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Best Backpacker Whitsundays Tours: 12 Epic and Cheap Boats

Best Backpacker Whitsundays Tours: 12 Epic and Cheap Boats

There’s one question on every east coast backpacker’s mind: which are the best backpacker Whitsundays tours?

Sailing tours of the 74 Whitsunday Islands are one of the most popular parts of the backpacker route between Cairns and Sydney.

In fact, many backpackers save their pennies to book a spot on an overnight sailing tour for one, two or three nights.

The idea of backpacking Whitsundays can feel daunting because Whitsundays backpacker tours have a reptuation for being one of the most expensive parts of the east coast.

However, I’m here to tell you that there are cheap Whitsundays tours and backpacker deals that will give you the full experience. And yes, you won’t need to eat plain noodles every night for the rest of your trip.

The best backpacker Whitsundays tours are split between party boats and more relaxed boats. So, first things first, think about whether you’re willing to party your way around the islands or if you are keener for one of the more relaxed Whitsundays sailing tours for backpackers.

I’ve also rounded up the best day tours for those who are booking last minute or who want to save their bucks for elsewhere.

Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links. If you decide to click through and make a qualifying purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you – thanks for your support.


Best Backpacker Tour Overall: Avatar (2D/2N)

Best Party Boat: The Atlantic Clipper (2D/2N)

Best Day Tour: Whitsundays Ocean Rafting Tour

Where to Stay

Airlie Beach Magnums is the best hostel in Airlie Beach but it books up quickly. It’s home to one of the best bars in town.

How Much Do Backpacker Whitsundays Tours Cost?

A cheap day tour of the Whitsundays will cost between 180 AUD and 200 AUD.

Overnight Whitsundays backpackers tours cost between 450 AUD and 700 AUD.

Popular non-sailing tours include:

The heart-shaped reef from above in the Whistunday Islands.

Views from the scenic flight tours of the Whitsundays

Extra Costs on Backpacker Whitsundays Tours

As a backpacker, you will need to take into account that some costs are not factored into the price of the tour.

What you need to pay extra for varies from boat to boat but typically includes:

  • Soft or alcoholic drinks
  • Food and snacks outside of the included catering
  • Scuba diving
  • Wetsuit or stinger hire

Most tours include three meals, snacks and unlimited water, tea and coffee. Soft drinks and alcoholic drinks are permitted on a bring-your-own basis and/or sold onboard.

Most tours provide snorkelling equipment but charge backpackers to rent out wet suits or stinger suits.

Which is Better: Day Tour or Overnight Tour?

When I visited Airlie Beach, almost every backpacker I spoke to wanted to do an overnight tour.

I get it. You’re able to wake up on the water before the crowds reach the silica sands of Whitehaven Beach.

However, it’s not necessarily the best idea for everyone. It involves living in close quarters with strangers and sometimes seasickness.

Day TourOvernight Tour
✓ Cheap, from 180 AUD ✓ Beats the crowds
✓ Visits Whitehaven Beach and snorkel sites✓ More sailing time
✓ Quick and efficient✓ A chance for parties or relaxation
✓ Saves money✓ More social
✓ Available at shorter notice✓ Visits more places in the Whitsundays
❌ Reaches sites when they’re already busy❌ Greater chance of seasickness
❌ May feel rushed❌ Cabins are usually small and shared
❌ Misses out on ‘hidden gems’❌ Party boats can be noisy
❌ Less snorkelling time❌ Costs over 400 AUD
Disadvantages and advantages of day tours VS overnight tours

The main downside of taking a day tour is that the sites will already be busy by the time you reach them. The multi-night tours rise early and get to the beaches before everyone else arrives from Airlie Beach.

To beat the crowd from Airlie Beach, I recommend taking one of the speed boat day tours. They are faster than sailboats, so they can reach the location before everyone else leaving from Airlie Beach.

Cheap day tours for backpackers:

A brown cat sits on a wooden decking on a traditional house in Cairns.

I saved over 2000 AUD on accommodation by looking after dogs and cats on the east coast of Australia. Trusted Housesitters is also how I travel the world rent-free. You don’t need any experience, although it helps.

The 10 Best Backpacker Whitsunday Tours

Best Backpacker Day Tours

Let’s begin with the best day tours of the Whitsundays for backpackers and tourists on a budget.

