Sailing the Whitsundays – A Getaway in Paradise
I have just spent a fabulous week on a catamaran in the Whitsunday Islands.
My four fellow travellers and I had a great experience. Let me tell you about it so that firstly I may give you some ideas for your next holiday, and secondly you may learn from what we learnt.
Where are the Whitsundays?
The Whitsunday Islands (or the Whitsundays for short) are a chain of islands in the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Proserpine in Queensland. Proserpine is in sugarcane growing territory and is serviced by three airlines with an hour’s flight from Brisbane. Proserpine is about 20km inland from the coast, and it has two main coastal ports – Shute Harbour and Airlie Beach.
After a planned grocery and booze shopping expedition we picked up our catamaran at Airlie Beach. Because we arrived fairly late in the day, we stayed on the yacht at the dock for the first night and dined at the local pub and restaurant. The next morning we had a very comprehensive familiarisation of the yacht so that we felt confident we could get around on it for a week by ourselves. There was a lot to learn about bilge pumps, anchors, fridges and GPS systems. We set sail around 11am.
Well I say “set sail”, but as the boat’s insurance didn’t cover us sailing it, we were under motor all week. This was fine because it was a big 4 cabin yacht and would have been quite difficult for us to sail as amateurs.
For 7 days we sailed, swam, snorkelled, supped and snoozed our way around the Whitsundays. We cooked our own meals in a well-appointed kitchen which had two fridges and a freezer. The yacht had 4 cabins each with a double berth. Each cabin had its own en-suite bathroom, or “head” in sailing parlance. There were two big water tanks on board which provided all the fresh water we needed for drinking, washing and cooking. The water was supplied through taps via electric pumps.
The March fly season had come late this year, because the rains had come late. March flies are harmless, but if they land on you and stay long enough to puncture your skin they can hurt, feeling something like a vaccination needle. On land and when anchored close to land they were very annoying. The tip is to take plenty of personal insect repellent spray and a fly swatter. There wasn’t much left of the fly swatter by the end of the week. Any Buddhist in me went out the window with those pesky things. Good to know they’re seasonal.
What to see in the Whitsundays
Apart from that annoyance, everything was most enjoyable. We went to places like Stonehaven, Butterfly Bay, Tongue Bay, Nara Inlet and Blue Pearl Bay. We saw unspoilt islands such as Whitsunday, Hook, and Hayman. They were covered in lush vegetation and pine trees. We saw amazing wildlife like eagles, giant green sea turtles, dolphins, tuna, eels, squid, wrasse and Zebra, Parrot, Rainbow, Surgeon and Butterfly Fish. We saw waving in the currents coral that was amazing in its variety of colours and shapes. The sunsets were stunning.
In some places we moored at the public moorings available, but if they were all taken we would drop anchor for the night. A rule of thumb is that the more exposed a mooring is, the more likely that it will be a rougher stay. So places directly exposed to the prevailing north-easterly winds at the time, like Butterfly Bay, provided a rough overnight stay whereas place protected from that, such as well into Nara Inlet, were peaceful and calm.
We had a rubber dingy hoisted on to the back of the boat and this allowed us to go on little explorative sorties around where we had moored each afternoon.
Snorkelling the Whitsundays
The snorkelling was best when it was low tide. If we did it when it was high tide we could swim over areas that we thought were devoid of anything interesting. That was because we couldn’t see the bottom. The same areas at low tide revealed incredible sights. We wore neck-to-toe stinger suits when snorkelling to protect us from any possible run-ins with box jelly fish or irukandji. Incidents are rare, though, and when swimming off the back of the boat we didn’t bother wearing them.
If you like everything done for you on a holiday, this isn’t for you. But if you’re a bit more adventurous, I can thoroughly recommend the Whitsundays as a great escape. We hired our catamaran through Whitsunday Escape. Planetdwellers can look after all your travel bookings and yacht hire.
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- Plan your meals in advance and shop only for what you need, as you have limited fridge and storage space. The same goes for drinks. It’s worth grabbing an extra cooler bin and some blocks of ice at Airlie Beach.
- Take lots of sunscreen and remember the insect repellent. Take a wide-brimmed hat that secures under your chin so it doesn’t blow overboard. Get one of those chains or ropes with the rubber loop ends to secure your sunglasses for the same reason.
- Study the charts well each day before heading off. Check the weather and the tides. Keep your eye on the depth sounder and GPS screens at all times when moving.
- Snorkelling is best at low tide.