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About Whitsundays

Planning your trip

The continental islands of the Whitsundays were formed when changing sea levels drowned a mountain range. The area is part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and is acknowledged as one of the world’s best destinations for diving, snorkelling and sailing. Walking tracks and beaches also allow visitors to explore the fringes of these rugged, densely vegetated World Heritage islands.

The Whitsunday Ngaro Sea Trail—one of Queensland’s Great Walks—adds another dimension to the Whitsunday experience. The Ngaro Sea Trail takes you to iconic destinations and extensive walking tracks across Whitsunday, South Molle and Hook islands. Keen island hoppers can expect a short boat ride or to spend a few hours kayaking from one track to the next. There is something for everyone with a choice of short strolls or challenging walks—each with a different offering such as a Ngaro cultural experience, magnificent views or vast seascapes.

Remember, islands are isolated places and accessing them can present some navigational challenges. When boating in the Whitsundays, take weather and tidal influences into account. The weather is sunny and tropical most of the year, but conditions can change quickly. Cyclones can also pose a hazard to campers isolated on islands. Stay safe and in touch to enjoy your visit. For up-to-date weather information, check the Bureau of Meteorology website.

Use the information below as a guide to plan your trip. For more information, see each specific park’s web page or contact us.

Getting there and getting around

Sailing the Whitsundays. Photo: J Heitman.

Sailing the Whitsundays. Photo: J Heitman.

The Whitsunday islands are readily accessible by boat from Airlie Beach or Shute Harbour, east of Proserpine in Central Queensland. By road the area is about 12 hours north of Brisbane and 8 hours south of Cairns. Follow signs on the Bruce Highway to Airlie Beach. Most roads in the region are suitable for conventional vehicles.

You can access the Whitsunday national park islands in several ways.

  • Private vessel. There are public boat ramps at Shute Harbour, Abel Point, Airlie Beach, Cannonvale, Dingo Beach, Conway Beach and Midge Point.
  • Commercial tours. Many commercial operators offer tours of the Whitsundays. See tourism information links below for further information.
  • Commercial boat transfers. Organise transfers at tourist booking agencies. Commercial operators depart from either Shute Harbour or Abel Point Marina. Tides, group size, equipment and costs will determine the type of vessel required.
  • Commercial boat hire. See tourism information links for further information.

Tides

The Whitsunday area has a large tidal range of up to four metres. The average range is about two to three metres.

Access and many activities depend on tide times and heights. Water visibility for snorkelling and diving also depends on the weather. Ideal conditions occur during periods of small tides and calm seas. Weather forecasts are available from the Bureau of Meteorology website.

Kayakers

If you plan to access the islands by kayak, you need to develop an itinerary according to your fitness level and ability to carry water. You need to know and understand the effects of weather to cross various passages and channels, and what to do when the weather prevents you following your itinerary and camp bookings. Contact us to discuss your proposed itinerary before booking your campsites.

Wheelchair accessibility

There are no wheelchair-accessible facilities on the parks of the Whitsunday islands.

Park features

Whales are a common site around the Whitsundays in winter. Photo: J Heitman.

Whales are a common site around the Whitsundays in winter. Photo: J Heitman.

The Whitsundays is part of the Cumberland Island Group—the largest offshore island chain along the entire Australian coastline—and includes more than 90 islands. The islands are actually peaks of drowned mountain ranges, separated by rising sea levels more than 10,000 years ago. The islands and their surrounding waters are internationally significant and protected in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, the first such area declared in Australia (1981) and the largest ever established. The reefs contain an outstanding variety of corals. Whitsunday Island’s Whitehaven Beach is world-renowned for its pure white silica sand and crystal-clear water.

From May to September, the Whitsundays are an important calving ground for migrating humpback whales. The islands also act as a stopover for many species of migratory waders and seabirds that feed and roost on the reef flat, island beaches and surrounding ocean.

Six national parks further protect the islands’ wildlife, plants and scenic values: Whitsunday Islands, Gloucester Islands, Molle Islands, Lindeman Islands, Repulse Islands and Holbourne Island national parks.

