Review: Whitehaven Beach cruise from Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island is a picture perfect day out, QLD inner banner

Review: Whitehaven Beach cruise from Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island is a picture perfect day out, QLD

The turquoise waters and pristine white sand of the Queensland Whitsundays have been dazzling visitors for decades. See the best of the region on this day cruise to Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet. A delicious burger lunch is included in the tour price.
Whitehaven Beach cruise
Whitehaven Beach cruise: Hill Inlet. Image: Tourism and Events Queensland
Review: Whitehaven Beach Cruise from Port Airlie/Hamilton Island

‘Beautiful one day; perfect the next.’

The catchphrase of Queensland tourism campaigns past could very well have been coined specifically for the Whitsunday Islands, so fitting is it for this destination. During a recent stay on Hamilton Island, I decided to visit famous Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet on Whitsunday Island (the largest island in the group) with premier tour operator Cruise Whitsundays. Their ‘Chill and Grill’ day trip covers both of the region’s most lauded natural wonders, and includes a gourmet burger lunch. So, did Whitehaven and Hill Inlet live up to the hype? Read on!

Watch our video of top things to do in Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays:

Ten Great Things to Do in AIRLIE BEACH and the WHITSUNDAYS, Australia | Ultimate Travel Guide

Queensland’s Airlie Beach has long been a popular stop on the east coast backpacker trail, but today it’s a holiday hot spot for anyone wanting to experience the extraordinary beauty of the Whitsunday Islands and Great Barrier Reef. Think turquoise waters, amazing beaches, palm trees swaying in the breeze, and incredible snorkelling and diving.

My day begins with seamless boarding of our catamaran at the Hamilton Island marina. The comfortable vessel began today’s journey in Airlie Beach — and while there are already a number of passengers on board, there’s more than enough space to go round. The crew are an easy-going and friendly bunch, and the captain’s commentary is peppered with laidback humour en route to the southern end of seven-kilometre-long Whitehaven.

Wow, what a sight! The sweeping arc of powdery sand is blindingly white in the sunshine. Sandwiched between glistening waters and lush green bushland, Whitehaven Beach is every bit as wondrous as the hundreds of Instagram images suggest (no filter needed!). Now I understand why it recently made the top five of the world’s 50 best beaches!

Whitehaven Beach cruise
Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island

Once ashore, it’s time for a swim in crystal-clear waters teeming with marine life — not all of it friendly. We don stinger suits to protect us from the tiny-but-poisonous Irukandji jellyfish, which migrate here annually between November and May. Luckily, there are no signs of this species of box jellyfish today.

A school of black-and-white striped reef fish circle around me, their pace so relaxed that we collide from time to time! I could easily spend all day here, but it would be silly to miss seeing Hill Inlet at Whitehaven’s northern end — renowned for its breathtaking palette of blue and white hues.

Whitehaven Beach cruise
Whitehaven Beach cruise. Image: Cindy Bingley-Pullin

Getting there starts with a 15-minute boat ride to Tongue Bay, where turtles are excitedly spotted cavorting in the waves. Along the way our skipper shares interesting details about the surrounding geography, and conspiracy theories on the origins of Whitehaven’s pure silica sand. ‘No one really knows where it comes from, but geologists don’t think it originates from around here’, he confides. ‘I don’t believe that for a second.’

We alight from the boat in the shallows of Tongue Bay, clambering over fragments of rock and coral to get ashore. Bring thongs!

From there, it’s a short hike to see the Instagram-famous gum tree on Whitehaven — a once towering eucalypt, now lying sideways on the beach. I must confess, I’ve never heard of this sun-bleached social media icon until now. But that doesn’t stop me joining the queue of millennials (and a baby-boomer or two!) waiting to preen and pose for pictures on its branches.

Whitehaven Beach cruise
Whitehaven Beach tree. Image: Envato

Priorities sorted, we head up to the Hill Inlet lookout — a triple series of vantage points, each yielding a jaw-dropping vista even more incredible than the one before. Swirls of snow-coloured sand intertwine with shades of blue water so intense that they feel other-worldly. Everyone fumbles furiously for their smart phones and cameras to capture the ‘painting-like’ scene. When the taking of selfies subsides, we head back to southern Whitehaven — spotting more turtles along the way.

A build-your-own-burger lunch awaits us, with quintessentially Aussie ingredients like smashed avocado, bright-red beetroot chunks, and mounds of smoky charred onion. As we chow down on our bun cupped culinary creations, a metre-long goanna watches patiently from the undergrowth — hopeful of some scraps.

Whitehaven Beach cruise
Whitehaven Beach cruise. Image: Cindy Bingley-Pullin

Following lunch, there’s an optional guided trek up to another lookout on offer. I decide instead to enjoy a snooze in my sun tent, followed by more gentle bobbing about in the warm sea.

On the cruise back to our temporary island home, crew members turn bar staff — pouring complimentary wines and ice-cold beers, as we nibble on cheese, crackers, and charcuterie.

All in all, this has been a day of beauty and perfection in equal measure!

For more information, visit

Airlie Beach tours

Airlie Beach & Whitsundays Tours, Activities & Attractions

Cover image: Tourism and Events Queensland. Additional images: Bigstock

Cindy Bingley-Pullin

About the writer

Cindy Bingley-Pullin is a Sydney-based freelance writer, wanderluster, corporate bee, and happy homemaker. In between analysing spreadsheets in the office, she pursues her combined passions of travel and writing. Cindy’s work has appeared in Virgin Australia’s Voyeur magazine, International Traveller, Fitness First magazine, and the Sydney Morning Herald.



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