Queensland's Best Beach: Port Douglas or the Whitsundays?

  • 01 of 08

    Port Douglas or the Whitsundays. Which is Best?

    ••• Felix Martinez/Getty Images

    An endless summer offering sparkling blue water, magical white sand and access to the Great Barrier Reef. You’ll get all of this and more when visiting Queensland’s North, so take our advice: if you’re travelling to this part of Australia, you’ll want to spend as much time as you can seeing as much as you can!

    If time is not on your side, however, you’ll need to slim down your itinerary. Then, your big decision is: just what part of this picturesque coastline do you choose to spend your precious vacation hours exploring? 

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  • 02 of 08

    Whitsundays: What to Know

    Aerial of sweet water river at Whitsunday Island
    ••• The view of Sweet Water River from above is the Whitsundays' most iconic. Daniel Osterkamp/Getty Image

    Where is it? The Whitsundays isn’t actually one destination; instead, it’s a cluster of 74 islands of different shapes and sizes, dotted off the Queensland coast. Airlie Beach is the launching pad to the Whitsundays and is a 300km drive south of Townsville. You can fly here directly to the local airport, Proserpine, from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, or via connecting flights from other parts of Australia. Alternatively, if you’re really keen for a road trip, it’s about 1,100km north of Brisbane.

    How to get there: You can save yourself a bit of time and fuel by flying direct from major Australian cities to Proserpine (via Virgin Blue or Jetstar), which is just a hop, skip and a shuttle to Airlie Beach.

    Accommodation options: From budget backpackers to ritzy resorts and cosy campgrounds, you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to accommodation. It’s about deciding what kind of holiday you want: romance, adventure, relaxation, fun, cheap, once-in-a-lifetime. It’s all here.

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  • 03 of 08

    Whitsundays: What to Do

    Hamilton Island Harbor, Hamilton Island, Whitsunday Coast, Queensland, Australia
    ••• Hamilton Island Harbor. Danita Delimont/Getty Images

    While most of the activities in the Whitsundays involve getting wet or at least being out on the water, there are adventurous options that’ll keep you dry (well, mostly).

    The Whitsunday Crocodile Safari will get you up-close and personal with the snappy reptiles along with native and migratory birds and a host of fresh water marine animals that call the Proserpine River home.

    You can show off your driving skills behind the wheel of a mini 4WD at Wings Adventure Park (this one could end up with you covered in mud).

    Ever wondered if a koala is as cuddly as it seems? Spend the day at Bredl’s Wild Farm and you’re bound to get a snuggle. This is a terrific one for the kids - they only allow 20 people per day, which gives you close contact with both the animals and staff.

    A fun way to see the best of Airlie Beach can be on top of two wheels as part of a variety of Segway tours, one even comes with afternoon Tapas.

    To really emerge yourself in the Whitsundays and leave your stress at home, take a...MORE look at stunning Hamilton Island. It also has a domestic airport with direct flights from major cities along the east coast.

    The accommodation options will astound you: palm bungalows, holiday homes, villas and private hideaways! There is even a ‘Baby’s First Holiday’ option complete with packages offering ‘mum alone time’, ‘dad alone time’, ‘family time’ and ‘mum and dad couple time’. I can hear you asking: “Where do I sign up?”

    Hamilton Island is a perfect getaway for those wanting some time out from their busy schedules. This is likely why the busiest woman in show business, Taylor Swift, opted for Hamilton Island as her location of choice to celebrate her birthday – and give her band and crew some recharge time – during her tour of Australia in 2015.

    If an island getaway is on your bucket list, you can also look at stay options on nearby Daydream Island, Hayman Island and Palm Bay Long Island.

    While you can’t stay there, we would be remiss not to mention the spectacular Heart Island. It’s the brilliant little heart-shaped dot in the Great Barrier Reef that you see all over the world on postcards, tourism ads and could be the perfect way to pop the question…

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  • 04 of 08

    Whitsundays: Best Activity

    Whitehaven Beach on the east coast, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia
    ••• Whitehaven Beach. Robert Francis / robertharding/Getty Images

    Visiting Whitehaven Beach. To put yourself in the picture of Australia’s most photographed beach, the Whitsundays will need to be top of the list. Or more specifically, Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island.

    Voted the Best Beach in Australia (2015 TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards) and regularly rated amongst the world’s best, Whitehaven Beach is basically Mother Nature showing off. The idyllic combination of the most pure white sand you’ve ever squished between your toes and turquoise shaded flat water will assure you you’re on holidays.

    It is the perfect beach, especially if you’re a ‘sandphob’. The sand is super fine, with a high amount of silica so it doesn’t get hot and isn’t as prone to sticking in places you’d rather it didn’t.

