Located half-way up the Queensland coast, the world famous Whitsundays region is a beautiful place to visit. But how dog-friendly is it and what can you do if you are visiting with a dog? I cover the options available, from dog-friendly beaches and walks to accommodation and dog sitting.
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Are Dogs Allowed to Visit the Whitsunday Islands?
The star attraction in the Whitsundays region are the beautiful islands located just off the coast, from Whitsunday Island itself to the resort islands of Hamilton Island and Daydream Island.
Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed to visit the majority of the islands, including the stunning Whitehaven Beach, as they are situated within the Whitsunday Islands National Park. None of the day cruises to the islands or to the reef permit dogs onboard.
On the islands that are not included in the national park, such as Hamilton Island, pets are still largely unwelcome. There are no pet-friendly resorts on the islands, although some dogs do live on Hamilton Island in private residences.
Dogs either transiting or staying on Hamilton Island, including on a private boat at the marina, require a permit from Hamilton Island Enterprises Limited. Pets are only allowed in standalone villas on the island, outside of the resort zone.
It was previously stated on the Cruise Whitsundays website that pets were permitted on the transfer boats operating to and from Hamilton Island. However, it also stated that unless you had a valid ticket to fly out of Hamilton Island Airport, you needed to present written permission from the island destination for your pet. Pets were also required to be transported in an approved airline pet crate.
It’s not clear if pets are still allowed on the island transfer, but in any case, if they still are, it’s not intended for the benefit of day tripping with your pet!
Dog Sitting in the Whitsundays
So that you can still take a day trip to the stunning Whitsunday Islands, or perhaps go snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef, there are a number of options available.
One of the easiest options is to book a cruise with Whitehaven Xpress. Whitehaven Xpress operate regular day trips to Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet from Airlie Beach. Best of all they are a pet-friendly day tour operator, offering a pet-minding service at their office while you are out for the day. It’s best to contact them in advance to confirm this is still available and for further details.
The cruises operated by Whitehaven Xpress didn’t line up with the dates we were visiting Airlie Beach, so we instead stayed at the BIG4 Whitsundays Tropical Eco Resort, which when we stayed in 2021 offered a pet sitting service. However, I don’t believe this service is still available, since a change in ownership. It’s still worthwhile asking your accommodation for a list of local pet sitters.
For longer pet sits, especially if you’re staying on a yacht or island resort for a few days, I recommend checking out the Whitsunday Pet Resort. Located in between Airlie Beach and Proserpine, they offer multiple packages. Due to limited drop-off and pick-up hours, it’s not really an option for day trips.
Dog-Friendly Beaches in the Whitsundays
While your pup isn’t able to experience the glorious white sand of Whitehaven Beach and the other island beaches, there’s still a number of dog-friendly beaches in the Whitsundays region, as listed on the council website.
Dog-Friendly Beaches in Airlie Beach
Around the Airlie Beach area are two dog-friendly beach options, although neither of them match the beautiful beaches found elsewhere in the region.
Closest to Airlie Beach is Shingley Beach, adjacent to the Coral Sea Marina. Dogs are allowed on the eastern end of the beach all day long, with a clear sign onsite. Unfortunately, the beach is rather rocky and the water isn’t the cleanest due to the adjacent marina.
In Cannonvale, the eastern end of Cannonvale Beach is also dog-friendly. Online, it’s listed as only operating from 5am to 8am and 5pm to 8pm. But the sign at the beach states that it’s off-leash from 5am to 8pm, except for 8am to 9am and 2:30pm to 3:30pm on school days (it’s close to a school). I’d go with the hours listed on the sign – just double check what it state.
While crocodiles are not as common in the Whitsundays region as further north (especially in crystal clear water on many of the beaches), we spotted a sign at Cannonvale Beach during our visit warning of a crocodile sighting within the last seven days, perhaps in the mangrove area at the eastern end of the beach. Be wary!
