One of the absolute bucket list, can’t miss experiences for any visit to the Whitsundays is a scenic flight over the Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef. This region is absolutely so beautiful from the sky, where you can appreciate a much greater perspective of the layout of the islands and the stunning turquoise water swirling between them.
The Whitsunday Islands lead right out to the Great Barrier Reef so jumping on a scenic flight gives you a great opportunity to see two of Australia’s most incredible places at the same time. We have actually done a couple of scenic flights over the Whitsundays, one in a regular small plane and the other in a helicopter, so we feel like we can definitely help you choose your scenic flight adventure.
On our first visit to the Whitsundays we did a scenic flight in a small plane, so for this visit we booked onto a helicopter flight with Hamilton Island Air and the experiences were actually quite different. The helicopter tours are private flights, giving you a bit more flexibility if there’s something you really want to see, fly back over or skip on your visit. You can actually kind of customise your flight a little bit if there’s somewhere specific you might want to see, if you have a chat to your helicopter pilot before you take off.
The other thing big positive about a helicopter flight is that they actually fly a lot lower to the ocean than the scenic planes do. Which means you can actually see parts of the reef in so much more detail, even down to spotting some of the unique marine wildlife swimming around the reef fringes below.
From the minute you get off the ground the Whitsundays are absolutely breathtaking. The islands, beaches and water surrounding them are just absolutely so beautiful, you will be snapping photos constantly as you fly over them. Here are some of our favourite places you get to visit during your flight.
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We departed from Hamilton Island airport, so our first view from the air was over Hamilton Island. As your heading away from Hamilton Island you can spot lots of the iconic and favourite places around the island, including the marina, Catseye Beach, the strip of resorts and the Passage Peak lookout.
From Hamilton Island you head straight for the huge Whitsunday Island, the largest island in the Whitsundays group, where there are heaps of beautiful bays with bright blue water and stark white sand.
As you come over the top of Whitsunday Island you will immediately be able to spot Whitehaven Beach on the left hand side. The sand is so bright and white, stretching for miles, with stunning clear water below. It truly is the most beautiful beach in Australia, in my opinion anyway, and we could come here again and again and it will always blow me away.
There are lots of different tour companies that can take you to visit Whitehaven Beach, and you can often see lots of their boats along the southern side of the beach. Across the way you can also spot Chalkie’s Beach, sitting on a small island directly across from Whitehaven Beach, this was definitely a favourite for many boats while we were bareboating.
At the top of Whitehaven Beach is Hill Inlet, one of the most beautiful and unique places in all of the Whitsundays. The small inlet changes appearance all throughout the day as the tide rises and falls, with high tide giving you a swirl of all different shades of blue, and low tide allowing the curved sandbanks to appear amongst the water. It’s absolutely stunning.
If you really want to see Hill Inlet in a particular way, definitely check the tides on that day you’re booking your flight and ask them for some advice if you’re not sure. Low tide is our favourite time to see Hill Inlet, when the sand is the most visible, making the inlet a beautiful contrast of white and blue swirling together as it makes its way to the ocean.
Great Barrier Reef
After you leave the Whitsunday Islands it’s about a 10 to 15 minute flight over the ocean to reach the Great Barrier Reef. The main reef around this area is known as Hardy Reef, and in our opinion is one of the most beautiful parts of the Great Barrier Reef to fly over.
It’s such a pretty area, and exactly what you think of when you picture the Great Barrier Reef. From the helicopter we could even spot so much marine life swimming below us, that’s actually how close you can get to the water. We spotted lots of sea turtles, a reef shark and even a couple of rays swimming over the reef.
Now this is probably what you have been waiting for. Heart Reef is such a highlight of any scenic flight over the reef. This tiny little piece of the reef is perfectly shaped like a heart in a clearing all of it’s own, clearly visible from the sky. It seems to perfect to be true, but there it is, standing out right in the middle of the ocean.
Our heli pilot did a couple of laps of heart reef, giving us plenty of opportunities for photos and getting super close to the reef, finding the absolutely ultimate angle. Even though it has it’s own name, Heart Reef is still part of Hardy Reef and is an incredible spot for snorkelling, scuba diving and getting a great taste of the Great Barrier Reef.
Before we started heading back to Hamilton Island we asked our pilot to quickly pop over to Reef World, which is where we had our sleepover on the reef a couple of weeks earlier. While we were on the Reef World pontoon we were not able to fly our drone, due to the helicopters and scenic flights flying around in the area, so it was really cool to be able to fly over on this flight and take some photos of Reef World from above.
From Reef World we started to make the roughly 25 minute journey back to Hamilton Island. Our pilot flew on the other side of Whitsunday Island on the way back, so we could see some of the different islands and beaches on the way home.
Hamilton Island Air have lots of different options to choose from when you’re looking at scenic flights, many of which combine a few different experiences, including snorkelling at Reef World or a quick stop over on Whitehaven Beach.
We experienced the Heart Reef & Whitehaven Scenic flight with Hamilton Island air which included flying over Whitehaven Beach and Heart Reef, as well as many of the other islands of the Whitsundays. On this flight you get a private helicopter (maximum 3 people) and it takes about an hour to get out to Heart Reef and back. Hamilton Island Air also include return airport transfers from your accommodation with your booking.
Flying over the Whitsunday Islands is definitely a can’t miss experience for your trip to Hamilton Island. It’s our favourite way to see Hill Inlet in particular, but also some of our favourite part of the Great Barrier Reef. Make sure your camera is fully charged before you go, because you will be snapping photos non stop!