Camping and accommodation

Camp at 25 locations in the Whitsunday islands. Photo: J Heitman.

Camp at 25 locations in the Whitsunday islands. Photo: J Heitman.

Camping

Most of the Whitsunday islands are national parks and great places for camping. Choose from a range of camping opportunities, depending on your needs. The Whitsunday Ngaro Sea Trail has several camping areas that provide easy access to walking tracks. Download the Parks of the Whitsundays map (PDF, 1.9M) to see what you can do where.

Visitor numbers are limited to ensure a quality experience. Camping permits are required and fees apply. You will need to book your site and purchase your permit in advance. Display your camping permit prominently on your tent—there are fines for camping without it.

Campgrounds are accessible by boat only. There are a number of commercial operators offering transfers to the national park islands if you do not have your own vessel. Ensure you book your transfer before obtaining your camping permit.

Camping bookings open 11 months in advance to help visitors fit in with charter boat operators who have long lead times in yearly schedules. School holiday periods are often fully booked soon after bookings open.

For individual campground details, including access and facilities, visit our park-specific camping pages.

You can also join a guided commercial camping tour where transport, food and equipment are supplied. If you do not wish to join a camping tour, you will need to make your own way to your island of choice. Please be aware many of the ferry transfers to island resorts do not take campers. For more information see the tourism information links.

Set up and camp carefully

  • Camp only in designated campsites. Display your campsite tag.
  • Choose your site so that water drains naturally. Trenches disturb the soil and encourage weeds.
  • Look up and live. Check overhead for dead limbs in trees.
  • Ensure all tents, tarpaulins, hammocks and clothes lines are freestanding. Do not tie ropes to trees—trunks become scarred and brittle branches are easily damaged and broken.
  • Avoid clearing plants and leaf litter when setting up camp. All vegetation (including grasses, vines, fallen timber and leaves) is part of the island ecosystem and is protected in national parks. Collecting is not permitted.
  • Wildlife such as birds, goannas and native rodents eat through thin plastic bags. Please do not hang bags from trees or tents—many animals can still reach and tear them open.
  • When washing and cleaning, do not use detergents, toothpaste or soap in watercourses. Take water at least 50m away and only use biodegradable products. Preferably use sand to scour dishes.
  • Always use toilets where provided. Where no toilet facilities exist, bring a small spade. Walk at least 100m from campsites or watercourses and bury all waste at least 15cm deep.
  • Use gas or fuel stoves for cooking. Open fires and ash-producing stoves are not permitted on national park islands.
  • Generators, compressors or similar motors must not be used in any national park in the Whitsundays. They also must not be used on the beach at Jonah or Nelly bays, near Dingo Beach, on the mainland.

Other accommodation

A range of holiday accommodation—resorts, hostels and units—can be found in the district adjacent to the national parks and on particular islands. For more information see tourism information links below.

Things to do

Snorkelling and diving is best one hour before or after high or low tide (slack water). Photo: J Heitman.

Snorkelling and diving is best one hour before or after high or low tide (slack water). Photo: J Heitman.

The parks of the Whitsundays offer diverse experiences for visitors. Check each park’s page for specific information.

Walking

Walking tracks and beaches allow you to explore the fringes of these rugged, densely vegetated islands.

The Whitsunday Ngaro Sea Trail brings together a variety of walks across three national park islands. Visitors can choose to walk a small section or stay overnight and link the walking tracks with short boat or kayak trips.

If you don’t have a boat or kayak, you can access these islands and their walks either on day tours with a variety of tour operators or by ferry transfer to island resorts. For more information see the tourism information links below.

When walking:

  • keep to the track. The islands are rugged and densely vegetated—they are not places to explore off-track. Also, new tracks erode easily, damaging the landscape and the reef as increased sediment run-off smothers coral
  • respect sign directions. Access to some areas is restricted and some walking tracks may be closed due to maintenance, fires, cyclone damage or other safety reasons. Signs are there for your safety
  • wear suitable footwear. Sturdy boots or shoes will ensure you have a safe and comfortable walk
  • avoid stinging trees. Their heart-shaped leaves have fine hairs, which can be extremely painful if touched
  • take water and wear a hat and sunscreen.

