Whitsundays sailing 101: How to have the perfect sailing holiday
Ahoy land lubbers! Have you ever wanted to escape the crowds, be the master of your own ship (or yacht) and sail around the 74 islands of the Whitsundays on a sailing holiday?
We’ve pulled together some of the best tips to get you ship shape and ready to swap land-locked garden hotel rooms for floating ocean-front suites; where you can be face-to-face with Nemo with a few flicks of your fins.
Hoist the sails, smear on some sunscreen and get set to sail through paradise with these nautical tips for the perfect Whitsundays sailing holiday.
I’m on a boat!
First things first. Mono or Cat? Monos (monohulls) are those stunning yachts you typically imagine on tropical holidays. As the name suggests, monos have a single hull, a big white sail and a wooden deck perfect for couples or intimate groups clamouring for cruising glam.
Catamarans, on the other hand, have the benefit of more floor space (thanks to the two hulls) and offer greater stability. We opted for the mono with room enough for five adults. The Whitsundays has the largest fleet of vessels in the southern hemisphere, so you’re guaranteed to find something that rocks your boat. Check out this video to help decide, What Type of Sailor are You?
Claim your style
We’re not talking budgie smugglers vs. boardies. Are you looking for a guided experience with the general public or would you prefer an intimate cruise where you can go bare and decide where and when to pull anchor?
If you’re not quite up for the thrill of steering your own boat, hire a skipper (and even a chef!) to show you the ropes (literally) and let them take you on a private sailing adventure around the Whitsundays islands and beaches.
This has to be the easiest way to explore the stunning waters of the Whitsundays. Ranging from budget backpacker party boats to family-friendly getaways, public tours are perfect for the extrovert wanting to meet new friends and are easy on the hip pocket.
Solway Lass, a historic tall ship, offers three-day,three-night trips from $589 per adult and includes all meals and snorkel gear.
Grab your rider, act like a rock star and be guided around the Whitsundays with your own talented skipper. Kick back, spread out and relax on the deck as you decide whether to cruise to Whitehaven Beach or snorkel at the Pinnacles (just off Hook Island).
There’s nothing like taking in a sunset before a great night’s rest after being gently rocked to sleep in your own private cabin. Bliss is one of the newest yachts to grace the Whitsundays. Exclusive charters for up to eight rookie sailors, including your own chef, all meals, equipment use and skipper, start from $3,675 per day for a three to four-day charter.
Mind out of the gutter! We’re not talking about going sans swimmers. Bareboating is the ultimate escape and a chance to skipper your own yacht. Even sailing newbies can get in on the action.
No license is required if you’re after a bareboat getaway. Local operators like Cumberland Yacht Charters, Charter Yachts Australia, Queensland Yacht Charters, Sunsail and Whitsunday Escape offer a comprehensive half-day briefing as part of the charter and will have you cruising around the 74 islands under your own steam.
Bareboat charter rates start from $475 per day for a Catalina 320 MK II that sleeps up to four adults for a five-day trip. This is a truly unforgettable holiday where you can experience the ultimate freedom of the ocean whilst sailing the safe waters of the Whitsundays.
When to go
Any time is a good time to escape to the Whitsundays, but between you and I, the prime time to hoist the sails is May through to November.
First off, it’s the sailing season and August is the time when yachties from around the world converge to race their multi-million dollar vessels at Airlie Beach Race Week or Hamilton Island Race Week. Second, a winter sail comes with free whale watching, as these majestic mammals swim past on their annual migration.
Where to go
With 74 islands, colourful coral reefs and world-famous beaches all within easy reach, you’ll be cruising your way to your next slice of paradise before you know it.
Here are some of our favourite locales you may like to explore.
No trip to the Whitsundays would be complete without a visit to Australia’s best beach. The sand is said to be some of the purest in the world, made up of 98% white silica.
We spent the night anchored in neighbouring Tongue Bay and were up at dawn for the short 1.3-kilometre return hike to Hill Inlet to take in the views at sunrise over the world famous beach without a single other person is sight.
A local secret and regarded as ‘little Whitehaven’, this small stretch of sand on Haslewood Island has the same iconic white silica sand as her big sister, but the benefit of little to zero crowds.
Bonus: There is a beaut coral reef within a few fin flicks of the shore.
A tiny island paradise that is popular with day trippers and overnight cruises, the shallow waters and surrounding reef of Bali Hai make for great snorkelling.
Keep an eye out for green sea turtles who love bopping up in these protected waters. If you love to snorkel, check out our top five Whitsundays snorkel spots.
Don’t want to rock the boat? Nara Inlet is regarded as one of the Whitsundays’ calmest bays and you are (almost) guaranteed to have a smooth night’s sleep in this protected inlet.
This sheltered area is also the perfect base to go ashore and complete the short Ngaro Cultural Site bush walk. The brief 340-metre return hike will take you up the hill to a rock shelter that is home to art and cultural deposits of the Ngaro people, the original inhabitants of the Whitsundays tracing back 8,000 years.
Step into the pages of a children’s fairy tale – surrounded by massive blue clouds of fluttering butterflies. As the name suggests, Butterfly Bay is a mecca for the cute little buggers.
Plan your trip at the right time of year and this secret anchorage on the northern side of Hook Island is home to a kaleidoscope of blue Ulysses butterflies.
What to pack
Don’t panic, vessels are like floating hotel suites with modern flushing toilets, hot showers and impressive kitchens able to feed a small army.
Leave your stilettos at home as you’ll be barefoot and fancy-free cruising the waters of the Whitsundays. Check out our blog on what to pack for a Whitsundays Sailing Adventure