74 tropical islands, covered in lush green rainforests and epic white sand beaches, with a whole world of colour just waiting to be discovered beneath the surface of the perfect blue waters, The Whitsundays are advertised as an unmissable paradise for anyone travelling to Australia’s East Coast…
THE WHITSUNDAYS: WORTH ALL THE HYPE?
It can be hard to travel without expectations, especially if the places you are planning on visiting are some of the most photographed (read Instagrammed!) in the world. Before arranging my trip to The Whitsundays, I was a bit worried it wasn’t going to live up to all the hype.
There have been times where travel expectations have left me feeling…underwhelmed…and after seeing those perfect images of Whitehaven Beach, and that view from the Hill Inlet Outlook A MILLION times on social media, I was mentally preparing myself to be disappointed.
I am so happy to say I was completely wrong! Exploring The Whitsundays has been the highlight of my time in Australia so far and, even though I’m not a fan of those backpacker bucket-lists, this is one stop that everyone should try and see in Queensland.
I had originally planned on posting this article last month, but when Cyclone Debbie ripped through The Whitsundays and Airlie Beach, causing massive amounts of damage and leaving both locals and travellers alike without transport, access to food and even water, it seemed like the wrong time to share a post about how wonderful my adventures in The Whitsundays were.
Now that the area is getting back on its feet, and the push for tourism is very much back on, I’m so happy to share with you guys the absolutely amazing time I had exploring these incredible islands!
DAY TRIP AROUND THE WHITSUNDAYS
As much as I would’ve loved to have spent a few days sailing around the islands and exploring the reefs, time and money constraints meant that a one day trip was my best option. I was staying with a Workaway host at Bush Holiday Village Cabins in Cannonvale, just outside of Airlie Beach, and had to try to arrange the trip around days off and other workers.
When I arrived, I met a lovely English couple who told me that they had booked onto a one day tour through the holiday cabins and had not only loved it but had also managed to get a fairly decent discount. I decided to book with the same company and ended up saving around $30.00 on the $149.00 tour (always check what perks you get with a Workaway host!), making my full-day trip to The Whitsundays come in at the bargain price of $119.
The weather had been pretty unpredictable in the week before my trip, and I’d heard from a couple of guests that the visibility during their visits to the reefs hadn’t been great, but I tried to stay optimistic. When the morning of the tour came around, and the sky was dark with thunderclouds, I resigned myself to the fact that it was going to rain…but that I’d make the most of it anyway!
The tour sent a bus to pick me up just after 8 am, and we stopped at a couple of other hotels and resort before heading to Abell Point Marina. At the marina, we were given our stinger suits and shown to the boat by our two amazing tour guides (the two Sams!) who told us that it was a very quiet day and a smaller-than-usual group heading out.
In total, there were around 12 of us on the boat, which was basically the perfect number for it to be fun, but not crazy (I’m very much a fan of the quieter trips…a party boat would not have been an ideal choice!)
It rained on and off as we made our way out of Airlie Beach and towards The Whitsundays Passage but when the boat suddenly stopped and the Sams pointed out a whole pod of dolphins swimming incredibly close to us, everyone basically stopped caring about the weather!
We bobbed around next to the dolphins until they disappeared and then we were off again. Our itinerary for the day had been changed to try and avoid the worst of the rain, so instead of heading to our first snorkel site, we went directly to Whitsunday Island.
HILL INLET LOOKOUT AND WHITEHAVEN BEACH
We were dropped off on the opposite side of the island to Whitehaven Beach so that we could take the short hiking trail up to the Hill Inlet Outlook and then make our way down to the beach.
It was still early in the morning and we only passed a few other people along the way. When we got to the Hill Inlet it was, unbelievably, deserted. In my head, I’d envisioned elbowing my way through throngs of people to get the perfect shot, but there was no one in sight!
Coming up on the lookout point from the trail, and seeing that incredible view of swirling white sand and aquamarine water, with the rainforest and peaks of the island behind, has to be one of the most stunning views in the world…I just stared!
The rest of the group took a few photos (and selfies…obviously!) before heading down to the beach, but I hung back to enjoy the view and set up some videos and shots of my own. I could have stayed there all day – the scene was constantly changing with the wind and the (rain) clouds in the distance and, despite having come across so many photographs online, I really felt like I was seeing it for the first time!
I headed down to find the rest of the group on the insanely, almost blindingly-white sands of Whitehaven Beach, where everyone was relaxing or having a late breakfast/early lunch.
A couple of the guys were already snorkelling next to the boat, and I was glad I decided to join them when a huge manta ray swam right past me (which you can see in the video at the end of this post!) I couldn’t believe our luck – a dolphin pod and a manta ray…and we hadn’t even been to our snorkel sites yet!
SNORKEL SITES: FISH AND FRINGING REEFS
Our first snorkel spot was Mantaray Bay, where we met George – the famous and very friendly Maori Wrasse – and swam amongst parrotfish, angelfish and coral trout. Some of the coral and colours at this site were incredible, but once the rain started again, it became quite difficult to see.
This was also the first real chance I’ve had to test out my Optrix by Body Glove underwater case and lens kit in deep water. I’d tried it in pools, and had it briefly in the water when I was learning to surf in Agnes Water, but I’d never taken it to any real depth or kept it submerged for long.
I’ll be writing a full, detailed review of the Optrix by Body Glove kit soon but for now, it should be pretty obvious from the photos and the fact that I still have my iPhone that it worked!
We moved on to our second snorkel site just as the rain intensified and another tour boat turned up (Mantaray Bay is one of the most protected sites in The Whitsundays – only two boats are allowed at the site at any one time) but the weather had mostly cleared by the time we reached the next reef.
This site was all about the coral – on an incredible fringing reef that was roughly a 10-minute swim from where the boat could anchor.
The colours here were far more intense that the first snorkel site, and it felt like swimming through some technicolour, alien-landscape! Some of the coral was spongey, some sharp, some neon orange and some bright purple!
The rain was back on by the time our 45-minute snorkel was up, and despite really not wanting the day to be over, everyone was getting a little cold and tired.
We headed back towards Airlie Beach, passing the luxury houses and resort of The One & Only Hayman Island – keeping an eye out for dolphins playing in the water (although sadly we didn’t spot anymore!)
It was one of those perfect travel days, and even though the weather could have been better, it just goes to show that a few rain clouds can’t dampen a day spent in paradise…
ONE DAY TOUR OF THE WHITSUNDAYS: NEED TO KNOW
- I booked my one tour of The Whitsundays with Ocean Rafting on their Northern Exposure Tour, through Bush Village Holiday Cabins for $119.00. This was the cheapest option and didn’t include lunch (which you can get for an additional fee)
- The tour included two snorkel sites and Whitsunday Island, Hill Inlet Outlook and Whitehaven Beach.
- Ocean Rafting also offers a Southern Lights Tour, which gives you more time on the beach, but less time snorkelling.
WATCH THE VIDEO! A TRAVELLIN’ TALE IN…THE WHITSUNDAYS!
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Have you visited The Whitsundays? What were your expectations? Did the islands live up to everything you had imagined? Leave a comment below!
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