The Whitsundays | The best sailing cruises, diving centers and dive sites

The Whitsundays Islands in Queensland, Australia

Whitsunday is an archipelago that consists of 74 tropical islands that lie just off the Queensland coast, next to the Great Barrier Reef. It protects the islands from large swells, making them ideal for sailing, swimming, snorkeling, and relaxing on secluded beaches and hidden bays. The Whitsunday Islands are a famous tourist destination in Australia as it offers excellent beaches and an intimate atmosphere. Tourists from all over the world travel here to see the stunning beauty of Heart Reef, the white sands of Whitehaven Beach and to stay at some of the world's best hotels and resorts

Whitsunday has some excellent dive sites surrounding the islands that can be visited with a sailing - or motor boat. You'll be able to swim with sea turtles and rainbow-colored fish. You can also sail the Great Barrier Reef's clear waters or sink your toes into the world's most beautiful beach. A wide range of hard and soft corals, gorgonians, sponges, and other invertebrates encrust a topography of walls, ledges, pinnacles, canyons, swim-throughs, and coral bommies that provides a great habitat for macro critters like flatworms, nudibranchs, crabs, scorpionfish, and eels.

Recommendations for sailing, snorkeling and diving at Whitsundays

Whitsundays can be visited all year round because of the beautiful weather, which is perfect for exploring the islands and the Great Barrier Reef. But, if you want to catch good weather, early September is going to be ideal. If you plan on scuba diving in Whitsundays, you may want to consider wearing a wetsuit at greater depths.

Whitsundays sailing cruises

The best way to discover the Whitsunday Islands is by a sailing cruise. There are various sailing cruises available, but we recommend the Entice Catamaran. This boat can house up to 10 guests and provide comfortable suites. During your Whitsunday trip, you can use the stand-up paddle board or go snorkeling. The Entice Catamaran offers a 2 days/1 night trip to the Whitsundays for approximately AUD 180 per day.

There are more (sailing) cruises to the Whitsundays available. Prices and availability of these Whitsunday cruises can be checked here.

The Entice Cruise Ship at the Whitsunday Islands, Australia
The Entice Catamaran at the Whitsunday Islands, Australia

Snorkeling and scuba diving at Whitsundays

For snorkeling and scuba diving activities, we recommend to dive with Whitsunday Dive Adventures. This diving center conducts high-quality dive courses in small numbers with a high degree of emphasis on the student's safety, knowledge, and competency. In addition, they also offer scuba diving day trips to the Whitsunday Islands.

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Entice

N.A.
AUD 179
AUD 539 (3D/2N)
10
N.A.
Set menu dinner (full board meal plan)
Indoor saloon, snorkel gear, stand-up paddleboard, warm water showers

Blizzard

N.A.
AUD 173
AUD 695 (4D/3N)
10
N.A.
Set menu dinner (full board meal plan)
Indoor saloon, snorkel gear, warm water showers

Hammer Maxi Yacht

N.A.
AUD 215
AUD 650 (3D/2N)
18
N.A.
All meals. Options for vegetarian and vegan
Warm water showers, charging stations, snorkel gear

Condor Maxi Yacht

N.A.
AUD 212
AUD 850 (4D/3N)
19
N.A.
Buffet style, vegetarian and vegan options
Snorkel gear, charging stations, warm water showers

Diving centers in Whitsundays

Below, we have outlined the two diving centers which are located in Arlie Beach.

Diving Center 1: Whitsunday Dive Adventures

Located in Airlie Beach, Whitsunday Dive Adventures has been involved in the Whitsundays' diving industry for over 10 years. The provide various scuba diving courses, including the PADI Instructor Development Course (IDC). For scuba diving day trips at Whitsundays, they use the services of Mantaray Charters. Mantaray Charters provide day trips to the Whitsundays with their vessel MV Mantaray. This day trip includes snorkeling and diving activities but also a visit to the Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet.

Courses and prices

A PADI Open Water Diver certification costs AUD 750 while an Advanced Water Diver course is priced at AUD 630. PADI specialty courses starts at AUD 410 each.

Prices for scuba diving day trips are unknown. You can contract Whitsundays Dive Adventures for availability and prices.

Diving center 2: Whitsunday Dive Centre

Whitsunday Dive Centre is also located in Arlie Beach. They offer the SSI Open Water course and scuba diving day trips to the Whitsundays.

For day trips, you can choose between a trip to the Great Barrier Reef. In this option, you will board the vessel ‘’Seaflight’’ which is operated by Whitsunday Cruises. Note that this vessel is quite big, meaning that there will be a lot of other people onboard (including non-divers). The other option is the Arlie Beach Whitsunday trip. The vessel used for this trip is the ‘’Mantaray’’, operated by Mantaray Charters.

Courses and prices

The SSI Open Water certification is offered for AUD 750. The Great Barrier Reef day trip with the Seaflight is offered for AUD 388 (1 dive) and AUD 447 (2 dives). The Whitsunday trip is offered for AUD 289 (1 dive) and AUD 349 (2 dives).