Guided tours and talks

Many commercial operators offer tours throughout the Whitsundays. See the tourism information links for more information.

Picnic and day-use areas

Some of the islands offer picnic areas, most near a beach. Facilities vary but may include picnic tables and toilets. For a complete list download the Parks of the Whitsundays map (PDF, 1.9M). Open fires and ash-producing stoves are not permitted on national park islands or intertidal lands adjacent to national park islands. Use gas or fuel stoves for cooking.

Boating and fishing

This area has been described as a boating paradise with deep blue waters, tropical weather and secluded islands to explore.

The waters of the Whitsundays are internationally significant and protected in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Marine park zones surround the islands and provide a balanced approach to protecting the reef while allowing some recreation and commercial use. Zones include both intertidal areas and the sea. Some activities, like fishing or collecting, are not permitted in some zones and penalties apply.

There are public moorings in the waters around the Whitsundays. Moorings reduce coral damage from anchors and provide safe and sustainable access to popular reefs and islands. They suit a variety of vessel sizes and are accessed on a first-come-first-served basis. Time limits may apply during the day, but all mooring are available overnight between 3pm and 9am. Learn more about moorings and responsible anchoring and see maps and mooring locations.

  • Obtain and consult your marine park zoning map. Maps are available from many Queensland Parks offices and many bait and tackle outlets.
  • Fishing is not permitted in Marine National Park (green) zones. These zones include, but are not limited to, locations such as Whitehaven Beach, Denman Island, Armit Island and northern Hook Island bays.
  • Go slow when boating. Turtles often bask at the water surface and can be struck by boats. The increasing number of high-speed vessels operating in reef waters increases the likelihood of such collisions. Some locations have speed restrictions imposed to help protect nesting seabirds—see Take care of nesting seabirds for more details.
  • Report marine strandings. To report injured, sick, or orphaned wildlife, phone RSPCA Queensland on 1300 ANIMAL (1300 264 625).
  • Don’t collect coral or shells. Keeping a memento of your visit to the Whitsundays can involve taking an animal’s home, or worse, taking an animal away from its neighbourhood. Limited collecting is allowed in some areas. Generally, not more than five of any one species can be taken at a time and no coral or clams (alive or dead) can be taken without a permit. Refer to your marine park zoning map for further information.
  • Remember—everything is protected in a national park.

Swimming

In an area surrounded by water, swimming is a much-loved activity. Be aware that there are some dangers associated with swimming.

Take care in the water

  • Protect against dangerous marine stingers. Stingers (dangerous stinging jellyfish) may be present all year. Wear suitable protective clothing and carry lots of vinegar. See Marine Stingers for the latest safety advice.
  • Look but don’t touch! Some marine organisms, such as cone shells, blue-ringed octopus and stonefish deliver painful and potentially fatal stings if handled.
  • Beware of estuarine crocodiles. They inhabit mainland estuaries but may be present in island waters. Be croc–wise.
  • Wear suitable footwear. Protect your feet from sharp shells, broken coral and beach rock.
  • Treat coral cuts with disinfectant. Even small scratches can become infected.

Snorkelling and diving

Snorkelling is rewarding for those prepared to swim toward the reef edge. Beware of strong currents and changing tidal conditions. The best places to snorkel are around the northern bays of Hook, Black and Langford islands, though snorkelling around the inshore islands is also satisfying. Beware of dangerous marine stingers and cyclones during the warmer months.

Scuba divers have greater opportunities to explore coral bommies, crevices and caves along the reef perimeter and slope. Consider wearing diving boots to protect your feet, as you may have to walk across coral rubble to the water. A boat is the only safe way to reach distant snorkelling and diving sites.

Check restrictions on activities such as spearfishing, anchoring, fishing and collecting by consulting your Great Barrier Reef Marine Park zoning map and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries website.

