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What you need to know when visiting the Whitsundays

Whitsundays Powerplay Catamaran
James Spicer - Whitsundays

James Spicer
Whitsundays Local and Industry Expert

Hi James, why should visitors include Whitsundays in their East Coast trip of Australia?

It's one of the hotspots on the East Coast. That's for sure. One of the most popular destinations. That being said, it’s not overcrowded. It's popular for a reason because it's got the number one beach in Australia which is called Whitehaven Beach. If you were to visit every beach in Australia, it would take you 29 years so we've saved you that trouble and we've found the number one.

What should people consider when planning their visit?

Length of stay. You really need to give yourself as long as you can comfortably do.

What's the average stay?

We've got day trips through to six-night trips but you need accommodation on the side generally. It depends on your budget but ultimately the longer you can stay in that region, the better. There is so much to see, not just on the water but also on the mainland itself. It's a beautiful destination.

When is the best time of year to visit? And why?

Seasons change just like the weather changes constantly but ultimately there is no, "You have to go at this time of the year”. The traditional summer of Australia is very, very busy. We take close to 60,000 people a year through Airlie Beach. But I personally prefer the winter months. It's a little bit cooler, less crowded and it's flatter seas. You've got the whale season coming up now so whales are already being reported to come up the coast.

Whitsunday Island is bigger than the Island of Barbados and that itself means there is so much to see and do

What are times of the year would you generally see the whales? And what type of whales are they?

Generally, from June to late September. Humpback Whales are the most commonly sighted.  They come up to the Whitsundays to give birth. They're warm-blooded so they give birth in the warmer waters and warm climate. The temperature of the water in the winter months never gets lower that 21 degrees. Airlie Beach doesn’t really have a cold season,  though winter is generally cheaper for accommodation, flights and tours. With that being said, summer months are a lot of fun. It can be quite crazy with all the Americans and Europeans coming over from overseas during their holiday period.

Do you have a favourite secret spot? And why is secret? Why would you say it's so special?

I think every skipper and crew member has their own secret location. There's plenty of little alcoves and bays it's not just the one beach that we go to. The Whitsunday Island is bigger than the Island of Barbados and that itself means there is so much to see and do.

How many islands are in Whitsundays?

There are 74 and only 8 of them islands actually have resorts on them. We try and stick to the more remote islands and strive to find the most adventurous treks in the national parks. There's so many little secret spots where you’ll find perfect viewing platforms that have been built by national parks. Probably my favourite would be Spion Kop Track which a great walk on South Molle Island. We go there on a few of our overnight tours.

It's the only lookout where you can see every island from.  So it's like a 360 degree view.

Do a lot of the boats go to those places?

Not a lot of them. Only the ones that have enough time because it's a bit further south. Your typical two day, two night tour probably won't have the time.  A Three day, three night trip generally will be more relaxed and have more time to visit these secret locations.

How do people get to Airlie beach and the Whitsundays?

You can get there pretty much any means of transport. Greyhound, Loka and Premier busses pass through. You can fly in directly from Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney into Proserpine which is PPP if you're trying to search for it. It’s about a 20-minute bus ride into town from the airport.

What's the town called where you will need to be based out of?

Airlie Beach is the harbour town. There are three marinas that our boats depart from. There's Shute Harbour which is down the end of Shute Harbour Road. There's Port of Airlie and there's Abel Point Marina.

There's so many little secret spots where you’ll find perfect viewing platforms that have been built by national parks.

Can you describe the different boats available for people to tour the Whitsundays?

There's pretty much everything you can possibly imagine. From day trips for sailing, day trips for speed, day trips for diving through to six-night cruise tall ships, deluxe, honeymoon cabins and stuff like that. You're fully catered on hand and foot to your proper budget options. There's something for everyone. You just need to be honest with your travel agent. Tell them what budget you've got and what your expectations are and they will find something for you.

What advice would you give to people considering a visit?

We have 19 boats. Only 3 of our boats don't allow bags with zips. It's actually a common misconception. You can bring bags with zips. The only reason why you can't is because some of the boats are slightly older and more susceptible to bed bugs. Bed bugs love to hibernate in your zipper. We will provide you a soft bag at check in so you can transfer your luggage into that. We don't want people to take too much stuff. Obviously, we want the boats to be able to sail and get around so if you're bringing everything and the kitchen sink, it's not going to go very far.

