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About Whitsunday Islands

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Getting there and getting around

Sailing is a great way to see the Whitsundays. Photo: J Heitman.

Sailing is a great way to see the Whitsundays. Photo: J Heitman.

Whitsunday Islands National Park protects 32 islands, including Whitsunday Island with its world-renowned Whitehaven Beach, Black, Hook and Langford islands. The park is readily accessible by private or commercial boat from Airlie Beach or Shute Harbour, east of Proserpine in central Queensland.

Access is by private or commercial boat from Airlie Beach or Shute Harbour. Some commercial transfer companies drop off and collect campers. See tourism information links and arrange your passage before booking your campsite.

If travelling by private vessel, getting to the park can present navigational challenges. Always take the weather and tidal influences into account when boating in the Whitsundays. Ensure you read Planning your trip to the Whitsundays and Getting there and getting around the Whitsundays before your departure.

Wheelchair accessibility

There are no wheelchair-accessible facilities at Whitsunday Islands National Park.

Park features

Humpback whales put on a show in winter. Photo: J Heitman.

Humpback whales put on a show in winter. Photo: J Heitman.

Dotting the scenic aquamarine waters, these hilly islands were formed when changing sea levels drowned a mainland mountain range. The Whitsunday reefs have outstanding coral cover and variety.

The Ngaro Aboriginal people, one of the earliest recorded indigenous groups in Australia, were seen by Captain James Cook while exploring the Whitsunday Passage. The Ngaro people lived throughout the island chain known as the Whitsunday and the nearby mainland for thousands of years. Rock art and middens at Hook Island’s Nara Inlet provide a record of their special way of life.

Whitsunday Island supports a population of unadorned rock-wallabies. From May to September the Whitsundays are an important calving ground for migrating humpback whales.

Whitsunday Island’s Whitehaven Beach is world-renowned for its pure white silica sand and crystal-clear water. The reefs contain an outstanding variety of corals. The islands and surrounding waters are protected by the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

Camping and accommodation

Camp and relax at one of many national park campgrounds. Photo: J Heitman.

Camp and relax at one of many national park campgrounds. 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.

Facilities vary, but if present are limited to toilets and/or picnic tables. Campers must be self-sufficient. Remember to take fresh water, a fuel stove for cooking and insect repellent. Open fires and generators are not permitted. Remove all rubbish to the mainland.

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.

Camp at sheltered sites in Cid Harbour: Dugong, Nari’s Beach and Joe’s Beach. Other sites on Whitsunday Island include the popular Whitehaven Beach and Cairn Beach. Small camping areas on Hook Island including Maureen’s Cove, Crayfish, Steens and Curlew beaches all offer great snorkelling from shore. Northern Spit on Henning Island is accessible at all tides and popular with kayakers to break their journey.

Things to do

Walkers enjoy the amazing view from Whitsunday Peak. Photo: J Heitman.

Walkers enjoy the amazing view from Whitsunday Peak. Photo: J Heitman.

Walking

Whitsunday Islands National Park has many walking tracks that vary from short and easy to longer and more difficult. Take the opportunity to explore these rugged, densely vegetated islands. All the walks on Whitsunday Island are part of the Whitsunday Ngaro Sea Trail.

Whitsunday Island

Solway circuit (Grade: moderate)

Distance: 1.2 km return

Time: 40 minutes

Details: Starting from Whitehaven Beach, this one-way circuit winds its way uphill to a natural rock platform—giving spectacular views over Solway Passage and surrounding islands. Trackside information gives walkers an insight into Whitehaven’s slowly changing landscape.

Chance Bay (Grade: moderate)

Distance: 7.2 km return

Time: at least 2.5–3 hours

Details: Escape the sun and follow this track through some of Whitsunday Island’s more secluded forests to the peaceful Chance Bay. This enjoyable walk branches off Solway circuit.

Hill Inlet lookout (Grade: easy to moderate)

Distance: 1.3 km return

Time: 40 minutes

Details: Take an uphill stroll to twin lookouts for spectacular vistas over Hill Inlet’s turquoise waters and white sweeping sands—a highly significant area to the Ngaro people.

