KATE DESCRIBES HER RECENT VISIT TO THE WHITSUNDAY ISLANDS
and Susan adds a suggested itinerary based on her charter there.
Situated just off of Australia’s Eastern coast, the spectacular Whitsunday Islands are becoming an increasingly popular cruising ground for yacht charterers.
They are quite dissimilar in appearance to any other part of Australia, rising dramatically out of the water and making an unforgettable impression on all who view them.
As part of a National Park, the islands and surrounding reefs are beautiful and have remained relatively untouched. The Whitsunday’s are made up of over seventy islands, most of which are uninhabited and covered with lush rainforests.
You will find one of the most beautiful beaches in the world here, the stunning Whitehaven Beach, which has been deemed “Heaven on Earth” by locals. It’s pure white, silky sand stretches for over six kilometers and is offset by turquoise water and the surrounding islands. It is an incredibly romantic place and often the site of marriage proposals. Whitehaven is an essential destination for those who charter in the Whitsunday’s, but try to go early in the morning to ensure that you can enjoy the beach in privacy.
Another great thing to do while there, is to walk up to the Whitehaven lookout, which offers unparalleled, panoramic views of the beach and the beautiful, sand streaked inlet.
If you have time, charter a seaplane to get a fantastic aerial view of the islands and see the famed Heart Reef. Afterwards, celebrate your flight with champagne poured by your pilot on the beach!
While in the Whitsunday’s you must visit the spectacular Great Barrier Reef, which has a breathtaking array of marine wildlife and coral. Take advantage of the numerous boat trips available out to the Reef and experience for yourself the world-renowned diving and snorkeling that the area has to offer. There are an innumerable amount of reefs, bays and inlets to discover by yourself or let your knowledgeable crew take you to the best places.
Should you wish to get back on dry land for awhile, several of the islands have nice resorts, along with great spas and restaurants. Hamilton Island is the most developed and offers an array of shopping, dining, entertainment as well as an airport.
The close proximity of the islands, easy navigability and access to both pristine nature and all the comforts of civilization make the Whitsunday’s ideal for both bareboat and crewed charters.
Charterers can either fly into Hamilton Island to meet their boat or take a bus into Airlie Beach, a small town known as the gateway to the Whitsunday’s, which offers a full range of accommodations, restaurants and plenty of nightlife.
Susan describes her bareboat charter in The Whitsundays
We were only in The Whitsundays for 5 days, so we chose to limit our cruise to the Northern part of the cruising area which included the North Side of Hamilton Island, Whitsunday Island, and Hook Island. We had a chart and boat briefing in the morning and left the base around noon. The winds were southerly so we had a nice reach up to an anchorage on the northwest shore of Whitsunday Island. We were not expecting the unique combination of a rocky coast with pine trees much like Maine, in a tropical climate with coral reefs and great snorkeling. The water was cold (by Caribbean standards) and we only had rash guards which limited our time in the water.
The next morning we sailed up the western side of Hook Island, through the passage between Hayman Island and Hook Island. We were lucky to find an empty mooring in Butterfly Bay. There was a fairly strong current running so we decided to use the dinghy as a mobile platform for snorkeling around the perimeter of the bay. The coral was secular; the cold water resulted in bright colors and large expanses of healthy coral of all types.
We were not allowed to overnight on the mooring, so we sailed back around to the northwest side of Hook Island and anchored in a cove that was protected from the southeast winds. The next day we decided to cut through the passage on the south side of hook island to explore the eastern side of the islands. We beat down the west side of Hook Island into a strong breeze. When we reached the passage there was a strong current so we had to motor until we reached open water east of the islands. After we put up the sails, we had a fun sail to windward. As we rounded the eastern end of Whitsunday island we spotted a pair of whales swimming on the surface. We slowed down to watch until they headed north out of view. We continued on to the southeast side of Whitsunday Island, found the passage through the reef and anchored off Whitehaven Beach - one of the most beautiful beaches in Australia. The beach is 6 km of pure white sand with crystal clear water. We spent the evening and most of the next day enjoying the beach.
The next day we sailed around the south side of Whitsunday Island and through the passage on the north side of Hamilton Island. We had to return to the base the next day to catch the ferry back to Airlie Beach so we decided to anchor at Nara Inlet on the south side of Whitsunday Island. Nara Inlet is a popular anchorage for the first or last day of the trip. We went ashore at the north end of the inlet and followed the walking trail to Aboriginal paintings in a cave part way up the hill. We stopped and enjoyed the view from look out points along the way.
We ended our trip with a short sail back to the base on the last morning. Unfortunately we did not get a chance to explore all of the other islands in the area including the Molle Island group on the western side of the passage.
Due to the large tidal range, we found navigating and sailing in the Whitsundays a bit more challenging than the BVIs but nothing that we couldn't handle and the spectacular scenery and snorkeling plus the excitement of an exotic destination made it worth while. Our family looks forward to returning and exploring more of the cruising area.
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