Cruising the Whitsundays

The Whitsundays group is a great cruising ground. It’s very easy to spend months here exploring the a multitude of anchorages, enjoying brisk sailing as well as walking in the national park walks taking in the panoramic views and the snorkelling.

Cyclone Debbie in 2017 did extensive damage to the reefs around the Whitsundays. Since we last sailed here nearly 20 years ago, mooring buoys and reef protection buoys have been installed in most of the popular anchorages, a great help for the slowly recovering coral and peace of mind for the many charter yachts.

While snorkelling here has been patchy we’ve found some great spots with lovely healthy coral. Other  places such as Blue Pearl Bay on Hayman Island is nothing like our memories of colourful coral and masses of fish when last diving here 20 yrs ago.

We were very keen to do some diving while here. It seems scuba diving is now only offered as an option on a 2 or 3 day trip on a sailing boat or by joining a group for a snorkel/dive/Whitehaven “fun experience” – not for us. 

I came across a perfect option – a “Reef Sleep”, staying in an underwater hotel room on a pontoon on Hardy’s reef. We could snorkel, dive, and stay on the reef. Once the day trippers left at 3pm, the guests (14 of us) had the pontoon and water to ourselves until 11am the next day. 

Very fancy ‘swags’ for those who slept on the deck

We had 2 dives, snorkelled, swam, had drinks and canapes on the deck at sunset and fabulous meals. The coral was wonderfully healthy and the fish prolific.

The only problem was sleeping – it was so exciting to keep waking to see the fish swimming by our window – especially the enormous grouper at 2am! 

View from the bathroom
Midnight viewing
Maggie, the grouper

We timed our visit to the reef perfectly – the weather was amazing and calm. The wind blew up and weather turned the day we left the reef- and blew strongly for the next few weeks.

Taking advantage of very strong southerlies we headed north to Cape Gloucester. The bar at Monte’s we remembered from years ago had just reopened after renovations post cyclone damage. A lovely sheltered spot for a cocktail.

We had planned to keep going north to Townsville, but looking at the very persistent strong south easterlies forecast for at least the next 10 days thought we might get ‘stuck’. We heard that there were 90 yachts anchored in Horseshoe bay, so that obviously did happen! 

We love our inflatable kayak! So easy to get ashore, especially with the tides around here.

We came back into Airlie as the Airlie Race Week was starting. Pioneer Bay just off Airlie is a great anchorage in the SE winds, as long as there isn’t an easterly swell. Access to the town is easy with safe spots to land the dinghy. Walking around the waterfront is very pleasant, either to Cannonvale and the shops or to Airlie with its markets, landscaped waterfront area, restaurants and bars. We’d remembered Airlie to be full of backpackers, but now there are far more grey nomads.

We set sail south to Long Island, to find ourself in the middle of the race fleet. Just off South Molle we spotted a couple of whales frolicking between us and the nearest race boats. Not an uncommon sight this season, we’ve seen whales a few times a week since sailing north of Fraser Island. Luckily, none too close.

We’ve ended up spending quite a bit of time anchored during extended blows at Happy Bay, on Long Island. It is another bay with a derelict resort. The bay has good protection in the SE, a sandy beach, walks. The next bay along is Palm Bay resort – a lovely spot for a cocktail.

Palm Bay – Long Island

With more windy weather predicted, we spent two lovely days at the marina in Hamilton Island.

Sea Cloud – the tiny yacht in the middle of the huge motorboats

We loved the walks, especially the views from Passage Peak

Whitsunday views

One Tree Hill – the place to go to watch the sunset and enjoy a cocktail. 

The winds dropped and we anchored at Whitehaven Beach for 3 gorgeous, calm nights – unusual for Whitehaven which can be rolly! The walks on Whitsunday Island are lovely – the views magnificent!

We even swam! A rarity this season which has been surprisingly windy and cool.

We anchored off Betty’s beach took the dinghy up Hill Inlet. The new from the top across Hill Inlet and along Whitehaven must be one of the best views anywhere.

You know you are at Whitehaven when a sea plane crosses your  bows in the anchorage, and there are 3 helicopters on the beach who’ve brought  couples across for a picnic.

More wind! Happy Bay was a good spot to sit out 25-35knots for 5 days. Lots of jobs completed, finally got to the winches!

We’d been watching swallows busily building a nest inside our boom… not good. Fortunately we removed the nest before eggs were laid. 

South Molle Island – another island with lovely walks and views.

Bauer Bay

Back to Coral Sea Marina in Airle for our last big shop before heading south. We really enjoyed our second dinner at the terrific La Tabella.

Our visit coincided with the Whitsunday Arts Festival, a weekend of music, art, plays and markets. A welcome break from the varnishing and jobs on Sea Cloud.

With no space in the marina in Airlie, Cid Harbour was a logical anchorage for the strong southerly winds predicted. Although we estimated about 100 boats were anchored in Cid, it didn’t feel crowded at all. With 48 hours of winds gusting up to 45knots, it was a good place to be.

Once the wind dropped, the walk to Whitsunday Peak from Cid Harbour was steep but rewarding with its 360 degree views of the Whitsundays.

What a lovely place for a birthday. A walk, champagne on the back deck, BBQ fish (unfortunately not caught by us!) and the most beautiful sunset.

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