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A first-timer's guide to The Whitsundays: Dive into the Great Barrier Reef

The world-famous natural wonder is in our own backyard.

Queensland's Airlie Beach is known as the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef, and there are some incredible spots to explore in the area. The small, but character-filled beach town is a great place to base yourself if you're looking for the perfect beach getaway.

There's a range of activities in the area that are suitable for couples, families and even solo travellers. If you’re looking to discover the Great Barrier Reef in a unique way, indulge in some romantic activities, or head out onto the water in an adrenaline-filled adventure, here’s what you need to do.

The Whitsundays is a great place to explore with so many activities. Photo: Getty
The Whitsundays is a great place to explore with so many activities. Photo: Getty (Getty Images)

TUESDAY

2 p.m. ARRIVE IN PROSERPINE

It takes approximately 30 minutes to get from Proserpine Airport to Airlie Beach, so it's a good idea to book your transfer early. There's no Uber in the area, but the popular Heart of Reef shuttles are easy to organise, or you can opt for a private transfer with taxi company 13 Cabs.

4.30 p.m. SAIL AWAY

It's a good idea to make the most of your first day in the area, so why not hop on an adults-only romantic sunset cruise with Lady Enid Sailing? The ex-racing boat departs from Coral Sea Marina, and the gorgeous wooden vessel provides a smooth and elegant ride. The friendly crew provide an Aperol Spritz cocktail on arrival, as well as a platter of delicious appetisers.

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7.00 p.m. DINNER WITH A VIEW

There are plenty of great spots to grab some dinner in Airlie Beach, but Sorrento Restaurant & Bar is a crowd favourite. Located right by the Coral Sea Marina, the Italian restaurant allows diners to look out at the water while having a hearty meal. You'll find classic pasta and pizza mains here, as well as an abundance of fresh seafood on the menu.

Pinnacles Resort's infinity pool comes with a stunning view. Photo: Instagram/pinnaclesairliebeach
Pinnacles Resort's infinity pool comes with a stunning view. Photo: Instagram/pinnaclesairliebeach (Instagram/pinnaclesairliebeach)

8.30 p.m. REST UP

There are plenty of spots to stay in Airlie Beach, including the luxurious Pinnacles Resort. Perfect for all types of travellers, the self-contained accommodation option has one, two or three-bedroom apartments on offer. Not only do you get a great view of the beach from above, but each apartment has a private outdoor jacuzzi — perfect to have a glass of wine in before bed.

WEDNESDAY

8 a.m. A THRILLING ADVENTURE

For those looking for an "adventure of a lifetime", Red Cat Adventures has you covered. There are a range of day tours offered by the operator, including the Thundercat full-day tour. It's a great way to explore the area quickly, and a chance to snorkel in some of the clearest spots in the world. The boat claims to be one of the fastest catamarans in the Whitsundays, so hold onto your hat!

6 p.m. A NIGHT OUT

Boaty's is a classic Airlie Beach spot, just steps away from the water. Whether you just want to grab a simple pub dinner, or hit the dance floor after some drinks — this is the place to be! There's an extensive cocktail list and the restaurant caters well for vegans and vegetarians.

Consider jumping on one of Red Cat Adventures' epic day tours. Photo: Instagram/redcatadventures
Consider jumping on one of Red Cat Adventures' epic day tours. Photo: Instagram/redcatadventures (Instagram/redcatadventures)

THURSDAY

8 a.m. SCENIC CRUISE

Of course, the one thing you want to do when you're in Airlie Beach is spend some quality time exploring the Great Barrier Reef. There's a great package deal you can do with Cruise Whitsundays which includes a boat ride out to Hardy Reef, where a special pontoon floats on the surface. You have the choice to go for a day trip, but it's highly recommended to splurge for Reefsleep or Reefsuites — where you get to either sleep in a swag under the stars, or be surrounded by the fish in an underwater room.

11.00 a.m. GREAT BARRIER REEF

There are activities galore to do once you step onto Cruise Whitsunday's pontoon. The company provides stinger suits, flippers and snorkel gear, everything you need to see the colourful coral under the water. There are also extra activities you can purchase, such as a snorkel safari with a qualified diver, an introductory dive, or a helicopter ride over the reef.

2 p.m. REEFSLEEP

For those staying on the reef overnight, the staff will look after you for the entire time. Not only will you get unlimited drinks for the duration of your stay, but there's a chef onboard who whips up some incredible food. Staying in a cosy swag underneath the stars is a one-of-a-kind experience, and creates some truly unique memories.

Staying on top of the Great Barrier Reef is a truly unique experience. Photo: Supplied & Getty
Staying on top of the Great Barrier Reef is a truly unique experience. Photo: Supplied & Getty (Rachel Choy & Getty Images)

FRIDAY

5.30 a.m. WAKE UP WITH THE SUN

It may seem strange to wake up early during a holiday, but seeing the sun come up over Hardy Reef is highly recommended. Luckily, if you're staying in one of the Reefsleep swags, it's so easy to unzip the outer layer and watch from bed. You have the rest of the day to rest and relax, so why not make the most of it!

7 a.m. RELAX AND UNWIND

The rest of your day will be filled with food, drinks, a dip in the ocean, and a few well-earned naps. The Reefsleep swags convert into water-resistant daybeds, so grab a book and read while soaking up the sun. The staff will continue to serve some delicious meals until it's time to depart the vessel.

The Reefsleep swags are comfortable and provide the best view of the Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Supplied
The Reefsleep swags are comfortable and provide the best view of the Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Supplied (Rachel Choy)

3 p.m. SUNSET CRUISING

The cruise back to Airlie Beach is soothing and a great time to recover from your Great Barrier Reef adventure. Keep an eye on the time — you should be getting close to the marina at sunset, and it's honestly such a gorgeous view.

6.30 p.m. DINNER AND A SHOW

For your final meal, consider eating some delicious food while being entertained by live music. The Belvedere at Toscana is consistently Airlie Beach's most highly-rated restaurant, serving Italian and French-inspired cuisine. The piano bar also has balcony tables with a great view of the seaside town, and diners are urged to try their $75 Chef's tasting menu.

9 p.m. THE BOATHOUSE

For a bit of a change in scenery, you could spend your last night staying at The Boathouse Apartments. The luxurious building has a gorgeous pool and is close to the water. It's easy to wander out and find a place to grab a drink nearby.

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SATURDAY

10 a.m. BEACHSIDE MARKET

If you need to pick up some last-minute souvenirs or fancy grabbing a snack, head to the Airlie Beach Markets. You'll find a range of vendors, with handmade items, art and gifts on offer. There are also a few food vendors on site, from delicious dumplings to refreshing mango sorbet.

2 p.m. DEPART

It’s time to say farewell to the Whitsundays for now! After this taste of nature, sights, food and activities, you’ll likely want to return in the future. It's time to start planning your next trip!

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