The Hill Inlet Lookout swirling sands of Whitehaven Beach is sure to be one of the most memorable moments of your trip to Australia. As you sail through the Whitsunday Islands, you are sure to stop at this beautiful viewpoint, where you can enjoy the inlet out in front of you with Whitehaven Beach right down below. This guide will go over everything you need to know about a visit and what to expect along the way.
1) What is the Hill Inlet Lookout
I thought it may be helpful to provide a bit of an overview of the area around the Hill Inlet Lookout so you have a better idea of what exactly is out there.
» To start, the Whitsunday Islands are a group of 74 islands off the coast of Queensland. Throughout these islands you will find all sorts of pristine spots such as Hill Inlet, Whitehaven Beach, snorkeling sites, and much more.
» In order to visit all of these places though you will need to join a day or overnight sailing/boat tour that brings you to many of these locations. Nearly all tours will make a stop at the Hill Inlet Lookout at one point or another, but I would just double check beforehand to be certain.
» Airlie Beach will be your takeoff point for these tours as you explore the Whitsundays. It is a small beachside town will plenty of restaurants and bars along with a waterside lagoon.
» On the other hand, you can also stay at the more luxurious Hamilton Island (one of the islands of the Whitsundays and an hour boat ride from Airlie Beach), and you could catch one of the day trips from there to the Hill Inlet.
» Within the 74 islands of the Whitsundays is the most famous of islands – Whitsunday Island itself. On Whitsunday Island you will find the famous 7 km long Whitehaven Beach as well as the swirling sands of the Hill Inlet.
» At the northern end of Whitehaven Beach, there is an inlet from the ocean that makes its way inland through Whitsunday Island. This inlet happens to be curved in nature as it swirls its way further through the island.
» As the tide begins to get lower, the surrounding sands begin to slowly appear. As this beautiful occurrence takes place, you will be able to take in the Hill Inlet swirling sands landscape from the viewing platform overlooking the water.
2) Whitsunday Island Map
I thought it would be a bit more helpful if I also laid out a map of the Whitsunday Island area so you will have a better idea of what the layout is like.
1) Drop off / pick up location for the Hill Inlet*
2) Hill Inlet Lookout (3 viewpoint areas)
3) Northern End of Whitehaven Beach
4) Swirling Sands Inlet
5) Southern End of Whitehaven Beach (7 km stretch)
* If you go with an Ocean Rafting tour (more on that soon), you will be able to be picked up at the northern end of Whitehaven Beach (#3), instead of walking back to the drop off point behind the inlet
The Northern and Southern ends of Whitehaven beach are not connected (even during low tide). The Northern End is a smaller patch of beach just on the outskirts of the swirling sands, while the Southern End is a long 7km stretch of sand from the Hill Inlet, all the way down Whitsunday Island.
3) Understanding the Tides
One very important aspect to note about the Hill Inlet is that the swirling sands view is not always there. This is due to the fact that the tides of the ocean have a huge effect on the landscape of the area.
↔ During very low tide, a good portion of the inlet can be covered in sand, and while there will be some of that swirling curvature, it won’t be at its best.
↔ During high tide, the whole inlet will be covered in water and it will look more like a normal winding river than anything else.
The best time for a visit is between low and high tide (a bit closer to low tide). During this time frame there will be that perfect balance between water and sand as you get to enjoy the views from the Hill Inlet Lookout.
While your tour company will most likely plan the visit around a time when the swirling sands can be seen, you can take a look at the Hill Inlet tide chart to get an idea of what time of day may be best.
Below is a shot from the airplane ride I took over Whitsunday Island and the Great Barrier Reef. As you can see, when I passed over the Hill Inlet, it was at high tide. Compare that with the other photos you will come across in this article and you can really see the difference.
4) How to Plan a Visit
Like I mentioned, to visit Hill Inlet you will need to do so as part of a tour (or have your own private boat rental). There are tons of Whitsundays tours to choose from – anything from a one day outing to a 3+ day trip out around the islands.
If you would like to browse many of the offerings, take a look at the Sailing Whitsundays website, which has most of the tours out there.
