Visiting Whitsundays safely
Planning your trip
- Parks of the Whitsundays map
- Whitsunday Ngaro Sea Trail map
- Border Island short walk map
- Langford Island short walk map
Welcome to the Whitsundays
The continental islands of the Whitsundays were formed when changing sea levels drowned a mountain range. The area is part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and is acknowledged as one of the world’s best destinations for diving, snorkelling and sailing. Walking tracks and beaches also allow visitors to explore the fringes of these rugged, densely vegetated World Heritage-listed islands.
A land and sea adventure
This is one of Queensland’s 10 Great Walks. Go by boat and on foot; it will add another dimension to exploring the Whitsundays.Visit iconic destinations with magnificent views.
- Walk through different landscapes on a variety of short, long or challenging tracks on:
- Whitsunday Island
- South Molle Island
- Hook Islands.
- View Aboriginal art on Hook Island's Ngaro cultural walk.
- Take in stunning views.
Use the information below as a guide to plan your trip. For more information, see each specific park’s web page.
Getting there and getting around
The Whitsunday islands are readily accessible by boat from Airlie Beach or Shute Harbour, east of Proserpine in Central Queensland. By road the area is about 12hr north of Brisbane and 8hr south of Cairns. Follow signs on the Bruce Highway to Airlie Beach. Most roads in the region are suitable for conventional vehicles.
How to get to the Whitsunday national park islands
By private vessel
Public boat ramps:
- Shute Harbour
- Abel Point
- Airlie Beach
- Dingo Beach
- Conway Beach
- Midge Point.
- Day trips or camping tours of the Whitsundays are available.
- See tourism information links for further information.
Commercial boat transfers
- You can organise transfers at tourist booking agencies.
- Commercial operators depart from either Shute Harbour or Abel Point Marina.
- Tides, group size, equipment and costs vary due to the type of vessel required.
Commercial boat hire
- Boat or sail around the Whitsundays in a rented boat.
- See tourism information links for further information.
Access and many activities depend on tide times and heights.
- The Whitsunday area has a large tidal range of up to four metres.
- The average tidal range is about two to three metres.
Water visibility for snorkelling and diving also depends on the weather.
- Ideal conditions: periods of small tides and calm seas.
Also see: Weather forecasts from Bureau of Meteorology.
Kayaking around the islands is fun. You will need:
- a carefully planned itinerary; contact us before booking your camp sites
- a good map
- camping permits
- to be very fit
- to carry enough drinking water— at least 2-3 litres per day per person
- to understand the effects of weather to cross various passages and channels
- to know what to do when the weather stops you; it could affect your itinerary and camp bookings.
There are no wheelchair-accessible facilities on the parks of the Whitsunday islands.
On longer walks
Know your limits and choose your walks carefully.
- Some longer walks are difficult and are only suitable for fit and experienced walkers.
- Be well prepared and leave enough time for your return journey.
- Never walk alone.
Be prepared for emergencies
- Carry emergency supplies—food, water, AM/FM radio, spare batteries.
- Monitor weather forecasts—local ABC radio stations give vital information about changing weather conditions.
- Leave an updated itinerary with a reliable friend or family member—let them know what to do if things go wrong.
Carry a first aid kit and medical supplies
- Iodine-based antiseptic is best for cuts, especially coral cuts, but check for iodine allergy before administering it.
- Know how to treat blisters, heat exhaustion, and sprains, strains and fractures.
- Mobile phones are unreliable on the islands.
- Satellite phones are best and a marine VHF radio is very useful.
- Personal emergency beacons (PLBs) are highly recommended.
- In emergencies you can contact other vessels in the vicinity on:
- VHF marine channel 16 (emergency channel)
- or VHF channel 81.
- The Whitsundays receive good broadcast, radio reception and weather forecasts are available on most channels hourly.
- Weather forecasts are also available from the Bureau of Meteorology or by calling 1300 360 426.
The Whitsundays lie in the Queensland tropical storm or 'cyclone zone'. In the event of a cyclone or tsunami, the department has developed a contingency plan and will work with camper transfer companies and local authorities to try to inform campers of impending cyclones, tsunami and possible evacuation.
Stingers, also known as irukandji, or stinging jellyfish, can cause extremely painful, burn-like, stinging welts, which need urgent medical attention.
- Children may be particularly affected due to their size.
- Wear 'stinger suits'—full-body, Lycra suits—or protective clothing when snorkelling or entering the water.
- Always supervise children near water.
- Leave the water immediately move into shade.
- Douse the affected area with vinegar.
- Continue to dribble vinegar over the area for several minutes, or until the pain eases.
- If you run out of vinegar, use sea water not fresh water.
- Do not rub sand into the welts.
- Arrange urgent medical help and monitor the patient constantly.
- Also read Marine Stingers for the latest safety advice.