Dogs are permitted on leash at other beaches in the region, unless otherwise signposted. There was a sign prohibiting dogs from the small pocket of beach just west of the Airlie Beach Lagoon, but no such signs along the main stretch of Airlie Beach proper.
Dog-Friendly Beaches in Bowen
The northern gateway to the Whitsundays, located an hour north of Airlie Beach, Bowen is a more relaxing (and more affordable) alternative. While dogs are not permitted on the sand of the stunning Horseshoe Bay and Rose Bay, both popular swimming and snorkelling spots, plus the nearby Grays Bay, there are a number of dog-friendly options.
Perhaps the most beautiful off-leash dog beach in Bowen is Kings Beach, located in between Rose Bay and the town centre of Bowen. A long sandy beach, on the day we visited the water was shallow and calm, great for dogs large and small.
It’s easiest to access Kings Beach by following the signs to Flagstaff Hill and parking in the carpark just past the hill, at the southern end of the beach. You should also be able to access the beach from the streets of Rose Bay. There’s also an access road to the middle of the beach, but it’s unsealed and was rather corrugated on the day we visited.
Another popular dog-friendly beach in Bowen is Queens Beach, on the northern side of town. The off-leash section starts at Mount Nutt Road and continues to the western end. On-leash dogs are still permitted on the rest of the beach. It’s a convenient option if you are staying at one of the caravan parks close to Queens Beach, but we didn’t think it was as pretty as Kings Beach.
The final off-leash beach in Bowen is the Doughty Creek Mouth. Looking at the map on the council website, it appears to lie just south of the town centre, and is basically an area of mud flats in front of mangroves, rather than a sandy beach. However, we noticed a sign for the off-leash exercise area at the far end of Quay Street, where there is a stretch of sand. It’s a convenient option close to the town centre.
Dog-Friendly Beaches in Hideaway Bay
There’s a final off-leash dog beach in the Whitsundays area and it’s probably the most beautiful. Hideaway Bay is a stunning yet quiet stretch of coastline located in between Airlie Beach and Bowen. You’ll unlikely share the beach with more than a handful of people.
According to the map on the council website, the official off-leash section starts after the rocks at the eastern end of the beach and extends around to the “island”. However, signage at the beach isn’t clear and when we visited other dogs were off-leash on the main stretch of the beach, at least at the eastern end.
Dog-Friendly Walks in the Whitsundays
One of the top dog-friendly walks in the Whitsundays area is the Airlie Beach boardwalk and walkway, also known as the Bicentennial Way. Extending along the waterfront from Cannonvale Beach to the Port of Airlie Marina, walk just one section or the entire length (about 3.5km one-way).
My favourite section of the walkway is the raised boardwalk in between Whisper Bay Boat Ramp and Shingley Drive, dubbed “Turtle Boardwalk”. Just check the temperature of the dark wooden boards before walking during the middle of the day – it’s probably better at cooler times of the day. And don’t forget to look for turtles!
Note that dogs are not allowed at Airlie Beach Lagoon. When the walk passes the lagoon, keep to the “dog track” marked with the paw prints, and follow the other rules signposted. Along the rest of the walk, dogs just need to stay on leash.
There’s also plenty of bush walks on the peninsula around Airlie Beach, but the majority of walks are located in the national park. One dog-friendly option that lies outside of the national parks is the Airlie Creek Track.
Starting just behind the town centre of Airlie Beach, the 850m track starts as a fairly level gravel path, then progressively gets rougher. Allow up to an hour for the full walk. The walk is probably best appreciated after rainfall.
For a longer dog-friendly bush walk, Bowen is a better alternative. On-leash dogs are allowed along the entire length of the Cape Edgecumbe Walking Track, which winds up to the rocky outcrops and lookouts in between the stunning Horseshoe Bay and Rose Bay.
