From scenic flights to yacht charters to total immersion in the Great Barrier Reef, here’s how to make the most of your day trips from Hamilton Island.
Located in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef and close to the world-famous Whitehaven Beach, Hamilton Island is the ideal launching pad to explore the wonders of the Whitsundays. And while there’s plenty to keep you entertained on the island itself – think sunset cocktails, bushwalking, spa treatments, pool time and paddleboarding – a handful of off-island adventures can extend holiday memories even further. Here’s our pick of the best day trips from Hamilton Island…
1. Explore the Great Barrier Reef on a catamaran
It’s the world’s largest coral reef and one of the reasons you’re here, so get acquainted with the Great Barrier Reef in style through Cruise Whitsundays’ Great Barrier Reef Full Day Adventure.
The Hamilton Island day trip begins with a two-hour catamaran cruise out to Reefworld, a pontoon located on the beautiful Hardy Reef, found 39 nautical miles from Airlie Beach. From there, you’ll spend four hours dipping your toes in a range of activities both above and below the water.
Explore the Great Barrier Reef from the Reefworld Pontoon. (Image: Tourism & Events Queensland)
Snorkel to your heart’s content, with all gear including wetsuits and stinger suits included, alongside tropical fish and more than 1,400 types of coral. Alternatively, opt in for a guided reef safari to learn more about what you’re seeing.
Take a guided reef safari for a more informed experience. (Image: Tourism & Events Queensland)
If you don’t fancy getting wet, that’s fine too. Take your spot in Reefworld’s 50-seat semi-submarine where you’ll explore extraordinary sea life from a groper-viewing hole in its underwater chamber. The trip includes morning tea, a buffet lunch, and afternoon tea.
2. Sleep overnight on the Great Barrier Reef
Upgrade your Hamilton Island day trip on Cruise Whitsundays’ Reefworld by staying overnight – above deck, or below at Australia’s first underwater hotel. Once the day’s crowds depart, you’ll have the pontoon all to yourself to relax with a sunset drink and enjoy an al fresco dinner prepared by the on-board chef.
Sleep under the stars at Reefsleep in a pod. (Image: Tourism & Events Queensland)
Come nightfall, choose the Reefsleep experience to snooze under the stars in one of 12 Reefsleep pods, fitted with a queen-size mattress and complete with a zip-up hood. If you book well in advance, you might instead head below deck to one of the two Reefsuites, which come in either king double or twin single configurations. Your underwater room offers floor-to-ceiling glass walls for an uninterrupted perspective on the Great Barrier Reef. Food and beverages are included in your stay and you’ll depart Reefworld for Hamilton Island at 11am the next morning.
Take in the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef from your underwater Reefsuite. (Image: Tourism & Events Queensland)
3. Snorkel or dive on the Great Barrier Reef
If you’re a particularly keen snorkeller or scuba diver, join Explore’s Full Day Snorkel or Dive Tour which transports small groups to less-visited areas of the Great Barrier Reef.
Soak up the wonder of snorkelling at Bait Reef. (Image: Tourism & Events Queensland)
Suitable for both beginner and certified divers, this Hamilton Island day trip includes a stop at Bait Reef, a world-renowned diving location protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and featuring spectacular coral gardens, underwater canyons, swim throughs and breathtaking walls, as well as visits to popular dive sites Stepping Stones, Paradise Lagoon and Banjouras Lagoon.
Bait Reef is a world-renowned diving location. (Image: Tourism & Events Queensland)
If it’s snorkelling that’s caught your eye, the trip also offers incredible opportunities to bobble at your own pace at Bait Reef. The day’s itinerary also includes visits to more of the world’s best dive sites around Northern Hook Island. You’re guaranteed at least three and a half hours spent on location, plus morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea.
4. Sail out to wonderous Whitehaven Beach
Located just a 30-minute dash on a high-speed catamaran from Hamilton Island, Whitehaven Beach’s white silica sand and dazzling waters make it one of the jewels in the Whitsundays crown. It’s no surprise that Hamilton Island offers several day trips and tours, however, Cruise Whitsundays’ Whitehaven Beach & Hill Inlet Chill & Grill experience is a standout.
