Honest Whitsundays Boat Tour Review: Ocean Rafting vs Thunder Cat

There’s two big players when choosing the best Whitsundays boat tour which are Ocean Rafting and Thunder Cat with Red Cat Adventures. But which one is better?

Having done both tours myself, I’m sharing the pros and cons of both Whitsundays day trips from Airlie Beach, so you can choose which one suits you best.

You can read my full review for each tour below if you’re interested:

Why do a Whitsundays boat tour?


If you’re staying in Airlie Beach, a Whitsunday Islands tour should 100% be on your list because this is the main reason people come to this slice of paradise in Australia. I doubt you’ll see a better beach than Whitehaven Beach from Hill Inlet Lookout.

The sublime swirling sand and ultra bright turquoise water mix through the Hill Inlet to create the most picture perfect view you’ll ever see in Australia. It really is incredible in person.

The Airlie Beach day tours are a fantastic day trip that offer you the Whitsundays highlights without having to commit to a multi-day sailing trip.

The tours also give you the freedom to see the Whitsunday Islands for the day, while having the opportunity to explore other fantastic day trips from Airlie Beach as well such as; the scenic flight (I highly recommend) and jet skiing to the fantastic off the beaten path South Molle Island.

If you’re looking for more tours, check out our Best Whitsunday Tours guide to help you plan your incredible trip!

Why consider Ocean Rafting and Thunder Cat tours?


Ocean Rafting and Thunder Cat are both very popular Whitsunday Islands boat tours because both have high speed boats meaning you’ll get to spend more time at the famous Whitsunday Island to see Whitehaven Beach than you would if you went on a sailing trip.

What do both tours offer


Both Ocean Rafting and Thundercat tours are very similar and depart from Coral Sea Marina after picking you up from your Airlie Beach accommodation, but there are some pros and cons to them.

Essentially they both head to the Whitehaven Beach lookout first and then continue with snorkelling at two spots after lunch. They both provide morning tea and afternoon tea as well. So what makes them different?

I’m sharing my personal experience about the things I noticed that were slightly different about each tour. The differences aren’t huge and I’d recommend both trips.

1. Boat ride experience


I have to say Thundercat is a much nice boat ride out to the Whitsunday Islands because it is bigger. We were protected from the rain, splashes and sun which you really need because it gets so hot in Airlie Beach.

It’s also a much more pleasant experience than the Ocean Rafting tour because you get way more room, a chance to chat to other guests and it’s a bit more chilled out.


As the Ocean Rafting boat is so much smaller, you don’t have a lot of room to store your bag and you’re essentially having to sit on the side of the boat. Because this boat goes very fast, it’s also quite loud as well so you won’t be able to talk to anyone on board while you make your way around the Whitsundays. At the end of the Ocean Rafting tour, the driver will do a few spins to end the day which is fun!

Boat ride experience winner: Thundercat

Time on boat to Hill Inlet Lookout: Ocean Rafting: 30-40 minutes // Thunder Cat: 1 hour

Check availibility for Thunder Cat Whitsundays Day Trip >

2. Hill Inlet Lookout and Whitehaven Beach experience


Just so you know, both tours don’t actually go to Whitehaven Beach. They actually take you to Hill Inlet Lookout which is opposite Whitehaven Beach. You’ll then have time to go down to Whitehaven Bay and Bettys Beach below the Hill Inlet Lookout as well.

Both tours will drop you off on the other side of the island at the starting point for the Hill Inlet climb. It takes 10 minutes to walk up to the top, but bring water and wear a hat because it gets so hot on this island, much hotter than in Airlie Beach.


Now, there is a difference between the tours once you’re on Whitsunday Island. When you get to the top, the tour guides will tell you all about the island’s history as well as stories about Whitehaven Beach and the famous 98% silica sand being the softest and finest sand in the world.

They also talk about the many movies filmed on Whitehaven beach, but you can read all about that in my Hollywood Movies Filmed In Queensland guide.

On the beach next door to Whitehaven Bay with Ocean Rafting

When you go down to Whitehaven Bay and Betty Beach, this is when the tours differ. When we did the Ocean Rafting tour, we didn’t get a chance to spend any time on this beach which is a shame because it really is amazing. We got straight onto the boat and then taken to the beach next door which is below the Hill Inlet Lookout.

