People come to the Whitsundays to sail, to dive, or just to sit on the beach, but I came to snorkel! The islands off of the coast here are surrounded by the inner part of the Great Barrier Reef, and at least a dozen tour companies lead boat rides out to see the coral and the fish. Pretty much everyone takes off from the Abell Point Marina:
After a great deal of research, I decided to go out on tour with Ocean Rafting, It’s not my normal scene — I’m not usually one for loud, fast boats or tour groups. But once I reconciled myself to beaching and snorkeling with 30 of my new closest friends on a boat blaring Taylor Swift, Dexys Midnight Runners, The Weather Girls, and Mackelmore, I had a great time. You go out in a pontoon boat …
… that travels at speeds up to 60 kilometers an hour (roughly 37 mph — or, if you want to get marine fancy, about 32 knots). I spent most of my time sitting out on the pontoons.
As you can see, it’s a very wind-in-your-hair experience. And when the captain whips the boat up to speed and starts playing in the water, it’s a huge amount of fun (especially if you’re the type of person who enjoys amusement park rides).
Ocean Rafting offers two trips: a southern adventure that offers more beach time, and a northern journey that offers more snorkeling. If I had to select only one, I would pick the northern option (both for the snorkeling time and the beach locale), but I am glad that I tried both. Each one focuses heavily on Whitehaven Beach, a 7-kilometer stretch of sand with incredibly high silica content. That makeup means that the sand is (a) bright white and (b) not very hot.
If you choose the southern Ocean Rafting tour, you eat lunch at the south end of Whitehaven Beach. On the downside, this spot is very crowded:
On the upside, if you get tired of your beach time, it is possible to search out shade — this part of the beach is ringed by trees.
If you’re not one for sitting around, you you can go wading in the water and find things like itty bitty fish, these tiny squid (this one, sadly, didn’t make it) …
… and a whole bunch of coral:
There’s just enough shallow reef life to give you time to poke around if you are so inclined.
The southern Ocean Rafting tour also takes you up and over a hill to a lovely, quiet beach:
Once there, you can visit this oystercatcher …
… and its eggs!
The oystercatcher appears to be inclined to run far away if you go anywhere near its nest, which does not seem to be a smart genetic development.
I was sorry to have disturbed it, but we weren’t on this beach for very long — we were just passing through to get back to our boat.
On the northern Ocean Rafting tour, for lunch they take you to a stunning beach that is virtually empty:
There’s really nothing out there — just the occasional pleasure boat and some birds.
I had my usual picnic lunch (crackers, cheese, an apple) …
… spent time taking in my surroundings (this included sinking calf-deep into the wet sand and nearly getting carried away by a surprisingly ferocious current)…
… and thoroughly enjoyed having a huge stretch of beach all to myself.
The highlight of the Whitehaven Beach viewing experience is hiking to the Hill Inlet lookout and seeing the swirling sands. The tides and the shifting movement of the sand means that what you see on one day …
… may look very different just one day later:
I loved this lookout — it was both beautiful and fascinating to see what sand and water can do.
Unfortunately, I do not have any photographs of my Hook Island snorkeling experiences. I swam with a turtle and saw brilliant coral at Mackerel Bay; at Saba Bay, I found Nemo (anemones and all) and visited a giant clam. Clams are amazing, by the way — they come in all sorts of colors (blue, bright teal, purple, yellow, green) — if you’re interested, check out maxima clam on Wikipeda. Also, the coral here grows in elaborate forests. I’ve never seen anything like it.
My evenings have been spent at my fabulous Airbnb, enjoying time out on my little deck looking out over the town of Airlie Beach:
I managed to get the best Airbnb hosts ever (well, they might have competition in the Columbia River Gorge). They had me up for drinks tonight and then invited me to stay for dinner. They have traveled all over the world and are wonderfully curious — I am lucky to be staying with them.