Float in the crystal-clear waters of Hill Inlet. (Image: Tourism & Events Queensland)
This full-day tour includes guided walks to Hill Inlet and Lookout and the Whitehaven Beach Lookout, stinger suits for snorkelling and an array of beach games to keep you entertained.
Chill at Whitehaven Beach. (Image: Tourism & Events Queensland)
But if it’s the ‘chill’ and ‘grill’ elements that grabbed you, a fresh-grilled, gourmet burger and the promise to keep you on Whitehaven for up to six glorious hours should satisfy.
Explore Whitehaven Beach at your leisure. (Image: Tourism & Events Queensland)
Alternatively, charter your own private yacht from Hamilton Island to discover the hot spot at your leisure.
5. Helicopter or plane ride over the Whitsundays
Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet, with their otherworldly swirls of creamy sand and turquoise water, are a sight to behold from above – and you can hop on a seaplane or helicopter from Hamilton Island to see it all for yourself.
Take a scenic flight above Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet. (Image: Tourism & Events Queensland)
One to indulge? Hamilton Island Air’s Reef & Beach Explorer by Seaplane is a thrilling two-hour and 45-minute experience that encompasses a scenic flight around the Whitsundays, offering guests a grand sweep of the scale and majesty of the Great Barrier Reef and the iconic Heart Reef.
Catch a seaplane to Whitehaven Beach with Hamilton Island Air. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
Elevating your day trip further, you’ll land right off Whitehaven Beach where chilled sparkling wine will be poured as you hit the sand and unwind.
Indulge with Hamilton Island Air’s Reef & Beach Explorer by Seaplane tour. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
6. Spend the afternoon at Heart Reef
A flyover of the stunning Heart Reef – a coral composition naturally formed into the shape of a love heart – has long been a Whitsundays non-negotiable. But guests of Hamilton Island also have the opportunity to see it from an up-close-and-personal perspective thanks to the exclusive Heart Island, a luxury and sustainably designed pontoon located in a neighbouring lagoon.
Fly over Heart Reef or stay for a snorkel and swim at Heart Island. (Image: Salty Wings)
Just six guests at a time are invited on a 30-minute helicopter flight over Whitehaven Beach, Hill Inlet and Heart Reef, before disembarking on the pontoon’s private helipad where a staircase awaits to escort the tour to a rest area offering champagne and canapés. From there, 90 minutes can be spent either snorkelling and swimming in the lagoon, on board a glass-bottom boat ride around Heart Reef itself, or simply relaxing on a lounge bed amid the azure paradise before flying back to Hamilton Island.
Arrive by helicopter at Heart Reef Island’s pontoon. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
7. Hire a motorised dinghy to explore the islands
Jumping aboard a motorised dinghy via the Hamilton Island Tour Desk will give you the ultimate freedom to explore the Whitsundays as you please. With three-hour, five-hour and seven-hour rentals available to groups of up to six people with no licence or experience required, you’re free to sail at your own pace in local waters between Hamilton and Dent Islands. Departing from the Hamilton Island Marina, your charter will give you the perfect chance to snorkel, picnic, fish and swim on beautiful Henning Island Beach, a serene spot within Whitsundays Islands National Park. Otherwise, simply drift along with the gentle sea breeze.
8. Charter a boat to tour the Whitsundays
Keen to go a hop, skip and jump further? Charter a vessel from any number of operators working out of Hamilton Island, including Freedom Charters (good for families and small groups, with a range of boats to choose from), Ricochet Yachting (a boutique sailing experience that’s known for luxurious comfort and high speeds) and Alani (luxury yachts for groups of up to 35). They all come with an experienced skipper or crew, plus the freedom to customise your own itinerary.
Charter a boat and explore the Whitsundays at your own pace. (Image: Tourism & Events Queensland)
For something special, charter the heritage yacht Lady Enid, a beautiful timber boat that was built in 1961. Having competed in five Sydney to Hobart races, the rare historical artifact is available for private hire by groups of up to 24 guests for up to eight hours per day. Enjoy a full day out at Whitehaven Beach and the opportunity to set the sails and helm the vessel yourself, or just kick back and relax.
