The Whitsundays

After spending New Year in Sydney, I was now on a road trip up the coast of tropical Queensland to Cairns.

Having arrived in Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsundays a few days earlier, we had spent the last few days exploring the local area and now planned on using Airlie as our base for getting out into the Whitsunday Islands themselves.

We had pre-booked a package ticket giving us access to 3 days worth of excursions – a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef, a one day island-hopping ticket to use at our own leisure and a full day sailing trip through the Whitsundays on a catamaran – and had booked to do them on consecutive days in that order.

Spotting a clown fish on the reef

So today, we were up early to walk down to the Port of Airlie, home of Cruise Whitsundays. Here, we checked in and boarded a Cruise Whitsundays boat which would be dropping passengers off at Hamilton Island before continuing on to Knuckle Reef pontoon docked at the Great Barrier Reef. The boat ride itself was thrilling, speeding through the ocean past all the Whitsundays Islands.

Once at the pontoon, we had the day to spend at leisure – snorkelling the reef, viewing the reef from the underwater observatory, taking a ride out on the semi-submersible for a guided commentary on the reef or just enjoying the sunshine from the deck. A buffet style lunch was also included.

There were some optional extras such as Go Pro hire and scuba diving sessions and we had decided to book the guided snorkel safari. On the boat out to the reef, we were talked through the procedures for this and told where to meet and at what time once on board the pontoon – it would take place right after we arrived so we’d then have the rest of the day to explore ourselves.

Looking out from the pontoon

After arriving at the pontoon, we were supplied with snorkelling equipment and ‘stinger suits’ – a thin full body suit to protect us from any jellyfish in the water then went to meet our guide for the snorkel safari. There was just a small group of us on the safari and we were taken out to look at sections of the coral while our guide explained a bit about what we were seeing and some of the fish that lived there.

We also got to meet Wanda, the areas resident Maori Wrasse, a huge but very friendly fish!

On the snorkel safari, and throughout the day, Cruise Whitsundays team members took photos of us and the reef which we later had the option of purchasing.

After our snorkel safari, it was time for lunch – a selection of cold meats, salad, bread and pasta which we could help ourselves too. We then took a trip out on the semi-submarine before spending the rest of the day snorkelling at our leisure. In the blink of an eye, the day was over and it was time to board the boat back to Airlie Beach.

On Hamilton Island

The next day, we were back at the Port of Airlie and the Cruise Whitsundays terminus once again. Today we would be using our Island-hopping ticket starting with a boat trip out to Hamilton Island. We planned to spend the morning there and a couple of hours to explore before we had our scenic flight over the Whitsundays booked.

After that, we planned to hop on a boat over to Daydream Island where we would spend the afternoon before returning to Airlie Beach.

Arriving on Hamilton Island, we began exploring finding our way to Catseye Beach. From here, we walked along to the village then up to One Tree Hill where we enjoyed the beautiful views from its lookout.

Wandering back down to the village, we then made our way to the airfield to check in for our Hamilton Air scenic flight.

On board a small aircraft for a scenic flight over the Whitsundays, and below, views from the flight

Boarding a small aircraft with just 2 other couples, we were very excited but the flight exceeded even our expectations. It was perfect weather with mainly blue skies and just a few small clouds as we soared above the many Whitsunday Islands and out across the Great Barrier Reef.

Highlights included seeing Heart Reef, where the coral has naturally formed into a heart shape, and flying over Hill Inlet, an amazing stretch of white silica sand and crystal clear waters. The flight was definitely worth every penny!

Once back on land, we returned to the Hamilton Island Cruise Whitsundays terminal and caught the next boat over to Daydream Island.

Arriving just after 2pm, it was past our lunchtime and we were pretty hungry but we struggled to find somewhere to eat.

Daydream Island

The kiosks at the main resort stopped serving its hot snacks of pizza slices and burgers at 2 so we’d just missed out. We eventually found a restaurant open further along the island near its Mermaid sculptures and ended up paying slightly more than we’d have liked for a sit down pizza meal!

A kangaroo wandering through Daydream Island, and below, exploring the island

After lunch, we walked down to Mermaid Beach to get photos with the three mermaid sculptures then spent the rest of the afternoon following some of the island’s trails past its resort hotels, along the coast,through rainforest and out to some of its small bays before catching the boat back to Airlie Beach.

Above, and below, sailing on Camira

For our final day in the Whitsundays, we had booked a full-day sailing adventure on Camira, a distinctive purple catamaran. Unfortunately, we had awoken to overcast skies and while it was still warm, it took the shine off cruising past all the Whitsunday Islands a bit.

A quick stop for some snorkling

After sailing out past some of the Whitsunday islands, the boat docked for a while to give us the chance to get out into the water and snorkel. We were provided with stinger suits and snorkeling equipment and it was fun to get out on the reef again and snorkel.

Whitehaven Beach

Back on board, we had a delicious barbecue lunch provided as we cruised to our next stop, Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island. We were hoping we’d dock by Hill Inlet which we’d seen from our scenic flight the previous day but instead we were dropped at the other end of the beach and warned not to go off in search of Hill Inlet as it was too far a trek and we’d not make it back in time.

Overcast weather on Whitehaven Beach, and below, more photos from our day on Camira

The overcast weather had not cleared so it wasn’t really sunbathing weather. The boat crew had brought various beach games and equipment ashore so instead we grabbed buckets and spades and amused ourselves building sandcastles out of the white silica sand before cooling off with a dip in the ocean.

Then it was back aboard Camira for a leisurely sail back to the Port of Airlie, the clouds starting to break up a bit as we neared our destination.

While we enjoyed our day sailing on Camira, it was our least favourite excursion of the week although this was possibly due to the weather not being quite as nice – everything looks better in the sunshine and unfortunately that was mainly missing from our day.

Back in Airlie, we walked back to our Magnums hostel accommodation grabbing some snacks on the way.

Exhausted from a busy week, we began to pack up our things as we had a very early start the next day to catch the Greyhound bus up the coast to Townsville at the crack of dawn. I’d loved my time in the Whitsundays. I’d be passing through again on the way back to Sydney just a few weeks later and I couldn’t wait to return!

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