SAILING THE WHITSUNDAY ISLANDS
After my long, sleepless bus journey on the freezing cold Greyhound coach, I arrived in Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsundays Islands and a lively backpacker hub. In an attempt to give the Airlie Beach party scene a go, I caught dinner and a drink at Down-Under Bar and then shared a jug of beer at a backpacker bar named Beaches with an american girl form my dorm room. Backpacker bars and night clubs lined the main street, all offering cheap meals and drink deals – which we tooka advantage of. We returned for an early night as I was headed on a 2-day/3-night boat trip on the Whitsundays in the morning.
Day 1 – Setting Sail
Early the next morning, with my bags packed and ready, I headed to reception for the 7:30 briefing and boat check-in. I soon made my way to Abel Point Marina, where the Samurai was docked.
Arriving at Abel Point Marina, we met our three man Aussie crew – Mat, the captain, Shaun and Chase, the dive guide. The seventeen or so passengers were made up of some Englishman, a couple Germans, two Welch couples, a Scottish girl and, as usual, I was the only South African.
Once on board the Samurai, we were allocated beads bellow deck – a tight squeeze with many people sharing ‘double’ beds which looked more like singles. The 68ft racing yacht had been refitted in 2010 into a passenger sailing boat to carry 20 guests and crew.
By 10 am we were on the water and cruzing out into the ocean. All the guests soon got dressed into their bikinis and ‘boardies’ and began soaking up the sunshine. The crew then got some male volunteers together to drop the sails whilst three of us girls pulled up the second, smaller one. We were then officially sailing the Whitsundays.
After lunch we headed to Blue Pearl Bay to a snorkel and dive. The beach floor was made up of dead, white coral which was painful to walk or lay-down on, but beautiful in contrast to the turquoise coloured ocean.
We snorkelled the beautiful, fish-filled reef for several hours as we took turns to scuba dive. They held introductory dives for first time divers and offered longer dives for “certs”. The snorkel was incredible except that, at one point, I saw a passenger from another boat stand up on the coral reef as she adjusted her mask, oblivious to the damage that she was doing when I confronted her.
Some two hours later, after spending some time snorkelling and lazing on the rugged beach, I had my turn to dive. We explored the reef, but the visibility got worse the deeper we went. The coral was beautiful and there was loads to see, but I was rather disappointed as the dive only lasted a short 30 minutes.
Back on the boat, we headed out in search of a spot to anchor for the night and watch the sunset. Once anchored, we watched and drank beers, ciders or goon as the sun set behind a thick layer of clouds, which detracted only fractionally from its beauty.
When it was time for bed, many people decided to sleep on deck, to escape the heat below and to avoid sharing beds. I was lucky to get my own bed, but once I climbed into it, it felt hot and smelt dam. I considered heading to the deck, but after camping on Fraser Island (see Staying Dingo Safe) and spending the next night on an overnight bus, I opted for a bed. I stuck my earplugs in and closed my eyes.
I woke up at 1:30am drenched from the humidity and heat. I climbed out of bed and headed to the deck for some fresh air. The deck was covered in bodies wrapped up in white sheets, all napping under the stars. The ground looked hard and pretty packed, so I rather returned to my bed down below.
Day 2 – A Visit to Paradise
I woke up at 6:30 as people moved passed my bed to get their morning breakfast. We had a choice of cereals and some bread with a selection of spreads and coffee. We ate while the boat made its way to our first dive and snorkel site. We were all given the opportunity to dive for another time if we wanted to pay the extra $60. I declined as the visibility wasn’t any better today and in some cases the snorkelling was often better. We were in the water by 7:30 after Captain Matt said that the first one in would get breakfast in bed the next morning and a kiss from the captain (i.e. him) as he jokingly edged the boys to hurry.
We saw many massive fish – I am admittedly very new to the world below and can’t tell you their name. After our snorkel, we headed to another location located on the edge of Whitsunday Island. We got our cameras and pack a bag with water. To get us off the sail boat and into the rubber dingy as quickly as possible, the captain would tell everyone that only good-looking people were allowed in the first boat to the island and ugly people had to go in the second boat – I am not convinced that it worked.
Whilst on the boat, headed to the beach, we spotted a turtle and a few stingrays in the calm, clear water below. On the island, we investigated the uncommonly explored part of the island, looking for rock pools to bath in. Captain Matt found a small one further up the creek where a few of us joined him for a dip.
We spotted some massive spiders in the forest, making D very eager to return to the beach.
After our little adventure, we anchored the boat in the bay and enjoyed sausages, pasta and bean salad for lunch. We then continued toward Whitsunday National Park and ferried to Whitsunday Island on the little rubber dingy. We stopped on the beach along with a number of other tourists from other boats before heading up to the lookout over Whitehaven Beach. From the lookout we admired the jaw-dropping view of one of the best beaches in the world.
We then made our way down to the pure white, fine-grained sand that made up Whitehaven Beach. The sand was made of 93% pure silica and the waters were crystal clear. We put on our stinger suits and headed for the water. The water was a lot less refreshing whilst in a full length wetsuit, but rather that than get stung by the box-jellyfish that roam these waters.
After swimming and relaxing on the beach, I went to explored the beach and found a school of crabs scurrying across the beach floor.
Our boat came to collect us at 4pm from the beach and by this time we were all ready to go – to leave paradise to get some shade.
The Samurai moved to a new location, next to a small island to watch the sunset. One of the crew members asked for four volunteers to join him on a secret mission and they all hopped in the small rubber dingy and headed for the island.
Once they arrived back aboard and we had supper – barbequed steak with boiled potatoes and steamed veggies – and a few drinks, whilst we watched the beautiful, unobstructed sunset across the ocean. Once darkness had fallen, we all set off on a secret mission before returning to go to bed.
Day 3 – Returning to Airlie Beach
The last day on the sailing trip began with breakfast on deck – the same as the day before – and after ‘brekkie’ we snorkelled the surrounding area which had with very little to see, so I passed the time making artworks in the seabed bellow, before returning to the boat. We had brunch at 10 am whilst on our way back to Airlie Beach – bacon and eggs. We stopped for one last swim just off another one of the islands. The beach was made up of both coral and coloured rocks.
After our swim we returned to deck and continued to ‘top-up’ our tans as the boat made its way back to Abel Point Marina. I napped and relaxed like I had for most of the trip and by 1pm we were docked in the marina and saying our goodbyes.
Sailing the Whitsundays was an amazingly experience and a great way to explore the Whitsundays Islands and to experience life at sea. The food was great and the snorkelling even better – besides the last day. The whole experience has made me very excited for my trip to the Great Barrier Reef in a few weeks time. I would definitely recommend taking the time to spend the night on one of the sail boats as the sunsets over the bay and the stars at night were worth it alone.