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How do I get to the Whitsundays?

Updated Fri 12 Aug 2022

Two people at Hill Inlet Lookout, Whitsundays

Travellers often make the common mistake of not realising the distance between the Whitsundays and major cities around Queensland and the time it takes to get there. Australia itself is almost 8 million km², while the east coast is thousands of kilometres long. From Melbourne on the south coast to Cairns up north is almost 4,000km alone. 

The Whitsundays is a far distance from both Cairns and Brisbane, two places that are often visited in conjunction with a Whitsundays trip, both of which are often assumed to be close by. However, the Whitsundays region is located 1,000 kilometres (around a 12-hour drive) from Brisbane and is around 700 kilometres (around an 8-hour drive) south of Cairns. This means that if you are driving, you may have to factor in much more time than you anticipated, as these cities are not as close to the Whitsundays as people often assume!

There are many ways of travelling to the region, however, it is important to allow plenty of time to get to your destination before heading out on a trip!

Arriving by air

The most convenient way to travel to the region is a flight to either the Whitsunday Coast Airport (PPP) or the Hamilton Island Airport (HTI), where visitors will then need to ferry across to the mainland. The most convenient airport to fly into is the Whitsunday Coast Airport which is currently serviced by Qantas, Virgin, Jetstar and Skytrans offering flights to and from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, and Cairns. After flying into Proserpine, visitors will need to take a short shuttle bus transfer to reach Airlie Beach.

Aerial image of Hamilton Island

Cruise Whitsundays Ferries 

The ferry operator in the region is run by Cruise Whitsundays, and visitors flying into Hamilton Island can book their ferry transfers to coincide with their flight arrival in order to make it to Airlie Beach or the rest of the Whitsundays.

Another option is to drive or fly into Airlie Beach, then book a night or two over on Hamilton Island before flying out so you only have to get the ferry one way! The ferry trip takes one hour and has beautiful views along the way of the Whitsunday Islands, making it an experience in itself!

Person looking out the window on Cruise Whitsundays passenger ferry

Proserpine Airport Shuttles 

Visitors arriving in Proserpine at the Whitsunday Coast Airport (PPP) may opt for an affordable shuttle bus transfer to Airlie Beach. The cost is around $20-25 per person, takes about 20-40 minutes, and there are several companies to choose from.

Approximate travel times by air to Airlie Beach:

  • Sydney to Airlie Beach - 2 hours 15 minutes
  • Brisbane to Airlie Beach - 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Melbourne to Airlie Beach - 2 hours 45 minutes
  • Cairns to Airlie Beach - 1 hour 30 minutes

Check out what flight sales are available through our friends at Webjet here

Arriving by car

The drive from Cairns or Brisbane to the Whitsundays via the Bruce Highway is often an enjoyable one with plenty of things to see along the way and many towns to stop in or even stay the night. There are plenty of places to park your car or campervan during the day or overnight.

People in a campervan

Approximate travel times by car to Airlie Beach:

  • Brisbane to Airlie Beach - 13 hours
  • Cairns to Airlie Beach - 8 hours
  • Mackay to Airlie Beach - 90 minutes
  • Bowen to Airlie Beach - 50 minutes
  • Proserpine to Airlie Beach - 25 minutes

Arriving by train

For those eager to see Queensland on a spacious and charming long-distance rail train, the Spirit of Queensland is a great option for getting to the Whitsundays. The Spirit of Queensland travels between Brisbane and Cairns five times a week and stops in Proserpine. Railbus Coach connections from Proserpine to Airlie Beach are available.

Person standing in front of the Airlie Beach welcome sign

Approximate travel times by train to Airlie Beach:

  • Brisbane to Airlie Beach - 16 hours
  • Cairns to Airlie Beach - 10 hours, 30 minutes

Arriving by bus

Major coach companies including Greyhound and Premier run regular services from all major cities to the town of Airlie Beach. This is a great choice if you really want to enjoy the view of the different towns along the way and is also the most budget-friendly travel option - in addition to the most eco-friendly!

Aerial view of Airlie Beach

Approximate travel times by bus to Airlie Beach:

  • Brisbane to Airlie Beach - 20 hours
  • Noosa to Airlie Beach - 17 hours, 30 minutes
  • Bundeberg to Airlie Beach - 10 hours, 30 minutes
  • Rockhampton to Airlie Beach - 6 hours, 40 minutes
  • Townsville to Airlie Beach - 4 hours, 15 minutes
  • Cairns to Airlie Beach - 10 hours, 30 minutes

Check out our guide on how to do the Whitsundays - whether you're on a budget, seeking luxury, or ready for an adventure there is an itinerary for you!

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