Many species of sharks live in the Great Barrier Reef and all along the Queensland coast. Cid harbour on the western side of Whitsunday Island, is a known site for shark attacks. But sharks are present at all times of the year in the open ocean, estuaries, freshwater canals and streams.
For more information:
Keep the waters clean.
- Never clean fish or throw food scraps over the side of your boat while at anchorages.
- Even black waste (sullage) attracts fish, which attract predators.
Large, salt-water (estuarine) crocodiles live in the waters around the Whitsundays and can attack without warning. Old adults can be nearly 4m in length. These predators are present and hunting at most times of the year, but particularly around summer wet seasons, and are difficult to see in the water. They lie still under water for hours, watching, and can attack from the shallows.
Stay alert and be aware of your surroundings at all times.
- Never enter the water at dawn, dusk or night.
- Never enter the water when drunk or affected by drugs.
- Stand at least 2m from the water's edge and do not stand or sit in one place for too long.
- Move away quickly if you see a crocodile; you are vulnerable even in small boats, jet skis, kayaks, canoes or on surf or paddle boards.
- Camp at least 50m from the water's edge.
- Never leave rubbish or fish cleaning remains around your camp or picnic spot.
Also see: Be croc-wise information.
Look but do NOT touch
Some marine creatures are deadly. Cone shells, blue-ringed octopus, and stonefish will sting. It's painful and can be fatal.
- Never touch, take or tamper with any marine animals or plants.
- Everything is protected by law. Penalties apply.
Never dive or snorkel alone
- Stay in a group when snorkelling or diving, so someone knows where you are and when you are expected back.
- Check local conditions—tides, local currents, swells, current weather.
- Do not get caught out by tides or strong currents.
Bring plenty of water
There is no fresh water on any of the uninhabited islands.
- Bring plenty of your own drinking water; at least 2 litres per person, per day.
- Campers must bring extra water for washing, bathing and cooking.
Avoid heat exhaustion and sunburn
- Drink plenty of water—at least 1-2 litres per day is recommended.
- Stay in the shade as much as possible.
Wear suitable footwear
Medical help is hours away.
- Wear dive shoes to protect your feet from sharp shells, broken coral and beach rock.
- Wear sturdy shoes for walking—a bone fracture can mean the end of your holiday.
Treat coral cuts with disinfectant
Don't delay treating coral cuts, as the even the smallest scratch can quickly become infected.
Before you visit
Our precious Great Barrier Reef World Heritage islands are among the most pest-free islands in the world. They need your help to stay this way. Please Be pest-free! before your visit.
Essentials to bring
Although rangers undertake regular marine park patrols, generally there are none on site. You must be responsible for your own safety.
Please pack carefully and remember to bring:
- Sufficient food and water, plus extra in case of emergency.
- None of the islands have fresh water.
- Bring enough water for drinking, cooking, washing and bathing; allow at least 5 litres per person per day.
- A gas or fuel stove for cooking—fires or ash-producing stoves are not permitted.
- A first aid kit, lots of vinegar and get advice on recognising and treating stings from dangerous marine stingers.
- Reliable equipment such as torches, AM/FM radio and VHF radio.
- Dehydrated food and minimal packaging.
- Sturdy food containers and rubbish bags.
- Camping gear cleaned of seeds, insects and vermin.
- Tarpaulin, sunscreen and personal insect repellent.
The parks of the Whitsunday islands are open 24 hours a day, all year round. However, parks may be closed in the event of bad weather.
Permits and fees
Camping permits are required for camping in the Whitsunday national parks and fees apply. 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.
- Book your campsite online.
- If you cannot book online, see camping bookings for further options.
Commercial photography permits are required if you intend to sell any photographs taken of national park islands in the Whitsundays. Organised event permits are required for organised group activities that may interfere with general public use. Commercial activity permits are required for any commercial activities. View permits and fees for further information.
No pets permitted on national park islands or intertidal lands adjacent to national park islands.
Climate and weather
Pleasant conditions occur throughout the year.
- April–September daytime temperatures are mild to warm (21–26°C) with cool nights (16–22°C) particularly when prevailing south-easterly winds blow.
- Water temperatures on the reef flat vary from 22°C in July to 27°C in January.
- October–January days are hotter (26–31°C) and more humid.
- Balmy nights follow strong but cooling north-easterly afternoon sea breezes.
- January–April is the wet season though showers may fall in any month.
- Cyclones are more likely between November and March.
- See staying safe for further information.
- The Whitsundays receive good, broadcast radio reception and weather forecasts are available hourly on most channels.
- Weather forecasts are available from the Bureau of Meteorology, or by phoning 1300 360 426.
Fuel and supplies
The nearest fuel and supplies can be found in Proserpine and Airlie Beach. See tourism information links for further information.
- Feral animal control program involving ground shooting: Hook Island, Whitsunday Islands National Park 29 May to 2 June 2023
- Visitors to Great Barrier Reef reminded to be SharkSmart 14 October 2020 to 22 August 2023