Lookout Beach (Grade: easy to moderate)

Distance: 500 m return

Time: 20 minutes

Details: Branch off the Hill Inlet lookout track and head downhill to the ivory white sands of Lookout Beach. Situated at the mouth of Hill Inlet you can enjoy the sunshine or rest in the shade.

Dugong–Sawmill Track (Grade: easy to moderate)

Distance: 3 km return

Time: 1 hour

Details: Wind your way beneath towering hoop pines and shady rainforest. Closer to Dugong Beach, stands of giant rainforest trees and solitaire palms create a fairytale world populated by moss, lichens and fungi. The track starts from either Dugong or Sawmill beach. From Sawmill Beach, you will need to cross Sawmill Creek to reach the track—be prepared to get wet if the tide is high.

Whitsunday Peak (Grade: difficult)

Distance: 5 km return

Time: 4 hours

Details: Stand at the top of the island and enjoy uninterrupted views of the Whitsundays. Accessed from Sawmill Beach in Cid Harbour, the Whitsunday Peak track offers a great getaway from the busy beaches. Climb through diverse vegetation, from rainforest gullies to windblown heaths, and be rewarded with spectacular vistas on the ‘roof of the Whitsundays’.

Walk safely: Remember, this track is steep and physically demanding—please consider your fitness and walking experience carefully before setting out.

Whitsunday Cairn (Grade: difficult)

Distance: 4 km return

Time: at least 3 hours

Details: Steep and challenging, the track to Whitsunday Cairn leads off Cairn Beach, the most northern beach on Whitsunday Island. A demanding ascent takes you through hoop pines and dry rainforest. Stick carefully to the ridge line as you walk through drier open woodland where giant grasstrees dominate. Emerge onto a wind-exposed rock outcrop below the towering Whitsunday Cairn for breathtaking views.

Walk safely: There is no defined track. Triangular track markers intermittently mark the way. This walk is for fit and experienced walkers only.

Hook Island

Ngaro Cultural Site (Grade: moderate)

Distance: 340 m return

Time: 20 minutes

Details: The Ngaro people have walked this land for over 9000 years. Protected from the elements in a once-hidden cave, Ngaro artwork adorns the fragile rock surface. The track begins deep inside Nara Inlet—an excellent overnight anchorage. Short and initially steep, the stepped track leads up the side of the inlet to a viewing platform at the cave’s entrance. Allow at least an hour to immerse yourself in the stories of the site.

Read more about walking in the national parks of the Whitsundays.

Guided tours and talks

Many commercial operators offer tours to sites throughout Whitsunday Islands National Park. See 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 check the Whitsunday visitor facilities and activities summary (PDF, 414K)*. 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. Visit the Whitsunday national park islands web page for vital information on boating and fishing.

Swimming and snorkelling

Snorkelling over the reef flat at high tide can be rewarding, though the water is usually clearer at the northern sides of the outer islands. Beware of strong currents and changing tidal conditions.

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.

Read more vital information about swimming and snorkelling in the Whitsundays.

Viewing wildlife

You can spend a few idyllic hours or a week exploring this beautiful park. Birds are plentiful, particularly from October to March when thousands of waders migrate here to nest. Some boating restrictions apply during this period—see Take care of nesting seabirds. Look out for sooty oystercatchers, white-faced herons and reef egrets on the shoreline and around rocks. You might also see brahminy kites and white-bellied sea-eagles soaring above or perched high in the tree tops.

Walk along beaches and walking tracks to see local animals. As the tide recedes, oysters and snails seal their shells and worms retire to their burrows. Rock crabs dart for the nearest crevices as the shadow of a soaring brahminy kite skirts the rugged shoreline. Inevitably, some crabs are surprised and fall prey to these handsome chestnut and white birds.

Things to know before you go

Ensure you read Things to know before you go to national parks of the Whitsundays.

Staying safe

Parts of the islands can be isolated. To enjoy a safe visit, read more about staying safe in national parks of the Whitsundays.

Looking after the park

Please read looking after national park islands in the Whitsundays.

Park management

Read about managing national parks of the Whitsundays.

Tourism information links

Read Tourism information links for national parks of the Whitsundays.

Further information

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Last updated
1 December 2014