Kayaking the Whitsundays: A sunkissed 5-day adventure
If your idea of pleasure is deserted coves, empty beaches, unexplored inlets and keeping pace with sea turtles, then you need this oarsome kayaking adventure in your life.
The water inside Nara Inlet is like glass, and we glide as if on skates. Moving among the yachts moored here – like dragonflies buzzing across the surface of the water – are our four kayaks, drifting towards the shore on the southern side of Hook Island.
The aroma of breakfast teases from the yachts, but on these calm waters, I wouldn’t trade my paddle for a plate of anything.
We’ve kayaked into Nara Inlet, with its caves of Indigenous art, from our camp on the adjoining Macona Inlet, on a five-day paddling trip through the Whitsunday Islands. It’s a journey that will give us an intimate glimpse of the Whitsundays, allowing us to reach tiny inlets and rocky coves where the only sound is the thwack of our paddles in the water.
Loggerhead and green sea turtles pop up beside the kayaks with regularity and, when we fancy going ashore, we simply turn and paddle up onto a beach. One morning, we spot a couple of whales in the Whitsunday Passage, distant but compelling enough that, without speaking, we all stop paddling and simply sit, float and watch until the whales have drifted from view. It’s something none of us will forget.
It was a similar moment that convinced Neill and Hayley Kennedy to open a kayaking business in the Whitsundays in 1997, giving up careers in, respectively, banking and as a pastry chef to start Salty Dog Sea Kayaking. Twenty years on, the Shute Harbour-based company is still running tours and hiring out kayaks around the Whitsundays.
“We basically spent our honeymoon doing a 10-day kayaking trip here and we got our first introduction to whales from a kayak,” Hayley says. “It was like being on a roller-coaster – you didn’t know whether to be excited or absolutely terrified, but that was probably the moment where we realised this could be really great.”
Hayley has since witnessed manta rays leaping from the water beside her kayak, and had a returning tour group tell of a whale giving birth in a bellowing cacophony near their camp one night.
Play and Stay
The Whitsundays, off the Queensland central coast, are composed of more than 70 islands, and beyond the island resorts, there are a host of wonderfully remote campsites, creating untold paddling itineraries. The majority are on Whitsunday and Hook islands, which have 10 campsites between them, so it’s to these two islands that kayakers naturally gravitate.
A short first day takes us only as far as South Molle Island, just five kilometres offshore from Shute Harbour, where we coast ashore to a campsite at the suitably named Paddle Bay on the northern tip. From here, walking trails fan out across the island, adding another dimension to the tour.
In fact, the islands are strung with walking trails, from a short stroll into the caves at Nara Inlet on Hook Island, to South Molle’s 10km-network of tracks. With the wind rising this first day, we spend the afternoon here on foot, hiking to the rocky peak of Spion Kop for views across the Whitsunday Passage to Whitsunday and Hook islands – it’s like a mud map of our journey to come.
Another day we climb to the rock tower known as Whitsunday Cairn, rising through hoop pine and rainforest on Whitsunday Island to views over the open sea and across the island group.
A fabulous way to experience all of this is on the Whitsunday Ngaro Sea Trail, a route linking seaways and walking trails on Whitsunday, South Molle and Hook islands, and one of 10 Great Walks of Queensland.
The island trails can also be accessed by yachties, but not with the ease of simply nosing your kayak ashore and stepping straight onto a path.
“I think you get more up close and personal with kayaking,” Hayley says. “We can get into lots of areas that the sailing boats don’t.”
One on One
As we island-hop through the group, crossing the wide Whitsunday Passage to Cid Island and Whitsunday Island before returning across the passage via Hook and Daydream islands, it feels very much as if we’re on a pleasure cruise, albeit with a one-person vessel.
Wherever we paddle, beaches beckon us ashore, as do the campsites that are hidden behind them.
The temptation is often to linger and laze – one of our lunch-breaks stretches beyond three hours – but on the water the pleasures are manifold. There are turtles for company, coral reefs to snorkel on Hook Island, and often just the pure rhythm and meditation of the paddling as islands slide past.
Life slows to the pace and beat of the waves and wind… and the rest of the world seems an awfully long way away.