Whitsunday Islands travel blog

We asked first-year medical student Billie Patterson questions about her recent trip to the Whitsundays, a cluster of 74 islands in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef.

How did you hear about the Whitsunday Islands? What interested you in this destination?

Our group has had Great Barrier Reef snorkeling on our bucket list for a long time, and after talking to Brisbane locals, we narrowed down Cairns and Whitsundays as the top two places to visit.

A few group members had already visited Cairns, so we landed on Whitsundays! The beautiful blue water and white beaches were an obvious draw for us, and the short plane ride (1h30min) to such a beautiful place made the decision easy.

Did you travel as a group or by yourself?

We went with a group of seven people, and it was perfect! The size of our group was ideal because we were able to split costs to get a great Airbnb and receive group discounts for the shuttle/snorkeling experiences, but small enough that we could be easily seated at any restaurant and fit into an SUV car rental for our day trips. 

Where did you stay? How did you choose the location? Do you have any tips on finding accommodation or any locations to recommend?

View from our Airbnb

We stayed at an Airbnb a short walk from downtown Airlie Beach and had a gorgeous view of the harbour! If you’re staying in Airlie Beach, I recommend staying within walking distance of downtown because they don’t have Uber. You can reach out to the local taxi companies, but we were fine to get around with our 1-day car rental and then to walk around town for the rest of the trip. Airlie Beach is a cute beach town with local shops and restaurants, so it’s fun just to walk around and explore!

If you plan on renting a car, ensure you look into it far enough in advance. We didn’t go during a busy time of the year, but we still had to use Car Next Door to find a car rental because Hertz and other local car rental companies were completely booked.

Tell us about what you did during your stay? Spots you visited, activities you did etc.?

Cape Hillsborough

For our first day, we rented a car to drive 1.5 hours to Cape Hillsborough and see the kangaroos on the beach at sunrise. The area is beautiful and has some short hikes/walks you can do in the area (it reminded me of the Pacific Northwest area in the United States!). After seeing the kangaroos on the beach, we spent time exploring Wedge Island before high tide closes off the passage to walk over at 8:30 am.

On our second day, we used a local company for a full-day trip to the Great Barrier Reef. While there are local reefs to snorkel around the Whitsundays islands, the true Great Barrier Reef is a few hours outside the islands! The company has a great full-day adventure where you are provided morning/afternoon coffee and snacks plus a lunch, and they boat you out to a barge next to the reef. From there, you can snorkel, use their underwater observatory, scuba dive, or hang out on the deck. This option is great because it’s all-inclusive, and they provide you with stinger suits, wet suits, snorkel gear, etc.

Great Barrier Reef

We also booked the Whitehaven Beach half-day tour with the same company for the next day, but due to cloudy and windy weather, we ended up exploring Hamilton Island instead. Hamilton Island was a great, small island town with cute restaurants and shops, and we could spend some time on the beach for the short time that it was sunny!

The rest of our time was spent exploring the local Airlie Beach area, and we had a big BBQ grill-out night at our Airbnb with our group. The views from our Airbnb were so scenic, and it was great to wind down and hang out with everyone while having such a beautiful outlook from our balcony!

Airlie Beach

Any favourite food and drinks places?

We spent the majority of our time making food at home or eating on the boat during the day excursions. However, we had a great lunch after we landed at the Airlie Beach Treehouse restaurant with delicious cocktails and food. A few of us also had breakfast at Paradiso on our last day, and the restaurant has a beautiful view of the harbour!

Top 3 favourite things about this trip?

Hamilton Island

Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef is an unforgettable experience! The vastness and diversity within the reef are absolutely incredible.

Exploring around town was a really fun day, too. We just popped into any place that interested us, like the local book boutique and ice cream shops, and walked along the beach path. 

Ultimately though, being able to go with such a great group of friends was the best part of the trip, hands down. Being a UQ-Ochsner student is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience, and sharing these trips with your friends from all over the world is incredibly special.

A wonderful time with wonderful friends

Any other tips for other students thinking of visiting?

If we did it over again, our group discussed staying on Hamilton Island instead of Airlie Beach. Airlie Beach is definitely fun to visit, but it involved longer boat rides for our excursions. Staying on Hamilton Island and going through the same company we used would have taken an hour boat ride off our day trips each way, and we would have had more time to explore the area. 

We also would recommend going during a warmer month. Although we were able to get some discounts for going at the end of the winter season, we had chillier weather than friends who went earlier in the year. Since you visit for the incredible outdoor activities, it would have been nicer for us to have more sunshine and less rocky waves to snorkel in and explore! The fantastic thing about living in Brisbane is how close we are to these beautiful places. We plan on going again for another longer weekend to explore more of the islands.

Where do you hope to visit next?

There are so many places I want to visit and so little time! I’m hoping to visit Bali and Thailand during our summer break.

Last updated:
16 September 2022