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Budget Travel Options For The Whitsundays

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Gabby Boucher
Updated Thu 14 Sep 2023

There are lots of amazing budget travel options for the Whitsundays for travelers on a backpacker budget! Many people think of the Whitsundays as a luxury destination that only the more affluent travelers can afford, but that is not the case at all! There are lots of cheap hostels, budget boat trips, and camping options for those who want budget travel options for the Whitsundays. 

The Whitsundays are a gorgeous archipelago of tropical islands just off the coast of northern Queensland, Australia. These islands are surrounded by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park where you can find thriving underwater ecosystems and world-class snorkeling or diving sites.

The islands themselves are scattered with white sand beaches and lush rainforests where you can hike, swim, and explore nature. Here are some budget travel options for the Whitsundays so you can experience this gorgeous corner of Australia cheaply!

group at hill inlet lookout

Budget Travel Options For The Whitsundays

If you’re looking for budget travel options for the Whitsundays, you’re in luck. There are lots of epic ways to explore this area cheaply. Whether you want to snorkel or scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef, take photos from the famous Hill Inlet Lookout over Whitehaven Beach, soak up the sun on Hamilton Island, or even enjoy a couple of days sailing through the Whitsundays, you can do all of that and more on a budget. 

Airlie Beach has lots of top-rated backpacker hostels where you can sleep in a dorm bed for a very cheap price. Staying in a hostel means you have secured cheap accommodation in the Whitsundays! Once you’ve found a place to stay in Airlie Beach, you can explore your budget travel options for the Whitsundays. 

people on a boat at sunset

Budget Boat Trips For The Whitsundays

Boat trips are undoubtedly the most popular activity in the Whitsundays. Most of the beauty of the area lies on the offshore islands and in the underwater coral reefs, so getting out on a boat is the best way to soak in the scenery of the Whitsundays. Luckily for budget travelers, there are lots of affordable boat trips for those on a tight budget. 

girl sailing a boat

Day Trips to Whitehaven Beach

Day Trips are the cheapest way to see the islands of the Whitsundays. You can stay at your cheap backpacker accommodation on the mainland and just spend the day out on a boat. Go snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, hike up to Hill Inlet Lookout, paddleboard on Whitehaven Beach, and more. Many boat day trips cost around $100 - $150, which is a small price to pay for an unforgettable day in the Whitsundays! Here are the most popular, cheapest day trips to Whitehaven Beach

Here are some of the most popular boat trips to Whitehaven Beach from Airlie Beach!

Purely Whitehaven

The cheapest way to see Whitehaven Beach is on a half-day tour with Sealink: Purely Whitehaven. Trips begin at just $125! Choose between a morning or afternoon tour and spend 2.5 hours on the picturesque beach. 

people smiling at hill inlet lookout

Ocean Rafting

One of the most affordable full-day trips in the Whitsundays is Ocean Rafting. This boat tour takes you out to Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet Lookout and provides ample time for snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef. 

ocean rafting tour

Whitehaven Beach Club

GSL Whitehaven Beach Club also costs around $150 and takes you over to Whitehaven Beach for 5 hours of paddleboarding, playing volleyball, and relaxing on the white silica sand

people jumping on the sand

Whitsunday Bullet

Whitsunday Bullet is another popular and affordable day trip. This speedboat brings you to the spectacular Hill Inlet Lookout and allows plenty of time for paddleboarding and snorkeling on the beach afterwards. 


Day Trips to Hamilton Island

Another one of the best budget travel options for the Whitsundays is taking a day trip to Hamilton Island. From Airlie Beach, it’s just a quick boat ride over to Hamilton Island, one of the best islands to visit in the Whitsundays. Hamilton Island is often associated with glamorous resorts, but you can still enjoy this stunning island on a budget! 

Hamilton Island Freestyle

Book the Hamilton Island Freestyle which is only around $120. This tour covers your boat transfers to and from the island and includes lunch, but it also allows you the freedom to spend your day how you choose. Relax on Catseye Beach, take on some free hiking trails, or visit the local wildlife sanctuary. It is possible to visit Hamilton Island on a budget!

posing on hamilton island

Day Trips to the Great Barrier Reef

If you want to spend a full day snorkeling or scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, you can also do that on a budget! There are some amazing reef trips from Airlie Beach that cost between $200 and $300. You wouldn’t want to pay for anything cheaper than this, as you still need to ensure that your boat, equipment, and local guides are high-quality. The Great Barrier Reef is a well-protected and special place, so it’s worth paying a few hundred dollars for a knowledgeable crew and a high-quality tour!