A fantastic one day option that I took part of, is the Ocean Rafting Tour. Instead of a sailboat, you will hop on a rescue boat type of vessel as you speed your way around the islands. The tour will stop at the Hill Inlet Lookout, Whitehaven Beach, and various snorkeling spots. Read more about it at the end of this article.
5) What to Expect
No matter what type of tour you end up taking part of, your time around the Hill Inlet Lookout will look pretty similar. Your boat will first arrive at the drop off point (marked on the map above) just on the other side of the inlet at Tongue Bay.
From there, you will jump off the boat and onto the beach of Whitsunday Island. Here you will see the sign for the Whitsunday Islands National Park and the beginning of the walking track that takes you to the viewpoint spots.
The area where the lookout sits is actually called Tongue Point, which you may hear people refer it as instead of Hill Inlet.
From the drop off point, you will simply follow along the 10-15 minute stone / sandy path up to the lookout. The entire way here is well maintained and has recently had some upgrades made along the path as well.
The path up does require some stairs as you are heading up the hill but it should be manageable for the everyday visitor. The route is approximately 500 meters from the drop off point to the viewpoint. As you get closer, you will see some final signs pointing you in the direction right up to the Hill Inlet Lookout.
6) Hill Inlet Lookout
The Hill Inlet Lookout is actually comprised of 3 different viewing platforms. The views from all three are pretty similar but they do give you slightly different angles of the Hill Inlet swirling sands and Whitehaven Beach.
To get from one platform to the next, simply just follow the pathway a bit farther up. You shouldn’t need to walk more than a couple minutes between the three.
Below are some photos of the first viewpoint spot, followed by some additional shots from Lookouts #2 and #3.
7) Whitehaven Beach Northern End
After enjoying the views from the three lookout points, it is time to head down to the Northern End of Whitehaven Beach (as most tour companies should allow).
You will simply need to retrace your footsteps down the path, and instead of heading back to the drop off point at Tongue Bay, you will head to the right hand side down to Whitehaven Beach (this section is also called Betty’s Beach.)
While not as vast and long as the Southern End of Whitehaven, you will still be able to enjoy the incredibly soft silica sand of the beach and walk all around as you enjoy your surroundings. I found myself venturing out on one of these sand strips with the crystal clear water on either side of me.
Overall, it is just a fantastic place to enjoy and relax at during a visit to the Whitsundays. Once complete with both the Hill Inlet Lookout and Whitehaven Beach, it is back on the path to your boat on the other side of the inlet.
8) Ocean Rafting
I mentioned previously that I joined an Ocean Rafting day tour when exploring the Whitsundays. They have two main offerings – the Northern Exposure and Southern Lights tour.
Northern Exposure – Hill Inlet Lookout, Northern End of Whitehaven Beach, Two Snorkeling Spots
Southern Lights – Hill Inlet Lookout, Northern End AND Southern End of Whitehaven Beach, One Snorkeling Spot
More snorkeling = Northern Exposure; More beach = Southern Lights
There are a couple things that makes Ocean Rafting unique and why I believe you should choose them if going on a day trip:
» First off is the type of boat they use. It is essentially a repurposed rescue boat that seamlessly glides over the Whitsundays’ waters. You wont find many other companies that operate these types of vessels.
» The second point to factor in, is that Ocean Rafting is one of only 2-3 companies that is allowed to park their boats on the Northern End of Whitehaven Beach. What that means is you will not need to go back to your original drop off point when leaving the area.
Instead, the Ocean Rafting boats will come pick you up from the beach itself (you can see the boats in some of the pictures above). It was a very cool experience getting onto the boat from the beach and then swerving through some of swirling sands and out into the ocean.
» Learn more in the Ocean Rafting Whitsundays guide up on the site
9) Where to Stay in Airlie Beach
Airlie Beach is not that big of a place and you should not have too much trouble finding accommodation options near the main area. It is nice to be within walking distance of the lagoon, restaurants and bars so that would be my advice vs. staying a bit farther away from town.
Below are some highly rated accommodation choices:
Looking for a great budget option? Check out Airlie Beach Magnums!
That about does it for a complete guide to the Hill Inlet Lookout of the Whitsundays. If you have any additional questions or comments feel free to write them in below. Also don’t forget to check out the other Australia itineraries and guides on the site like this 3 Week Australia Itinerary.
Have fun out there and safe travels!