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A Guide to Airlie Beach Tides

Updated Mon 09 Jan 2023

Paddleboarders enjoying their time

High tide or low tide, the Whitsundays coral reefs and silica sands are always in full swing! However, if you're planning an aquatic activity, scenic flight or photography adventure during your time in the Whitsunday Islands it is important to base your itinerary loosely around the tides. For paddleboarding, kayaking, scuba diving, snorkelling, fishing and sailing, it's best to plan your activities around the tidal conditions of the day. 

The sequence of the high and low tides generally occurs every 12 to 14 hours and 25 minutes apart in the Whitsundays. A low tide in Airlie Beach, for instance, that starts at 2 am will occur again at 3 pm. If the first high tide of the day occurred at 9:00 am, the second high tide will often be recorded at 8:35 pm.

Luckily for you, all aquatic activities and island itineraries are based on the day's weather and tidal conditions by your friendly skipper and crew, ensuring your snorkelling and island venture times take place on suitable tides.

Airlie Beach High Tide and Low Tide

The moon and sun both play a major role in the ocean’s gravitational pull resulting in low tides and high tides every month. High tides often occur 1 hour later each day as the days pass by.

A spring tide occurs when the moon, sun and earth are aligned creating very high tides and very low tides. It takes place in the monthly cycle of a full moon or a new moon. On the other hand, when the sun and moon are at a 90° angle, neap tides occur which means that high and low tides don’t often reach their usual heights. The tidal range in the Whitsundays generally measures about 4 metres during spring tides and 1.3 metres during neap tides.

Group of people sitting on a rock at Bettys Beach, Whitsunday Islands

Airlie Beach Tide Times

You might be wondering how far in advance can you predict tide times - and the answer is that scientists can forecast the tides for the next 2 years. Of course, their predictions are based on the previous and current data or analysis they’ve recorded over the past years.

If you want to know more about the current and latest tide predictions in Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays, Willyweather has the most accurate data and analysis within Tropical North Queensland. The predicted tides are based on Shute Harbor’s weather and tidal data.

Hill Inlet at low tide, Whitsunday Island

Which way does the tide flow in the Whitsundays?

In the Whitsunday Islands, the tides flow towards the south and recede in the direction of the north. These tidal flows give life to plenty of activities and adventures to engage in, whether you're on an overnight sailing tour, jetski thrill ride or snorkelling day trip!

Tidal Conditions for each Whitsunday Activity

The perfect tidal conditions can enhance the best parts of your getaway and water adventures during your Whitsunday Island experience! Let’s help you find out which tidal conditions best suit the different activities you want to do.

Paddleboarders looking at a turtle swimming in the Whitsundays

What Tide is the Calmest?

Slack tide happens 1 - 2 hours before or after a high or low tide. Many of the underwater adventures that you want to experience may depend on the tidal waves whether you’re out for a swim, go snorkelling, fishing, surfing, or scuba diving.

What Tide is Best for Swimming?

You might be wondering, is it better to swim at high tide or low tide? If you want the best swimming experience, you should swim during slack tides! As the ocean water is moving the least during these times, you're most likely to experience calm crystal-clear waters.

However, due to the Whitsunday's extremely sheltered archipelago of 74 islands, you're sure to find glassy coves and bays during any tide. For snorkelling and swimming adventures, every boat tour plans its daily itinerary on the day's projected tides.

snorkeller swimming with a school of fish

What Tide is Best for Fishing?

If you’re a beginner-level angler, you might be asking yourself, is it better to fish at high tide or low tide? Can you catch fish on high tide or low tide?

The answer is, it’s best for you to go fishing during a high tide when the tides are moving - more specifically, just 2 hours before a low tide! Why? At this time, a lot of fish are feeding on plankton, plants and insects that were drawn into the moving waters!

What Tide is Best for Snorkelling and Scuba Diving?

For the avid divers amongst us all, the best tide conditions to snorkel and scuba dive in the Whitsundays is during a high slack tide. In other words, leading up to a high tide and just after a high tide.

The water depth will be great enough to glide over inner reefs safely and the visibility will be at its best to see the Great Barrier Reef's marine wonders.

Group of divers heading to a dive spot in the Whitsundays with their guide

What Tide is Best for Surfing?