Day tours are quick and efficient.

They typically depart from Coral Sea Marina in Airlie Beach at 8 am or 9 am.

They return 7-8 hours later between 4 pm or 5 pm.

One benefit of taking a day tour is that they are usually available at short notice. Most tours can be booked two to five days in advance, whereas overnight backpacker Whitsundays tours need to be booked several weeks or months in advance.

1. Whitsundays Ocean Rafting Tour

Price: 191 AUD

Capacity: 25 – 32

Ocean Rafting boats drop people at Whitehaven Beach, a top tour for backpacking Whitsundays.

There are several reasons why I have ranked the Whitsundays Ocean Rafting Tour as the best Whitsunday day tour for backpackers.

Firstly, it costs only AUD 191.

Secondly, it’s usually available at short notice. I booked the Ocean Rafting tour just three days in advance.

Thirdly, the boat is fun, fast (65km per hour) and visits all of the popular sights, including Whitehaven Beach and the Hill Inlet Lookout.

I had a great time on the Ocean Rafting speedboat. I befriended another solo backpacker and got on well with the friendly crew, who were locals in their 20s and 30s.

I paid $20 extra for the beach lunch, which was well worth the convenience of not having to arrange my own packed lunch for the day. 

Snorkelling equipment is included in the price of the tour, but alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages and snacks cost extra. Handily for backpackers, you are permitted to bring your own water, soft drinks and lunch.

As the tours use speed boats, they reach Whitehaven Beach quickly and make it less likely that you’ll get seasick.

There are two types of Ocean Rafting tours:

The Northern Whitehaven tour offers more snorkelling time, visiting two snorkelling sites (Hook and Border Island). It includes a bush walk to the Hill Inlet Lookout above Whitehaven Beach, where you’ll find the famous view of the beach. It departs at 8:45 am.

✓ Choose this option if you love snorkelling and don’t want beach time.

The South Whitehaven tour visits one snorkelling site and prioritises time on Whitehaven Beach. It visits the Hill Inlet, a snorkel site and then gives guests two hours to relax on the other side of Whitehaven Beach. It departs at 8:45 am.

✓ Choose this option if you want more time on the famous beach.

Ocean Rafting also has a tour which combines one of the above with a scenic flight. It is a decent value for money, costing 492 AUD.

It’s called the Ocean Rafting Fly Raft Tour and has a 4.9/5 rating from over 300 reviews.


  • Hill Inlet
  • Snorkel sites
  • Whitehaven Beach
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2. Tongarra

Price: 179 AUD

Capacity: 24

Tongarra is a sailboat which spends one day around the Whitsundays. Unlike the Ocean Rafting speedboats, it offers the chance to sail.

The tour begins with a two-hour sail first thing in the morning, followed by a visit to a snorkelling site. Lunch is provided on deck before the boat sails to the Langford Island Sandbar for a bush walk or beach time.

A banana boat ride is followed by a visit to one further snorkel site (on Black Island or Hook Island).

That’s right, Tongarra does not visit the famous Whitehaven Beach or Hill Inlet. Therefore, you won’t get the famous picture of Whitehaven’s blue swirls.

Ocean with streaks of blue from the Whitehaven Beach lookout in the Whitsunday Islands.

View from the Hill Inlet Lookout

However, it provides ample sailing and snorkelling time and also visits less-touristic sites.


  • Langford Island Sandbar
  • Two snorkelling sites (including Black Island or Hook Island)
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3. Thundercat

Price: 210 AUD

Capacity: 38

Thundercat is a popular speedboat day tour which departs from Airlie Beach. It costs just over 10 AUD more than its main competition, the Ocean Rafting tours. However, a buffet lunch, afternoon tea and snacks are included in the price of the tour.

This makes it cheaper for anyone who was planning on paying 20 AUD for lunch on the Ocean Rafting Tour.

Thundercat is known for its entertaining vibes. A local guide provides live commentary and, of course, you get a fast, exhilarating ride out to the islands.

The boat departs at 9 am and spends around 8 hours on the water. It visits two snorkelling spots and the Hill Inlet Lookout, then spends one hour on Whitehaven Beach. This combines the stops for both Ocean Rafting tours, but as a result, it can end up feeling quite rushed.


