The Best Hotels in the Whitsunday Islands
The Whitsundays are one of Australia's top cruise destinations, but have hotels for every budget. | Courtesy of Coral Sea Marina Resort / Expedia
Between the coast of Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsundays are a range of sunken hills, their forested summits surfacing from a turquoise and cobalt-blue sea. They’re one of Australia’s favourite cruise destinations, ringed with white beaches as soft as talc, edged by coral gardens and visited by courting humpback whales. But you don’t need a live-aboard boat to enjoy them. Hotels abound, for all budgets, most functional rather than fabulous, huddled around the mainland resort town of Airlie Beach.
Resort, Hotel, Apartment
Courtesy of Martinique Whitsunday / Expedia
As the name suggests, the hulking Martinique imagines itself as bringing a slice of the French Caribbean to Queensland. In need of a slight brush-up, it’s characterised by a few salmon-pink, terracotta-topped decorative turrets, and acres of pool space for the families who come here on package trips. Like most Whitsunday hotels it’s not on the islands, but has sweeping ocean views from almost all rooms. It offers boat excursions, as well as ample parking, a gym and the amenities you’d expect in a package resort.
BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort
Courtesy of BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort / Expedia
With a waterpark, go-kart track, miniature golf and a lagoon-sized pool, the BIG4 presents itself as a Center Parcs-style adventure set-up with palms. It’s in Airlie Beach, so the soft sands of the islands themselves are a boat ride away but there’s a golf course, a supermarket and a McDonald’s on the doorstep. The self-catering accommodation – in shutter-board shacks – is as cheap as it gets for families in the Whitsundays.
Courtesy of Freedom Shores / Expedia
How do you sleep on a boat without risking rocking and sea-sickness? By booking a room at Freedom Shores. It occupies a wooden hull but sits in a tropical garden, half an hour’s drive from Airlie Beach. Rooms are huge, the sunset and ocean views magnificent and the shoreside bar and restaurant serves delicious barbecued fish and lobster. Don’t come expecting milk-white, powdery sands, though: the beach is a thin strip of mud-dark sand.
Azure Sea Whitsunday Resort
Courtesy of Azure Sea Whitsunday Resort / Expedia
The blocky, concrete units, white-tile décor and wood-veneer vinyl furniture at the Azure Sea aren’t about to win any Architectural Digest design awards. But you’re not here to pose and preen. What lies beyond is the star. You get gorgeous views from the big-enough-for-breakfast balconies, over the tiered infinity pool to the ocean, lumpy with island outcrops. The self-catering rooms come in all sizes – the biggest can easily fit six.
Palm Bay Resort
Boutique Hotel, Resort, Hotel
Courtesy of Palm Bay Resort / Expedia
Not all Whitsunday hotels are on the mainland. Palm Bay, on forest-swathed Long Island, has big wooden beach huts decorated in clean whites, with large living areas and big sea-view balconies. The setting: a cove of coral sand lapped by gentle waves. There are reefs within kayaking distance of the shore, trails running into the forest which is bustling with hopping wallabies, and sea eagles and ospreys nest in the adjacent hoop pines.
Kipara Tropical Rainforest Retreat
Resort, Budget Hotel, Hotel
Courtesy of Kipara Tropical Rainforest Retreat / Expedia
Despite the exotic name, this rainforest retreat is on a hillside on the edge of Airlie Beach, minutes’ walk from a mall and a bus stop. The villas are caravan-park shutterboard shacks. They’re all self-catering – some small enough for one, others big enough for a large family – and charge backpacker prices. There are further discounts for long-term stays. Best of all, they’re set in a pretty bird- and butterfly-filled garden that backs onto woodland.
Coral Point Lodge
Hotel, Apartment, Lodge
Courtesy of Coral Point Lodge / Expedia
Half an hour from Airlie Beach town, Coral Point Lodge is all about simple, secluded accommodation on the edge of a lush national park. There are wonderful bay-of-island views from every room. We say: avoid the cheapest ‘Million Dollar’ and ‘Ocean Breeze’ studios (which are barely big enough for a bed and a large suitcase). Opt for the Executive Studios (only £15 more) or the large three-bedroom Reef Villas – with enormous patios and a full kitchen.
Mango House Resort
Resort, Hotel, Apartment
Courtesy of Mango House Resort / Expedia
The Mango House is a handsome balcony-fronted classic Queensland pile, set in shady gardens lush with banana trees and lily ponds. Cockatoos caw in the trees and there are great views out across the pool and over a gently dropping hillside to Airlie Beach and the ocean. Interiors can’t compete but do the job, with indifferent concrete-and-vinyl flooring, fitted sofas and formica-fronted cupboards.
Island Gateway Holiday Park
Courtesy of Island Gateway Holiday Park / Expedia
‘Holiday park’ is Australian for caravan site, and as Queensland goes, the Island Gateway is gap-year fare: ranks of camper vans parked next to what look like prefabs (the resort calls them villas), mobile homes (aka luxury villas) and a large concrete unit with motel-style rooms for up to five. Decor is utilitarian – easy to clean, all wood-laminate, white paint and strip lighting, but the pizzerias and bars of Airlie Beach town are an easy walk away.
Coral Sea Marina Resort
Courtesy of Coral Sea Marina Resort / Expedia
Next to the huge yachting marina and right on the seafront, the Coral Sea is about as upscale as Airlie Beach gets. The rooms are basic, with wood-laminate or beige-tile flooring and shutter-wardrobes, but the ‘ocean view’ and ‘spa deluxes’ have big balconies that overlook the Islands – the latter category comes with a hot tub. Airlie Beach is a stroll away along the ocean boardwalk and the hotel offers an extensive menu – with everything from croc safaris and coral dives, to edge-of-your-seat reef flights in tiny Cessnas.
These recommendations were updated on December 30, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.