A few months ago I was browsing around Pinterest and stumbled on the most magical image of a swirly turquoise and white aerial beach shot that reminded me of a watercolor painting. I found out it was in a place called the Whitsundays in Australia and knew I had to witness it with my own eyes! I’d been secretly hoping to make it “down under” so reached out to my Aussie friend Catherine about taking a trip there.

After doing my research, I learned the Whitsundays are made up of 74 islands along the coast of Queensland. Most are uninhabited national parks but four of the islands–Hamilton Island, Hayman Island, Daydream Island and Long Island–offer resort accommodation. The islands are located near the central part of the Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven natural wonders of the world which stretch over 2000km along the Australian coast! Made up of inner fringing reefs and outer reef, they offer something for everyone to appreciate. The inner reefs are found around the islands and tend to have soft corals, smaller fish and sea turtles with visibility averaging 5 meters, making it good for snorkeling. In contrast, the outer reef has a lot more hard corals, more fish variation and average visibility reaching 15 meters–perfect for scuba diving.

I’ve been to a good amount of beaches and islands all over the world and can attest that these are some of the most beautiful natural landscapes I’ve ever witnessed! It has quickly become one of my favorite beach/island vacations, and I cannot wait to go back for more island relaxation and scuba diving around the Great Barrier Reef. Below are my top five picks for what you need to experience in the Whitsundays that are unique to this region.

Take a private helicopter ride to Whitehaven BeachHelicopter ride in Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays, Australia

Constantly rated as one of the best beaches in the world, Whitehaven Beach stretches over 7km on Whitsunday Island, the largest of the 74 islands in the Whitsundays. It is made up of the purest white silica sand, which accounts for the brightness and mild temperature of the sand. That along with the crystal clear water make it truly one of a kind. Maybe the best way to experience your own private slice of paradise is to take a helicopter ride and land on a section of the beach that’s not accessible to the majority of visitors. We took one with GSL Aviation and had the white sand all to ourselves for a few hours. Plus, the views from above were out of this world!

Go scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef
Cruise Whitsundays and Great Barrier Reef

The perfect day trip the to outer reef is with Cruise Whitsundays on their comfortable high speed catamaran, passing through numerous islands and ending on their pontoon in Hardy Reef, which has activities on board from snorkeling and scuba diving to helicopter rides and a semi-submersible. After doing my first dive I was so enamored with the colorful fish and coral that I immediately signed up for a second one. A highlight was seeing a giant Maori Wrasse fish about 1.5 meters long!

Explore secluded beaches on a sailing trip
Sailing trip in Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays, Australia

To fully appreciate the Whitsunday islands, you need to go on an overnight sailing trip. Not only do you get to maximize your time on the water, it’s the only way to access most secluded islands. For our two day trip, we stopped at 3 remote beaches, spent half a day at Whitehaven beach, snorkeled with 1000s of tropical fish, admired a glorious sunset and had a BBQ on board! I opted to sleep on deck so I could watch the stars all night and even witnessed numerous shooting stars.

Sailing trips are generally two to three days all inclusive, on a yacht or catamaran ranging from 8 to 40 people. We stayed on a beautiful yacht with 14 passengers and 2 crew. Tip: Be sure to find the right boat depending on the type of experience you’d like to have (i.e., party boat versus relaxed couples)!

Mesmerize in swirly sand formations from above
View of Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays, Australia

This was the image that started my Whitsunday fascination. When seen from a higher vantage point, you’re able to fully appreciate all the swirls created from the sand during low tide. Most sailing trips will moor their boats at Tongue Bay on Whitsunday Island for passengers to make a short bushwalk up to Tongue Point, with amazing views of Hill Inlet. Another way to see the entire island and 7km beach is through a plane or helicopter ride from above, which is my top recommendation, and how I got this shot.

Snorkel with 1000s of tropical fish in Blue Pearl Bay
Snorkeling in Blue Pearl Bay

As I jumped in the water, all I could see were hundreds of colorful fish swimming around me, probably hoping for some nibbles. At one point I couldn’t see past my mask because there were so many fins in sight! Because of the numerous islands in close proximity, fringe reef in areas like Blue Pearl Bay area stay protected, resulting in pristine coral and calm waters. I was in awe of all the different types of fish, coral and sea turtles we saw during our few hours of snorkeling. What an incredible experience exploring this magical aquatic wonderland only a few meters from the surface of the water.

I cannot say enough wonderful things about this lovely paradise. With so much to offer, there’s something for everyone! Please add it to your bucket lists ASAP–I know you’ll appreciate and fall in love with it just as I have.

Thank you to Queensland, Whitsundays Marketing and Development and Cruise Whitsundays for introducing me to your beautiful paradise. All opinions and photos are my own.