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Sailing the Whitsundays

Esther 2

Last updated on 13th March 2020

Airlie Beach

Airlie Beach is the hub of the Whitsunday Islands, in particular for their most famous beach Whitehaven. They are the reason why people come to Airlie Beach making it the mainland base for adventures out in the Whitsundays. It is also a popular access point for the Great Barrier Reef. I arrived from Townsville/Magnetic Island with the Greyhound bus and stayed for three days.

Airlie Beach is a small, laid-back, tropical place, much smaller than Cairns but somewhat quite comparable. It has a relaxed atmosphere and provides a good number of boutiques, cafes and shops along the main street. The beautiful Airlie Beach Lagoon is a huge swimming pool at the beach, similar to Cairns, because nobody goes for swimming in the ocean. I tried the pool but the water is very warm and therefore not really refreshing.

Airlie Beach
Airlie Beach – Heart of the Reef
Airlie Beach
Main Road in Airlie Beach
Airlie Beach
Waterfront near the Lagoon in Airlie Beach
Airlie Beach
Airlie Beach Lagoon – a large swimming pool
Airlie Beach
Airlie Beach beach

Airlie Beach has more to offer than the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsundays. During the two days, while waiting for my Whitsundays cruise, I took two of the walks around the town. One was the Bicentennial Walk, a beautiful 3km stroll along the waterfront with the ocean on one side and the green hills of Airlie Beach on the other. It is built partly on a boardwalk above the ocean and gives some of the best coastal views in that area, as well as a great view onto Abell Point Marina with some extravagant yachts and boats. I ended up in the neighbouring village Cannonvale.  It’s a sleepy place. The only café there, the Fat Frog Café, where I wanted to have an Iced Coffee, already closed at 2pm, and I had to return without refreshment.

Airlie Beach
Airlie Beach from the start of the Bicentennial Walk
Airlie Beach
Bicentennial Walk
Airlie Beach
The parade of trees near the Bicentennial Walk

The other day I decided for a hike up the mountain through the rainforest to the Honeyeaters Lookout. It is an 8km walk return, from my hostel it was 10km in total. The trail starts at Kara Crescent, follows the Conway circuit for 2.3km and then turns right towards the Honeyeater Lookout. The walk is mostly uphill, and in the heat and humidity of this area I was challenged. I took my time as I had once learned it, poli poli (slowly slowly). I saw loads of butterflies on the way, as well as Lace Monitors and birds.

Reaching the top, I was covered in sweat, all clothes and towel were wet, actually dripping, but the view was magnificent. I thought I could refresh and have my picnic at this wonderful place but the moment I opened my bag I realised I had misplaced the food that I had bought for the hike. I did not have anything with me at all! I remembered that I took it out of my backpack when I took the camera out and obviously I must have forgotten to put it back in. And indeed, I found the food exactly at that place on my way back, at the trailhead. How stupid!

Airlie Beach
Kara Crescent: a nice view onto Airlie Beach marina at Abell Point
Airlie Beach
Hiking trail through the rainforest
Airlie Beach
A Lace Monitor high up the tree trunk
Airlie Beach
Close to the lookout
Airlie Beach
The magnificent view from the Honeyeaters Lookout
Airlie Beach
The lookout allows seeing a few of the Whitsunday Islands in the distance

Whitsunday Islands

The Whitsunday Islands are a group of islands at Australia’s east coast close to Airlie beach. The islands and the water in-between create the Whitsunday-Island National Park. The reefs around the islands are part of the Great Barrier Reef. Tourists must book a boat tour to visit the islands and so did I. My boat was a sailing vessel called “Spank Me”, a former and quite successful class A racing yacht: 25m long with a mast of almost 37m. There was space for 28 people on board plus the skipper and two crew members. As it was a sailing yacht we set sail, the wind being in our favour. All hands were required: Bringing up the sail was not an easy task and needed many hands. I myself helped at one of the grinders for the main sail. There are four grinders with 2 people each working plus 1 person on the winch makes 9 people just for bringing the main sail up!

We spent three days and two nights on the boat. The weather was sunny and warm, except on the last day during our return to the marina it started to rain. It was the beginning of many days pouring rain, not only in Airlie Beach, and the Australian east coast should see heavy floodings, wind and ocean swell, road closures and activity cancellations during the following weeks.  But for now, we were all fine and happy.

We slept underdeck. There actually was not much more than the berths and two toilets. Also the cooking happened there in a tiny kitchen. It was extremely hot and humid, dense and stuffy, cramped and damp. In the first night I believe no one really slept. I was covered in sweat as if I just had a shower, all night and no relief.  It was an entirely new experience for me. The alternative to sleep on deck was not really feasible due to lack of space and little drizzle at night. In the second night we got some sleep due to exhaustion.

We sailed a nice course through the islands and snorkelled at 4 different places. All of them were different in terms of fish and corals, I personally liked the second best as this had the most impressive coral structures. The third one provided more fish instead. There is a picture of our course below. The water was nice, clear and warm, and it was a lot of fun snorkelling and swimming. We also stopped at a little island and landed there on a sweet little beach for a sun-downer.

Whitsundays
Boarding “Spank Me”
Whitsundays
Sailing, everyone is sitting on the good side, avoiding the “sui-side”
Whitsundays
1.False Nara 2.Hook Passage 3.Tongue Bay/Whitehaven 4.Mackerel Bay 5.Lunchean Bay 6.Bluepearl Bay
Whitsundays
Under deck. My bed was right next to the loo-shower.
Whitsundays
Snorkeling the reef
Whitsundays
Anchoring for sunset
Whitsundays
The dinghy takes people to the beach nearby
Whitsundays
The dinghy sometimes seemed little overloaded
Whitsundays
Our sun-downer beach
Whitsundays
Life is beautiful
Whitsundays
Whitsundays 2020

The highlight of our trip was certainly the morning on which we encountered Whitehaven Beach. We anchored close by at night and got up early in the morning which made us beating the crowds, being the first ones at the beach and at the lookout. It was definitely beneficial for some wonderful photos at low tide with only us on the beach. With time, more and more people came, even the day trippers arrived, and it got really crowded. The tide rushed in, quite fast, and the beach changed its appearance.

Whitehaven Beach is just breath-taking.  It is a really snow-white sandy beach set in a translucent, turquoise sea. The fine white sand had drifted up here to that particular spot and created this paradise over thousands of years. The sand is almost pure silica with just a few minerals that hold heat. And the sand also makes the water shimmer so blue because it diffuses the sunlight as it shines through the water.

We could watch stingrays in the shallow waters and they were not afraid of us. And we could also see Lemon Sharks hunting through the shallows. It was an incredible sight. The reef shimmers through the shallow waters during low tide and gives the area its typical appearance. We spent about 3 hours at the beach, swimming and watching the fish and stingrays. A heaven-like place.

The tours to the Whitsundays are quite expensive, I have paid 375$ and there is nothing being considerably cheaper for a 2N/3D trip. But it is definitely worth going to that place. Nothing compares on this planet at all.

Whitsundays
Whitsunday Island
Whitsundays
Whitehaven Beach from the lookout
Whitsundays
Whitehaven Beach from the lookout
Whitsundays
Whitehaven Beach
Whitsundays
Massive driftwood and a dramatic sky at Whitehaven Beach
Whitsundays
Stingray in the shallows
Whitsundays
Jellyfish in the shallows
Whitsundays
Lemon shark in the shallows
Whitsundays
Whitehaven Beach
Whitsundays
Panorama Whitehaven Beach
    • Esther Esther

      Very true, stunning.

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