    Then, when you’re ready to swap five stars for a million stars, book a national park campsite for a night of twinkling wonder.

    Just remember: photos are all you can take away with you. Whitehaven Beach has a World Heritage Listing which means it’s illegal...MORE to take any sand. So, snap away and print a pic when you get home to remember your magical day.

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  • 05 of 08

    Port Douglas: What to Know

    ••• Stoneography/Getty Images

    Where is it?
    When it comes to North Queensland, Port Douglas is about as far north as tourists will venture. Situated around 70km north of Cairns, which is around a two-hour flight north of Brisbane, this beach resort town is nestled between the infamous Great Barrier Reef and Daintree National Park. You’ll really feel like you’ve landed on another, visually spectacular planet.

    How to get there: You’ll need to fly to Cairns from one of the major cities on the east coast (there are also semi-regular services from Darwin and remote areas). From Cairns, Port Douglas is just a 40-minute scenic drive. If you feel like taking the scenic route, for keen road-trippers it’s a 1,700km journey – a little over 1,000 miles – from Brisbane.

    Accommodation options: Although Port Douglas is known for its luxury beachside resorts, you’ll also find a range of budget stays, along with holiday rentals that are ideal for families or group getaways. 

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  • 06 of 08

    Port Douglas: What to Do

    ••• Andrew Watson/Getty Images

    When it comes to the best the great outdoors has to offer, you’re spoiled for choice in Port Douglas. You can start the day watching the sun rise over the Coral Sea and then carry on exploring the coastline, which stretches on for more than 200km.

    If you don’t feel like heading to the beach just yet, head west for a rainforest tour. The World Heritage Listed Daintree National Park is close enough for a day trip, but it’s also worth spending a night or two here if you can afford the time.

    The best way to see all it’s glory – complete with 800 different rainforest trees, flowering plants, animals, waterfalls and rugged mountains – is by hopping on board the Kuranda Scenic Railway.

    Of course, if you don’t want to do much exploring at all, that’s perfectly fine as well! Port Douglas is world renowned for its beautiful beach resorts, which are so luxurious and well appointed, you really don’t have to leave after checking in (and checking out from day-to-day life!).

    Port Douglas is also a...MORE popular jumping-off point for tours to the Great Barrier Reef, which depart from the iconic Reef Marina.

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  • 07 of 08

    Port Douglas: Best Activity

    Aerial of Low Isles, Great Barrier Reef.
    ••• The Low Islands and the Great Barrier Reef off of Port Douglas. PETER HARRISON/Getty Images

    Spending a day exploring the Great Barrier Reef while you’re so close to this incredible natural wonder. It may seem to be stating the obvious, but you could leave kicking yourself if you don’t dedicate at least one day to knocking this beauty off your Bucket List.

    You won’t believe how, just metres from your comfy bed, an ocean bed is quite literally teeming with thousands of different types of marine life and the most breathtaking coral and plant life on the planet.

    You’ll want to consider your ability and confidence in the water before deciding on just how you’ll take in this natural wonder of the world. You can choose from scuba diving or snorkelling, day trips or extended luxury cruises, with activities and adventures to suit all fitness and skill levels.

    For tangible memories you can reflect on when you return home, it may be worth investing in an underwater camera, as this World Heritage Site needs to be left untouched ­– so there will be no opportunities to pop a piece of coral in...MORE your beach bag to take home with you!

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  • 08 of 08

    Which is best: Whitsundays or Port Douglas?

    ••• Naphakm/Getty Images

    After singing the praises of both of these beautiful locations, it’s difficult to decide which one reigns supreme. It’s a little like trying to choose your favourite child!

    Both locations have so much going for them, but when it comes to selecting the all-round great North Queensland holiday that will generate memories last a lifetime, Port Douglas really does have it all. It’s not just a resort town; it’s also the gateway to the incredible Great Barrier Reef. And how many cities do you know of that are sandwiched between two World Heritage Listed, breathtakingly beautiful natural wonders?

    Make sure you plan to spend at least five days in this sensational part of Australia, so you have the opportunity to properly ‘meet’ the reef and explore the local villages. Whether you’re planning a romantic holiday, a family vacation, a solo adventure or a trip with friends, you’re sure to create lifelong memories in spectacular Port Douglas!

    One final piece of advice: When planning to travel to...MORE tropical North Queensland, be sure to consider stinger season. From November to May every year, jellyfish are prevalent in water off the mainland and around the islands. The irukandji jellyfish in particular can be quite deadly, so make sure you read up on ways to protect yourself if you are booking travel during these months.