Guides

Your Ultimate Guide To Sailing The Whitsundays, From Bougie To Budget-Friendly

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One thing I learnt this year is that The Whitsundays isn’t just a playground for the white linen-wearing financial elite and their catamarans. There’s a whole range of Whitsundays sailing, dining and accommodation options available from bougie to a little more budget-friendly, so travellers can tick this stunning region off their bucket lists while they’re young enough to really sink their teeth in.

There are 74 idyllic islands that make up the Whitsundays, sandwiched between the mainland and the Great Barrier Reef. It’s quite a spectacular spot and perfect for anyone after some aquatic adventure, so one of the main reasons to visit is to get your butt on a boat.

Depending on your holiday budget, here is an array of options for your Whitsundays sailing journey, all departing from Airlie Beach. We’ve even got you covered for what to do before and after your adventure.

Upmarket

#1 Whitsunday Getaway

Whether it’s you and seven friends or you’re a couple looking for a luxe experience with others, Whitsunday Getaway is a good bet. As an elegant, French-built Lagoon 440 catamaran with a max capacity of eight guests, the vessel has four air-conditioned queen cabins, each with its own ensuite (nice).

You’ll enjoy gourmet meals, stand up paddleboarding, snorkelling, and a visit to Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet Lookout. The two-nights and days tour is usually $875 per person, but you can currently nab a spot for $775.

#2 Lady Enid

Another option for those really not into any type of overnight sailing, but who still want a luxe vibe, is Lady Enid. Offering a day trip out to the Whitsunday islands or Langford Island from Airlie Beach, Lady Enid promises barefoot luxury.

You munch on a delish morning tea including fresh buttermilk scones and a fruit platter before making your arrival at Whitehaven Beach. Lunch is equally yum (there’s a charcuterie and fresh prawns), followed by snorkelling. Your sunset sail is made all the better with high tea and a glass of sparkling. Prices start from $265 per person for the nine-hour tour.

#3 Private Charter

Once you get into the upmarket category, however, many people choose to charter a private yacht. There are heaps of options, and this is a good place to start.

Mid-range

#1 Whitsunday Adventurer

Hop aboard the Whitsunday Adventurer, a 12-meter catamaran with spacious decks that sleeps a maximum of 12 guests.

There’s a variety of cabin options ranging from single bunks to double or triple cabins and like most two-day two-night tours, you’ll have plenty of time to snorkel, swim, check out Whitehaven and Hill Inlet Lookout and stand up paddleboard. This vessel also happens to have a foredeck heated spa. Prices start from $479 per person.

#2 Entice Catamarans

A slightly more intimate option is one of iSail’s two 46-foot Entice catamarans from French catamaran racing heritage, taking a maximum of 10 passengers each.

Both offer a relaxed sailing tour that will take you to all the hot spots in the Whitsundays, including Whitehaven Beach, Hill Inlet Lookout and the fringing reefs for snorkelling, but they also have a sea scooter and glass-bottomed canoe. Prices start from $539 per person for the two-day two-night tour.

Budget-Friendly

#1 Sailing Whitsundays

If your budget is particularly tight, you’ll want to stick to a day-trip option. Sailing Whitsundays has a range of day tours starting from $125 per person (or one that is currently on sale for $109 per person) to get you out on the water for the day.

Their tours include everything from exploring some of the best snorkelling and diving locations, to SUP boards, to checking out the northern islands.

#1 Summertime

If two nights at sea is one night too many, you could head out on Summertime, a 63-foot ketch that houses a maximum of 19 guests. The two-day, one-night sailing tour starts at $329 per person and includes a visit to Whitehaven Beach, plus a kayak and snorkel. There’s a jacuzzi on the main deck.

#2 SV Whitehaven

SV Whitehaven offers an award-winning two-day one-night eco-sailing safari. Experienced eco-guides will take you out to sea, where you’ll learn to sail, enjoy kayaking, snorkel over some of the best reefs around the islands and visit the world-famous Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet Lookout. Prices start from $349 per person.

#3 Siska

If you’d prefer to sail on a yacht, then Siska is the tour for you. A 77-foot maxi yacht with a racing past, Siska is another two-day one-night tour popular with the 18 to 35 bracket. The boat capacity is for 24 guests and prices are usually $399 per person, but are currently on sale for $279 per person.

What To Do Before & After You Sail

Where to stay

 

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There are heaps of accommodation options in Airlie Beach, including some rowdy backpackers if you spent all your money on sailing or you’re keen for a party. If you’d rather stay out of the fray, the well-known hotel chain Mantra’s Club Croc is a good option and has a sweet lagoon-style pool. Prices starting from $149, not including breakfast. You’ll just want to have a car to get around.

Heart Hotel and Gallery straddles the edge between affordable and mid-range with their stylish rooms in a gorgeous Queenslander-style building from $260 per night. There’s an art gallery on the top floor and their rooms are soundproofed, but they’re smack bang in town, so book a water-facing room if you’re sensitive to noise.

Pinnacles Resort aparthotel is perched high on a hill overlooking Airlie (while still being only a seven-minute walk into the heart of town) from $275 for a one-bedroom apartment with a minimum three-night stay.

Freedom Shores promises a different kind of stay, with bungalows styled as boats overlooking the ocean as part of their offerings from $319 with a two-night minimum — you’ll need wheels to get here though. The on-site Northerlies Beach Bar and Grill Restaurant is known locally for its seafood platter and water views.

Finally, Coral Sea Resort is perfectly positioned on the oceanfront, along the scenic Bicentennial walkway directly between the marina and town and just a 10-minute stroll from the town centre. The tasteful rooms have their own outdoor spa on the balcony, and who doesn’t love an outdoor bath.

The resort’s stylish in-house restaurant and pool club, The Rocks, is a destination in itself; it’s a brilliant spot to watch the sun go down. Room prices start from $325 and include brekkie.

Good Eats

 

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Airlie Beach happens to boast the best mojito in the world at Rum Bar inside local institution Fish D’vine. The restaurant is a must eat, so order yourself a cocktail (I tried the passionfruit mojito and it was smashing) and settle into your gorgeous al fresco seafood dinner (although their non-seafood dishes are just as good).

Spend the night in Rome eating a wholesome meal at La Marina. This family-owned Italian restaurant makes everything fresh on-site, right down to the tiramisu. This is the kind of place where the owners work the floor and recipes are passed down through generations.

For views without the price tag, Anchor Bar is a great spot for sundowners and honest food. Dining poolside at The Rocks in Coral Sea Resort is a must while in town. For a lively atmosphere and good bistro food, The Airlie Beach Hotel is another local fave.

Cafe-wise, The Deck Airlie Beach right in the middle of town is great, with views toward Airlie Bay. Rufus & Co at the Port of Airlie is another lovely cafe option with solid brews near town.

Outside of town, Bohemian Raw is a fabulous pit stop at the Coral Sea Marina. Before or after you set sail, grab an acai bowl, nourishing meal or decadent raw treat. In neighbouring Cannonvale, do as the locals do and make your way to beloved Fat Frog Beach Cafe for delicious cafe meals and excellent coffee.

Other Activities

As a bonus bougie Hamilton Island add on, Hamilton Island Air offers seaplane excursions for $499 per person, if you’d like the best of both worlds.

You’ll take a scenic flight over Whitehaven Beach, Hill Inlet, Whitsunday Island, the Great Barrier Reef and then return via Hook Passage and Cid Harbour. You can catch the one-hour ferry over to Hamilton Island from Airlie Beach for $66 per person, each way.


The author experienced Mantra Club Croc as a guest of Tourism Whitsundays.

(Lead image: Tourism and Events Queensland)