  • Whitehaven Beach
  • Hill Inlet Lookout
  • Two snorkelling spots

4. Camira

Price: 229 AUD

Camira is a day catamaran which visits the famous Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet Lookout. It’s one of the longest day tours available, lasting up to 10 hours. This is great if you want to maximise your time in the Whitsundays, but not so great if you’re prone to seasickness. The boat has a spacious deck.

If you’re a fan of free drinks, every guest gets free beer and wine from 11:00 am, as well as a lunch catered by the restaurants in Airlie Beach.

Backpackers should know that Camira is a popular boat for families, and as it is one of the more expensive day tour options, you’re less likely to meet other backpackers onboard.


  • Whitehaven Beach
  • Hill Inlet
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Best Backpacker Overnight Tours

1. Avatar (2D/2N)

Price: 589 AUD

Capacity: 26

Sailing for 2 days and 2 nights, Avatar is the name on every backpacker’s tongue. This incredibly popular backpacker tour sells out months in advance, mainly because it strikes a good balance between relaxation and party. There are nets on either side of the catamaran which provide a spacious sunbathing area.

The meals on Avatar feature items like beef tacos, crackers and dips, and spaghetti bolognese. Bunk or double rooms are available, another rare feature on a backpackers’ boat.

With two nights and two days to explore the Whitsundays, Avatar has a long list of places on its itinerary, including Whitehaven Beach, Hook Island, Hayman Island, Border Island and Whitsunday Island. Snorkelling is also made a priority; the stops include Luncheon Bay, Caves Cove and Blue Pearl Bay.

Visits may include:

  • Whitehaven Beach
  • Hook Island
  • Hayman Island
  • Luncheon Bay
  • Caves Cove
  • Border Island
  • Whitsunday Island
  • Blue Pearl Bay
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2. The Atlantic Clipper (3D/2N)

Price: 693 AUD

Capacity: 54

The Atlantic Clipper is the most legendary backpacker boat in Airlie Beach. If you want to walk away from your Whitsundays backpacker tour with a handful of new friends and a phone gallery full of sunsets, this is the boat for it. Don’t rule out a small hangover either, as parties are one of the biggest part of the Clipper experience.

Resembling a pirate ship, the boat fits 54 people in shared air-conditioned cabins. Everyone gets to take turns using the paddleboarding equipment, waterslides and hot tub. Snorkelling gear and meals are also provided. Those who want to scuba dive can do so for an additional cost.

The second day on the boat is called the ‘Whitehaven Experience’ and spends the whole day at the beach and Hill Inlet.


  • Whitehaven Beach
  • Additional sites

3. Apollo (3D/2N)

Price: 703 AUD

Capacity: 26

Apollo is the most expensive out of the top three backpacker Whitsundays tours. However, it is regarded as one of the best by Airlie Beach backpackers. Apollo is a former sailing boat which has competed in races across the world, even winning the Sydney to Hobart race once.

Over three days, the boat stops along snorkelling sites the Outer Barrier Reef. It also lends out paddleboards for those who want to cruise by the beaches even when the sail isn’t raised. It visits Whitehaven Beach, including not one but two lookouts and both sides of the beach.

This is a fast sailboat which is known to get very crowded. If you’re not happy with being in close quarters with other backpackers, this won’t be the boat for you. Apollo is a party boat, although it’s not as intense as the Clipper.


  • Hook Island and Stonehaven Bay
  • Langford Reef
  • Whitehaven Beach and lookouts
  • Nara Inlet and the Ngara caves

4. New Horizon (3D/2N)

Price: 671 AUD

Capacity: 32

New Horizon is run by True Blue Sailing, the same company that owns the infamous Atlantic Clipper. Unlike its relative, New Horizon offers a more intimate trip for up to 32 backpackers. There are 21 cabins, suitable for two, three or four people.

Like the Clipper, the boat is equipped with a slide, banana boat and paddleboards. You’ll get two nights and three days on board, including two breakfasts, one lunch and a dinner, plus coffee, tea and snacks. Handily, you can bring your own alcohol.

The second day is spent at Whitehaven Beach. As for keen divers, scuba diving is also available for an extra cost.


