Are the Whitsundays compatible with a backpacker budget?

This is my most recent article for It seems I’ve been pretty focused on writing about Australia lately… I guess I’m just finding it hard to believe it was nearly two years ago now!


There’s no two ways about it, Australia is an expensive country to travel around in comparison to nearby destinations such as Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, where a week’s accommodation, a pleasantly dangerous ride around Bangkok and a beautiful three course meal can cost less than one night’s accommodation in Sydney. Many people travelling down the East Coast have just come from one of these considerably cheaper places and are surprised and – to be melodramatic – financially crippled by the unavoidable expense of travelling in this part of the world.

Although I had expected this expense on my tour of Australia, the wondrous gift of hindsight has provided me with enough knowledge to significantly regret certain costs that could have been avoided or at least reduced. A couple of these regrets definitely involve some of Australia’s most recommended places or activities. Sailing the Whitsunday Islands is consistently recommended as one of these unmissable things and is, unfortunately, one of the activities I regret the most.

Most Whitsundays sailing trips last between one to two nights on a catamaran or bigger boat, usually in a group of around ten to fifteen people. My Whitsundays trip lasted two nights and three days. Two long nights spent sharing a very small and awkward bed in a crowded cabin full of crazy people. Now, this would usually be all part of the experience. All in good fun, right? Well, not so much here. I did not enjoy the company on our trip, thus the whole experience was kind of ruined. There are only so many times you can listen to a constantly intoxicated Dutch man’s version of ‘We No Speak Americano’ – an abrasive song at the best of times.

The islands themselves are absolutely incredible; impossibly bright white beaches with beautiful crystal blue waters – it was the embodiment of paradise. I spotted turtles in the sea next to the boat whilst sailing along and got to do some pretty awesome snorkelling. I also saw one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever experienced. These parts of the trip, however, could have been condensed into one big day trip, and for about a third of the cost. This definitely would have been the better option.

A lot of people love the trip, in fact, they rave about it. Why else would an extended sailing trip on the Whitsundays make so many lists of Australian highlights? My advice is don’t miss out on the Whitsundays, but just do the day trip. You get all the beauty of the islands, the beautiful sun and amazing snorkelling, but you don’t have to spend probably two or three weeks of a backpacker budget on sleeping in very substandard accommodation with some of the most annoying people you may ever encounter.

On the other hand, you may have the time of your life on a three day trip. It’s always good to keep your options open, and if you find yourself in Australia with only enough money to do the day trip, just know that despite the ravings of a multitude of guides and fellow travellers, you’re not going to be missing out on the trip of a lifetime.



  1. Maja Zwolsman

    My guess is that you weren’t properly matched to the boat. An experienced and ethical local Whitsunday agent would have listened to what you wanted out of your sailing trip and matched you to the right boat.

    Yes, you can see the highlights in one day, But even with a day trip, you can still end up on a booze cruise!

    A overnight trip is a unique and fun thing. I’ve done many overnight trips, both as crew and passenger. As long as you’re on the right boat, it will be the trip of a lifetime!

    My best advice is to talk to local agents who know the boats. And remember….you get what you pay for! If you’re going to be in the Whitsundays only once in your life, then pay the extra $100 and go for the better quality trip without the drunken wannabe sailors.

  2. Katie Shewaga

    I really appreciate your honest opinion about your experience in the Whitsundays. As I’m planning my own East Coast trip, I’ve been debating how to fit in the beautiful Whitsunday Islands. I’ve had people RAVE about how awesome the Atlantic Clipper is, and somehow feel it still may not be the boat for me.

    Will take your advice and keep looking for alternatives. Thanks again!

    1. gemmafottles

      Thanks a lot 🙂

      My advice is do the day trip… it’s so much cheaper which means you can go and spend some time doing something a little off the beaten track. The Whitsundays are beautiful, but are very, very well worn by the Western backpacker!

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