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About Whitsunday Islands

Exciting news!
More park information is available in our trial Whitsunday Islands National Park page.

Getting there and getting around

Sailing is a great way to see the Whitsundays. Photo: J Heitman.

Sailing is a great way to see the Whitsundays. Photo: J Heitman.

Whitsunday Islands National Park protects 32 islands, including Whitsunday Island with its world-renowned Whitehaven Beach, Black, Hook and Langford islands. The park is readily accessible by private or commercial boat from Airlie Beach or Shute Harbour, east of Proserpine in central Queensland.

The Ngaro Aboriginal people, have lived in the area for over 9,000 years. They are one of the earliest recorded Aboriginal groups in Australia, and were seen in 1770 by Lieutenant (later Captain) James Cook while exploring the Whitsunday Passage. The Ngaro people lived well throughout the island chain, now popularly called The Whitsundays, and on the nearby mainland.

Access is by private or commercial boat from Airlie Beach or Shute Harbour. Some commercial transfer companies drop off and collect campers. See tourism information links and arrange your passage before booking your campsite.

If travelling by private vessel, getting to the park can present navigational challenges. Always take the weather and tidal influences into account when boating in the Whitsundays. Ensure you read Planning your trip to the Whitsundays and Getting there and getting around the Whitsundays before your departure.

Wheelchair accessibility

There are no wheelchair-accessible facilities in Whitsunday Islands National Park.

Park features

Humpback whales put on a show in winter. Photo: J Heitman.

Humpback whales put on a show in winter. Photo: J Heitman.

These hilly islands were formed as rising sea levels, when the polar ice caps melted from 19,000 to 6,000 years ago, 'drowned' an ancient, mainland, coastal mountain range. Today, these (once) mountain peaks and the surrounding turquoise waters offer visitors many features.

  • A walkers' delight with many walking track options and often with spectacular views.
  • Great camping areas.
  • Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet with their white silica sand.
  • A boating paradise.
  • Coral cays and inshore reefs, with vividly coloured coral structures.
  • Ngaro Aboriginal rock art at Hook Island’s Nara Inlet.
  • Rare plants and animals like the Whitsunday bottle trees and the unadorned rock-wallabies.
  • Marine turtles, whales, sharks, rays and hundreds of darting and dashingly colourful reef fish.
  • Long beaches and a turquoise sea like no other.

The islands and surrounding waters are protected by the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Learn more about the nature, culture and history of the Whitsundays.

Camping and accommodation

Camp and relax at one of many national park campgrounds. Photo: J Heitman.

Camp and relax at one of many national park campgrounds. Photo: J Heitman.

Camping

Most of the Whitsunday islands are national parks and great places for camping. Choose from a range of camping options, depending on your needs.

  • Facilities vary; usually limited to toilets and/or picnic tables.
  • Campers must be self-sufficient; take enough food, fresh water and insect repellent.
  • Open fires and generators are not permitted; bring fuel or gas stoves for cooking.
  • Take all rubbish back to the mainland please.
Camper numbers are limited

This helps to ensure a good, camping experience.

  • Book your site and purchase your permit in advance.
  • Display your camping permit tag prominently on your tent; penalties apply if you don't
Camp site summary
  • Camp sites near Cid Harbour—Dugong Beach; Naris Beach; Joes Beach—are reasonably sheltered camping areas.

Danger! Sharks: Do not swim, snorkel or dive in Cid Harbour. Serious injury or death may occur from shark attack. 

  • Other sites on Whitsunday Island include the popular Whitehaven Beach and Cairn Beach.
  • Other small camping areas on Hook Island—Maureens Cove, Crayfish, Steens and Curlew beaches—all offer great snorkelling from shore.
  • Northern Spit on Henning Island is accessible at all tides and popular with kayakers to break their journey.
  • Book your camp site online.
  • If you cannot book online, see camping bookings for further options.

Read more:

Things to do

Walkers enjoy the amazing view from Whitsunday Peak. Photo: J Heitman.

Walkers enjoy the amazing view from Whitsunday Peak. Photo: J Heitman.

Walking

Whitsunday Islands National Park has many walking tracks—short; easy; long; challenging—many with staggering views. Choose one that suits your ability and time available.

Take the opportunity to explore some of the rugged, densely vegetated islands. All the walks on Whitsunday Island are part of the Whitsunday Ngaro Sea Trail one of Queensland's 10 Great Walks.  It's a boating-walking trail around the beautiful Whitsunday islands.

Whitsunday Island

Solway circuit (Grade: moderate)

Track map: Whitsunday Island (Whitehaven Beach; Tongue Point) walking track map (PDF, 307K)

Distance: 1.2km circuit

Time: Allow 40min

Details: Starting from Whitehaven Beach, this one-way circuit winds its way uphill to a natural rock platform—giving spectacular views over Solway Passage and surrounding islands. Trackside signs offer walkers an insight into how Whitehaven’s landscape was formed.

Chance Bay (Grade: moderate)

Track map: Whitsunday Island (Whitehaven Beach; Tongue Point) walking track map (PDF, 307K)

Distance: 3.6km return

Time: Allow 2.5hr

Details: Escape the sun and follow this track through some of Whitsunday Island’s more secluded forests to the peaceful Chance Bay. This enjoyable walk branches off Solway circuit which starts at Whitehaven Beach.

