Most are familiar with the “East Coast trail” of Australia, taking a 4×4 off the beaten track or the road trip along the notorious Great Ocean Road. But there are even better ways to discover the beautiful nature and coast of Australia. Exploring the Whitsunday Islands by boat, will give you an unforgettable experience of your Australian East Coast holiday. Sailing experience is required, but the conditions and services in this region make it very accessible for the less experienced sailors.
You may think that sailing at sea requires you to take many sailing courses up front and that skipper licensing is required, but this is not always the case. Some regions, like the Whitsunday Islands, are easy regions to sail due to the line of sight navigation, moderate and predictable wind conditions and easy anchoring. The region itself offers access to very diverse wildlife, big game fishing and diving and snorkeling in the most beautiful waters and reefs.
Are you convinced? Than join the happy few that have discovered this way of exploring a part of Australia and start off with the preparations.
Depending on your place of residence, Australia could be a long journey for those coming from other continents. The fun all starts with the preparations, consisting of:
- Booking a ticket to Australia, preferably to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane or Cairns
- From there, book a ticket to Hamilton Island airport with Qantas, Virgin Australia or Jetstar (these all fly to Hamilton Island)
- Rent a bareboat sailing yacht from Hamilton Island (Sunsail seems to be the only charter company here). Alternatively you can depart from Shute harbor, although this is a less attractive starting point and is not treated in this blog
- Make sure you have at least 5 days or 100 miles of sailing experience and make sure you have a co-skipper with some experience (3 days) and knows how to handle the VHF radio
- Download the Moorspots app on your phone, to find the best anchorages and marinas in the region or visit https://www.moorspots.com
- Buy protective swimwear (stinger suit) against blue bottles, or Portuguese man o’ war, the Irukandji and box jellyfish. These can cause severe reactions when stung and live in these areas in the warmer seasons. The benefit of such a suit is, that it also protects against a sunburn.
Arriving at Hamilton Island airport is an experience on itself, as the island is almost too small for a decent runway and therefore it is stretched a little into the sea, beyond the natural coastline of the island. Once you have left the airplane, there is no real terminal building, but just an outdoor baggage belt under a protective roof. The relaxing therefore starts at the airport, where you can be picked up by a golf buggy to escort you to the Hamilton Island marina. Walking there is also possible as it’s right next to the airport.
Once arrived at the marina, you can start your check in, where the charter company will give you instructions on how to use your boat and make sure you will be able to find everything on board. Next, starts the provisioning exercise, whereby groceries can be obtained right next to the marina. Do not worry about having insufficient provisions, as provisions can even be delivered to you by a speedboat during your week at sea. Just radio (VHF) in your needs and these will be delivered to you at your anchoring position. Most sailing yachts are equipped with an on-deck gas BBQ, so buy some food to grill or make sure to practice your fishing skills.
Starting your sailing trip – suggested itinerary
The charter staff can help you make a good route planning, based on the weather. However, the charter staff doesn’t know what destinations attract you and therefore we recommend that you download the Moorspots app or visit https://www.moorspots.com to find the best spots in the region. To inspire you, the following itinerary could just be your next sailing route.
Day 1 – Cid harbor, Whitsunday island
When you leave the homeport, the staff usually offers to sail the boat out of the marina for you. The charter staff will guide your yacht past the airstrip and make sure no landing or taking off of airplanes will endanger you. After leaving you safely at sea, the guest skipper will abandon your yacht via the dinghy that has been accompanying you and your all off by yourselves. The first destination is north to a place called Cid harbor. This is a large natural harbor, offering protection from all winds when anchored here. Keep a close look out for dugongs which you will see wondering around the ocean floor or take your dinghy to the shore and see the rock wallabies colonies.
Day 2 – Nara inlet, Hook Island
After a relaxing night of sleep in Cid harbor, it’s time to travel a little further north and enter the southern inlet of Hook Island. There are two inlets here, so make sure you have the one located west , which is Nara inlet. Take your yacht all the way up the inlet and drop anchor there, where you will be protected from winds by the surrounding hills.
The bay has beautiful colored turquoise waters which might trick you in staying on your yacht. But going ashore will treat you on a beautiful hiking trail, along cultural sites and cave art. While you’re hiking, you will hear some noises around you of moving animals in the grass. Don’t fear them, as these are lizards looking for places to hide and rest in the heat.
Day 3 – Stonehaven bay, Hook Island
Sail out of the Nara inlet to the south and take a turn to starboard (right, for those non-sailors) and head up along Hook Island to Stonehaven bay. On your way there, you will find a small island or atoll with a long stretched white sandy beach, called Langford Island. This is a great stop for lunch, but will not provide you sufficient protection for the night, so head further north to drop anchor in Stonehaven bay. In the distance, you might see some seaplanes landing at Hayman Island Resort.
Day 4 – Butterfly bay, Hook Island
Head up to the north of Hook Island and anchor in the Butterfly bay. Again a well protected bay and some stunning views. Going ashore will treat you to the view of some beautiful bays. Also check the waters and you might spot some manta rays and giant Maori wrasse.
Day 5 – Tongue bay, Whitsunday Island
Your next stop will be Tongue bay and Hill Inlet. These places have been the sceneries for some famous movies, like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and Fool’s Gold. In these waters, you might see some turtles swimming around your yacht. Hiking up the hill will treat you on some amazing views over the beaches and sea.
Day 6 – Whitehaven beach, Whitsunday Island
This is a must-see-destination, Whitehaven beach, with its incredibly white sand beaches and long stretch along the coast. Although there is little protection from winds other than south or west, it is worthwhile stopping here, if the conditions allow you to. Take a long walk along the beach and feel the white sand stay cool, even on the sunniest days.
Day 7 – Hamilton Island Marina, Whitsunday Island
Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. It is time to head back to the marina from which you started. When approaching the Hamilton Island Marina, radio the charter staff and request them to moor your boat in the marina. This will make sure your holiday ends well and no accidents occur on your last day, while crossing the landing zone of the airplanes or while mooring after many days of anchoring.
Although the above is an example itinerary, it gives you an insight in the wealth of nature that you can find while sailing along the east coast of Australia. A unique experience that is certainly different than the standard travels along the coasts of Australia. And it’s not as difficult to undertake as you might think. Join the world of the sailing community and enjoy travels from the water!