Sailing to white sands: Whitsundays via Airlie Beach, QLD

The Whitsundays really do live up to the hype. The scenery is breathtaking, whether it’s the hilly islands, the incredible aqua marine colour of the water, or the famous Whitehaven Beach with some of the purest sand you’ll find on the planet.

This was a stop on our Whitsundays to Brisbane Road Trip

Airlie Beach is a small sea side town best known as the departure point for the absolutely stunning Whitsunday Islands. We only came here to catch our boat, so there’s much more about that than Airlie Bech itself – scroll to the bottom for a little more info.

What to do in Airlie Beach

We came here purely to visit the Whitsundays. There are a massive range of tour options, from day trips to three or four day live aboard cruises. If you have the time then the longer trips are better value for money and allow you to explore much more of this idyllic paradise.

Whitsunday Sailing Trip

The five of us booked a three day two night live aboard on the New Horizon, and had a brilliant time. We found it to be a great balance between having fun and chilling out – there was drinking, music, and chatting, but no teenagers working out their alcohol tolerance and partying into the night. If you want a party boat then check out the New Horizon’s sister boat, the Atlantic Clipper.


The boat trip itself was fantastic. At $465 each we all felt it was great value, as this cost included two nights accommodation, all your food (there was plenty, it was all good, and they accommodate any dietary requirements as long as they know in advance), marine park fees, snorkelling equipment, paddle boards, linen, wetsuit (you’ll need to wear this to protect yourself from some of the nasty jelly fish), an incredibly fun giant water slide, diving board off the side of the boat, a guided bush walk, a trip to Whitehaven Beach, an optional lecture on the Whitsundays, and all your drinking water.

The only additional costs are for snacks available to purchase on board (you can bring your own if you like), and $60 if you want to do a scuba dive. This is really good value and much cheaper than you’ll find elsewhere, as you’re already at the reef.

Just a quick note about what to expect – if you are very claustrophobic, need your creature comforts, or don’t do well in dorms then this boat trip is not the one for you. Showers are limited to preserve water and the 32 passengers are split across two mixed dorms under the deck of the boat. Some of the beds are bunks but others are ‘doubles’ (much smaller than standard) with singles above them. You access the single by stepping on to the double and climbing up. We found it fine for two nights, and it’s worth remembering boat accommodation is usually pretty small in general. If you want something more private and luxurious then there are plenty of options, but you’ll pay a lot more.

What to bring

You’ll need your own towel (buy a microfibre travel towel – $15 is absolutely worth it for how little space they take up and how quickly they dry), your swimwear, sunscreen, a hat, clothes, a refillable water bottle, your toiletries and a phone/camera. One of my friends invested in a waterproof phone case and another other in a go pro, and were both really pleased that they did – the best photos of our trip were taken by them.

In the winter months it can get cool at night so you might want to bring something to keep you warm. Wet wipes were useful given the two minute shower rule. It is also a good idea to bring rain jackets/ponchos as water comes onto the boat when sailing through the rougher patches, and it might rain during the summer months.

You can bring your own booze to store in the giant on board eskis, but there’s no glass and no red wine allowed – transfer your spirits into plastic bottles before you board.

If you get even the slightest bit of motion sickness then buy pills from the pharmacy, take one half an hour before you board and then keep taking them throughout your trip. They are intended to be preventative rather than relieve symptoms so once you feel seasick it’s too late. Our nights were fine (we anchored in a stunning sheltered inlet) but the trip out and some of the trips around were quite rough – if I hadn’t taken those pills I definitely would have been ill.

You’ll need to pack all this in a bag with no zipper (eg a shopping tote bag). All the hostels sell them for a few dollars, as do ABC travel.

Booking your trip

There are lots of travel agents to choose from to organise your trip. We used Sailing Whitsundays who were very helpful and professional. You can also secure discounts if you book other trips with them, for example to Fraser Island. The company that actually runs the trip is called ABC Travel, and you can book directly with them if you want to. However we were offered a better price through the agents we used. Once we were at Airlie Beach we noticed that some hostels offered a free dorm bed if you booked your trip with them, so that may be worth researching too.

Some agents will tell you you need to arrive in Airlie Beach and check in before 5pm the day before your boat leaves, but this isn’t necessary. As long as you let the travel company know, you can check in the morning of your departure before 11am.

Where to stay and eat in Airlie Beach

Although there is only 1,000 or so permanent residents, its popularity as a backpacker and East Coast Trip stop means it feels much busier. If you aren’t planning to go to the Whitsundays (you definitely should be), its probably not worth going to Airlie Beach just to visit the town. However if you need a pit stop on a road trip there’s lots of accommodation, cafes, nice beaches, and plenty of partying.

We stayed at Magnum’s Hostel which was very cheap but not great. One room had so many cockroaches in the girls decided to sleep in the car, and in the others the air con was on a timer and the bunk beds shook a lot every time someone rolled over. If you can spare the extra dollars, then do yourself a favour and go elsewhere.

Before we got on the boat we had brunch at the Village Cafe. The coffee was great, the food was tasty, and the prices were reasonable – we would definitely recommend it.

This was a stop on our Whitsundays to Brisbane Road Trip

If you have any questions, want help planning a trip to the Whitsundays, or have an idea for a guest blog please email

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