Sailing the Whitsundays: Ultimate family holiday adventure in Australia

Australia’s idyllic coastal paradise – prefect for a dream family holiday in the sun

The Whitsundays is home to 74 tropical islands, pristine beaches and thousands of different marine animals in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef National Marine Park. Located halfway down the coast of Queensland, Australia’s tropical state, this island paradise is almost too good to be true.

Most of the islands are national parks, with a few hosting exclusive or family-focused resorts. Turquoise waters, palm trees, and coral reefs with warm temperatures year-round make the Whitsundays an ideal location to relax, indulge or dive into nature-based activities. It’s no surprise that this part of the world is perfect for families.

This is a guest post by local mum Emily Brett

Unlike many other tropical resort destinations around the globe, there are no hordes of tourists filling the beaches or plastic bags floating past when you take a closer look. The Whitsundays are pristine. As most Globetrotters would know, it’s rare to find a family holiday location so accessible and untouched.

Whitsundays Australia idyllic family sailing adventure - remore island in the whitsundays aerial shot with yacht

How to Explore the Whitsundays

There are many tour operators offering ways to experience the Whitsundays, primarily based out of Airlie Beach. When we get asked the best way to see them as a family, our answer is always the same… Charter a yacht so you can sail around the islands at your own pace and experience this stunning landscape away from the day-trip crowds.

In this post, we’ll share what you need to know about a family sailing holiday through the Whitsundays, some known and some lesser-known spots amongst the islands and our favourite activities to do with the kids.

Why a yacht charter is the ultimate family escape

When you travel with kids, no matter what age, you need to choose a mode of travel that simplifies things. If you have too many location changes, too many activities and too much packing and unpacking, your holiday becomes about managing logistics and moods as opposed to relaxing into the experience.

Many families will tell you it’s easier to plan a holiday around a “home” base. Having a home base makes routine and finding personal space easier, and there are fewer dynamics to manage.

Your yacht becomes your private floating hotel as well as your mode of transport. You can choose if you want to stay at an anchorage for a few nights, taking the dingy ashore to explore, hike and laze on the sand or you can move around as much as possible experiencing the different landscapes and resorts on the island.

Sailing is a nature-based experience. Away from screens and even other people, it’s hard to imagine a better family bonding experience than being on a yacht. Life becomes simplified; you tune into the natural world around you and out of the distractions of the modern world. Your kids might groan at the thought of not having mobile reception, but they will shine after a day or two!

Things to know about hiring a yacht in the Whitsundays for a family holiday

The Whitsundays is one of the safest sailing grounds in the world. It is also the only place in the world that doesn’t require charterers to have a licence or sailing qualifications.

Self-sailing a hired yacht is often referred to as bareboating. This means you take out a fully equipped boat on your own, just like you would if you hired a camper van or a car rental.

You don’t need to know how to sail. However, it does help if at least one crew member has some basic boating knowledge. All yacht charter companies operating in the Whitsundays will give you a training session before you take out your boat. If you lack confidence, you can add a guide to join your crew for a chosen amount of time.

The vessels come in many different sizes, some sleep up to 10 people with their own en-suite. For a family, you could get a monohull, a yacht which usually has three double bedrooms and a couple of bathrooms. For more indoor living space or to share your charter with friends and their kids, catamarans are great.

It’s recommended that you charter a yacht for 7 nights. Considering the first and second day are all about checking in and checking out, a 7-night booking gives you 5 nights to fully immerse yourself in the experience.

Many families may wonder about the safety of younger children on a sailing holiday. While it is reasonable to be concerned for kid’s safety on a yacht, there are several simple precautions to you take to ensure the little ones are safe. This post on safety for sailing with kids will give you practical tips for all ages.

Activities for the family to enjoy on a charter around the Whitsundays


There are many fringing reefs around the Whitsundays Islands with a range of soft and hard corals to explore. Sea Turtles frequent the islands so you’re very likely to find yourself snorkelling alongside one of these local legends. Underwater sculptures have recently been installed around the Islands, these huge submerged artworks will eventually merge with the corals, becoming a part of the reef’s ecosystem.


While you don’t have to put the sails up, if you have prior sailing experience or even look at doing a sailing course before your bareboat charter, the whole family can be involved in getting your boat underway. Sailing is a great way to bond and achieve something together.

Pre-teens and teenagers particularly enjoy sailing because they are given responsibility and an opportunity to take charge. It’s a good idea to throw in a proper pair of sailing shoes to keep your grip on the decks.


The Whitsundays are a fishing mecca, game fishing, trolling and fishing around the fringing reefs are popular with day-trippers as well as people on charters. Be sure to check out fishing guidelines and zoning for protected areas before you throw a line in.

