We slipped off our flip flops as we boarded the Tongarra catamaran and spent the week that followed barefoot. Our bags of goon, the backpackers’ elixir, were chilling in cool boxes as we departed Airlie Beach Harbour and literally sailed into the sunset for two surreal nights of cruising the 74 tropical Whitsunday Islands that scatter the Great Barrier Reef. I was in Australian paradise.
Two nights on a catamaran in Whitsunday Islands
Pure tranquility settled over the deck as I watched the burnt ochre sun disappear on the horizon with 16 tanned strangers from all over the world. We donned jumpers to guard against the slight breeze as darkness set in over the water. The skipper turned off the lights so we could stargaze, and I fell asleep under a blanket of glittering constellations. It was overwhelming, being able to see parts of the universe that are normally invisible. Being at sea means no competing light between you and the stars.
The sun was setting on another extraordinary day in paradise, but we had two whole days to sail around the Whitsunday Islands and nothing could have prepared me for how incredible that experience was.
The following morning I woke up as the sun peaked over the lush greenery of a floating island, and plunged into the sea to revive myself. First stop was the magnificent Whitehaven Beach, which graces ‘World’s Best Beach’ lists every year. A dingy boat transferred us from the boat to the shore, and we trekked through the bushes to the viewpoint. As the branches parted, the most beautiful scene stretched before me. The azure sky met white sand swirled through aquamarine water, making it impossible to discern where the shore became the ocean.
Running down to sink our toes into the purest sand in the world was surreal. Whitehaven Beach boasts 98% silica sand, giving it a flour-like texture which makes it squeak when you walk on it. Our guide told us we would be fined if we tried to sneak any sand away with us, although I’m not sure that’s true, but it can damage your camera because it’s so fine!
Whitehaven Beach is the true heaven on Earth.
Our group couldn’t resist getting that token human pyramid shot!
Sea life around the Whitsundays
Drying off over lunch on deck, we spotted endangered dugongs, the so-called ‘cows of the sea’, paddling near the boat, and a turtle floating lazily nearby. As I poured my first cup of goon of the day, a whale breached on the horizon! Another dream come true – I have always wanted to see a whale. Just minutes later, an eagle soared overhead with a long yellow snake dangling from its beak, clearly searching for a shaded perch in the cliffs to enjoy his lunch. We sailed past Hamilton Island, an exclusive celebrity holiday resort which Rod Steward is rumoured to have been kicked off for nudity. One day I want to stay there.
As the afternoon rolled on, dolphins raced with our boat, and then the skipper caught a huge, shiny tuna fish. I reached the back of the boat just as he bludgeoned it to death – not a pretty sight. We hung it from the back of the boat, hoping it would tempt a shark, but soon forgot about it. Later that night, we were crowded around the steering wheel drinking and chatting, when a huge splash interrupted the music. A shark had swallowed the tuna whole! We spotted it lurking in the dark waters with our torches.
Our final night was a blur of goon-fueled dancing on the deck with new friends and playing limbo under the canopy that we later fell asleep under. I was well and truly in love with the Whitsunday Islands!
Snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef
The next morning I dove straight off the back of the boat again and suddenly remembered the shark as I hit the water. I clambered back on board pretty hastily! My stomach still churns when I think about this.
We put on stinger suits to snorkel around the coast of another island. As I lowered my head beneath the water, I screamed in fright – a small army of tropical fish were surrounding my head! I soon got used to it though, and swam carefully through the flurry of fish like a giant intruder to their community.
The reef was an unknown landscape below me, the fish swarmed straight into my mask in their eagerness to eat the bread the skipper was throwing at our bobbing snorkels, and the Australian sunlight streamed down the through the water.
The skipper told us at the end of our trip that we had seen more wildlife in our two nights on board than he sometimes sees in a month! The Tongarra crew are definite contenders for having the best job in the world. Zooming back towards Airlie Beach, it was a little rough so I sat at the back of the boat focusing on the horizon, and a feeling of pure happiness settled over me. I was reluctant to get off the boat when we dropped anchor. Sailing the Whitsunday Islands is an unforgettable experience!
Next stop: Rainbow Beach!
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