Unfortunately due to the sheltered nature of the Whitsunday Islands and Great Barrier Reef, there are no surfable breaks in the area. For those searching for a wave, head south to the East Coast towns on Agnes Water, Rainbow Beach and Noosa to catch a ride.

For surfers, the best tide for surfing depends on the sand shelf and your experience level. For beaches that don’t have a steep sand shelf, high tides are the best conditions for beginner-level surfers. On the other hand, if you’re surfing on the steep sands of the open seas, then it’s best to go surfing in mid to low tides. Why? Because the waves are larger and have longer intervals.

What Tide is Best for Paddleboarding?

The best tidal condition for you to go paddleboarding is in the middle of a tide cycle. During slack tides there is minimal water movement compared to a high or low tide, making it easy to balance on a SUP and paddle along in the current. As the winds tend to pick up in the afternoon, we recommend that beginner paddleboarders try their hand at paddleboarding during the morning.

Group of paddleboarders in the Whitsundays at dusk


High tides provide the best navigating conditions for your personalised cruising and sailing tours! Our boat captains are always provided with the latest charts of the week’s tide forecast for that extra safety measure.

If you’re sailing on your own and want to be the captain of your ship, check out our introduction to sailing course that lets you navigate on your own alongside our qualified and friendly instructors!

Solway Voyager (3 Days & 2 Nights)

Travellers having a good time aboard the Solway Voyager ship

Get on board our popular, jam-packed social adventure Solway Voyager! Let the magnificent tall ship that has a thrilling rope swing take you through the Whitsundays paradise, lush tropical islands, kaleidoscopic reefs, and picturesque bays!

Unwind on sandy beaches, snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, Whitehaven Beach, Hill Inlet Lookout and Airlie Beach! Spend your days snorkelling with turtles, paddleboarding, swimming, sunbathing, hiking and exploring in style. 

All snorkelling gear and tuition are included, plus fully catered delicious and healthy meals are freshly prepared by our onboard chef. After your 3-day, 2-night island adventure,  join our VIP Airlie Beach afterparty with all of your crew, loved ones and friends! 

Ocean Rafting Whitehaven Beach Tours (Southern Lights or Northern Exposure) 

Female traveller having a good time on an ocean raft

Looking for speed, adventure and fun? Experience the best of the Whitsundays by visiting both the Southern and Northern ends of Whitehaven Beach in a jam-packed adventure onboard Ocean Rafting!

It’s the only boat tour in the Whitsundays that gives you inside access to Hill Inlet's swirling silica sands. Snorkel amongst colourful corals and vibrant marine life, go bushwalking, soak up the sun and travel at top speeds from one location to the next with our friendly crew who are local experts!

CW Great Barrier Reef Tour (from Airlie Beach, Hamilton Island or Daydream Island)

Traveller pointing at the Great Barrier Reef from the Reefworld pontoon

Spend a day snorkelling and scuba diving on the Whitsundays most luxurious and innovative semi-submersible pontoon! It’s one of the few day trips that let you visit the magnificent Outer Great Barrier Reef from Airlie Beach or Hamilton Island. Relax on our sun loungers on the top deck and observe marine life up close in our underwater observatory in this family-friendly tour!

Introductory and certified divers should book in advance to guarantee your dive. You’re free to use our snorkelling gear, wetsuits and stinger suits. Treat yourself to a scrumptious buffet lunch plus your morning and afternoon tea or coffee!

Powerplay - 2 Days & 2 Nights

Group of people enjoying the sunset aboard Powerplay's front decks

Swim and explore while cruising in style on a spacious two-level catamaran around the beautiful Whitsunday Islands. Powerplay has a heated onboard jacuzzi, foredeck spa, mouth-watering fresh food and AFT blue lights that attract marine life during the night.

Explore the natural wonders of Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet Lookout, snorkel in the underwater world below and rub shoulders with exotic marine life. We give you extra perks including wetsuits, snorkelling equipment and paddleboards so all you have to think about is how you want to enjoy your time!

Live chat or call +61 74914 2425 to speak with our local Whitsundays experts and find the best tides for your aquatic activities, scenic flights and Hill Inlet adventures!

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