Hill Inlet lookouts (Grade: easy to moderate)

Track map: Whitsunday Island (Whitehaven Beach; Tongue Point) walking track map (PDF, 307K)

Distance: 1.3km return

Time: Allow 40min

Details: Take an uphill stroll to look over the turquiose waters to Hill Inlet, a culturally significant area to the Ngaro people. All the lookouts have excellent views, so if the first one is too crowded, simply move on to the second or third lookout platform. Continue the circuit track, heading downhill to the track junction, which leads either back to Tongue Bay or over to Lookout Beach.

Lookout Beach (Grade: easy to moderate)

Track map: Whitsunday Island (Whitehaven Beach; Tongue Point) walking track map (PDF, 307K)

Distance: 500m return

Time: Allow 20min

Details: Branch off the Hill Inlet lookout track and head downhill to the ivory-white sands of Lookout Beach. Situated at the mouth of Hill Inlet, you can enjoy the sunshine or rest in the shade.

Dugong–Sawmill Track (Grade: easy to moderate)

Track map: Whitsunday Island (Whitsunday Cairn; Dugong-Sawmill track; Whitsunday Peak) track map (PDF, 307K)

Distance: 3km return

Time: Allow 1hr

Details: The track starts from either Dugong Beach or Sawmill Beach. Near Dugong Beach, you'll wend your way beneath towering hoop pines and rainforest stands among vivid mosses, lichens and fungi; almost a fairy-tale scene. From Sawmill Beach, you will need to cross Sawmill Creek to reach the track. Be prepared to get wet; especially at or nearing high tide.

Whitsunday Peak (Grade: difficult)

Track map: Whitsunday Island (Whitsunday Cairn; Dugong-Sawmill track; Whitsunday Peak) track map (PDF, 307K)

Distance: 5km return

Time: Allow 4hr

Details: Stand at the top of the island and enjoy uninterrupted views of the Whitsundays. Accessed from Sawmill Beach in Cid Harbour, the Whitsunday Peak track offers a great getaway from the busy beaches. Walk through rainforest gullies and uphill to windblown heaths to see spectacular views from the ‘roof of the Whitsundays’.

Warning: This track is steep and physically demanding. Consider your fitness and walking experience carefully before setting out. Wear appropriate shoes, hat and take plenty of drinking water and good food and energy snacks.

Whitsunday Cairn (Grade: difficult)

Track map: Whitsunday Island (Whitsunday Cairn; Dugong-Sawmill track; Whitsunday Peak) track map (PDF, 307K)

Distance: 4km return

Time: Allow 3hr

Details: Steep and challenging, the track to Whitsunday Cairn leads off Cairn Beach, the most northern beach on Whitsunday Island. A very, steep ascent takes you through hoop pines and dry rainforest. Stay on the ridge line as you walk through drier open woodland where the giant grasstrees live. Take in breathtaking views when you reach the windswept and exposed, rocky outcrop below the towering Whitsunday Cairn.

Warning: There is no defined track. Look for triangular track markers that intermittently mark the way. This walk is for fit and experienced walkers only.

Hook Island

Ngaro Cultural Site (Grade: moderate)

Track map: Not needed; track is well signed.

Distance: 340m return

Time: Allow 20min walk and 1hr stopover

Details: The Ngaro people have walked this land for over 9,000 years. Protected from the elements, in a once-hidden cave, Ngaro artwork adorns the fragile rock surface and tells the story of these sea-faring Aboriginal people. The track begins deep inside Nara Inlet—an excellent overnight anchorage. Short and initially steep, the stepped track leads up the side of the inlet to a viewing platform at the cave’s entrance. Allow at least 1hr to immerse yourself in the stories of the site. Please do not touch or tamper with the art.

Read more: Walking in the national parks of the Whitsundays.

Border Island

Cateran Bay track (Grade: easy to moderate)

Track map: Border Island short walk track map (PDF, 1.8M)

Distance: 1.2km return

Time: Allow 1hr

Details: Moor in the quiet waters of Cateran Bay and go ashore to take a superb walk to two different lookouts with views east to Deloraine Island and an ocean that seems to go on forever. The track has an initial, very steep section, then meanders along the island's 'saddle' of native grassland and grasstrees. It's a beautiful, windswept setting with clean, fresh air to fill your lungs. Look low at the miniaturised plants adapted to the exposed, rocky conditions and the tiny wildlife that rest and nest in rocky crevices and overhangs. You'll be mesmerised and will want to sit and stare for ages. Wear sturdy shoes, a broad-brimmed hat, and take enough drinking water, some energy snacks and a camera!

Langford Island

Track map: Langford Island short walk track map (PDF, 1.5M)

Distance: 600m return

Time: Allow 20min

Details: Stroll along the mangrove-lined shore before walking up a gentle slope through a mix of tall trees in a ferny understorey. You'll see a magnificent specimen of the Whitsunday bottle tree Brachychiton compactus growing here, right next to the lookout. This form of bottle tree, a near-threatened species only found in rocky areas and lower slopes around the Whitsundays and Proserpine areas and one patch further west inland, has slightly different leaves to the Queensland bottle tree. It's a sight to see in October–November when compact clusters, up to 80 blossoms, burst out in flower.

