Located off of Airlie Beach on Australia’s east coast, the Whitsunday Islands are a popular destination for travelers. Every backpacker who travels up the east coast takes a cruise through the Whitsunday islands. It’s one of those must-see activities. The tours typically last three days and two nights. However, since you leave midday the first day and return the morning of the third, it’s more like two days and two nights.
I went with a company called OzSail. Heading out on a cloudy Sunday, we boarded our boat, Freight Train. Freight Train’s an old boat. Built in the 1980s as a German racing boat, the boat is quite small. It fits 18 people in the berth plus three crew. If it was up to me, I would have picked a bigger boat. There’s nothing really wrong with the boat—if you want a typical “sailboat,” Freight Train is a fine good option. I just hate being on small boats. But you go where your friends are, and my friends were there. I took the boat because my friend Phil was on it. Turned out, my friend Caitlin and two Swedish girls I met in Noosa were also on it. Small world, huh?
The Whitsunday Islands are beautiful, but I had the misfortune of visiting the islands during Queensland’s wet season. Except for a few hours of sun, the whole three days were filled with clouds and thunderstorms. Every time I was getting ready to get a tan, the rain came pouring down.
Because the boats leave midday on the first day, you only have enough time for one snorkel trip before you set anchor at night. Because of the weather and rain, the snorkeling wasn’t great. The water was murky, and there weren’t a lot of fish. But nothing could be done about that and we moved on, anchored up for the night, ate, and drank until…well, about 10 o’clock. A funny thing about being out on the water—your perception of time changes. After the sun goes down and you spend hours out on the deck, you begin to think it’s really late. “It must be like 1am!” someone would say. Nope, it’s 10pm and time for bed. It’s probably the only time backpackers go to bed that early.
The second day was a lot better. We headed to the famous Whitehaven beach for a swim. Whitehaven is what you see on all the magazines and postcards of the Whitsundays. It’s a long, pure-white beach. It was beautiful until the rain came, spoiling the moment, and we headed back toward the boat. We sailed around for a bit to find a bay to stop and snorkel in. Because of the time of year, there were only a few places to go, and, according to our captain, the bay we stopped in might see only boats 10 days a year, making the fish and reef system a lot better. I opted to dive instead of snorkel. The coral was beautiful, we saw a lot of fish, and I found a turtle. That was really the highlight. We followed the turtle around for a while and then, realizing we needed to surface, waved it good bye and came to surface.
Sailing the Whitsundays is pretty straightforward. You can book direct with any of the big companies. However, the best way to save money is to book with a tourist office or a hostel. You’ll end up saving a lot more money as they get better rates and deals. Everything on the boat is provided for you except snacks and alcohol. Make sure you stock up on them before you leave. Additionally, try to find a boat that leaves early on the first day or late on the third day so you get more time out on the islands.
I can only imagine how the islands would have looked if it’d been beautiful and sunny everyday. When the weather was nice, you could see the appeal of the place. Sailing on the water, stopping for a swim, exploring a few islands—it’s the perfect way to spend a few days. But I wouldn’t spend longer. While beautiful, there are more amazing places in Australia to visit. If you’re short on money and time, I would save both and head right up towards Cairns to do activities up there.
For more information on Australia, visit my guide to Australia travel.
Disclaimer: OzSail gave me the tour at the media rate of 50% off.