Australia / Travel / Travel Inspiration

Making The Most Of The East Coast: Fraser Island vs. The Whitsundays

If I had to choose between Fraser Island and the Whitsundays… well, I need to build some suspense first at least!

If you are a budget-conscious traveller or are restricted to time on Australia’s East Coast, then you might be wondering how on earth you’ll be able to see both of its star attractions without breaking the bank or exhausting yourself in the process!

Looking back, the amount I stressed about booking these two tours was pathetic. But when you’re a first-time solo traveller in a world of smug travel agents quite literally bounding in front of you during a nice afternoon stroll, thrusting their best deals in your face, trying their utmost to clinch your hard-saved cash, things can get a liiiitle bit tense.

Combine the above with searching for the perfect tour with the right company just 1-2 weeks before you are due to be in that location in the peak Summer season and you’re in for some nail-biting moments. *shakes head at own stupidity*

However, I did EVENTUALLY manage to purchase two tours and through my learnings, I can now advise you. And what’s more, I’m not trying to get any sales out of you so I’ll be as honest as I want!

Starting with the facts…

Yes, both Fraser Island and the Whitsundays are two of the biggest highlights on the East Coast. So it would be a shame not to see at least one, eh? Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world, where 4×4’s are a must and the top sights include; Maheno Shipwreck, Eli Creek and Lake McKenzie. The Whitsunday Islands are home to that famous, postcard picture of Whitehaven Beach with it’s sand as white as icing sugar and it’s swirly sea the brightest tone of turquoise you could imagine.

As a standard, the Fraser Island tour (2 night’s-3 days) is going to include your ferry ride over to the island, your 4×4, accommodation and meals. It’s going to give you a chance to drive on the island whilst making stops at all of the top spots, generally with a fair amount of time being spent in each.

Then there’s the 2 night Whitsundays sailing tour, which will give you ample time on board a sail boat, opportunities to snorkel and then a couple of hours to go on a short bush walk to Inlet Hill Lookout where you’ll snap your all-important, Insta-worthy shots of Whitehaven Beach then descending to spend the rest of your time on the beach before boarding the boat again for more sailing and anchoring down for dinner.

What did I do? I spent $499 first on a 2 night-3 day tour of Fraser Island with Nomads Noosa. Then in quick succession I spent $468 on a 2 night Whitsundays sailing tour. Ouch. (Sorry bank account).

Unfortunately there is no escaping the expense if you’re thinking about similar options to my Fraser Island tour, you will be looking at costs between $450 and $500 (sometimes these prices can differ based on whether you choose dorm or tent accommodation). However if you are very wary about spending too much money or only have 1 or 2 days for completing the tours, there are plenty of 1 night-2 day options between the $300 and $350 mark, and even some 1 day tours from $110.

And similarly with the Whitsundays, the prices for 2 night sailing tours start somewhere around $420 and end at about $500. But I’m making assumptions here that everyone is up for seeing the Whitsundays by boat! Sailing is the obvious option, but there’s a variety of scenic flights too (anywhere from $220-$500), of which I can imagine would provide stunning views of the Whitsunday Islands, which actually includes 74 islands – not just Whitehaven Beach!

Obviously if I could’ve saved more money on my Fraser island tour, that would’ve been ideal but seeing as I booked very last minute and the total price of $499 also included my pre and post night’s accommodation in Nomads Noosa, I felt just about okay with watching that money disappear.

However, if I could’ve allowed myself to feel less pressure to complete what I thought would be the ‘ultimate Whitsundays experience’, I could’ve easily saved myself $250-$300. Massive.

I know this because I met someone in my hostel who partook in a 1 day tour, whereby she snorkelled, hiked to the lookout and swam in Whitehaven Beach, all before arriving back to the hostel around 7pm. What did I do? I snorkelled, hiked to the lookout, swam in Whitehaven Beach and paid extra for 2 night’s aboard a boat and 2 extra days, which turned out to be 2 half-days of majorly just sailing to and from the marina in Airlie Beach. See how I felt a bit robbed?

Now after all those facts and figures I feel it’s decision time…

If I was asked to choose between the two back when I was actually deciding, I probably would’ve picked the Whitsundays believing that I would prefer it based on its beautiful, picturesque qualities and the fact that I’d been drooling over Whitehaven Beach for yeaaaars.

But if someone posed the question to me now, having seen them both… If I really had to pick just one… it would have to be Fraser Island. (Omg feeling totally disloyal to my forever-dreaming-of-Whitsundays-self)

HOWEVER I would choose a 1 day tour of the Whitsundays, does this count? No? OK, well I’ve made my answer and it’s FINAL.

Fraser Island was just unlike anything else I was able to ‘do’ on the East Coast. And from being paranoid on day 1 about getting in the drivers seat (you’ll hear horror stories of cars tumbling over or getting stuck in the sand), by day 2 I was raring to go and ended up having the cruisiest drive imaginable. On the world’s largest sand island may I remind you! How many times do you get to say that?!

And on top of the 4×4 driving, the incredible sights of the freshwater lakes (Wabby and Mckenzie), the chance to let my body float down the natural lazy river that is Eli Creek, witnessing the Maheno Shipwreck before it totally disintegrates and quite literally catching waves in the Champagne Pools, I also got to do it all with a really lovely group of people.

The people on a tour always make up a good percentage of your overall enjoyment of that tour, which becomes yet ANOTHER factor in your decision-making. Honestly I believe there will always be a mix of people on every tour, you can’t choose them, you just have to be open and hope you get some good’uns. From my understanding, you can’t go too wrong with choosing a Fraser tour for fear of being amongst the wrong ‘type‘ of people, however the selection of sailing boat’s offering Whitsundays tours do tend to cater to different crowds. The boats come in all variations of sizes, ages and prices and basically if you’re worried, you need to narrow down your options between ‘chilled’ boats and ‘party’ boats.

Last words of advice…

  • Book in advance and do your research. DON’T head straight to a travel agent in the belief that they have the best deals on the market. Check them out by all means, but do your own digging online too.
  • Try out this link for Fraser tours and this one for Whitsundays tours. Look out for flash sales!
  • It’s common belief amongst many backpackers that Fraser is only accessible from Rainbow Beach or Hervey Bay. My tour with Nomads Noosa left Noosa early in the morning to drive around 2 hours to catch the ferry from Rainbow Beach. (Just an idea to save money visiting either of those places as there is very little else to do in them, whereas Noosa is a very pleasant destination to check out!)
  • I read this exact same line many times when researching but now I can confirm it is true: the 2 night option will give you the most out of Fraser Island, so if you can afford to do so, opt for this!
  • Whereas, the 1 day option for the Whitsundays will deliver very much the same experience minus the whole ‘sleeping on a sail boat’ and will save you serious dollar!
  • Purchase your own snacks and drinks beforehand (check alcohol policy with your tour company) to save yourself yet even more dollar as shops/bars in Fraser Island will charge a fortune, and in the Whitsundays… well, you’re pretty limited once you’re in the middle of the ocean for 2 nights.

As always, message me if I can help out any further or check out my East Coast Instagram highlights for some more inspiration!

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