Leave your worries behind and switch to island time! As well as being central gateway to the world’s greatest natural wonder – the Great Barrier Reef – North Queensland is also dotted with island oases right along the coast, each with unique experiences, and natural landscapes to lose yourself in. So come on, ditch the hustle and bustle, and come island hopping with us!
- Start – Mackay, Keswick Island
- Finish – Ingham, Hinchinbrook Island
- 5-10 days, 6 stops (optional extra stop included), 499km (by road) + helicopter and boat transfers
Stop 1: Mackay – Keswick Island
Starting at the southern gateway to the Whitsunday Passage, Mackay is home to many islands to self-explore. But a standout would have to be Keswick Island. Nestled within the turquoise waters of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and just a stone’s throw from Mackay, discover the natural treasures of national parks and tropical rainforests, fringed by white sands and a coral reef bursting with vibrant marine life. Enjoy swimming, snorkelling and diving in one of our many beaches and coves.
Stop 2: Hamilton Island
Heading north along the Bruce Hwy, an island-hopping itinerary wouldn’t be complete without a stop in at the iconic Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays. Hamilton Island is a perfect base for exploring two of the region’s most famous and renowned attractions: the magnificent Great Barrier Reef and the pristine Whitehaven Beach.
Tip: One Tree Hill is a Hamilton Island icon thanks to its west-facing sunset vantage. This Whitsundays local haunt is made for sundowners with a side of dramatic hues, so let your eyes guide you.
Stop 3: Ayr
Further along the journey, the scenery begins to transform, taking you through an agricultural paradise. The fertile soils of the Burdekin region produce some of the region’s best fruits and vegetables, making it an ideal place to grab a bite! Sister towns Ayr and Home Hill – connected by the might Burdekin River Bridge – are filled with quaint and quirky cafes that are sure to satisfy.
But we’re island-hopping right? Well, the wonders of the ocean are found below the waves here in Ayr, home to one of the world’s top dive sites in the SS Yongala – head out with Yongala Dive to experience a hive of marine activity.
Stop 4: Magnetic Island
Just an hour and a half north is Queensland’s unofficial northern capital – Townsville, and the gateway to the ultimate island jaunt on Magnetic Island.
Clock-up a few more nautical miles with a short 20-minute ferry ride with SeaLink Queensland across to the locally nicknamed “Maggie”, where the adventure is up to you.
Spend the day (or ideally days) exploring the 23 beaches and bays dotted around the island, either by car (if you travelled by Magnetic Island Ferries car barge), or hire the ultimate island cruiser with Topless Car Rentals. Even better, take a discovery tour with Aquascene Charters to access some of the most remote and exclusive beaches on the island.
Make a splash along one (or both) of the self-guided snorkelling trails at Geoffrey Bay and Nelly Bay and get an up-close-and-personal look at the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef – right off the beach!
If nature and wildlife is also your thing – you’re in luck – because Magnetic Island is also home to Northern Australia’s largest colony of koalas in the wild!
Tip: Wake before the sun and take the gentle stroll along the Forts Walk – it’s the best place to spot a furry companion, and also a pretty sweet sunrise vantage point… can’t beat a 360-degree view! Want a local’s point of view – take the Fort Walk tour with Magnetic Island Best Bus Tours.
End the day sailing the high seas on a luxury yacht with Big Mama Sailing, or Pilgrim Sailing. Both tours offer a sunset sail – so kick-back and relax while you sip a champagne and take in the watercolour skies across the horizon.
Tip: There are so many things to do on Magnetic Island. Check out our “Maggie Bucket List”.
OPTIONAL ADDITIONAL STOP: Stay in Townsville to experience some of the local delights on offer, including fine-dining restaurants, local eats and breweries, galleries, Reef HQ Barrier Reef Aquarium, Castle Hill and much more!
Stop 5: Orpheus Island
While not technically part of the ‘road’ trip, if you’re in search of a luxurious getaway, you can’t miss Orpheus Island. Located amidst the magical waters of the Great Barrier Reef, Orpheus Island Resort is a secluded island hideaway accommodating just 28 indulged guests. Access via a 30-minute helicopter journey from Townsville.
Orpheus showcases a plethora of once-in-a-lifetime experiences! Its principal dive sites boast 1,100 of the 1,500 species of fish on the reef; the local waters are a fisherman's playground and home to the most sought after reef fish species in the world; and guests can take the helm of a motorised dingy complete with gourmet picnic hamper and discover the many pristine coves and reefs that fringe Orpheus.
Alternatively, Orpheus provides the perfect backdrop for a more private interlude if guests wish to simply relax and succumb to a unique indigenous-inspired treatment at the Gwandalan Day Spa.
Tip: We suggest spending at least two nights at the Orpheus Island Resort. Check out one of their package deals here
Stop 6: Hinchinbrook Island
The drive from Townsville to Ingham takes you back into sugar cane country as you pass vast expanses of the sugary shamrock greens of the cane fields. A proud cane growing township, Ingham is also home to stunning Wet Tropics, and the southern hemisphere’s largest single drop waterfall, Wallaman Falls.
Just a short boat ride through the Hinchinbrook Channel, you will discover the Jurassic beauty of Hinchinbrook Island. Managed as its own National Park region, the island only allows 40 visitors at any one time, so you’re very likely to wander its wild beaches and leave only your footprints.
The island is also renowned for its natural infinity pool atop the picturesque Zoe Falls – well worth the hike to the stunning views of the island, and a great place to cool off.
Tip: While in Ingham, you must try the local Italian cuisine, and fresh local produce. The Taste of Hinchinbrook Tour with Ravens Tours will guide you along the tastiest trail!