The Whitsundays is Australia’s aquatic wonderland – tropical islands and beaches, brilliant blue water and endless ‘WOW’ views. But how do you do the Whitsundays with kids?
Holly O’Sullivan has the low-down.
Airlie Beach on the Whitsunday Coast is the epicentre, full of happy locals sharing their love of this beautiful region. While there’s plenty to enjoy in Airlie Beach itself, you’re spoilt for choice with loads of day trips.
Great Barrier Reef Adventure
The Whitsundays reef is teeming with healthy corals and fish. Cruise to the outer reef and choose how to experience it – from the dry underwater observatory of a semi-submersible, swim and snorkel (a guided snorkel safari is an insightful optional extra), or scuba dive (minimum age 12).
All ships will have ample floatation devices and kids’ snorkelling gear. The crew will make this adventure extra special, with plentiful facts and a helping hand. cruisewhitsundays.com.au
Best for: children of all ages.
The Whitsundays is a sailors’ paradise, so let your hair down and embrace your inner-pirate. The Derwent Hunter is a classic tall ship which sails to the fringing coral reef and beach locations.
Learn traditional sailing methods, help hoist the sails or steer the ship. The crew love getting kids involved and will reward them with Eco-Pirate tattoos and certificates.
Best for:Kids 4+
Thrills and Chills
Get the adrenaline pumping on ultra-fast, but super stable ‘Thundercat’ as it blasts over to Whitehaven Beach.
A safe, speedy and comfortable ride, this wave piercer is great for anyone concerned about seasickness – because it’s stable , which gets you to your destination faster. Adventurous families will love this tour which includes two beaches, two snorkels and the easy bushwalk to Hill Inlet lookout.
Best for: 4+ years
The largest island resort, Hamilton Island is packed with activities. The best way to see it in a day is the ‘Family Fun Day’ package, starting with a scenic cruise through the islands on a large, comfortable vessel.
Visit the Wildlife Park where you can hold a Koala and see Aussie wildlife, spend an hour at the nine pin ‘Kegel’ bowling alley and devour fish and chips for lunch (it’s lovely to picnic on the grass overlooking the marina) – all included. cruisewhitsundays.com.au
Best for: children of all ages
World famous Whitehaven
Voted the world’s best beach several times, Whitehaven is 7km of sparkling white sand. The northern end of the beach is home to Hill Inlet lookout and the famous swirling sands. The southern end is perfect for long walks and finding a quiet spot to soak up the sun and the views.
You can’t walk from one end of the beach to the other, so to explore it all take Cruise Whitsundays ‘Ultimate Whitehaven Beach, Hill Inlet and lookout tour’ – a full day seeing the whole beach, plus snorkelling. cruisewhitsundays.com.au
Best for: school-aged kids and teenagers.
Whitsunday Crocodile Safari
A surprising side to the Whitsundays, this is two experiences in one – a calm river cruise spotting crocodiles on the mud banks of the Proserpine River, followed by a tractor-drawn wagon wetland tour.
Lunch is ‘bush tucker’ including billy tea and damper served at the campsite by the river. The expert commentary, coupled with hands-on participation makes it an educational experience too. crocodilesafari.com.au
Best for: children of all ages
If you want to splurge, then the ‘Panorama Tour’ it is. Talk about rockstar – board your seaplane and depart on the adventure of a lifetime. The tour includes two water landings – one at Whitehaven Beach for a picnic; and one at the reef for snorkelling. Seeing the islands, beaches and reef from above is absolutely breathtaking and worth every cent of this indulgence. airwhitsunday.com.au
Best for: children of all ages
Bowen (45 minutes from Airlie Beach) is home to several palm-lined, sandy beaches fringing protected bays. There’s a small, free water park (suits 2-14 years) at Front Beach, with BBQ facilities in the shady park overlooking the ocean. Or ‘Food Freaks’ at the Yacht Club is a great spot for lunch, with a large, fenced yard for kids to run around while parents enjoy a refreshing ale. tourismbowen.com.au
Hideaway Bay is a beachside haven perfect for a ‘long lunch’ (45 minutes from Airlie Beach). The red dirt road contrasts spectacularly with the blue water and lush greens of Gloucester Island as you come over ‘o my god hill’. Five more bumpy minutes and you arrive at Montes, an old beach resort with great pub food. You’ll spend much longer here than planned, which is fine as there’s a great ground level trampoline and plenty of shells for the kids to collect.
Step back in time at Collinsville
For a family that likes a bit of history, Collinsville has plenty (two hours’ drive from Airlie Beach). Follow the mural trail and arrive at the charming town centre. The Coalface Museum is a historical insight to the mining industry (best suited to kids aged 7 years and older), there’s fishing at the Weir just out of town, or simply play at Lion’s Park and cool off in the town pool. New café ‘Busti Latte’ do a great babycino. tourismbowen.com.au/collinsville/
Fly into Whitsunday Coast Airport (in Proserpine), then transfer to Airlie Beach (approximately 40 minutes).
When to go:
The Whitsundays enjoys a tropical climate year round, but the best time to go is winter. The days are mild and sunny, and with many choosing cold climate locations to holiday in winter, availability of accommodation and tours is good.
The Whitsundays is a marine-based destination. Almost every activity involves a boat or a beach – that’s why you’re visiting right? Just remember the basics – soft soled, closed-in shoes for kids on boats (or barefoot), seasick tablets if you think they’ll need them, and a pre-boarding family chat about boat safety.
The North Queensland sun – another major attraction of a Whitsundays holiday – can be very harsh, so make sure you reapply sunscreen regularly and carry adequate water to keep kids hydrated.
Most day trips are long, big days – early starts and late returns. Make sure you pack lots of snacks to keep energy levels high. While on the water keep the kids busy spotting marine life, enjoying the wind in their hair or tracking the islands on a map.
Marine stingers are an everyday part of life in the tropics, and full body lycra Stinger Suits are provided as standard on most day trips. Look on the bright side of these somewhat unattractive swimsuits – they’re excellent sun protection and make for amusing family photos.
Most tours take under 4’s for free – though you will usually need to bring your own food for them.
Free things to do in Airlie Beach:
Airlie Beach Lagoon
Bicentennial Boardwalk – runs oceanside from Cannonvale Beach to Airlie Beach (suitable for bikes, skateboards, scooters, dogs, prams, etc)
Cannonvale Botanic Gardens (besides Cannonvale Beach) – playgrounds, walkways, skate bowl, basketball court, public exercise equipment
Beachside markets (Airlie Beach foreshore every Saturday or if a Cruise Ship is visiting)