There’s access points at Horseshoe Bay Beach, the end of Banyan Drive in Rose Bay and the end of Murray Bay Road. A full circuit is about 5km long, but it’s also possible to just walk part of it. I recommend at least walking up to the Rotary Lookout at Horseshoe Bay. It’s only a few hundred metres, although the final mesh ramp up to the lookout might be tricky for dogs that can’t be carried.
Dog-Friendly Parks in the Whitsundays
There’s a number of off-leash dogs parks available in the Whitsundays region. The only fenced dog park is at Wildlife Estate Park at Jubilee Park, just past Airlie Beach on the way to Shute Harbour.
However, the fenced area for dogs is quite small and only has a water tap and bowl. In the majority of the park dogs need to stay on leash, plus they are prohibited from the middle of the park around the playground.
Other off-leash dog parks include sections of Bicentennial Park and Galbraith Park in Cannonvale, Keith Johns Estate Park in Prosperine and the section of Denison Park in Bowen adjacent to Hay Street, in between Powell Street and George Street. Maps are available on the council website.
Dog-Friendly Sightseeing in the Whitsundays
While visiting the Whitsundays, some great day trip destinations to visit include Cannonvale (with its off-leash dog beach and park, plus one end of the Bicentennial Way), Hideaway Beach (with its off-leash dog beach) and Bowen (with its beautiful headland walk and off-leash dog beaches).
Another dog-friendly site to visit is Cedar Creek Falls, a 25-minute drive south of Airlie Beach, accessed along a winding road starting close to the Bruce Highway turn-off. While the waterfall usually dries up during the winter months, the pretty spot is still home to a swimming hole year round. Dogs on leash are permitted to join you.
Dog-Friendly Dining in the Whitsundays
One of the best dog-friendly cafes in the Whitsundays region is Fat Frog Beach Cafe, opposite Cannonvale Beach. Open for breakfast daily plus lunch on weekdays, they also have a section of their menu just for four-legged friends and plenty of water bowls on hand.
The cafe is also just across the road from the off-leash section of Cannonvale Beach and close to the off-leash Bicentennial Park.
Dogs are welcome at the outdoor tables at the Queens Beach Hotel in Bowen, close to the off-leash Queens Beach. Its open daily for lunch and dinner, with pub classics and a seniors menu. If visiting Horseshoe Bay in Bowen, while dogs are not allowed on the sand, the popular Horseshoe Bay Cafe opposite is dog-friendly.
Back on the Bruce Highway near Proserpine, it’s worthwhile stopping in at Whitsunday Gold Coffee. Growing their own coffee onsite, enjoy a cup of coffee hot or frappe. While dogs aren’t allowed to join you in visiting their onsite menagerie, there are two outside areas that are pet-friendly, one of which is under shelter.
Dog-Friendly Accommodation in the Whitsundays
The caravan parks in the Whitsundays region tend to be quite dog-friendly. All of the parks around Airlie Beach allow pets on at least sites, except for the BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort. At Bowen, all of the caravan parks permit pets, although the NRMA park doesn’t allow pets during peak season and school holidays.
At Airlie Beach, we stayed at the BIG4 Whitsundays Tropical Eco Resort, partially because they offered a pet sitting service onsite at the time of our stay. Halfway in between Airlie Beach and Shute Harbour, it’s a lush resort surrounded by trees, with a beautiful swimming pool and plenty of options for kids. Note that pets are no longer allowed in any of their cabins.
A pet-friendly holiday home perfect for families or groups of friends is Coastal Cottage. This three bedroom cottage is located in Cannonvale, just a short stroll from the off-leash park, beach and Fat Frog Beach Cafe. Pets are permitted inside, just not on the beds or furniture. This yard is also fully fenced.
Alternatively, a 15 minute drive out of Airlie Beach towards Proserpine is the Sunrise Hill Shouse Airbnb. This “shed house” is an affordable option that sleeps two guests. The hosts are welcoming of pets, although ask that you discuss details of your pet in advance, and a pet fee does apply. The “shed house” has a small enclosed yard, plus there’s five acres of the property to roam.