Take care on the reef

When on the reef observe the following guidelines to minimise damage to corals and other animals.

  • Walk in sand channels and avoid stepping on live corals. Corals are easily damaged and will cause nasty cuts.
  • Try not to stir up sand and sediment. Murky waters stress the plants and animals.
  • If you turn over any reef material always return it to its original position. Many animals and plants shelter on the undersides of boulders and bommies. They will soon die if exposed.
  • Be careful with your fins. Careless kicking can damage coral.
  • Never dive or snorkel alone. Be very careful of tides and currents.

Watching wildlife

Explore the Whitsunday islands’ many habitats. Walk along isolated beaches to see local fauna; goannas and flying-foxes are common. Go birdwatching to see many species. White-bellied sea-eagles and brahminy kites soar overhead, searching for food; pied oyster-catchers probe for small molluscs on the rocky shores; and eastern reef egrets stalk small fish in the shallows. Birds are plentiful, particularly from October to April when thousands of waders migrate here to nest.

Take care of nesting birds

Sea and shorebirds are easily disturbed, using up hard-earned energy reserves vital for their return migration. To protect these vulnerable coastal birds, activity restrictions apply at some important sites. A six-knot speed limit within 200 m of low water mark applies as shown in the table below. East and Edwin rocks have further restrictions—boats are not permitted within 200m of high water mark between 1 October and 31 December (inclusive) every year. Some beaches may be closed temporarily to protect endangered wildlife.

Locations with a 6-knot speed limit within 200m of the low water mark
Restrictions apply all year Restrictions apply 1 October to 31 March (inclusive)
  • Bird Island
  • East Rock*
  • Edwin Rock*
  • Eshelby Island
  • Little Eshelby Island

*Boat-free zone (within 200m of high water mark) applies between 1 October and 31 December each year.

  • Armit Island (southern beach)
  • Double Cone Island (western island only)
  • Grassy Island (southern beach only)
  • Little Armit Island
  • Olden Rock (south of Olden Island)
  • Shaw Island (east of Burning Point)
  • South Repulse Island (western beach)

Keep wildlife wild

All wildlife in national parks is protected. You can help care for wildlife by following these guidelines.

  • Goannas, brush turkeys and other animals are always on the lookout for an easy meal. Never feed them directly or accidentally by leaving food or rubbish on tables. They become used to people and can bite and scratch you when looking for food.
  • Keep your food and scraps safe from wildlife in secure containers. Do not use plastic bags hanging from trees.
  • Observe boating restrictions and take care of nesting seabirds.

Go slow for those below

The islands and surrounding reefs provide valuable habitat for marine turtles. Six of the world’s seven species are found in this area—green and hawksbill turtles are commonly seen, while flatback, loggerhead, olive ridley and leatherback turtles are rarely seen.

  • Go slow when boating. Turtles often bask at the water surface and can be easily struck by boats. The increasing number of high-speed vessels operating in reef waters increases the likelihood of such collisions.
  • Report marine strandings. If you find a sick or dead turtle, dugong, dolphin or whale please contact us and report it.

Things to know before you go

Our precious Great Barrier Reef World Heritage islands are among the most pest-free islands in the world. They need your help to stay this way. Please Be pest-free! (PDF, 574K) before your visit.

Essentials to bring

Although rangers undertake regular marine park patrols, generally there are none on site. You must be responsible for your own safety.

Please pack carefully and remember to bring:

  • Sufficient food and water, plus extra in case of emergency. None of the islands have fresh water. Ensure you have enough water for drinking, cooking, washing and bathing. Allow at least five litres per person per day.
  • A gas or fuel stove for cooking. Fires are not permitted.
  • A first aid kit, lots of vinegar and advice on recognising and treating stings from dangerous marine stingers.
  • Reliable equipment such as torches, AM/FM radio and VHF radio.
  • Dehydrated food and minimal packaging.
  • Sturdy food containers and rubbish bags.
  • Camping gear cleaned of seeds, insects and vermin.
  • Tarpaulin, sunscreen and insect repellent.

