Stories from the South Pacific: Whitsunday Magic
For many world travelers, the South Pacific is little more than a dream, a place where the tantalizing scenery seems slightly out of reach. But for sailors, thanks to the many charter bases scattered around the region, it’s ours to explore. The question is: Where will you sail first?
Here are a few of our favorite trips to help you get inspired.
Read on for Whitsunday Magic
Australia’s Whitsunday Islands, on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef just off the Queensland coast, are one of those “bucket list” destinations, known far and wide for great snorkeling, great sailing and some of the best beaches in the world. The combination of a mild tropical climate—with highs in the 70s even in the depths of the Austral winter—and a well-established charter infrastructure allows the region’s charms to be easily accessible year-round.
In early 2011, when I explored the islands aboard the 41-foot Seawind 1250 catamaran Seawindow, it didn’t take me long to realize the area’s reputation is richly deserved—despite the blustery overcast and rain squalls on the horizon that served to remind me that January through March constitutes the region’s “wet” season.
Sailing out from behind the lee of Hamilton Island, the area’s commercial center and site of a vast luxury resort, we found ourselves fighting a 20-25 knot headwind and a stiff chop as we made our way northeast toward Whitsunday Island. But that was fine with the 1250. Seawind Catamarans, based just south of Sydney, prides itself on the seaworthiness of its boats, and the 1250 is no exception. (Shortly after Hull #1 came out of the Seawind factory, the company’s managing director, Richard Ward, took the boat for a prolonged sea trial across Australia’s notorious Bass Strait.)
Threading our way through the narrow Solway Passage between Whitsunday and Haslewood Islands, we bore off toward world-famous Whitehaven Beach where we dropped the hook on the beach’s sheltered southeast tip. Four miles in length, Whitehaven is renowned for its blindingly white sand and its crystal-clear water. Even with the overcast skies, the beach was pretty impressive, and virtually empty.
After a brief walk, we weighed anchor and carried on with our planned two-day counterclockwise circumnavigation of Whitsunday Island, eventually dropping the hook for the night in Tongue Bay. It was here that I came to appreciate the magic of the Whitsundays in general and Whitsunday Island in particular.
Rugged and indented with dozens of anchorages, the 74-island archipelago bears a striking resemblance to the Northern Hemisphere’s own Virgin Islands, but is virtually uninhabited. Beyond Hamilton Island, the wooded shorelines of the Whitsundays are almost entirely devoid of human life, looking much as they must have when Captain Cook first laid eyes on them in 1770. Whitsunday Island itself is one great national park. Imagine St. Thomas without all those lights peppering the hillsides after dark. There were times in the Whitsundays when it felt like we were the last people on Earth—again, magical.
It was also in Tongue Bay that I first experienced the wonders of Bundaberg Rum, or “Bundy,” thanks to my Australian shipmates, Paul Rogers of Adelaide and Brent Vaughn of Seawind Catamarans. With enough Coca Cola, it wasn’t half bad. Only in Australia would you find rum with a picture of a polar bear on the label—another kind of magic, I suppose.
The next morning, we grabbed a mooring off Border Island for a quick snorkel and then continued around the northern tip of Whitsunday Island. The sail out to Border Island was truly memorable. The overcast was now gone, leaving a sparkling sun and fleecy white clouds in its wake. We regularly hit 9 knots on a beam reach with the wind out of the east-southeast.
After turning the corner and setting a course back toward Hamilton Island, the 1250 seemed to sizzle as it sliced its way through the flat water along Whitsunday Island’s rugged western shore. That afternoon we anchored briefly for lunch and then continued on toward Hamilton Island. It’s amazing how quickly you can click off the miles aboard a sprightly cruising cat with a fresh breeze!
All too soon, we were motoring into the well-appointed 243-berth marina at Hamilton Island, home to both the Hamilton Island Yacht Club, with its striking modern clubhouse, and Hamilton Island Race Week. Road traffic consists exclusively of golf carts, and the airport is within walking distance, making travel arrangements a snap. I confess, it was almost too easy getting off the island, as I was in no particular hurry to leave. It came as some consolation, though, knowing it would be just as easy to someday go back there again.
Photos by Adam Cort