The Whitsunday Islands, like Australia itself, are almost mandatory for any self respecting backpacker. If you miss out this little slice of paradise, people start to question your sanity. While i am usually all for finding your own path and avoiding the tourist hot spots, this one really does make for an incredible experience. Although it is expensive (how expensive it is depends on how deep your wallet is, and as mine is mostly moth balls i went for the budget package and had a great time doing it) it is almost worth it for what you get out of the trip in terms of scenery, activities, and new friends.
On the mainland, the place to stay, as a sort of holding pen for the main event, is Airlie beach. A beautiful area in its own right, it has plenty of activities to get your teeth into, including the famous Airlie beach sky dive or the local crocodile safaris. If you visit the local hostels however, they are full of people going to, or arriving back from trips to the Whitsunday islands. A warning though fellow travellers, a few of the hostels in this area charged a deposit for blankets and pillows and sheets (basically anything you might need) which could quickly take money out of action while you were staying there. Just be aware of this while you book them!
For this trip, i chose the catamaran called the Tongarra. It is bright red, fun loving, and geared fully towards young backpackers who want to have a good laugh, make new friends, and see the best the area has to offer without turning to the loan sharks for the money needed. The trip is for two days and two nights, and you get to sleep in a mass huddle under the stars on the deck (which was surprisingly comfortable, and great fun, though they do have bunks if it is not for you).
We knew what sort of trip we were in for when we got a look under the skippers beanie when we got on the ship. He had long hair at the sides, and was completely bald on top, and had no intention of telling us how it had come to be that way. Before i scare you off the completely, while the trip was fun and adventurous, no harm came to any of the people (or their hair) aboard the catamaran, nor would i describe it as a typical party boat. instead it was more like people with similar interests having a brilliant time, and sharing their mutual passion for the travelling lifestyle. If this included hopping around in sleeping bags and accidentally belly flopping into the great barrier reef, it kept the laughs flowing.
One of the star attractions of the Whitsundays is Whitehaven beach. The sand is almost a brilliant shade of white, and the sea a beautiful blue stretching on for miles. Along with Hill Inlet, it is almost a guaranteed destination for any sort of tour you decide to sail the Whitsundays. If you need any more ideas for places to visit or what there is to see, other popular destinations include Caves Cove, Mantaray Bay, Blue Pearl Bay, Langford Reef, Pinnacles and Bali Hai Island (Incidentally the Tongarra stops at most of these too, so even the budget tours pack the brilliant in, don’t feel like you might miss out if you spend less).
Make sure you also get a stop in to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef while you are in this part of the world, you may be lucky in the wildlife you encounter. Our Catamaran was joined by a pod of dolphins, who were jumping in the waves created at the bow, so close you could almost touch them, and when we were snorkelling we were joined by a giant turtle who was incredibly friendly and very photogenic!
See you tomorrow fellow sailors!