Fresh air, open water and peaceful solitude. To start your day in the Whitsundays, pick an island, chart a course and sail away. On a busy day, you might see another boat zooming along the horizon. Otherwise, it’s all yours.
The Whitsundays are a collection of 74 continental islands in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, located off the Queensland shore about midway between Brisbane and Cairns. For a perfect vacation, charter a boat for a week or two and explore the islands, coral reefs and tropical waters.
The islands and surrounding waters are protected as national parkland and as part of the Reef’s World Heritage Area. There are several resorts tucked away on the islands, but the Whitsundays experience is overwhelmingly one of unspoiled natural splendour. You may not see a single manmade structure — not even a cottage — in your explorations. The vastness of Credit: of the park ensures that, even in high season, you may only encounter a handful
Our first night at sea we were met with an explosive electrical storm. All the boats in the area huddled together overnight in this protected bay, from which we had a spectacular view of the lightning show over the water. The next morning, the ocean was dead calm, displaying the clear reflections of a placid lake. Credit: of the park ensures that, even in high season, you may only encounter a handful
Your boat will come with a dinghy, providing you the freedom to drop anchor and dart ashore wherever you please. You’ll find countless secret coves, deserted beaches and breathtaking lookouts to enjoy. Credit: of the park ensures that, even in high season, you may only encounter a handful
Giant sea turtles are a common sight in the Whitsundays. You may also encounter sharks: we swam with some relatively harmless reef sharks and watched one chase a large flying fish. The poor fish leapt from the sea and suspended itself, bolt upright above the surface, paddling madly with its tail fin like a cartoon character. It zig-zagged a great distance Credit: atop the surface, the shark matching its every move.
The crescent-shaped Whitehaven Beach stretches over seven kilometres on the east side of Whitsunday Island. Its sand is a particularly white and fine silica powder. Soft as icing sugar, it’s nature’s dream bed. The beach is probably the biggest tourist attraction in the Whitsundays but, as you can see, there’s enough room for everyone. Credit: atop the surface, the shark matching its every move.
Occasionally, you may come across another human baking in the sun. This one’s as white as the sand — clearly a foreigner. Credit: atop the surface, the shark matching its every move.
In the evenings, you’ll lie back and watch the sun set. At top left, you can see the full moon, which reflects brightly in the wilderness. When the moon wanes, the stars enjoy spectacular visibility in the night sky. Credit: atop the surface, the shark matching its every move.
At low tide, Hill Inlet becomes a giant sandbar. The view from atop Tongue Point is sublime and it’s a short hike down to the beach. Credit: atop the surface, the shark matching its every move.
As the tide flows, the sandbar constantly shifts shape, creating beautiful swirls of beach. Be careful of your toes as you stroll along the sand; we saw a baby shark whizzing along one of the shallow rivulets. Credit: atop the surface, the shark matching its every move.
The tropical islands enjoy beautiful weather for most of the year, with a wet season from mid-December until March. Daily highs are above 23° at the height of winter, rising to over 30° in summer. It was as hot as 36° during our stay, cooling off only slightly overnight, yet with cool sea breezes it was never stifling. The water remains a perfect 25° Credit: year round.
You can charter a sailboat or motorized catamaran at Airlie Beach on the mainland. Gay and Lesbian Tourism Australia (GALTA) is a group of gay and gay-friendly travel professionals based in the town. Charter Yachts Australia (CYA) is a GALTA member with a large fleet of vessels, sleeping from 2-10 people. You'll need to spend a half day in orientation with Credit: their amiable, expert staff before setting out.You can also take sailing lessons
Beneath the water, another world awaits exploration — one unimagined in even the most outrageous science fiction. The island waters are home to a uniquely diverse array of coral types, which are displayed in dramatic technicolour landscapes of underwater mountains, valleys and canyons. An equally rich and strange assortment of sea creatures will dazzle you; Credit: their amiable, expert staff before setting out.You can also take sailing lessons
Sunsets provide the backdrop for dinner and drinks on deck. The boats have galley kitchens and on-deck barbeques. The charter company has a provisioning service for fully prepped meals or you can shop on the mainland before you set off. You can also stop in at one of the resorts to visit a restaurant. Credit: their amiable, expert staff before setting out.You can also take sailing lessons
Our final morning, we head back to the Airlie Beach marina on the mainland, reluctantly returning our vessel. Credit: their amiable, expert staff before setting out.You can also take sailing lessons