Opening hours

The parks of the Whitsunday islands are open 24 hours a day, all year round. However, parks may be closed in the event of bad weather.

Permits and fees

Camping permits

Camping permits are required for camping in the Whitsunday national parks and fees apply. Visitor numbers are limited to ensure a quality experience. You will need to book your site and purchase your permit in advance. Display your camping permit tag prominently on your tent—there are fines for camping without it.

Other permits

Commercial photography permits are required if you intend to sell any photographs taken of national park islands in the Whitsundays. Organised event permits are required for organised group activities that may interfere with general public use. Commercial activity permits are required for any commercial activities. Contact us for further information.

Pets

Please be aware pets are not allowed on national park islands or intertidal lands adjacent to national park islands.

Climate and weather

Pleasant conditions occur throughout the year.

  • April–September daytime temperatures are mild to warm (21–26°C) with cool nights (16–22°C) particularly when prevailing south-easterly winds blow. Water temperatures on the reef flat vary from 22°C in July to 27°C in January.
  • October–January days are hotter (26–31°C) and more humid. Balmy nights follow strong but cooling north-easterly afternoon sea breezes.
  • January–April is the wet season though showers may fall in any month. Cyclones are more likely between November and March. See staying safe for further information.

The Whitsundays receive good broadcast radio reception and weather forecasts are available on most channels hourly. Weather forecasts are available from the Bureau of Meteorology, or by phoning 1300 360 426.

Fuel and supplies

The nearest fuel and supplies can be found in Proserpine and Airlie Beach. See tourism information links for further information.

Staying safe

The islands are isolated. To enjoy a safe visit, remember these simple steps.

  • Bring plenty of water. None of the islands has fresh water available. Ensure you have enough water for drinking, cooking, washing and bathing. Allow at least five litres per person per day.
  • Avoid sunburn and heat exhaustion. Drink plenty of water and stay in the shade.
  • Wear sun-safe clothing, sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat when exploring.
  • Protect against dangerous marine stingers. Stingers (dangerous stinging jellyfish) may be present all year. Wear suitable protective clothing and carry lots of vinegar. See Marine Stingers for the latest safety advice.
  • Look but don’t touch! Some marine organisms, such as cone shells, blue-ringed octopus and stonefish deliver painful and potentially fatal stings if handled.
  • Never dive or snorkel alone. Be very careful of tides and currents.
  • Beware of estuarine crocodiles. They inhabit mainland estuaries but may be present in island waters. Be croc-wise.

On longer walks

  • Choose your walks carefully—some longer walks are difficult and are suited to fit and experienced walkers only. Be well prepared before departing and leave enough time for your return journey.
  • Carry a first aid kit and be prepared for emergencies as detailed below.

Be prepared for emergencies

  • Carry a first aid kit and medical supplies—particularly an iodine-based antiseptic for cuts (but be sure no-one in your group is allergic to iodine). First aid training or practical knowledge is desirable. Be familiar with first aid procedures for blisters, heat exhaustion and sprained or twisted ankles.
  • Carry emergency supplies—include food, water, AM/FM radio and spare batteries.
  • Mobile phones are useful but not reliable—satellite phones are best.
  • Monitor weather forecasts—listen to radio messages for vital information about changing weather conditions.
  • Leave your itinerary with a reliable friend or family member—keep them informed of your whereabouts.

Communication

Mobile phones are unreliable on the islands. Satellite phones are best and a marine VHF radio is very useful. In emergencies you can contact other vessels in the vicinity on VHF marine channel 16 (emergency channel) or VHF channel 81.

The Whitsundays receive good broadcast radio reception and weather forecasts are available on most channels hourly. Weather forecasts are also available from the Bureau of Meteorology or by calling 1300 360 426.

Evacuation procedures

The Whitsundays lie in the Queensland tropical storm (cyclone) zone. In the event of a cyclone or tsunami, the department has developed a contingency plan and will work with camper transfer companies and local authorities to try to inform campers of impending cyclones, tsunamis and possible evacuation.

