Sailing Australia’s Whitsunday Islands
Updated: Apr 29, 2020
I remember the first photo I ever saw of the Whitsunday Islands. It was taken from the Hill Inlet Lookout and it literally looked like one of the desktop photos that come preloaded onto iPhones and new computers.
Snow-white sand, emerald blue water swirled with lighter and darker shades of aquamarine. Flawless, untouched beauty. To actually be able to visit there seemed a distant dream.
Of course, when I booked my tour up the East Coast of Australia a visit to the legendary Whitsunday Islands was a major highlight for me.
The Whitsunday Islands are a collection of 74 dreamy paradise islands protected by the Great Barrier Reef making them ideal for sailing. They’re home to the famous Whithaven Beach where the sand is pure silicon and so gentle you can brush your teeth with it.
Getting to Airlie Beach: To get to the Whitsundays we took an overnight train from Rockhampton to Proserpine and arrived bright and early. From Proserpine we took a bus about 30 minutes to Airlie Beach.
I am not sure what I was expecting from Airlie Beach but to be honest there really isn’t much there. I don’t think I saw one local, it was really just the pick-up and drop-off point for backpackers and other tourists looking to get to the Whitsundays. At the end of March Cyclone Debby hit Queensland pretty hard and wiped out a lot of Airlie Beach and the Whitsunday area. Even though it’s been nearly two months since the cyclone the Airlie Beach lagoon was closed and so were many of the hostels and shops in the area.
Where to Stay: We stayed at Nomads which is joined with Base (they’re essentially the same hostel in Airlie) and it was 100% the nicest Nomads we’ve stayed at along the coast so far. It’s huge and the group rooms are clean with lots of natural light and have ensuite bathrooms. We opted for a private room and it was GIGANTIC. I’m talking a walk in closet, mini kitchen, full ensuite and a king bed.
The on-site bar, Shed Bar, had a great vibe and was one of our favorite nights out so far in Australia. It’s outdoors with live music and centrally located.
Ok, now on to the real reason you’re here… THESE ISLANDS THO.
There are LOADS of different options for exploring the Whitsundays but the most popular is to sign on for an overnight boat tour so you really get the most of your time at this paradise.
What Boat to Take: Lewis and I worked with Explore Whitsundays Sailing. We spent 2 days and 2 nights aboard the Boomerang, an 85 foot Italian racing sailboat. There are many, many different choices of boats to take and all seem to have a little something different about them. There’s the legendary Atlantic Clipper which is known as the party boat. It can hold 53 people and has a waterslide and big decks for partying. The Boomerang, Broomstick, and British Defender are all sailboats that can hold 28 passengers and 3 staff. They’re slightly more chilled out and tend to have a good mix of partying and just hanging out. The vibe on the Boomerang was perfect for us: Great music all day long, during the day people just hung out, chatted and relaxed and in the evenings we played drinking games…nothing too wild.
Tip: If you’ll be visiting the Whitsundays during the summer months (November – February) take a look at the British Defender as it’s one of the only ones with Air Con, and trust me, you’ll want it.
Packing: You don’t need to bring much with you for the trip, you’ll basically spend the 48 hours in your swimsuit. We left our big bags in storage at Nomads and packed up smaller daypacks with swimwear, towels, pajamas and one or two outfits. Showering wasn’t really an option on the boat so I wish I had saved some space and left my shampoo and conditioner behind. Alcohol isn’t sold on the boat so anything you want to drink you should buy at Airlie beforehand. Glass bottles weren’t allowed so stick to Goon or tinnies of beer. I also would recommend stocking up on some liter bottles of water because although the water from the taps on the boat was safe to drink but it tasted kind of weird. If you’ve got a battery pack for you phone or camera charger be sure to bring that because there aren’t many outlets on the boat either.
We met our group at 1:30pm at Abell Point Marina, about 5 minute walk from Nomads and set off on our adventure!
Captain Max, Deckhand Vince, and Host Jacqui were an awesome crew, super laid-back and fun people… how could they not be with a job like theirs?
Fresh fruit and chocolate cake were our snacks on arrival after we picked our beds and changed into our swimsuits. Beds are tiny so really try not to bring anything more than the necessities with you when you’re packing.
The sail went up straight out of the Marina, music on and drinks on deck for the afternoon. We sailed to our first destination: Tongue Bay, where we’d anchor and spend the night.
I LOVED that we didn’t have cell service during the majority of the trip. Only Lewis and I and two other pairs on our boat knew each other prior to the trip and without WiFi we all quickly got to know each other and got on really well. We were so lucky to have such a great group for our tour.
For dinner on the first evening we had grilled chicken, Thai green curry, salad and rice.
The next day we woke up early and headed straight to the Hill Inlet Lookout for this view:
After snapping a few (hundred) photos we hoped back on the boat to sail up to Whitehaven Beach to spend a few hours chilling there.
The sand at Whitehaven is pure silicon and it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. You can brush your teeth with it! But it’s also an excellent exfoliant and can even polish jewelry. I used it on my Cape Cod bracelets which were a bit weathered from all the travel and they shined right up! You’re not allowed to take any sand from the beach but trust me I definitely would have if you were.
Irukandji jellyfish are a problem in Northern Queensland so anytime we went in the water we had to wear stinger suits just to be on the safe side but your boat will provide those for you.
After a few hours on Whitehaven we boarded the boat again to sail around to a snorkeling spot. Literally hundreds of shiny blue and yellow fish surrounded you as soon as you jumped into the water. Deckhand Vince drove around us on the tender tossing out fish food so that even more would come for a visit.
There were a few different opportunities onboard the trip to help Vince and Max out with the sailing. They were happy to have you help steer the boat as well as helping put up and take down the sail.
Or you can just pose like your sailing and take a really cool photo…
That evening we hopped off the boat again to have drinks and watch the sunset from a small island. The most beautiful shells were washed up along the shore and I strolled along the sand with my wine in hand collecting handfuls of swirly conch shells, puka shells and bits of coral.
Dinner the second night was a spaghetti bolognese with salad and garlic bread.
On our final morning we got up early again and made the most of our last few hours on the boat. We were anchored at Luncheon Bay and had the chance for another snorkel or to swing off the boat on a makeshift rope swing consisting of a buoy attached to a line hanging from the 110 foot main mast. Amazing.
The 48 hours we spent on the boat were some of the most memorable of my trip to Australia so far! You can’t miss the opportunity to visit this amazing site. We didn’t have the best weather during our trip but honestly it didn’t even really matter. The experience of sleeping on a yacht for the first time, helping to sail and exploring one of the most beautiful beaches in the world was absolutely unforgettable!
Have you visited the Whitsundays? Did you love it? Let me know what you think!
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Thank you for a great experience Explore Whitsundays Sailing, all opinions are my own.