Sailing the Whitsundays needs to be on your must-do list when visiting Hamilton Island. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
9. Learn how to fish
For some, the Whitsundays’ raft of tropical islands, reef drop-offs and estuaries prove the perfect destination to throw a line out – but even the keenest of fishers mightn’t know where to start. Luckily, angling excursions from Hamilton Island with Topnotch Game Fishing offer good guidance.
Join a half-day shared charter or book a half or full-day private charter of its vessel The Pirate, catering for up to eight passengers in addition to two crew members, to help navigate your journey around far-flung Whitsundays hot spots.
Get ready to reel in anything from coral trout, snapper and cod to tuna, trevally, black marlin, and Spanish mackerel, plus whales are commonly sighted between June and September. At the end of the day, the crew will prepare your catch for you to take back to your accommodation, or for an extra cost, they can arrange a local restaurant to cook it up for you.
10. Play golf on Dent Island
One of the most unique – and not to mention scenic – of its kind in Australia, the Hamilton Island Golf Club occupies its very own patch of paradise. Sitting pretty on Dent Island, a five-minute ferry ride from Hamilton Island, its 18-hole championship course designed by five-time British Open winner, Peter Thomson, sits in an elevated position and offers incredible views across the Whitsundays. Follow your game with a long lunch at the Hamilton Island Golf Club Clubhouse, which looks out over Passage Peak and the Coral Sea, and is one of the best spots to see humpback whales during their migration.
Take the 5-minute ferry to Dent Island for a day of gold at Hamilton Island Golf Club. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
11. Zip across the water on a jet ski
Hit the throttle and discover the outskirts of Hamilton Island on a jet ski tour around the Whitsundays’ waterways.
Depart Hamilton Island for a jet ski tour of its picturesque waterways. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
Experienced instructors guide Hamilton Island Jet Ski Tours around the calm waters of the Coral Sea where you may spot seasonal marine life such as whales and turtles during your one-hour adventure.
You’ll be guided by experienced instructors. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
You’re also invited to cut the engine as you pull up at hidden beaches around the back of the Island and take in the abundance of lush bushland that blankets 70 per cent of the Island.
The tour will give you a chance to explore a different side of the island. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
How to get to Hamilton Island
You’ll feel a million miles away from home once you arrive but thankfully there are several easy ways to travel to Hamilton Island. Hamilton Island Airport sees direct flights with Jetstar, Virgin Australia and Qantas from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, while Hamilton Island Air services direct flight transfers from Whitsunday Coast Airport (Proserpine) and Whitsunday Airport (Shute Harbour).
Bliss awaits on Hamilton Island. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
Ferries also travel from Port of Airlie and Shute Harbour to Hamilton Island, with coaches running from Brisbane, Townsville, and Cairns to the Port of Airlie transport terminal, right at the ferry departure spot.
The Spirit of Queensland rail journey also runs five times a week return from Brisbane to Cairns, to Proserpine, with coach connections to the Port of Airlie and the Hamilton Island ferry.
Prefer driving? The 1,100-kilometre drive north from Brisbane to Shute Harbour will take approximately 12 hours. Follow the Bruce Highway to Proserpine, then take the exit to Airlie Beach and Shute Harbour.
How to island hop from Hamilton Island
Did you know you don’t need a licence to hire a yacht and sail around the Whitsundays on your own? It’s one of the few destinations in the world with such relaxed regulations, so take advantage by chartering your own adventure through Go Bareboating, which offers access to several private charter companies.
If you prefer to let somebody else steer the ship, ferry services through Cruise Whitsundays are a great option. Island transfers are available between Hamilton Island Airport and Hamilton Island Marina, Airlie Beach, Daydream Island, and Whitsunday Coast Airport at Proserpine. The vessels are air-conditioned and fitted with bars serving food and beverages to get you to your destinations comfortably.