We recommend to check availability and prices with Whitsunday Dive Centre.

Liveaboards and sailing cruises in Whitsundays

There are no diving liveaboards available in Whitsundays, but the sailing liveaboards are a great option for snorkeling tours.

Liveaboard 1: Entice Cruise Ship

This catamaran can house up to 10 guests, which means that this sailing cruise will be a relaxed and comfortable trip. There are various accommodation types available, ranging between dormitory style up to a private double cabin, including a own toilet and shower.

This catamaran will show you the nice spots in Whitsundays, including the Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet. Besides these activities, you can also go explore the marine life by snorkeling or take the stand-up paddleboard.

We like this liveaboard/sailing cruise as this one is a short cruise compared with the other options available. Perfect if you would like to explore the Whitsundays but don’t want to waste much time of your holiday.

Price: The Whitsunday Sailing Experience is a 3 days / 2 nights trip and starts at AUD 178 per day.

The Entice Cruise Ship at the Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia
The Entice Cruise Ship at the Whitsundays

Liveaboard 2: Blizzard Cruise Ship

Whitsundays Islands can be explored on an exciting sailing adventure aboard the Blizzard sailboat. The yacht has a variety of cabin options to suit all budgets. You can choose from the private double with an en-suite bathroom, private twin or double with shared bathrooms. They also have rooms in the dormitory style which is a more affordable option. The Blizzard is a 14.9 meters long ship and can house up to a maximum of 10 guests.

The Blizzard Cruise Ship offers the option to explore the snorkel spots by a SeaScooter. A great option if you would like to see as much as possible from the reef. You can also go hiking to the Whitsundays viewpoints or enjoying the Whitsundays white beaches.

Price: The price for a Whitsundays sailing cruise starts at AUD 173 per day. At the moment, they offer the Whitsunday Sailing Experience, a 4 days / 3 night itinerary.

The Blizzard Cruise Ship at the Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia
The Blizzard Cruise Ship

Liveaboard 3: The Hammer Maxi Yacht

The Hammer Maxi Yacht is perfect if you want to sail for a couple of days, but you want to see all of the Whitsundays. The Hammer Yacht is 22.5 meters long and can house up to 18 guests.

They offer 3 days / 2 night itineraries that include visits to the famous Whitehaven Beach, snorkeling at the best snorkeling spots and enjoying the Whitsunday sunsets. For accommodation, they offer single and double beds in a dormitory style.

Price: The price for this itinerary starts at AUD 216 per day.

The Hammer Maxi Yacht at the Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia
The Hammer Maxi Yacht

Liveaboard 4: The Condor Whitsundays

This liveaboard is a great way to explore beauty of the Whitsundays. The yacht is 24 meters long and can house up to 19 guests. A nice thing about this boat is the open to sleep in one of the single beds in the open cabins. In this way, you will get the best experience of living on a sailing boat.

Price: The Condor offers a 4 days / 3 nights trip to the Whitsundays for AUD 211 per day.

The Condor sailing at the Whitsundays, Queensland, Australia
The Condor Whitsundays

Liveaboard 5: Broomstick

The Broomstick sailing vessel is another option to explore the Whitsundays. The Broomstick is a 23 meters long vessel and can house up to 19 guests. This sailing cruise is a great option if you a like an easy going trip. The vessel has single and double beds in a separate room and as open cabins. The Broomstick

Price: The Broomstick offers the Whitsunday sailing experience for AUD 211 per day.

The Broomstick sailing boat at the Whitsundays, Queensland, Australia
The Broomstick

The best diving spots in Whitsunday Islands

Below, we have outlined the best diving spots in Whitsunday Islands.

Dive spot 1: Blue Pearl Bay

Blue Pearl Bay is a popular diving spot located just off the exquisite white beaches of Hayman Island, about 32 kilometers from Airlie beach. With its maximum depth of 19 meters, Blue Pearl Bay is known for its extensive coral and fish life, including the resident Maori Wrasse. It is an easy dive for a warm Sunday morning. Beginners or basic open water certified divers will surely have a great time on this dive spot. Blue Pearl Bay is protected from the south-easterly winds but isn’t that comfortable when the northerlies are blowing due to the currents and waves.

Dive spot 2: The Cathedral

The Cathedral is one of the Whitsunday's most iconic dive sites located just inside the well-known stepping stones. It has a huge opening that narrows slowly as you enter, which leads to a small network of tunnels. The average depth is 8 - 15 meters, and it is recommended for advanced open water divers or above. This diving spot is spectacular to explore, and it features a trove of large bommies, coral outcrops, and exciting swim-throughs.

Dive spot 3: Bird Island

With a depth of 2-15 meters and its location, this diving spot is very subjected to currents. Therefore, it’s best to plan a drift dive or stay close to the island. Interesting rock formations can be seen down to 8 meters and shallow caves, ledges, and gullies. Not a lot of corals, but the fish life can be pretty good with large cod, sweetlip, and trevally.

