>  Attractions   >  5 things to do in the Whitsundays

If your family is like ours and you would rather get out and about than lie by the pool, the Whitsundays might just be your dream destination. Here are 5 things to do in and around the Whitsundays with something to suit every budget. Even better, we found plenty of fun that can be yours for free.

Free fun on Hamilton Island

You’re unlikely to hear those dreaded words ‘I’m bored!’ on Hamilton Island as all non-motorised water sports are free for in-house guests. Grab the kids and some kayaks and go for a paddle, hit the beach, try windsurfing or explore the island with a free self-guided audio tour. Add three family-friendly pools to hop between and it is tempting to spend all day in your swimmers.

Accommodation ranges from family-friendly Hamilton Island Holiday Homes to the recently refurbished Palm Bungalows or a room at the high rise Reef View Hotel. If your kids are under 12, they eat for free off the children’s menu when you stay at these hotels. With so much free fun to be had, you can spend as much – or as little – as you like at this resort.

Soak up the sun on Hamilton Island
Go for a catamaran ride at Hamilton Island

Play at Hamilton Island Golf Club

Hamilton Island Golf Club is rumoured to be one of the most challenging courses in the world, not least because it is impossible to keep your eye on the ball when you are surrounded by such jaw-dropping views. With holes strung along the spectacular ridges and steep valleys of Dent Island, this course offers a variety of obstacles such as swirling winds, impenetrable bushland and a 14th hole dubbed the ‘Valley of Death’. If you miss a shot, you can always blame the turtles swimming below the fairways for distracting you from the game.

Hamilton Island Golf Club

Camp on the Great Barrier Reef at Reefsleep

Sleeping in swags under the stars and exploring Australia’s most famous marine playground with just nine other travellers at Reefsleep, an overnight camping experience on the Reefworld pontoon, offers a unique way to experience the Great Barrier Reef. As soon as the day trippers left at 3pm, we pulled on stinger suits, masks and fins and slipped into the ocean alongside Hardy Reef. Coral gardens sparkled with jewel bright tropical fish and clown fish peeked out of anemones tucked into the coral drop off. There was so much to see it was hard to know where to look first.

Chip, the pontoon’s resident turtle, also dropped in for a visit. Like us, he also prefers exploring the surrounding ocean without the crowds. After a barbeque dinner with plenty of lively conversation, we went upstairs and climbed into a one person tent to sleep under the stars. If you’re a light sleeper, bring a pair of ear plugs as sea birds roost on the pontoon and chat to each other all night. An eye mask is also a good idea, especially if there is a full moon or you don’t want to wake up (too) early. When the sun came up, we still had the whole pontoon to ourselves until 11am when the next load of day trippers arrived.

Sunrise at Reefsleep
Sunrise at Reefsleep

Helicopter trip to Heart Reef

See a different side of the Great Barrier Reef with a scenic flight that takes in the best of the Whitsundays, from Whitehaven Beach to Hill Inlet, Hook Passage and myriad Whitsunday Islands. Rainforest tumbles down rugged hillsides, idyllic rocky bays beckon and shimmering, crystalline blue waters beg to be explored. Heart Reef, a coral bommie shaped just like a heart, is a highlight so have your camera ready. It’s a triple thriller: a helicopter flight, stunning scenery and loads of Instaworthy pics.

See Heart Reef from the air

Whitsundays sailing and jetski adventure

See the very best of the Whitsundays in one day – world famous Whitehaven Beach and the beautiful Whitsunday islands – on a trip which ventures beyond the pristine sands of Whitehaven to jet ski around the Whitsunday islands. Don’t forget to slow down occasionally so you can spot turtles, dugongs and dolphins while you’re out on the water.

Fun on Whitehaven Beach

Disclosure: The writer visited the Whitsundays as a guest of Tourism Whitsundays. 

If would like to know more about visiting the Great Barrier Reef, we also have tips for visiting Heron Island, Orpheus Island, and Cairns which is a popular jumping off point for exploring the Great Barrier Reef. You can also explore the Great Barrier Reef on a three or four-night Great Barrier Reef cruise with Coral Expeditions.

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Dr Tiana Templeman is an award-winning food and travel journalist, travel author and media industry academic. She is the creator of The Travel Temple, writes for Australian and international media outlets and appears on radio talking about where to go, what to see and travel industry trends.