Within the Whitsunday Passage there are 74 islands in total, with the largest simply known as Whitsunday Island. Most of these islands have remained uninhabited or are, at the very least, protected by a vast system of national parks. The oldest settlement in the Whitsundays is the town of Bowen, settled in 1861. Later, in 1936, the town of Airlie Beach was established and it remains, in many ways, the heart of Whitsunday Passage. Today, the Whitsunday Passage is sailed constantly by tourists on charter boats and cruises, and it includes some of the world's most photographed beaches.
Things to know before you go
- Airlie Beach is a major jumping-off point for cruises to various Whitsunday Islands as well as to the Great Barrier Reef.
- The Great Barrier Reef offers protection to the Whitsunday Passage area by stopping large waves and gusting winds.
- Overnight boat tours with different stops within the Whitsunday Islands are available.
How to get there
Most visitors arrive in the Whitsunday Islands via flights to either Hamilton Island or Whitsunday Coast Airport in Proserpine, a 25-minute drive from Airlie Beach. There are more flights to Hamilton Island with connections from Cairns, Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne. There are also a number of ferries that link the various islands of Whitsunday. The main hub of transport in the islands is Shute Harbour.
When to get there
The best time to visit the Whitsundays Islands is in September, which is early spring in the Southern Hemisphere. You’ll experience plenty of sunshine and little rainfall. This is also a popular time for sailing trips. Beware that from October to May the box jellyfish and the Irukandji jellyfish (an extremely venomous species) fill the waters; their stings can be fatal.
The Great Barrier Reef
One of the main advantages to the Whitsunday Passage area is its accessibility to Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The natural wonder has roughly 3,000 individual reefs and coral cays, along with hundreds of islands, and is a must-visit for snorkelers and scuba divers alike. Glass-bottomed boat tours and scenic helicopter flights are other ways to view the attraction.