Guided tours and talks

Many commercial operators offer tours to sites throughout Whitsunday Islands National Park. See tourism information links for more information.

Picnics

Some of the islands offer picnic areas (day-use areas) and most are near a beach. Facilities vary, but may include picnic tables and toilets. For a complete list check the Parks of the Whitsundays map (PDF, 1.9M).

Be aware: Open fires and ash-producing stoves are not permitted on national park islands or intertidal lands adjacent to national park islands. Use gas or fuel stoves for cooking.

Boating and fishing

It's all about boating in the Whitsundays. In fact, the area is described as a boating paradise with secluded islands to explore.

Read more: Boating and fishing.

Swimming and snorkelling

Snorkelling over the reef flat at high tide can be exhilerating. The water is usually clearer at the northern sides of the outer islands. Scuba divers can explore coral bommies, crevices and caves along the reef perimeter and slope.

  • Consider wearing diving boots to protect your feet, as you may have to walk across coral rubble to the water.
  • Never walk or stand on corals; help protect these easily damaged structures.
  • A boat is the only safe way to reach distant snorkelling and diving sites.

Warning: Beware of strong currents and changing tidal conditions.

Read more vital information: Swimming and snorkelling in the Whitsundays.

Viewing wildlife

You can spend a few idyllic hours or a week exploring this beautiful park.

  • Shorebirds and waders are plentiful, particularly from October to March, when thousands migrate here to nest. Be aware: Some boating restrictions apply in October to March. Also read: Take care of nesting seabirds.
  • Look out for sooty oystercatchers, white-faced herons and reef egrets on the shoreline and around rocks.
  • You might also see Brahminy kites and white-bellied sea-eagles soaring above or perched high in the tree tops.
  • Don't forget the tiny wildlife; rainbow skinks, colourful insects, flashy butterflies and the giant burrowing cockroach up to 8cm long.

At low tide

  • Oysters and snails seal their shells and worms retire to their burrows at low tide.
  • Rock crabs dart for the nearest crevices as the shadow of a soaring Brahminy kite skirts the rugged shoreline. Inevitably, some crabs are surprised and fall prey to these handsome white and chestnut-coloured raptors.
  • Learn more about the nature, culture and history of the Whitsundays.

Things to know before you go

Ensure you read Things to know before you go to national parks of the Whitsundays.

Staying safe

Be aware of the hazards on the Whitsunday islands

 You are responsible for your own safety.

  • The islands are isolated and remote.
  • Most islands have no fresh water available.
  • There is no mobile phone reception at Whitehaven Beach or Tongue Point.
  • Dangerous marine stingers, sharks and crocodiles can be in the sea at all times of the year.
  • There are no lifeguards.
  • Medical help can be hours away.

Have fun, but always take safety seriously.

Danger! Marine stingers

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.

If stung, immediately leave the water and douse the affected area with vinegar. Continue this for several minutes, or as long as possible, to ease the pain. If you run out of vinegar, use sea water. Do not rub sand into the welts or use fresh water. Arrange urgent medical help and monitor the patient constantly.

Also see: Marine Stingers information.

Danger! Sharks

Many species of sharks live in the Great Barrier Reef and all along the Queensland coast. They live in the ocean, estuaries, freshwater canals and streams.

Cid Harbour, on the western side of Whitsunday Island, is a known site for sharks, that have attacked swimmers here without warning.

Be sharkwise! Never swim, snorkel or dive in Cid Harbour; serious injury or death may occur.

Danger! Crocodiles

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 swim or wade at dawn, dusk or night.
  • Never swim or wade 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; 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.
  • Stay in the shade as much as possible.

Read more: Staying safe in national parks of the Whitsundays.

Looking after the park

Be pest-free!

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! (PDF, 574K) before your visit.

Before you visit, please check that your boat, clothing, footwear and gear are free of soil, seeds, parts of plants, eggs, ants and insects (and their eggs), spiders, lizards, toads, rats and mice.

Be sure to:

  • Unpack your camping gear and equipment and check it carefully as pests love to hide in stored camping gear.
  • Clean soil from footwear and gear as invisible killers such as viruses, bacteria and fungi are carried in soil.
  • Check for seeds in pockets, cuffs and hook and loop fastening strips, such as Velcro.

While you are on the islands, remove soil, weeds, seeds and pests from your boat, gear and clothes before moving to a new site. Wrap seeds and plant material, and place them in your rubbish.

Everyone in Queensland has a General Biosecurity Obligation to minimise the biosecurity risk posed by their activities. This includes the risk of introducing and spreading weeds and pests to island national parks.

See the guidelines on caring for parks for more information about protecting our environment and heritage in parks.

Please also read looking after national park islands in the Whitsundays.

Park management

Read about managing national parks of the Whitsundays.

Tourism information links

Read Tourism information links for national parks of the Whitsundays.

Further information

Contact us

Last updated
5 April 2019