Looking after the park

Go slow for those below—turtles are a common site around the Whitsundays. Photo: J Heitman.

Go slow for those below—turtles are a common site around the Whitsundays. Photo: J Heitman.

Please appreciate, respect and help care for the outstanding natural and cultural values of these parks. National parks, including heritage sites and artefacts, are protected areas under the Nature Conservation Act 1992. Penalties apply for breaching the Act.

  • Open fires and ash-producing stoves are not permitted on national park islands or intertidal lands adjacent to national park islands. Use gas or fuel stoves for cooking.
  • Please be aware domestic animals are not allowed on national park islands or intertidal lands adjacent to national park islands.

Please follow these guidelines to help conserve these very special places.

Leave no trace

  • Take all rubbish, including food scraps and fishing tackle, back to the mainland. Bins are not provided. Remove excess food packaging before your trip to minimise the rubbish you bring home.
  • Do not bury or burn anything. Even small fragments of line and string can become entangled around birds’ legs with agonising and fatal results.
  • Dump fish scraps at night. Food scraps and fish frames thrown from passing boats can attract crocodiles and silver gulls, unnaturally increasing their population and predation on seabird young.

Be pest-free!

Our precious Great Barrier Reef World Heritage islands are among the most pest-free islands in the world. They need your help to stay this way. Please Be pest-free! (PDF, 574K) before your visit.

Before you visit, please check that your boat, clothing, footwear and gear are free of soil, seeds, parts of plants, eggs, ants and insects (and their eggs), spiders, lizards, toads, rats and mice.

Be sure to:

  • Unpack your camping gear and equipment and check it carefully as pests love to hide in stored camping gear.
  • Clean soil from footwear and gear as invisible killers such as viruses, bacteria and fungi are carried in soil.
  • Check for seeds in pockets, cuffs and hook and loop fastening strips, such as Velcro.

While you are on the islands, remove soil, weeds, seeds and pests from your boat, gear and clothes before moving to a new site. Wrap seeds and plant material, and place them in your rubbish.

Everyone in Queensland has a General Biosecurity Obligation to minimise the biosecurity risk posed by their activities. This includes the risk of introducing and spreading weeds and pests to island national parks.

See the guidelines on caring for parks for more information about protecting our environment and heritage in parks.

Look out for wildlife

Watching wildlife on the Whitsundays is rewarding but you must follow some guidelines to ensure habitats are not disturbed. All wildlife in national parks is protected.

  • Allow native animals to find their own food. Do not leave food or scraps around your campsite. Feeding wildlife is prohibited as it can affect their health, alter the natural population balance, and wildlife may also pester other visitors after you.
  • Keep your food and scraps safe from wildlife in secure containers, not in plastic bags hanging from trees.
  • Avoid disturbing turtles and nesting sea and shorebirds. Using strong lights, making loud noises or moving suddenly can disrupt nesting behaviour.
  • Observe any closures and activity restrictions. They apply in certain areas to protect vulnerable wildlife. See Take care of nesting birds for details.

Park management

Each park in the Whitsundays has unique attributes and all are managed to conserve their natural condition and protect their cultural resources and values. Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) is responsible for the island national parks in the region, and jointly manages the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

Tourism information links

Whitsunday Regional Information Centre
www.tourismwhitsundays.com.au

192 Bruce Highway, Proserpine Qld 4800
ph +61 7 4945 3967

email   

Open Monday–Sunday 9am to 5pm
Closed Christmas Day

For tourism information for all regions in Queensland see Queensland Holidays.

Further information

Contact us

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
www.gbrmpa.gov.au
ph 1800 990 177

Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol
www.daf.qld.gov.au
Shingley Drive, Able Point Marina
Airlie Beach Qld 4802
ph (07) 4946 7003

Volunteer Marine Rescue Whitsunday
PO Box 298 Cannonvale Qld 4802
ph (07) 4948 0994
fax (07) 4946 5200
email
Monitors marine VHF channels 16, 22, 81 and 82 and HF channel 2524.
In an emergency phone (07) 4946 7207.

Last updated
30 July 2018