Airlie Beach is the jump off point for sailing trips to the Whitsundays and it was here we joined the sailing boat the Waltzing Matilda.
Our flexible itinerary to date had meant we turned up in Airlie Beach without a tour booked but this worked in our favour; October is (despite being perfect sailing weather) not peak tourist season. Most of the hostel list standby rates for boats leaving within the next 2-3 days, often at a discounted rate and, if you combine a check on the standby rates with a quick look on TripAdvisor or the web, there is no need to compromise on the kind of trip you want to do.
We chose the Waltzing Matilda because it had just 14 guests, and we wanted a more chilled out trip than some of the larger party boats offered.
We arrived at 8am with our minimal overnight bags to meet our fellow sailors – a mixed bag of solo travellers and couples (one of whom was celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary!).
After sailing on the calm bay for about 4 hours, we arrived at Tongue Point – an unassuming shallow cove filled with coral. As we dropped anchor, turtle popped his head up to say hello!
Our hostess/chef/First Mate Cindy guided us over the headland until we saw a flash of white sand. We had arrived at Whitehaven beach – one of the top 10 best beaches in the world, and it was nearly deserted.
We spent a couple of hours paddling in the shallow turquoise waters and padding over the perfect white silica sand while keeping an eye out for baby stingrays (it’s Australia – obviously there were stinging fish lurking).
Our time on the beach was over too soon (itineraries are dictated by the tides) and we were soon on our way to a sheltered bay that would be our home for the night. Once we’d anchored our Captain – Paul – bbq’d us fresh steaks on the deck and we ate these with a beer watching the sun set on the horizon, swapping travel stories with the rest of the group. Life really doesn’t get any better.
The next morning I got a rather indelicate alarm call – Paul started the boat motor next to my head at 5:45am and was sailing across a choppy whirl of tidal waters. By the time we’d poked our heads above deck we’d pulled up in a rather “rolly” bay – meaning the boat was going from side to side and we were all trying very hard to keep our breakfast down.
Thankfully, we moved on to a slightly more hospitable bay for our first snorkel. The visibility wasn’t as good as the water colour suggested, but we could still hear the distinctive clicking of parrotfish eating the coral, and saw them as we moved into clearer waters.
As we were putting our wetsuits on for our second snorkel (which for me involves flapping round like a demented penguin), our fourth turtle of the trip popped up to the surface to say hi! We jumped in but were too slow for him. The visibility again wasn’t great, but we still got to meet a gang of huge batfish who were hanging out by the anchor line.
Snorkelling over, we sailed back across the bay for a few hours. The sea was back to being incredibly calm again, so we read, snoozed and just sat, marvelling at the beautiful scenery.
At 4pm we were back on the beach and heading back to our hire car. It was time to head south again.