The Whitsunday islands are one of those places that appear on almost everyone’s east coast of Australia travel bucket list.
A group of 74 islands that lie slap bang in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef and is home to one of the world’s best beaches? Yeah, no wonder over 200,000 people visit this breathtakingly beautiful place each year.
Yet with so many different options of how to explore this stunning landscape how do you decide the which will give you the adventure that you are looking for? From day trips, Hamilton Island stays to 2/3 day boat tours there is something to suit every type of personality, budget and timeframe.
While many people will say that a day trip is all you really need to see the Whitsundays, all this really affords you is the chance to see Whitehaven beach. If that is all you wish to see then great, book yourself onto one of the many day-tripping tours.
However, I chose to stay a little longer, 2 nights on the Avatar Trimaran boat to be precise. Here’s why.
You get to see more
Yes, a little bit of an obvious point. However, when you pick an overnight tour then you’re giving yourself that bit more time to really explore the Whitsundays.
I mean there are 74 islands, how can you really say you’ve seen the Whitsundays from just a day trip.
Even after a few days sailing around I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface.
As we sailed past the some of the Islands I couldn’t help but wonder just what secrets each place holds and if anyone had ever made it up to the summits of the peaks to take in what must be some unreal views. Perhaps on another trip, I will get to find out.
You get to sleep on a boat
If like me, you’re a relative newbie to the whole sailing thing then the chance to sleep on a boat is a pretty exciting thing. I’d seen enough tv programs to know that boats have very limited space and so I was really looking forward to experiencing the whole living in close proximity thing.
What I was not expecting was that I wouldn’t be sleeping in the main hull of the boat but in one of the outrigger hulls.
In each of the outrigger hulls, there were 3 “double” bed pods. These pods were accessed from above through what can only be described as boat manhole covers. Closed during the day they kept the pod dry but left open during the night to allow us to breathe.
The inside of the pods were small in every dimension. I, at 5”6 could not fully stretch out when laying down so how the much taller guys managed I have no idea.
Then there was the height issue.
Sat in the area with the access hole the top of the boat was at my eye level. Yes that is right if the top was shut there was definitely no way you were going to be sitting up.
Despite this, it was actually kinda cosy and didn’t get cold at all during the night. Plus, having your own little pod (albeit shared with a friend) gave you that extra bit of privacy that those who were in the main hull just didn’t seem to have.
For me, the chance to sleep on a boat was as much part of my Whitsundays adventure as all the things we did during the day.
It’s a great way to make friends
You could be in the worst place in the world but if you’re surrounded by an awesome group of people then it just doesn’t matter.
If you’re travelling the east coast or just visiting the Whitsundays, spending a few days stuck aboard a boat is one of the quickest ways of making a whole bunch of new friends.
With no signal preventing people from constantly staring at their phones, you are pretty much left with no other option of talking to people. I can pretty much guarantee that there will be at least one other traveller on board and us travellers are a friendly bunch.
Plus after a couple of weeks, you pretty much have perfected the traveller conversation starter kit.
It goes something along the lines of,
“Hi, I’m (insert your name) nice to meet you. Wait for reply. Where are you from/where did you travel from today (other similar questions are acceptable)?
Anyway, by the time we got to our first snorkel spot I had met at least 5 people that I didn’t know.
Sharing the whole experience with a group of friends (even if you’ve only known them for 20 mins) makes those memories so much greater than if it was just you on the boat with the crew.
Then there’s the after boat experience.
I’m not just talking about the post-tour night out.
If like me you take in the awesomeness that is the Whitsundays as part of an east coast trip then the chances are you will see at least some of those new friends from the boat as you continue your journey north or south. I actually ended up travelling a fair chunk of the east coast with one friend I had made. Just because we had coincidentally booked the same places at the same time!
Whitehaven beach – empty
Need I say more?
One of the biggest pros for doing an overnight sailing tour of the Whitsundays is that you can get moor up the boat the night before. Get up early and be on the world famous Whitehaven beach while it is still quiet! Yes before the hoards of day trippers invade the dazzling white sand.
Whitehaven beach is one the world’s best beaches and is famous for its white sand. The sand is actually 98% silica. This means that it is cool and soft to touch and makes a squeaky noise as you walk on it. You can also use it to exfoliate and clean jewellery just like the sand at Lake Mckenzie on Fraser Island
You can read more about Fraser Island here - Fraser Island: the Ultimate Driving Adventure
The crew of the boat that I was on, Avatar, actually prides itself on being the first ones to the beach.
Yes, that means an early start but it was so worth it.
Being able to take photos of the beach from the lookout without anybody else on it is something that not many people get to do. Plus the sun was still quite low in the sky which gave everything a cool golden glow.
For those of you, like me, who love to take a lot of photos, it means that you can take all the photos you want. On the swing, in the sand and by the driftwood with no queue! Or having that warry that they would ruin your photo (1st world problems eh).
The only downside was that the tide was not on our side. Those cool pictures of Whitehaven beach with the swirly sand and water? Well, you only get that at low tide and it was high tide for us. You could still make out the swirls though.
Fun fact: Whitehaven beach was actually a filming location in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead man’s chest/Salazar’s revenge (depending on country of release).
It’s part of the Great Barrier Reef
Not got time to get up to Cairns to see the Great Barrier Reef as well? No worries mate, the Whitsundays actually make up part of the reef too!
While your day trips may let you get out and snorkel once, by extending your tour to a few days you will get to experience far more of the coral.
The Islands also provide shelter to the waterways. This means that snorkelling here is much calmer than out in the open sea. So there is no need to wear fins (a.k.a flippers) and it is much more suitable for those of you who may not be strong swimmers but still want to experience the wonder of the reef.
My personal highlight was the snorkel spot at Mantaray Bay (see first image) where the fish were really friendly.
I mean they were literally swimming right in front of my face! There is also a resident Giant Maori Wrasse and his females which are quite happy for you get pretty close to them too! These are those cool fish that can change from being female to being male and were featured by David Attenborough on Blue Planet 2.
While there are several different sailing adventures that you can embark upon, having experienced everything the Avatar has to offer I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them. The crew were friendly, helpful and knowledgeable.
A special mention the cook who rustled up some very tasty grub and with no wooden leg insight!
Sailing along to the Pirates of the Caribbean theme tune and watching a beautiful sunset on our final evening are just a couple of the unique memories that this trip has given me.
So when choosing how you explore the Whitsundays,
Choose an overnight tour,
Choose to delve deeper into this magnificent area and
Choose to have an adventure of a lifetime
Until next time