Whitsundays and Whitehaven
Everyone loves a tour, right? Well, not everyone, but if you plan to travel the East Coast of Australia, you will have the option of paying for many, many tours, if you so choose. The East Coast is famous for its adventure tourism, and there’s a tour for just about everything you can imagine (yes, even crocodile sighting on jet skis): snorkelling, scuba diving, sky diving, rain forest walking, island hopping, sailing, and the list goes on and on. So are these tours really worth it? Between Airlie Beach and Fraser Island (more to come on Fraser Island later), we signed up for two tours and discovered the answer to this question: some are, and some probably are not.
When planning our road trip, we talked endlessly about whether or not the three of us wanted to splurge on a three day, two night sailing tour in the Whitsundays: one of the most famous areas on the East Coast (do yourself a favour and Google it). We discussed the pros and cons of each: meeting amazing people, sailing around incredible beaches and clear waters, seasickness and being stuck on a boat. And even if we had wanted to, there was no way we could do this one on our own without going on a tour.
Like other tours, this one costs about $450 AUS. Not chump change, that’s for sure. We had all heard both great and horrendous things about going on a sailing tour in that region, so we were torn. In the end, we opted for a day trip to the Whitsundays, which meant we wouldn’t be sleeping on a sailboat for two nights, but we would be seeing some of the same areas that the multi-day tours visit, but in one action packed day instead.
From what we heard, we chose neither right nor wrong. According to our research (aka being nosy and asking everyone we met their opinion), most say that your experience depends on many, many factors: the weather (which you cannot control), the company you choose, how seasick you get, etc.
Even though we didn’t go on a multi-day boat, we talked to numerous locals and tourists before we made our decision. The general consensus was that the best companies are: Camira, Ocean Rafting, and The Clipper. The worst: Southern Cross. Case in point, talk to people who have been before you sign up for a $450 three-day booze cruise that you thought was a chill sailing adventure. And the most important thing of all? Book well in advance. The most ironic thing about our decision not to go was that even if we had decided the opposite, there was no availability left when we had finally made our decision. Apparently Spring Break is a real deal here and summer vacation (November-February) is even busier.
So what did we end up doing? I won’t lie, we ended up on one of those picked over, over-crowded, rushed, cliche tourist boats where they give you wrist bands so they can keep track of you like cattle. We were transported to Hamilton Island, a beautiful resort destination for one hour, then boarded the boat again and headed over to Whitehaven beach for three hours. There, we ate our $150 crummy “picnic lunch” provided by the tour. Afterward, we spent another hour and a half on Hamilton Island. In other words, unless you want to see a tiny portion of the Whitsundays following an incredibly awkward schedule, I don’t suggest you book with “Cruise Whitsundays”.
But hey, sometimes you have to do what you have to do, and hope that everything happens for a reason. And in our case, it definitely did. While drinking the remainder of the day away at the Hamilton Island resort swim up bar, we ended up meeting a certain National Rugby League team called the Cowboys, who were clever enough to convince us that they were just a group of lads on a high school reunion. And we bought that lie. Until we were invited onto their 80 foot yacht back to Airlie Beach, that is. But that’s a story for another day.
On another note, when you stay in Airlie Beach before you depart for your Whitsundays sailing expidition, I recommend staying at Backpackers By the Bay. We really enjoyed our three night stay there, and the hostel was much more chill and relaxing than Base, which is a popular party hostel on the main drag. Backpackers By the Bay is a ten minute walk from the main drag, but it’s quite clean, you’ll get a good night’s rest, and you can get a free night stay there if you book your tour directly through the hostel. Tip: Book the hostel through their website for free wifi during your stay.
Till next time,