Now, Ocean Rafting is the only tour in the Whitsundays that can pick you up from Whitehaven Bay because it is small enough to get into the shallow water here.

When we did the Thunder Cat tour, we were given free reign for two hours to do whatever we wanted after the talk at the top of the Hill Inlet Lookout. This means we had time to spend on the amazing beach, although to be honest I would have loved the whole day there because it really is just amazing.


The only downside to the Thunder Cat tour is we then had to trek back to the original drop off point on the other side of the island to get back onto the boat. Although it was only 10 minutes or so, I just feel a little jealous of seeing the Ocean Rafting tour pick everyone up from the beach. ‘

Hill Inlet and beach winner: Draw

Check availability for Ocean Rafting Tour >

3. Food and lunch experience


As you’ll be spending the whole day on the boat tours, obviously food comes into it and so it’s only fair I share what to expect!

Ocean Rafting do not provide food onboard unless you opt for the Fresh Tropical Lunch as an add on. At the time of writing, it costs $20 to pre-order it. Having food as an add on means the tour can be more affordable for people wanting to do a slightly cheaper tour and bring your own instead.

Ocean Rafting lunch

We ordered the food as we didn’t have time to get our own (we had rushed from Mackay to get there on time). Lunch was a chicken and noodle salad which wasn’t great to be honest. The only amazing thing about lunch time on the boat is that we got to eat it on the beach which was awesome.


On the Thunder Cat tour, lunch is provided. We were given homemade brownies not long after we got on the boat for morning tea, followed by a fresh lunch which was a buffet style sandwich, potato salad and fruit.

The only downside to lunch is that we sat on the boat floating around where we were picked up and dropped off to climb up to Hill Inlet. It wasn’t as dreamy as the Ocean Rafting lunch views but the food was ultimately way better. We were also given fresh fruit kebabs for afternoon tea at the end of the day as well.

If you want any drinks including water, you need to bring cash to buy them on both tours.

Food and lunch winner: Thundercat for food // Ocean Rafting for lunch spot

4. Snorkelling experience


You’ll spend the afternoon snorkelling at two separate spots on both tours. While snorkelling in Whitsundays isn’t as good as it used to be since Cyclone Debbie destroyed a lot of the reef a few years back, it’s worth noting that it is good for beginner snorkellers, even if you technically won’t be snorkelling in the outer Great Barrier Reef.

Both tours will take you to a coral reef and then onto a snorkelling spot to see a lot of fish. Out of the two tours, I preferred the Thunder Cat experience as we saw some massive fish in our experience. I think with the snorkelling experience, it’s more than likely depends on the day and the weather.

Snorkelling experience winner: Thundercat

5. Tour guide experience


I have to say, both our guides were fantastic on both the Ocean Rafting and Thunder Cat tours. Both had professional crew who were both friendly and good at cracking a few jokes as well. I actually couldn’t fault either and only applaud the companies for hiring good staff.

Tour guide experience winner: Both!

6. Cost


Wondering what the difference is between the cost of the Whitsundays boat tour? At the time of writing, here’s what the costs are currently looking like to do each tour.

Ocean Rafting currently charge: $194 plus $20 food and $8 for stinger/wet suits. Thundercat currently charge: $210 for an all inclusive tour (includes food and stinger/wet suits).

And by the way, if you’re visiting between October to May, it’s mandatory to wear a stinger suit because of the boxed jelly fish.

Overall winner


While both Whitsundays boat tours are fantastic fun activities, both suits all travellers. If I had to choose, I would say Ocean Rafting might be better for adventurous travellers just because you’ll be sitting on the edge of the boat, and the Thunder Cat experience is a bit more comfortable.

While eating lunch on the beach is a nicer variation than sitting on the boat, both tours are excellent.

If I had to pick a winner, I would go for Ocean Rafting for beach experience and Thunder Cat for snorkelling experience.

Whichever you choose, you’ll have a brilliant day regardless!

Check out our full reviews of both tours:

More Airlie Beach and Whitsunday guides to read


If you’re looking for more inspiration for your Whitsundays trip and more things to do in Airlie Beach, check out our popular guides below! Check out our Queensland guides page for more travel guides to help you plan your East Coast trip.

Whitsundays Boat Tour: Ocean Rafting vs Thunder Cat

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