Visibility in Bird island varies between the 5 - 15 meters.

Dive spot 4: Mantaray Bay

Mantaray Bay is located near Hook Island. It is considered one of the best dive and snorkel sites in the inshore islands with a maximum depth of 25 meters. The site offers an excellent dive with a variety of fish species and other marine life such as turtles. This diving spot also has an array of underwater caves, valleys, and swim-throughs. Mantaray Bay has also great coverage of soft and hard corals with abundant marine life, including the awesome Manta Rays in winter. Visibility is often considered exceptional.

Dive spot 5: The Pinnacles

Arguably the best diving spot in the Whitsunday islands, The Pinnacles has absolutely the best hard corals, which compare favorably to the Great Barrier Reef. It has a series of huge coral bommies that dominate the surrounding terrain - nearly reaching the surface from 20 meters below. The best dive location is off the western beach.

Manta rays are prevalent in the cooler months. The coral cover is nearly solid in the shallow part, mostly staghorn, with only some sandy patches. The quality of the corals decreases if you move further eastwards. This diving site is open to northerly winds and swells from strong south-easterlies winds.

Dive spot 6: Dolphin Point

With a diving depth of 5 to 18 meters, Dolphin Point off Hayman has rough terrain of coral outcrops and enormous boulders set on coral rubble and sand. The visibility varies between 5 - 20 meters, and it's best to dive during a clear, calm, and sunny day. Large coral bommies can be seen during the dive. Often not far away, pelagics such as tuna, barracuda, mackerel and the odd shark can be spotted.

Note that strong currents can show up at this dive site.

How to get to the Whitsunday Islands

There are different ways of getting to the Whitsundays and its 74 Islands to suit both the luxury and budget traveler.

Option 1: By Plane

The most convenient way to reach the Whitsunday Islands is by plane. The Whitsunday region is serviced by two main airports – Whitsunday Coast Airport on the mainland at Proserpine and Hamilton Island airport, also known as the Great Barrier Reef Airport, to which you can fly direct from the cities of Brisbane, Cairns, Sydney or Melbourne. These two airports are serviced daily by Virgin Australia and Jetstar.

Option 2: By ferry and cruises

Cruise Whitsundays runs ferry services to the Whitsunday Islands. If you are flying into Hamilton Island, there are ferry transfers that you can book to coincide with your flight arrival to make it to Airlie Beach or the rest of the Whitsunday Islands.

Whitsunday Islands can also be explored at your leisure with a flexible hop-on hop-off one-day ferry ticket. You can travel between Daydream Island Resort, Airlie Beach, and Long Island Resort as many times as you like in one day.

The other option is to book a sail cruise to explore the Whitsunday Islands. For options available, see the section ‘’Liveaboards’’ above.

Accommodations near the Whitsunday Islands

Accommodation 1: Coral Sea Marina Resort ($$$)

Just a walking distance from the tourism town of Airlie Beach, Coral Sea Marina Resort offers a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere for both business and leisure travelers. They have a lively marina village, 77 hotel rooms, 520 wet berths, a range of premium shore-based facilities, and a passionate team centered on turning your visit into the ultimate holiday experience.

They have the Guest Services team at the hotel to help in booking your preferred activities and experience from sailing tours, jet ski rides, diving trips, scenic helicopter flights, and more. They also have multiple dining options, a guest business center and spa room, a bottle shop, and private helipads with associated scenic flight options. They also have a 2.5 hectare Coral Sea Gardens outdoor leisure space.

Price: Deluxe Room with a spa bath and free breakfast for 2 costs USD 351.

Accommodation 2: Mantra Club Croc ($$)

Located in the coastal town of Airlie Beach, Mantra Club Croc is perfect for families, couples, and groups. They have 160 well-appointed rooms that are refurbished with natural tones that reflect the nearby coastline. Other amenities include a 24-hour reception, gymnasium, manicured gardens, bar and bistro, a spacious lagoon pool with an adjoining spa, nearby BBQ facilities, and the region's finest conferencing center. Mantra Club Croc can also arrange tours for you, with many departing directly outside the hotel. Nearby activities include fishing, ocean rafting, diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and sailing.

Price: Deluxe room with pool view and free breakfast for 2 costs USD 128.

Accommodation 3: Airlie Beach Magnums ($)

If you are a backpacker looking for an affordable place to stay on Whitsunday Island, Airlie Beach Magnums is a great option. It is just a 3-minute walk from Airlie Beach and Lagoon, and the rooms are all air-conditioned and have a refrigerator. Some of the rooms are equipped with television. All guests have access to shared bathroom and toilet facilities.

Washing powder, hairdryer, and ironing facilities are available to use for an additional charge. Free WiFi is available in public areas, and the hostel's tour desk can assist with arranging snorkeling, fishing, or sailing trips. Airlie Beach Magnums also features luggage storage, laundry facilities, a volleyball court, a recreation room, a garden with BBQ facilities, 2 communal kitchens, and a dining area.

Price: Twin room costs USD 45 for 2 persons.

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