The Whitsunday Islands are legendary. And for good reason – easy access to the Great Barrier Reef, white sandy beaches, lush rainforest, palm trees swaying in the light sea breeze as you get your tan on…not to mention the fact that the silica sands of Whitehaven and the other beaches make even the pastiest of Irish skins look moderately tanned!
The best way to see the islands is on an overnight tour. Yes, you could probably see the main sights in a day, but if you have the time (and cash), the extra hours of an overnighter means you can do it all at a more relaxed pace. The vast majority of companies operate out of Airlie Beach, a small tourist town full of backpackers and bars right on the water. One huge advantage of booking an overnight tour is that some of the hostels will give you a free night’s accommodation or two when you book with them. Major bonus if you live in your car!
Leaving early in the morning, our beautiful sailing boat, the SV Whitehaven, set off from Airlie Beach out into the Pacific. Unfortunately for us, the weather was so calm that we managed to get the sails up for about an hour in total over the two days. Oh well, you can’t really complain about good weather, now can you? Four staff and twenty travellers, backpackers all, we motor out through the flat waters to our first stop. Day one is our snorkel and kayak day. Dave the skipper knows all the best spots to explore the reef, and we make it to two different spots during the course of the day, as well as a kayak in the bay of a small island in the north of the archipelago. Excitement abounds when first a sea turtle, then a manta ray, pop up to say hello. When in the water, I just can’t believe I’m actually looking at the Great Barrier Reef. How many times have I wished for this in my life? And now it’s happening! Real coral, with beautiful rainbow-coloured fish darting around. It’s truly incredible.
Now, being a backpacker, I’ve learned not to expect wonders from tour food. But the meals aboard the SV Whitehaven were on a whole different level. I’m a fussy eater, just ask anyone who knows me, but I couldn’t get enough of the vegetarian thai green curry the cook whipped up for me. My mother would be so proud! And there was so much fruit, the twenty four of us could hardly get through it. After dinner, Dave takes us all to the front of the boat, moored next to yet another one of the 74 islands in the group. The sky is incredibly clear, the Milky Way shimmering overhead. Dave is extremely knowledgeable about all things astronomy and regales us with wonderful tales of the constellations above us. It’s a perfect way to end a great day in the Whitsunday Islands.
Day two is the more relaxed day, if you could even call the previous day’s experiences anything other than relaxing! I get up early (another shocker for those who know me) to watch the sun rise across the water as we motor quietly along to our destination for the day: Whitsunday Island, the largest in the group, and the location of the world-famous Whitehaven Beach. You know the iconic photos of that Australian beach with the swirly patterns of white sand against blue water? Yeah, that one. When we get to the lookout above the beach, the tide is high, so some of the streaks of sand are submerged, but you can still make out the pattern in the shades of blue below. Having reached the beach, I can’t believe how brown I look next to the stark white sand! The water is turquoise blue and warm. What else are you going to do but read a book on the sand before jumping in for a cooling dip? Not a bad way to spend a morning. Unfortunately, our time goes too quickly, and too soon we’re summoned back to the boat. Everyone is smiling as we make our way back into Airlie Beach that afternoon.
A sailing tour of the Whitsunday Islands should be on everyone’s bucket list, and is well worth the money. Plus, if you go with the SV Whitehaven, prepare yourself for the afterparty that evening back in port!
Have you been to the Whitsundays? What did you think? Or do you long to go, as I did? Tell me!
If the Whitsunday Islands have been added to your bucket list, why not pin this post?
Welcome to This Wild Life of Mine (previously known as Life of Dearbh)
When a love of travel meets a passion for wildlife…
I’m a zoologist who explores the world while working for conservation organisations. I write about my experiences in the hope of inspiring others to follow their dreams and see the beauty of this earth – in a responsible and ethical way.