Sailing in the Whitsundays
We had a Great Barrier Reef diving and sailing adventure in the Whitsunday Islands on a three day and three night cruise aboard the custom built 18 metre catamaran Pacific Star.
We cruised to Nari Inlet on Hook Island, bushwalked and saw aboriginal art, visited beautiful Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island, cruised to Bait Reef on the outer Barrier Reef for a day of diving and snorkelling, and again at Blue Pearl Bay and Longford Reef.
Friends from the USA saw our brief mention of Pacific Star on our Airlie Beach boat web site, and emailed to ask us for further information. After a bit of checking with local booking agencies, and with Kelly Dive and Sail, we decided this trip looked so good we booked to go along with them.
Pacific Star sails from Abel Point Marina each Wednesday and Saturday evening, and the night sailing does give more time for activities. Kelly Dive had told us the first meal on board was breakfast, although there were snacks. We made sure we had dinner at Mangrove Jacks (our hamburgers, and our wine glasses, were enormous) before walking around the corner to the Kelly Dive shop in central Airlie Beach.
Nari Inlet, Hook Island
There was little breeze, so we motored rather than sailed through the early evening, getting to know the other guests. We were headed to sheltered Nari Inlet on Hook Island, for our first night. This is a favourite area for boats during unsettled weather, as it provides wonderful protection from any rough seas. In the morning, the sea was glassy smooth.
As usual, we were awake shortly after dawn. Others slept on, some even through the noise of the generator starting. A rousing piece of classical music finally stirred them into action. Before breakfast, we went ashore in the rubber dinghy. An easy ten minute bushwalk uphill brought us to a small cave, with Aboriginal art. The paintings seemed more abstract than most, and we amused ourselves trying to work out what they might have represented.
We stopped several times to take photos, and had a brief wait on the beach while others were ferried back to Pacific Star. A little bit of exercise before eating always makes food taste better to me, and breakfast awaited us. Breakfasts were "help yourself" affairs of cereal, fresh tropical fruit, toast, and various spreads, usually ending when no-one could eat any more.
Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island
Still lacking a breeze, we motored out of Nari Inlet. While dive instructors Vaughan and Kim taught the intending divers, we proceeded past the Hook Island Underwater Observatory, now somewhat showing its age. We could see the campsites around the Hook Island resort, one of the cheapest places to stay in the Whitsundays, as we passed between Hook Island and Whitsunday Island. We headed down the coast to famous Whitehaven Beach on the far side of Whitsunday Island.
We were ferried ashore in the rubber dinghy, together with heaps of air tanks and gear. While the intending divers did their "resort" training dives from the beach, I walked barefoot along the beach a ways.
A track from the north end of the beach, marked by a short boardwalk, takes you 1.2 kilometres uphill to the lookout, newly enhanced with a viewing platform. The walk was a little slow in bare feet, but the path was mostly sand and twigs, rather than rock.
I had the view to myself for a time, and could hardly stop looking long enough to photograph the most beautiful beach I have ever seen. The only reason I left when I did was that a group of people arrived (and reacted pretty much as I had). I could easily spend a couple of days just looking at the view.
While Amanda served lunch, we motored towards Mantaray Bay and Luncheon Bay on the eastern side of Hook Island. The newly instructed divers had their first chance at a real dive, and the certified divers had a night dive, as we anchored here overnight.
I did some snorkelling, but it was a little late in the day for underwater photographs, despite some interesting sights. Eventually the water temperatures made cramp a concern, and I had a somewhat oversized wet suit, so I swam back to the boat.
Skipper Adrian and dive instructors Vaughan and Kim assisted with the meals by barbecuing steak and sausages on the second evening. The large lounge turned into the entertainment centre, with very bad videos being shown. Would you believe Austin Powers turns up almost every trip?
Bait Reef, Great Barrier Reef
Very early in the morning we got underway and motored to Bait Reef, having breakfast along the way. Still little breeze to assist us along, however the sea was very calm. We took up a mooring in 20 metres of water, and could clearly see the bottom.
A large fish greeted the boat, obviously intent on having any dinner scraps. While snorkelling, I notice a number of large fish under the boat, keeping in the shade.
There was lots of diving for the SCUBA people, and we moved to a different mooring every now and then. I snorkelled without a wet suit, but eventually started to get cramp and had to warm up. We were able to get taken a distance from the Pacific Star in the dinghy, and then snorkel back with the slight current assisting us.
The visibility was excellent, and the colours of the coral and the fish not suitably recorded in the photos I took with a disposable underwater camera. In reality they were both brighter and more subtle than anything in the photos on this page.
There were several other vessels in sight, and far away on the horizon you could catch glimpses of the large FantaSea Reef World dive platform. A seaplane landed nearby, and a group did some diving from that. It is a very fast way to get out to the Reef.
We sat at Bait Reef for dinner and a night dive. Great food, as usual. Diving obviously makes you much more hungry than normal.