Wildcat Outer Great Barrier Reef

This new Outer Reef day tour whisks you to the top reef sites and back swiftly onboard a stable, speedy catamaran. Spend hours snorkeling in the colorful reefs and enjoying delicious food to refuel. This is one of the most affordable day trips to the reef you can find!

three girls going snorkeling

Explore: Full Day Outer Reef

Another affordable Great Barrier Reef day trip is the Explore: Full Day Outer Reef from Airlie Beach. For under $300, you can visit 2 different dive sites and explore the underwater world with the help of experienced local guides. 

explore boat on great barrier reef

Multi-Day Whitsunday Boat Trips

Just because you’re looking for budget travel options for the Whitsundays doesn’t mean you can afford an epic overnight boat trip! There are lots of incredible multi-day sailing tours that are geared toward backpackers. Enjoy 2 or 3 days out on the Coral Sea with a bunch of other young people! These trips are reasonably priced at around $500 so you can have the ultimate Whitsunday experience without breaking the bank. 


Defender is perfect for backpackers who want to enjoy a cheap overnight tour. At just 2-days and 1-night, you can visit all the highlights of the Whitsundays such as Whitehaven Beach, Hill Inlet Lookout, and the fringing reefs of the Great Barrier Reef in a short time frame. Because it's a shorter tour, it only costs around $400!


Atlantic Clipper

For 2 days and 2 nights you can sail through the most beautiful spots in the Whitsundays! This boat is huge and fits up to 54 guests so it is also perfect for backpackers who want to meet people and have fun. 

group tour on a sail boat

New Horizon

This 2-day, 2-night tour includes lots of fun activities that will take your Whitsundays experience to the next level. Enjoy a waterslide, scuba diving gear, paddleboards, and even an on-board movie room! You can’t find a boat tour like this for a cheaper price anywhere else!

boat tour whitsundays

Other Budget Travel Options For The Whitsundays

In addition to boat trips, there are lots of other fun budget travel options for the Whitsundays! From camping, to skydiving, to exploring waterfalls and more, here are some other fun activities you can do in the area for very little money. 


Another one of the best budget travel options for the Whitsundays is camping! There are 25 camping locations in the Whitsundays Islands, all of which are operated by Queensland National Parks. This option is best for travelers who already have their own camping gear, though you can buy or rent camping equipment on the mainland. 

One of the most amazing places to camp is Whitehaven Beach Campground! Located at the southern end of the dazzling Whitehaven Beach, it is very affordable to camp at this secluded campground in the bush behind the white silica sand. So if you want a more off-grid, serene experience on Whitehaven Beach, consider going camping!

girl at sunset on the beach


Skydiving usually has a huge price tag anywhere in the world. But it is possible to skydive in Airlie Beach for a reasonably cheap price! Embark on a tandem skydive from 8,500 feet for under $300 per person! That is one of the most affordable skydives on the market! You can heighten your jump to 15,000 feet and still spend less than $400!


Scenic Flights

Scenic flights over the Great Barrier Reef and Whitehaven Beach are actually much more affordable than you would expect! Ocean Rafting has a scenic flight for under $280 so you soar over the spectacular tropical scenery on a budget. You’ll even pass over the Heart Reef, one of the most photographed sights in all of Australia!

aerial view of heart reef


There are some epic hikes around Airlie Beach where you can explore nature during your free time! Most hikes are free, so this is a great budget travel option for the Whitsundays. Honeyeater Lookout and the Airlie Creek Track are two hikes that are within walking distance from downtown Airlie Beach. So you don’t even need to think about paying for transport, just lace up your walking shoes and go for it!

You can also venture to other hiking destinations that are a bit further away from town, such as Cedar Creek Falls, the Kingfisher Circuit, and the Mt. Rooper Circuit. Book a cheap guided hiking tour or rent a car and set out on your own to explore nature on a budget!

person at a swimming hole

Tour Packages

Another one of the best ways to experience the Whitsundays on a budget is by booking tour packages. When you combine day trips, or even combine tours with accommodation, you can get discounts that ultimately make your entire holiday more affordable. Even if you combine Whitsunday tours with activities in other destinations around Australia, like K'gari (Fraser Island) or Cairns, you can explore the entire East Coast on a budget!

Explore the Whitsundays

Check out our full list of the best backpacker sailing tours for more budget travel options for the Whitsundays!

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