beach spot within the Whitsundays with its beautiful turquoise water, white silicone sand and stretching coastline.
Airlie Beach the coastal town acts as the gateway to the Whitsundays sailing tours.
Nearly all Whitsundays sailing tours depart from Airlie Beach, and it is usually advisable to spend the night in Airlie Beach before your boat tour (some leave really early).
Airlie beaches closest airports are Hamilton Islands and Proserpine airport, both are serviced by domestic flights only. Though flights to these airports are often costly.
The most cost efficient way to arrive at Airlie is by bus, which is what I did. I was travelling from Noosa so I took a night bus for approx 16 hours with the greyhound arriving in Airlie at 9:45 am.
Sounds terrible, but it wasn’t that bad. Plus if you have more time you could stop along the way and spend a night or two in between.
Magnums Airlie Beach
Magnums is a popular well rated hostel in Airlie Beach, which consists cabin style dorm rooms.
The rooms come with air conditioning and the hostel also offers bag storage for whilst you are on your tour.
Attached to the hostel is a bar which plays live music and a variety of sports on big screens.
Exploring the Whitsundays
There are so many boat and tour options to explore the Whitsundays so you will easily be able to find the right ‘vibe’ for you.
The Atlantic Clipper boat is probably the most well-known boat amongst backpackers, it offers a young party vibe with lots of drinking and partying.
Though if that is not your thing there are still plenty of other lively options.
I opted for the New Horizon boat tour. This boat tour still attracted a young crowd (probably more like 21+), had casual drinking and games but wasn’t all about getting wasted.
The atmosphere was ideal, you were able to enjoy some drinks without the pressure of partying all night, but it was still lots of fun.
How the tour worked
You are required to check in with ABC travel (on the main road in Airlie) the day before your tour. They give you a ticket explain the following days proceedings and zipless bag requirements.
Boats are obviously small and have limited storage space so you will need to bring a small bag. This small bag also needs to be zipless to reduce the risk of bed bugs. Airlie Beach has tonnes of stores selling cheap zipless bags if you do not already have one.
Before you depart for your tour you will also need to buy any alcohol you wish to consume during your trip. There are rules around amounts of alcohol you can take on, though in my experience this was not checked prior to boarding (limits are more than I would care to consume in two nights anyway!).
You are not however allowed to take on glass or red wine for obvious reasons.
The tour departs at 2pm, so you will need to arrive at the terminal at 1:45pm latest.
The walk from Airlie Beach to the south port is not long (though with the alcohol can feel pretty long). I advise getting a taxi if there are a couple of you, it’s super cheap and will save your arms.
Once at the south port, if you are looking at the terminal building with the sea behind it you need to walk to the right of it. There will be a Horizon flag and this is where you will wait to be signed in.
On board the boat
The first day consists of sailing to the Whitsundays, getting to know the staff and other passengers as well as lots of snorkelling.
You may have heard that due to a cyclone hitting the islands hard in 2015 that the snorkelling isn’t as great as it used to be, which is true. Though there is still plenty to see.
All snorkel equipment and stinger suits are provided.
Post snorkelling you are allocated beds, they keep all those who booked together in the same cabin area which is ideal. Sleeping arrangements are cosy to say the least but I had no problems.
Dinner on the first day was spaghetti Bolognese with garlic bread (veggie and vegan options available if pre booked) and was really yummy.
There are only two toilets/ showers on the boat and you are only allowed 2 ish minutes per shower, due to water restrictions. But this was plenty of time to rinse if the sea salt and was your hair.
The evening involves casual drinks and mingling with others, our evening died down at around 11:30-12am (you are up at 6:30am the next day).
It’s an early start, at 6:30 am the lion king is played through speakers within the cabins to signal that it’s time for breakfast.
Breakfast consists of toast, cereal and fruit with plenty of it.
After breakfast you have free time where you can jump off the dive board or chill out.
Lunch is served before you arrive at Whitehaven beach and consists of salads, wraps and crisp.
After breakfast you sail to the Whitehaven beach. Unfortunately for us the weather wasn’t great on this day. It was cloudy and rainy.
When we arrived at the beach I was shocked to see how absolutely stunning it was, even with the poor weather it really is gorgeous. The pictures do not do it justice.
We had only been there a short while when it started to rain, really hard. The crew were amazing at not letting it ruin our experience.
We all hid our belongings in shelter, got our stinger suits on and headed for the water. After all, it doesn’t matter if it’s raining when you are already wet.
We played ball games, cleaned out teeth with the sand (yes try it it’s amazing) and just generally messed around.
The crew also point out lemon sharks and rays whilst at the beach which was great.
Next up was a short walk to the look out, this gives amazing views over the beach and is a great spot for photos.
On the way back in our little boat we also saw a turtle which was cool!
Back on board
Once on board everyone showers gets dry and dinner is served.
Dinner for meat eaters was grilled fish, with potatoes and veg. Whilst veggies had veggie burgers. It was really delicious.
In the evening, we played games as a group and enjoyed some drinks.https://abbiesview.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/img_5284.mov
Again another 6:30 start for breakfast.
Next up, the crew get out the diving board, inflatable slide and paddle boards.
You spend a couple of hours messing around, plunging your self into the water and paddling around the boat.
Lunch is then served before you depart back to Airlie Beach. Arriving back at around 12pm.
Thoughts on the tour
Overall the experience was really great. The crew were really friendly, the food was delicious and the atmosphere was great.
I ended up meeting a few people who I spent the next 4/5 days with and would see again in New Zealand which is ideal for a solo traveller.
The only thing that could possibly have improved the trip was better weather, but it certainly didn’t ruin it, plus weather is always luck!
Airlie Beach itself is a small town, I would not recommend staying long if on a short timeframe but a night either side of our tour is ideal. You will be exhausted when you get back!
The Whitsundays and specially Whitehaven beach are stunning. The colours are so vivid and the pictures really do not capture its beauty.
The new Horizon boat tour was ideal for me, it had a young crowd, you could enjoy some drinks with out the pressure of partying all night and getting wasted.