Arrival hall, Proserpine Airport. I listened for the telltale whimper of corporate high-fliers who have just realised that they must now spend the next week not on a laptop computer, but on a 10 mete yacht. But there were no whimpers here. The hall was filled with the excited voices of people who knew that they were about to set foot in Elysium.
When you’re about to embark on a cruising holiday off the Queensland coast – whether it be cruising out to the reef, out to one of the islands, or charter boat cruising among them – you know that relaxation will soon be inescapable. And so, eager to put some daylight between myself and the airport, I leapt ebulliently aboard the coach bound for Airlie Beach. The fare cost me about $20 and a smile.
Once aboard my boat at Point Marina, arms akimbo and scarcely able to conceal my impatience to get under way, I was as restless as an airline passenger in a transit lounge. But one must stand on the shoulders of the masters to reach the heights and consequently I listened intently to the pre-departure briefing.
Sailing in the Whitsundays.
The Whitsundays are a dreamlike tangle of lush, sun-drenched islands that spangle the Coral Sea. Like an infusion of herbs in warm water, the Whitsunday Islands whisper “relax!” to you so convincingly that it is impossible not to obey.
It is also impossible to take a bad photograph in the Whitsundays. Relatively protected waters, an array of safe anchorages, reefs to explore, and scenery that seems to be a film set waiting for a crew all assure a variety of leisurely cruising experiences.
A world of laissez-aller lay ahead as we slipped out of our marina, and very soon we sought a decent breeze. Once clear of the of the shore the breeze picked up taking our catamaran out among the grazing herd of mono-hulls. Our destinations – by and large the untenanted islands of the Whitsunday group – were probably mutual. Only we would get there first.
Another catamaran was on the loose among the herd, and we sized each other up, head-to-head. Which dog was going to be the first to sniff the other’s tail?
Except we sniffed his flank, not his tail, and before long we had passed the other catamaran and soon – after whisking past Daydream and South Molle Islands – we arrived at the first of numerous coves and anchorages with water so clear that it was difficult to believe that we were not going to touch bottom.
Spectacular diversity awaits in every cove and inlet.
The landscape had changed suddenly, as though a laptop computer presentation had been advanced to another frame. Palm trees, hoop pines and eucalypts waved in the breeze like ears of corn all tumbling down into steeply plunging coves.
In some of these coves the mosaic of coral begins only a few metres from shore. Among the islands of the Whitsundays there are distance limits from the shore within which vessels are not permitted to anchor, ensuring that the coral of the fringing reefs is not destroyed by anchors or chains.
It also ensures that, once you’ve plunged into waters the hue of delphinium, it’s a fair ol’ swim in deep water to reach a point where you can commence snorkelling, but it’s worth it. Not to do so is to spit out the orange and eat the pips, for the spectacle of your first glimpse of the panoply of marine life on a fringing reef is so mesmerising it simply takes your breath away.
To experience the splendour of the outer Great Barrier Reef, call in to Shute Harbour or Hamilton Island and take a day trip on one of the fast, high-powered vessels that allow you to maximise your time snorkelling or diving. Out here the loggia of coral enthrals utterly, and is only surpassed by the dazzling colours of the fish.
As islands go, the Whitsundays are relatively tight knit, to the extent that, unless you’ve got a seriously woeful sense of direction, it is most unlikely that you’ll ever become geographically embarrassed. We charted a course easily for another island and sequestered ourselves away in a sheltered anchorage, and I was soon reminded that there is nothing more soporific than the lapping of water against a hull.
Life’s a beach.
Some of the beaches of the Whitsundays are hyphens of sand between words of rocky outcrop and long clauses of bush. And some seemingly go on forever such as Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island. Here the is water so clear you can actually see the shoals of fish using a neighbouring yacht’s keel as the pivot-point of their dance routine.
By the end of our charter yacht and Great Barrier Reef cruises, we had embroidered an invisible thread all over the Whitsundays with our wake, and scribbled doodles and hieroglyphs in the many coves and inlets that will be forever ours.
“the Whitsunday Islands whisper “relax!” to you so convincingly that it is impossible not to obey”
Such is life, sailing in the Whitsundays. Serene and simple. Where each destination is as beautiful as the one that lies beyond the transom, where time means absolutely nothing, and where “watch” means something you do in silence at sunset.
In my mind’s eye, the waters of Tropical North Queensland will always be perfect for cruising; sheet glass and cobalt blue. Stays and halyards, strummed by zephyrs, will sound like guitar strings being gently plucked, and I shall always smell the fragrance of the islands.
Tourism Whitsundays. Click here.
Images courtesy of and © ‘Whitsundays M&D’ and Robert Crack