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Barefoot Bareboating the Whitsunday Islands

“With palm-fringed white sand beaches surrounded by clear blue waters, the Whitsunday Islands are the epitome of a tropical paradise.”

So says the QLD-tourism Australia regarding this most beautiful stretch of Australian water.

74 islands encompass the Whitsunday’s, but a fair proportion of those are tiny, uninhabited specks. The main Islands are, from the south looking north, Shaw, Lindeman, Hamilton, Whitsunday, Hook, and Hayman.

Easily the best way to explore paradise is by yacht, and there are plenty of choices to spoil you. The two main venues for charter are Hamilton Island and Airlie Beach, the later being our home base.

‘Bareboat’ chartering, as they call all hiring of yachts, both power and sail, is a thriving industry with the marina at Airlie filled to overflowing with eager vessels.

We again used Whitsunday Escape, this being our third charter with them, and our weapon of choice was a 35 foot Bavaria, which is perfectly suited to couples.


How easy is bareboat charters people have asked, and the answer isn’t always clear. If you have previous experience, or general knowledge of sailing, then no problems. I personally wouldn’t be too keen if I had no experience, for even though the charterers offer half day training, etc, it can be a bit daunting, especially in more challenging conditions, and at anchor.

For us, with plenty of previous experience, but by no means being expert, it is a safe and rewarding experience. Common sense plays a big part in ensuring a safe trip, no need to get ahead of yourself. There are plenty of tales of over confident experienced sailors coming to grief.

Reef early, find a safe mooring early, enjoy the slow ride, there’s no hurry.

Our seven days where spent just like that. We have seen most before, and were more than happy to meander around the main two Islands, Whitsunday & Hook, finding safe anchor ridge early, cold beer in hand no later than 3pm!


As our briefing before setting off didn’t conclude till about 11am, we did what most do on the first day and headed for one of the safest all weather moorings, Cid Harbour. Protected from almost all winds, this is a perfect spot for the night, and a magnificent one at that.

Still conditions made our first attempt at stand up paddle boarding a smooth and dry one. Shaky legs not withstanding, we both managed to semi-master the board. A good way to build up a thirst, almost a pre-requisite out here!


From Cid we headed slowly north-east through Hooks passage, and then south towards Whitehaven beach. Wind conditions made for slow sailing, and if we hadn’t turned on the engine we might still be getting there!

Whitehaven Beach is seven kilometres of white magnificence, one of the most photographed beaches in Australia, and one of the whitest. It truely is spectacular, and busy with helicopters dropping folk off, as well as huge catamarans and ferry loads of day trippers.


As lovely as it is, as an overnight anchorage, forget it! We rolled and rolled all night, pitching back and forth with no rhythm at all. Roll, tip, roll some more, pitch, tip…. The main book for this area, ‘100 magic miles’, states this, but we had stayed here before without issue…not next time!

In the morning after breakfast we tendered over to the beach to steady our legs, and feel firm ground again.

Opposite Whitehaven is a cracking little cove called Chalkie’s, a great spot for a bit of snorkelling, and lunch.

We decided to spend the night at Hamilton Island, so pushed off through  Solway Passage and west to Hammo. This was where inexperienced yachties may have had second thoughts as it got very choppy, with 1.5-2 metre swells pushing across us, making for a bumpy ride. Even though we were in no trouble at all, and were enjoying the conditions, for the uninitiated it may have felt like you were about to tip. In fact a power cat coming the other way was lurching heavily, and the bloke steering didn’t look like he was having any fun at all! ( when we finished our charter we got a phone call about the conditions that afternoon, so someone must have complained!!)

Hammo is a great place to spend the night, we had dinner at the pub watching the footy, and had a most peaceful nights sleep. Decent coffee, and a toilet that doesn’t move can never be taken lightly!

Refreshed, we spent the next day having an excellent sail north to Stonehaven, an anchorage just south of Hayman Island. In fact you can see the lights of Hayman tormenting you at night, as you bunker down in the open water.


Another hopeless nights sleep, with ‘bullets’ (wind off the surrounding hills) hitting us all night at about 25-30 knots! Scheesh!!

Next morning we meandered over to Langford Island, just opposite Hayman, and anchored for a snorkel and lunch.

Langford is small, but famous for the stretch of beach that opens up at low tide to produce ‘one foot island’, best known for the Qantas advert where the choir lined up along it singing ‘I still call Australia home’


Off to one of the most beautiful moorings, Butterfly bay, on the north end of Hook Island.

Just magic, turquoise waters, vast mangrove swamps, towering cliffs, a still and quiet harbour…happy days!

Plenty of fixed moorings to pick up, saving the worry of a dragging anchor at night, little wind, a beautiful sunset, and a glass of wine. Perfect!


And an awesome sunrise the next day! Time to chill, have a paddle around, enjoy a leisurely breakfast while soaking in the scenery.

Off to one of the best dive spots on the Island, Luncheon bay. Snorkelling was great, a huge variety of fish, and excellent coral. Also a perfect spot for such, hence the name.

Off whence we came, past Stonehaven (hiss!), and down into the safest of all moorings, Nara Inlet. Set deep up a thin gorge, this is the most protected of spots, and almost always dead still.

It would be a perfect spot for a swim, but rumour has it that hammerhead sharks breed in here. Forget it! Standup paddle board it is, just dont fall in! Mind you, there’s never been a recorded shark attack in here ever, so not sure of the rumour. Still, there’s always a first time!


True to form, a perfect nights sleep, the stillest of nights, and the most magnificent morning.

Picture postcard stuff!


A very leisurely start to the day, absolutely no hurry to get anywhere….which is lucky ‘cos today is the last day of calm weather. A severe weather warning for 30kn winds and 2 metre swells is forecast for early tomorrow, putting the kibosh on our last nights plans, which is confirmed at our 8am radio in. It is recommended we moor back at Abel Point Marina tonight to save an horrendous passage over in the morning. Only problem is that today there is almost no breeze.

We head out of the inlet and attempt to sail to Daydream island, but after two hours we seem to have moved about one mile, and that was probably current! Pity, would have liked a nice sail to finish, but engine time it is. Lunch at a nice cove behind the resort at Daydream, then putt-putt sail back to Airlie.


We spent the night safely cocooned at the marine, before signing off the next morning with a background of howling winds and wild seas. Would NOT have been a pleasant journey back to the marina this morning, so our early return was vindicated.

We spent our last day wandering around Airlie Beach doing nothing in particular, spending the night at the Coral Beach Resort, which is brilliantly situated between Abel Point Marina and the town.


Another cracking trip to one of the most beautiful spots on earth.

We WILL be back!


  1. Jackie Little says

    Hi Hugh

    You don’t know me but I am a work buddy of Rachael’s (well I think so anyway). Love reading your posts the writing is great, photos magnificent makes me want to sail yet I do not have a clue and used to get sea sickness!!!


    Jackie Little


  2. I’m from a tropical island in the Caribbean that is much like and resembles those islands you highlight here. I can relate to your experience with them as it is almost identical to my daily experience. This is a well written and easy to follow account with useful information and beautiful photos. I’ll simply continue reading your posts.


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