Whitsundays Boat Charter Travel Review
Whitsundays Boat Charter Travel Review

Whitsundays Boat Charter Travel Review

Read a travel review from a happy sailor

There is something liberating about bareboating in the Whitsunday Islands; the sheer exhilaration of controlling your own yacht and pointing to any of the 74 islands that you want.

For those not in the know, bareboating simply means "skipper yourself". In the Whitsundays, there is a huge range of motor cruisers and sailing yachts, which you can hire and cruise to the islands yourself.

In fact, the Whitsundays has the biggest bareboat fleet in the Southern Hemisphere and the yachts range from basic to super-luxurious. Anyone with a driver's licence can pretty much learn how to sail a yacht.

Before you head off into the wild blue yonder, Whitsunday bareboat companies provide basic training on managing your yacht and how to stay in regular contact via radio with their staff back in port.

With a group of friends, I hired a 46ft Benetau yacht from Whitsunday Rent a Yacht (incorporating Australian Bareboat Charters), which have their own private jetty in Shute Harbour. The craft was large and comfortable with four double cabins, three "heads" (toilet/shower), a "galley" (kitchen) and comfortable lounge area. There was even a gas barbecue outside on the stern.

Once our instruction was over, we set sail across the Whitsunday Passage. There is nothing like the freedom you feel as the wind fills the sails, the boat glides through the waves and you can see the mainland slipping away behind the horizon.

We approached Hook Island and dropped anchor in Nara Inlet, a fjord-like place with its tall peaks, rocky outcrops and sandy coves. We feasted on a cache of fresh oysters as the sun set and the clouds turned orange.

Next morning, we rose early and pointed our yacht out of the Hook Channel into the remote wilderness of the eastern side of the outer islands. Jungle slopes rose up to meet rocky crags, stuck at weird angles out of the ridgelines.

Heading south, we soon came across a beautiful bay on the eastern side of Whitsunday Island. Pulling down the sails, we motored into the anchorage, dropped anchor and turned off the engine.

An amazing silence descended. The morning sun hit the rainforest slopes and illuminated a giant, rocky crag perched on the hilltop. Peter Head was its name. From the shore, there was the sound of cicadas; their continuous chirping rose and fell in strange rhythms.

It felt like we were as far from civilisation as we could get.

On the shore we could see a strip of white. We headed over in the dinghy and found ourselves on a beautiful sandy beach. Large banks on the beach divided a creek inlet in which dozens of tiny fish swam this way and that.

We headed into the forest behind the beach and discovered a large grove of Alexander palms. The sun cast dappled light everywhere. We could see tiny birds flitting through the tree canopy. It was heaven.

Walking back to the beach, I decided it was time to check out the marine life. Donning mask, snorkel and goggles, I swam out into the bay. The reef stretched out from the beach in a large wedge shape. It was beautiful, all kinds and colours of coral and teeming with fish.

I eventually swam out to the yacht and saw that the others had been on a fishing excursion in the dinghy and returned with the fruits of their labour - a rather large coral trout that was perfectly grilled for lunch.

We then hauled up the anchor (the motorised winch meant we didn't have to do any actual "hauling" ourselves) and pointed our yacht south. As we sailed past the bays of Whitsunday Island, we were treated to more views of the primeval ridgelines and rocky crags that give this island an ancient, untouched feel.

Soon we turned into the spectacular wonderland of Whitehaven Beach. This 6km stretch of silica white sand sweeps north into a series of sand dunes and sandy banks which mark the entrance to the pristine Hill Inlet.

The water was calm so we anchored off the northern end of the beach and marvelled at the sandy paradise on shore. The water was turquoise in colour. It was so clear we could see the anchor lying on the ocean floor. We made our way in the dinghy onto the beach. It was the perfect spot for a swim, picnic or a general lounge around the beach.

On the other side of Hill Inlet is a boardwalk leading up through tropical bush to a beautiful lookout that takes in views of Hill Inlet, Whitehaven Beach and several islands.

After exploring the beach, we headed south in the yacht and dropped anchor in the south-east corner of Whitehaven where there was a safe, overnight anchorage. In the morning, we had a dip in the ocean and I went for a brief snorkel over the fringing coral reef, which marks Whitehaven Beach's most southern point.

Then it was time to haul up the anchor again. We sailed through Solway Pass and along the southern edge of Whitsunday Island, admiring the sea birds flying above the rugged coastline.

After gliding through another passage between the islands, we turned north and soon sailed into the wide magnificence of Cid Harbour. This large, natural harbour is uninhabited and defined by its series of beaches and rainforest mountains.

We dropped anchor at Sawmill Beach and motored ashore in the dinghy. This is a popular anchorage for yachts so there is always some activity going on.

We noticed that there was a nearby creek with running water and we followed it up through the rainforest. Soon, we came across a beautiful rock pool with a waterfall gushing into it. We jumped in and the surprisingly cold water gave us an initial shock. But soon I sat under the waterfall and let the pure rainwater wash over me. It was wonderfully refreshing.

Sawmill Beach used to be the site of a sawmill that pioneers used to cut the local timber many decades ago. Apart from the remains of an old dam wall in the creek, there were no other signs of this enterprise. The rainforest had reclaimed it all.

We soon ventured back to the beach and the crew member who remembered to bring the prawns ashore was roundly praised. We sat on a couple of boulders overlooking the bay, peeling prawns as the sun dipped towards the hills of Cid Island.

There was the chatter of bird life in the trees and I saw a fish jump out of the water just off the beach.  Dinghies lazily purred this way and that among the yachts anchored in the bay. I could see someone barbecuing something on a cockpit grill. The pace seemed so laid back. The pressures of work had totally slipped my mind.

I wondered if this could be paradise. It certainly seemed so. And the best thing about this special moment was that the journey was not over. Tomorrow we could point our boat towards a new island and a new adventure.