A local tip if you’re keen on fishing: When you charter with Whitsunday Rent a Yacht, you have exclusive access to their private Jetty in Shute Harbour. This location just so happens to be a fishing hotspot in the Whitsundays. If you book a sleep aboard you can spend the night before your charter on your boat and fish into the night. There are so many fish in this area, you will even hear them splashing around as you go to sleep!

Take a scenic flight to the outer Great Barrier Reef

Air Whitsundays offer an amazing service where they can pick you up off the back of your charter boat on a seaplane and take you out for a scenic flight or day or snorkelling on the outer Great Barrier Reef. Talk about a bucket list experience!

Whale Season

Every year between June and September Humpback whales migrate north to have their babies in the warm waters of the Whitsunday Islands. If you’re lucky enough to book your charter holiday at this time of year, you will be able to view whales from your private boat throughout the islands. It’s truly an awe-inspiring time to sail the Whitsundays, however fair warning, it’s also a busy time on the water as many tourists are wanting to experience getting up close to these gentle giants.

Camping on the Islands

Hook Island and Whitsunday Island have great bush camping facilities. If you have some adventurous teenagers in your crew, you could anchor in one of the bays and send them ashore with a tent and camping gear while you stay on the boat. Give them some radios so they can call out to say goodnight.

Kid-friendly attractions in the Whitsundays not to miss

Whitehaven Beach

A visit to the Whitsundays would not be complete without a day on the world-famous Whitehaven Beach. Frequently voted one of the best beaches in the world, Whitehaven is a 7km stretch of the silkiest white sand you will ever set foot on.

Whitehaven can get very busy with day tours. If you are on your private yacht, you have the advantage of being able to visit the beach early in the morning or later in the day before the crowds.  

Hamilton Island

It’s possible to berth your charter yacht at the Hamilton Island marina for $125 a night. This fee will give you access to all of the islands resorts facilities including their three pools, beaches, hiking trails and of course the restaurants, bars and shops. Hamilton Island is a great stop off for the kids, there is 10 pin bowling, golf and the nature park where they can get up close to a koala.

Hill Inlet Lookout Hike

Moore your boat at Tongue Bay or Whitehaven and take the walking tracks up to the Insta famous Hill Intel Lookout. If you time your hike with the low tide you will be able to see swirling patterns made by the white sands and turquoise water of the shallow inlet. It can get busy up here, but the view is worth it. Also, the hike from Tongue Bay is not too tough for the kids, just take water.

Chalkies Beach

A local favourite is stopping for a day at Chalkies. Opposite Whitehaven, Chalkies Beach has the same white sand and perfect swimming conditions as Whitehaven, but without the crowds. Chalkies is also a great snorkelling spot and turtles are frequently sighted off the beach.

Nara Inlet and the Ngaro Artwork

On Hook Island, you will find one of the most protected anchorages in the Whitsundays, Nara Inlet. If you go deep into Nara Inlet you will also be able to take a short walk to see one of the most fascinating attractions in the Whitsundays Islands – artwork from the Ngaro people painted over 9000 years ago.

Longford Island Sandspit

Langford Island Sandspit is incredibly unique and a great place to head to if you want to enjoy a day of relaxing, sunbaking and snorkelling right off a stunning sandy beach. You can pick up a public mooring buoy for the day but you will need to spend the night anchored safely at Stonehaven Bay.

Daydream Island Resort Living Reef

Daydream Island has recently had a huge makeover and it’s Living Reef is back and better than ever. A massive 200m aquarium viewing window will give the kids access to a thriving underwater ecosystem full of stingrays, starfish, fish and bright corals. There is also an information centre where they can learn all about the Reef. Daydream welcomes day visitors or bareboat charterers wishing to use hire a berth at their marina.

Still not sure about going it alone in the Whitsundays?

Try these highly-rated day tour options our of Airlie Beach:

When you embark on an adventure through the Whitsundays, you are sure to find a pristine environment to take your breath away and adventurist activities to keep the younger family members happy.  But more importantly, you will be sending quality time together with lots of fun sprinkled throughout.

With thanks to Emily for sharing this stunning corner of the world with Our Globetrotters.

If you are heading to Queensland with kids you may also want to read:

About the Guest Blogger Emily

We are a family of four who lives in Shute Harbour, a tranquil pocket just 10 minutes from Airlie Beach – the gateway to the Whitsundays. The one thing we love more than exploring the Whitsunday Islands is sharing them with our friends. We believe we live in one of the best places on earth and that every Australian or visitor should enjoy this national treasure.  Our family-run business is Whitsunday Rent a Yacht

Follow their family adventures on Facebook | Instagram

Interested in guest blogging for the Globetrotters blog?  Come and see our opportunities page

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