2 day Whitsundays itinerary – Great Barrier Reef and Whitehaven

The Whitsundays are a stunning group of islands set in the heart of the World Heritage Listed Great Barrier Reef. With a selection of different activities and a variety of accommodation to suit all budgets, it is the ideal place to explore the great barrier reef as well as enjoy the most beautiful beach in Australia! You will need at least two days to fully appreciate the beauty of the Whitsundays. I will share with you the ultimate  2 day itinerary for the Whitsundays to ensure you make the most of your stay.

If you’re planning a roadtrip from Cairns to Airlie beach check out my two week itinerary!

Day 1: Great Barrier Reef

Spend your first day on the Whitsundays ticking a massive item off your bucket list – the Great Barrier Reef. Cruise Whitsundays has a pontoon in the middle of Hardy reef, offering you a unique opportunity to actually see the reef from dry land, and it is such a spectacular site!


Here you can enjoy the reef and choose how much time you spend in the water as well as enjoy other activities (snorkels and stinger suits are provided FOC). If you are unable to swim you can still enjoy the water thanks to their submarine and underwater viewing deck (both are free to use).


You can book to scuba dive the reef from the pontoon, either as a certified diver or as a beginner. Just remember that you shouldn’t fly 24 hours after scuba diving (this is why I recommend going to the great barrier reef on your first day).


You can also pay a bit extra to enjoy a 10 or 20 minute helicopter ride over the reef (including the heart reef). If you want to take the helicopter make sure you book this as soon as you arrive on the pontoon as it sells out fast!


The boat leaves from the Port of Airlie (Airlie Beach) and goes via Hamilton island, taking about 3 hours each way. It’s a long journey but I think it is worth it to enjoy the reef in the middle of the ocean, and you sail past the Whitsunday islands. If you wish to have more time on the pontoon you can also opt to sleep there!

Price: $259
Timings: 8am – 6pm
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Day 2: Whitehaven Beach

Voted the most beautiful beach in Australia, Whitehaven is a must visit on your trip to the Whitsundays. Cruise Whitsundays offer a few different packages which go to Whitehaven beach. I went on the full day cruise as I wanted to spend the most amount on Whitehaven beach, as well as walk to the Hill inlet lookout.

The Hill inlet is located to the north of the 7km long Whitehaven beach and is the third most photographed spot in Australia. The swirling blue and turquoise water over the white sand is quite a site so I definitely recommend booking a tour that includes a visit to the Hill Inlet lookout.

After visiting the Hill inlet we enjoyed a BBQ on the beach and spent the afternoon swimming in the crystal clear water (PARADISE!).

QLD Drone-155

Cruise Whitsundays organise two different hikes in the afternoon if you want to explore the national park some more. They also provide a variety of games and mini beach tents so you don’t need to worry about the sun.


Price: $229
Timings: 7:15am – 6:10pm
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If you want to spend more time on Whitehaven beach you can choose to camp there, this gives you a great opportunity to have the beach to yourself for a few hours. I contemplated doing this but unfortunately there is only one boat that does drop offs/pick ups and it leaves once a day each way, so you need to be more flexible with your time. If you camp you won’t be able to access the hill inlet, but you can walk to the end of the beach on the other side of the estuary.

Price: $155 for return boat, $50 for 1st night & $25 for each additional night for a camping kit and $6.55 for a camping permit.
Timings: Depend on the tide, I contacted the boat company via Facebook.

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Getting there:

There are two airports in the Whitsundays – Proserpine (around a 30 minute drive from Airlie Beach) and Hamilton island (an island in the Whitsundays).

The Greyhound runs through Airlie Beach which is the best town to access the Whitsundays from.

I hired a car in Cairns and drove down to Airlie Beach. There is free parking on the main strip.

Where to stay:

If you’re on a budget I would recommend staying in a hostel in Airlie beach. I personally stayed at Airlie Beach Magnums. They had the cheapest private double room (60AUD a night) and were well located (near Woolworths, the lagoon and an easy walk to the Port of Airlie).

Hotels in Airlie Beach or Airbnbs on Hamilton Island are your best option for a mid-range budget.

Hamilton island has a lot of luxury resorts. You can book transfers to Hamilton Island from via Cruise Whitsundays.


I hope you have an amazing time in this piece of paradise! If you’re planning on exploring more of Australia make sure you check out:
Top 5 Things to do in Cairns
Top 20 Free Things To Do in Sydney

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