How much luggage are people allowed to bring on tours? And why? I heard you can't bring bags with zips.

We have 19 boats. Only 3 of our boats don't allow bags with zips. It's actually a common misconception. You can bring bags with zips. The only reason why you can't is because some of the boats are slightly older and more susceptible to bed bugs. Bed bugs love to hibernate in your zipper. We will provide you a soft bag at check in so you can transfer your luggage into that. We don't want people to take too much stuff. Obviously, we want the boats to be able to sail and get around so if you're bringing everything and the kitchen sink, it's not going to go very far.

What would you recommend, how much for a two day, two night trip?

What you would take to the beach for a nice weekend. You don't need to bring too many changes of shoes and high heels and stuff like that and dresses. You're going out on an adventure so you're probably going to need one nice, comfortable long sleeve sweater because it can get cold in the evenings even in the summer months. A good comfortable pair of walking shoes, your phone, sunscreen, hat, toiletries, essentials and a couple change of t-shirts.You will find that most people will wear the same pair of shorts for the two days. If they're on one of the budget options. Whereas if you were on a fancier option, you've got more space to actually have that equipment along.

What are Stinger suits and why are they sometimes needed in the Whitsundays?

Stinger suits are provided on every single boat of ours. If the captain says to you that you need to put your stinger suit on, he's not doing it just to make you wear a stinger suit. There's a reason for it. Jellyfish do come out in season but they're not going anywhere. They're always around so it's always a good idea to wear one.  It's the same thing with sharks. We don't have too many sharks out there. We don't have anything that's going to harm you. Like I said, we have 50000 people a year. We've haven't had jellyfish or stinger for a while so it's not really an issue.

What's your favourite bar or pub in Airlie Beach?

There's a couple of backpacker bars,  you've got Shed Bar which is at the back of Nomads. It's probably not that well-known by too many people passing up and down the street. It's kind of hidden away but it's called the Shed Bar, it's where locals go and hang out.

Down Under Bar is just having some refurbs that's going to be really impressive when it's brought back up. Then if you're looking for something a bit more fancy, there's Breeze Bar. They do some amazing cocktails and seafood platters. At the marina itself, you've got Sorrento’s which is an amazing Italian joint that serves some cheap pizzas and bottles of wine.

Little Vegas is a great burger bar. There's so many options there and it's not expensive. Because of such a high turnover of people coming in, they need to be price conscious to get that person to have their one meal that evening at their bar.

Where do you go when you want to get a great meal?

There's a couple of great places down at each of the marinas.  Sorrento’s is fantastic for pizzas and sunset beers. La Marina is an awesome Italian joint also. In town you have burger bars, steak houses and tapas bars. It's all very popular and social.

Should people plan ... Let's say you've returned from an overnight boat tour. Do the whole group usually go out together?

Yes, don’t plan anything that night and make sure you're staying in town because you're probably going to have a few drinks but if you've gone on a boat maybe with strangers, 28 to 50 people, depending on the size of the vessel, you're going to come off as a great bunch of friends that have been taking photographs of each other for the whole weekend. You're going to want to go out with them that evening and the crew are going to want to go out with you and they will make sure you are going have the best time in Airlie Beach.

You need to see that Hill Inlet lookout. It is spectacular. It never looks the same. It's always shifting, always changing because it's tidal. The water is coming in and going out everyday. I can't even begin to put it into words what it looks like. You just have to go and see it.

If you're visiting the Whitsundays, what would be your number one priority?

Make sure you get on the water. You’ve got to swim at Whitehaven Beach and you must visit Hill Inlet Lookout.

So you're not going to the Whitsundays if you'd just go to Airlie Beach. You need to get out.

It’s like going all the way to Europe and go to France and not see the Eiffel Tower.

You need to see Hill Inlet lookout. It is spectacular. It never looks the same. It's always shifting, always changing because it's tidal. The water is coming in and going out everyday. I can't even begin to put it into words what it looks like. You just have to go and see it.

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