Stories from the South Pacific: 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.
Author:
Publish date:
Whitsundays2012

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.

Time Out in Tonga

Entranced in Tahiti

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.)

Whitsundays2012_2

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.

CONTACTS:

Charter Yachts Australia

Queensland Yacht Charters

Sunsail

Whitsunday Escape

Dream Yacht Charter

Photos by Adam Cort

Related

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com No chafe, safe stay  If you’re leaving the boat unattended for a longish period, there’s a lot to be said for cow-hitching the shorelines, as this sailor did. They’ll never let go, and so long as the ...read more

belize600x

Charter Special: Belize

It would be hard to imagine a more secure spot than the Sunsail base on the outskirts of the beachside community of Placencia, Belize. The entire marina is protected by a robust seawall with a channel scarcely a few boatlengths across. It’s also located far enough up Placencia ...read more

DSC00247

DIY: a Top-to-Bottom Refit

I found my sailing “dream boat” in the spring of 1979 while racing on Lake St. Clair in Michigan. Everyone had heard about the hot new boat in town, and we were anxiously awaiting the appearance of this new Pearson 40. She made it to the starting line just before the race ...read more

01-oysteryachts-regattas-loropiana2016_063

Light-air Sails and How to Handle Them

In the second of a two-part series on light-air sails, Rupert Holmes looks at how today’s furling gear has revolutionized sail handling off the wind. Read part 1 here. It’s easy to look at long-distance racing yachts of 60ft and above with multiple downwind sails set on roller ...read more

HanseCharles

Video Tour: Hanse 348

“It’s a smaller-size Hanse cruiser, but with some big-boat features,” says SAIL’s Cruising Editor, Charles J. Doane. At last fall’s Annapolis Boat Show, Doane had a chance to take a close look at the new Hanse 348. Some of the boat’s highlights include under-deck galleries for ...read more

amalfitown

Charter Destination: Amalfi Coast

Prego! Weeks after returning from our Italian flotilla trip last summer, I was still feeling the relaxed atmosphere of the Amalfi Coast. It’s a Mediterranean paradise, with crystal-clear waters, charming hillside towns and cliffside villages, plenty of delicious food and wine, ...read more

image005

Inside or Outside When Sailing the ICW

Last April, my wife, Marjorie, and I decided to take our Tartan 4100, Meri, north to Maryland from her winter home in Hobe Sound, Florida. This, in turn, meant deciding whether to stay in the “Ditch” for the duration or go offshore part of the way. Although we had both been ...read more

MK1_30542

SailGP: There’s a New Sailing Series in Town

San Francisco was the venue of the biggest come-from-behind victory in the history of the America’s Cup when Oracle Team USA beat Emirates Team New Zealand in 2013, so it seems only fitting that the first American round of Larry Ellison’s new SailGP pro sailing series will be ...read more