Sailing the Whitsundays


  • Cairns – Airlie Beach
  • Airlie Beach – Whitsundays Islands
  • Whitsundays Islands – Airlie Beach

The 14-hour Greyhound bus proved to be long, tiring and a little cumbersome, but I managed it. I also bumped in to Jon, who I’d met in Wellington, along the way at Townsville so it was nice to have a familiar face when I was so tired. We were both staying at Nomads so walked up together and checked in to the same room.

Considering the long bus ride, we were desperate to get out and do something so went next door to ‘Beaches’ for a beer (or 6). They have schooners in Australia rather than pints, so it feels like you’re not drinking that much, although it isn’t actually any cheaper than a pint. We moved on from Beaches to ‘Magnums’ for the obligatory dance before calling it a night about 1am as we both had 7am check-ins for our respective boat trips the next morning.

After I had checked-in and sweat through the half hour walk to Abel Point marina, I did finally get on board ‘Hammer’, my boat for the Whitsundays 2-day sailing trip. The Whitsundays are Australia’s paradise, with over 700 islands, many housing exclusive resorts and private homes, and plenty of yachts and super yachts sailing around the idyllic spots. It also hosts part of the Great Barrier Reef and there are some incredible snorkelling spots intwined throughout the islands.

Our crew on Hammer were incredible. We had Andy as our captain, and Ellen and Lauren as crew hands. They were really enthusiastic, made delicious food and said that the conditions gave the best sail they’d had in months.

Our first stop was at Whitehaven Beach. Literally paradise in a single location. The white sand is the purest of anywhere in the world, with something like a 98% silica content (compared to 30% of normal beaches) and used to make the Hubble Telescope. At low tide, which is when we went, the inlet shows incredible sand bar patterns and we could see sting rays from the lookout point. At high tide, this inlet becomes a shark breeding zone so I’m quite thankful we missed that part!

The water was incredibly warm but we did also have to wear stinger suits in case there were harmful jellyfish around. I even went in! Some of the boat saw a small shark and other marine life but myself and Emma, a girl from the boat, just floated around a bit. I was quite impressed I even got in at all!

It had taken 3 hours to sail to Whitehaven, so once we’d explored the beach for the afternoon, we went for another sail around to Bed Cove to moor up for the night. We weren’t the only boat to do this, so I can only assume there’s a good reason behind the name of this location as it’s well sheltered.

Dinner was fab. A feast of roast chicken, vegetables, mashed potatoes, salads etc., followed by tea and coffee and lots of wine/goon. We had the music blasting and the evening spent getting to know the other 20 of us on the trip. I spent most of my evening with an American, Jake, an English girl, Lily and Scottish twins, Morgan and Megan. It started to rain at one point and the crew hands ran out of bed to put a tarpaulin up over the deck for us and then we continued with the goon. However, we were all pretty tired from the early start so the evening ended about midnight, to be countinued the next day.

We were all pretty thankful for our rest as the sleep was boiling hot in the cabin and everyone was awake when the sun came up. It was awesome to have breakfast and sit in pyjamas out on deck though and the day was proving to be another good one. Good in the sense that we were all sunburnt from day 1 and the clouds around provided a rest-bite between bursts of sunshine!

Day 2 on the boat and we had achieved so much before it was even 9am. At 7.30am we were all in our stinger suits out at Blue Pearl Bay and snorkelling in the Reef. I was super proud that there were no tears getting in the sea and thoroughly enjoyed the swim with all the fish, including nemo, and the coloured corals. The bleaching from gobal warming was really evident though and quite sad to see.

After more coffee and biscuits, we sailed around to a second snorkel location of Caves Cove. The coral here was much brighter and the animals bigger. I loved this spot so much, and even followed a turtle for around 10 minutes, mesmerised by its breathing, eating and grace in the water. I didn’t want to get out when it came to an hour and a half being up, although my prune hands, dry lips and need of drinking water meant I had to.

Lunch then followed, of quiche and salads, and we set sail back towards Airlie Beach, taking 4 hours to do so. When the boat sails, one side raises out of the water, sometimes to a 45 degree angle. Needless to say, this made us all quite nervous at times, thinking we were about to head in for an impromptu dip, along with all our belongings! After we’d overcome this fear, with slightly brown bikini bottoms, we chilled out on the high side for the journey back.

Arriving back in Airlie I checked back in to Jon’s room, to also meet Nina, Andy and Nico. They had just returned from sailing trips and, like me, had after-parties that night with their boat. Before showering and finally scrubbing my face and hair free of the salt and suncream, Jon and I head to the lagoon for a swim in the rain. This was very much welcomed following my salty 48 hours and gave Jon and I a great chance to swap Whitsundays stories.

After showering and getting ready, I headed back to ‘Beaches’ to meet everyone from my boat for dinner and drinks. It was the first time I had calamari since being away and I was in heaven! I also managed to get free drinks all night which was a welcomed addition to my evening, along with a really good live musician playing some classics for us to dance to! We finished off the evening with a rendition of Robbie’s “Angels” and then I took myself off to bed, fighting through the heavens that had opened whilst we were out.

I was meant to have a rearranged skydive this day but typically, the universe didnt want me to and the heavens remained open (actually for the majority of the day they did). However, I did bump in to Dan again and we made a plan to meet up later in the day. First on the agenda though was breakfast!

Andy, Nico, Nina, Jon and myself all went in search of a nice cafe and stumbled upon somewhere with a great brunch menu. Although a tad above backpacker budget, my ciabatta with pesto, avocado, tomato, bacon and egg went down an absolute storm, especially following the skydive cancellation.

From brunch, we grabbed our towels and head to the lagoon to chill out for the day. The weather meant that not much could be done other than swim in the pool and it proved to be very pleasant, with Dan and his roommates coming to join the party. We spent most of our day here, eating, playing cards, listening to music, and about 5.30pm, Dan and I went off for a quick spot of shopping before we went back to get ready.

I had a 9pm bus so packed up all my stuff and put on my pyjama outfit and went out to meet everyone for dinner. This night I opted for steak; another meal that really hit a spot. I said some sad goodbyes, as I’d really loved the company of this group and my time in Airlie, and then Jon helped me with my stuff to the bus stop (and it rained on him whilst walking back – oops!).

I can’t say I was looking forward to the 10 hours on the bus and definitely not when I’d enjoyed my time in Airlie so much and didn’t want that to end. Sadly it had to and I’m already aware that I want to return to Australia and spend more time in these locations when I have some extra dollar!!

So, 42 days in to ‘life from a bag’ and so far, so sunburnt, salty and an accomplished sailor.

Gabby x

P.S. How have I been away for 42 days already!

P.P.S. Countdown to Em is 5 days and to Gina and Kit is 12. Eeeeeee!!


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