Blue Pearl Bay, Hayman Island
We headed for Blue Pearl Bay on the north side of Hayman Island after the night dive. It was pitch black by 10 or 11 p.m. when we actually moored for the night, and I have no idea how Adrian located the mooring. Luckily Pacific Star has radar, depth finders, and a GPS with charts of the entire area.
I really enjoy the fringing reefs of the spectacular Blue Pearl Bay, just around the headland from the famous, exclusive (and very expensive) Hayman Island resort. The reefs and beach are part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine National Park, and while very popular with tour operators, there are only two moorings, so boats at anchor have to stand a little distance offshore. There is at least one giant clam only metres from shore, and a wonderful range of fish.
A lot of the fish cluster in the shallows when dinghies arrive, and you don't even have to go in the water to photograph them. While perhaps not as clear as the outer reef, Blue Pearl Bay really is a wonderful spot. I would however advise having some sort of foot covering on hand if going ashore on the northern beaches, as the coral on the beach can be hard on bare feet. The sandy beach towards the south is tempting for those wishing to stay ashore, but at low tide, it is very difficult to swim out past the coral, as it is very close to the surface.
Langford Reef is a few kilometres from Hayman Island, so you often see the Hayman island launch drop picnic parties off, complete with blue and white beach umbrellas. The sandy beach is narrow but very long, and seems to have coral along the whole length.
Langford Reef seems somewhat easier for swimmers than Blue Pearl Bay, as you still usually have a little water depth between the coral and the sand. The disadvantage is that the water isn't usually as clear as at Blue Pearl Bay. However it is a great spot for someone wanting to check coral by swimming from a nice beach. There is a fair bit of coral, mostly close to the surface.
Our skipper demonstrated that he could handle any sort of water activity. I had been wondering why there was a surf board stowed away, since we had the usual life jackets and float and other safety gear, and there was the rubber dinghy for getting to shore.
He took a ride on the surfboard, towed by the rubber dinghy. Very nearly managed to get back on board without getting his feet wet. Most of the passengers who attempted to surf were much less steady on their feet.
Fishing was another activity, with someone catching a nice spotted mackerel.
We enjoyed tasty meals aboard, as well as snacks. There is a complete, but compact, galley aboard. Unlike many of the cruises, Pacific Star does not use premade meals from the local catering services. Our gracious hostess, Amanda, managed to provide quiche, pizza, fresh cake and cookies, and a wonderful variety of other items for the three lunches and two dinners.
Having a breadmaking machine on board adds considerably to the quality of the cold cuts lunches. Every time I turned around, Amanda seemed to have some new snack on hand. Amanda is a vegetarian, so those on a restricted diet were well cared for, while there always seemed to be an excess of food for the many meat eaters among us.
About Pacific Star
An 18 metre purpose-built fibreglass catamaran, designed for diving cruises, Pacific Star has seven cabins, individual air-conditioners, and compact ensuite toilet and shower facilities. The large main cabin is air-conditioned, with TV, video, and CD player. There is a 35 kW generator set to run all the electrical gear, although when temperatures are pleasant they try to avoid running the generator overnight.
Divers are well catered for, with two compressors on board, ample rack space for tanks, and hanging space for wet suits, plus room to suit up. There are two sets of steps to sea level platforms, with three steps below water level. No need to leap overboard, and no problems reboarding afterwards. There were sufficient wet suits in sizes 3 to 7 for everyone diving, although snorkellers sometimes had to use a wet suit that wasn't as good a fit.
There were plenty of masks, snorkels and flippers (fins), mostly of recent vintage. No-one seemed to have any problem finding a suitable size.
Value for your money
$399 per person
Government charges are a $4 per day Environmental Management Charge (Reef Tax) levied on all visitors to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. This charge is collected on board, and is not included in the quoted fees.
Prices include a courtesy coach from the Kelly Dive shop and return to your accommodation. All meals are included, as is afternoon tea, and snacks. You can buy candy and canned soft drinks on board, or bring your own.
Since Pacific Star has no bar on board you bring your own alcohol, but not in glass bottles (for safety reasons). We grabbed some essential supplies. A case of beer, two boxes of halfway decent wine, a six pack of cider, the remains of a box of Lambrusco. It did look a little excessive, since you can't dive after drinking, but there were three evenings for partying, and sufficient refrigeration space.
We each packed a small, soft sided bag, making sure we had swimming costume, towel, sunglasses, a hat that wouldn't blow overboard, and lots of sunblock. You go barefoot on board, and dressing up for dinner isn't expected, so shorts and a few t-shirts are enough clothes.
For bookings and information, contact Kelly Dive and Sail Shop, 1 The
Esplanade, Airlie Beach, Whitsunday, Qld. 4802 Australia
Check my Airlie Beach web page http://psiphi.server101.com/airlie/