  • Whitehaven Beach
  • Other Whitsunday Islands

5. Spank Me (2D/2N)

Price: 529 AUD

Capacity: 27

The name Spank Me should be your first clue that this backpacker’s boat prioritises fun. The two-day and two-night tour visits a nice collection of snorkelling spots like Luncheon Bay, Caves Cove and Blue Pearl Bay and all the best sights in the Whitsundays (Whitehaven Beach, Hook Island, Border Island and Whitsunday Island).

As you can tell, it’s a fast-paced tour compared to some other options. However, there’s also some time to relax on Whitehaven’s silica sand and sip on your own BYO alcohol. The 25-metre sailboat has quite cramped bunks, so it’s great for backpackers who don’t mind sleeping in close quarters. 


  • Whitehaven Beach
  • Hook Island
  • Border Island
  • Whitsunday Island
  • Luncheon Bay
  • Caves Cove
  • Blue Pearl Bay

6. Matador (2D/1N)

Price: 450 AUD

Capacity: 21

Go for Matador if you want to spend two days sailing on a 26-metre former race boat. With regular visits to snorkelling spots and a visit to Whitehaven Beach, it prioritises snorkelling and the Whitsundays’ most famous beach. It’s also one of the smallest boats in the Airlie Beach fleet, with a max of 21 people permitted onboard.

While sailing, you’re permitted to bring your own snacks and alcohol. It’s also only one night, great if you’re nervous about spending two nights on the water.

Matador has an after-party with discounted drinks and food so that you can continue partying with newly-made friends after the tour.


  • Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet Lookout
  • Snorkel spots
  • May visit: Whitsunday Island, Hook Island, Hayman Island, Blue Pearl Bay, Border Island

7. Hammer (3D/2N)

Price: 720 AUD

Capacity: 23

Hammer is one of the most luxurious backpacker boats. It has hot showers, USB charging stations and hammocks. Another bonus is that it hosts a small group of just 23 people at a time, who all get to sleep in dormitory-style bunk beds.

You can bring your own alcohol on Hammer. The boat does not have a concrete itinerary. Instead, it chooses its itinerary based on the tides, weather and group preferences.

However, it guarantees a visit to Whitehaven Beach, the Hill Inlet Lookout and snorkelling locations.


  • Whitehaven Beach
  • Hill Inlet Lookout
  • Up to four snorkelling sites

8. Summertime (2D/1N)

Price: 480 AUD

Capacity: 23

Summertime is a short and sweet one-night sailing tour for backpackers. The sailboat has private air-conditioned cabins, making it one of the more comfortable options.

You can also bring your own alcohol for a drink after a day of snorkelling or kayaking on the boat’s two-person inflatable kayaks. 


  • Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet Lookout
  • Snorkelling sites

When to Book Your Backpacker Whitsundays Tours

During peak season, backpacker Whitsundays tours are typically booked up several months in advance.

If you’re booking at the last minute, you may not get your first-choice tour. However, don’t give up looking, as many boats have last-minute cancellations.

In the worst-case scenario, you may have to change your dates.

Day tours are typically available at shorter notice. You can usually book a day tour two days to one week before your date.

Which Are The Best Seasons?

September to March is the best time to go sailing in the Whitsundays.

Out of these months, spring (September to November) is ideal.

Streaks of silicone sand and blue ocean at Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays.

Spring (September to November): The weather is warm, with very little rainfall. There is good visibility for snorkelling or diving. There are light winds, so sometimes sailing can be more difficult. The average temperature is 28 degrees celsius.

Summer (December to March): The weather is hot. However, it is the Whitsundays wet season, which means that rainfall can sometimes last for several days. Nevertheless, this is the Whitsundays’ high season. The average temperature is 28 degrees Celsius but can reach the low to mid-30s.

Winter (June to August): Winter is cooler, especially at night. However, it is the greatest time for whale watching. There’s also a race week in Airlie Beach in August.

Autumn (April to May): Autumn is warm but humid. It’s slightly cheaper than the summer, but the weather can be turbulent.

Suggested reading:


Are the Whitsundays expensive?

Cheap backpacker sailing tours cost $180+ AUD for a day tour and $400+ AUD for an overnight tour.

How many days do you need for the Whitsundays?

At least one day is needed for a day tour of the Whitsundays. However, most people prefer to stay at least 2 – 5 days in the Whitsundays.

Best Resources for Backpacking Australia: