BootsnAll Travel Network


Traveling up or down the east coast of Australia is one of the most popular backpacker routes in the world. Tiny beachside towns, surfing meccas and trips to the outlying islands make up the routes of most people. You could spend months visiting every nook and cranny along the huge coast, and some people do. I hadn’t done too much on the east coast, but I knew the one thing I definitely wanted to do was a sailing trip on the Whitsundays.
The Whitsunday Islands are a cluster of islands off the coast of Airlie Beach, a small tourist town on the coast. The Islands are also a national park and since they are part of the Great Barrier Reef, a marine reserve as well. When choosing a boat to do the trip on, although there were many choices it wasn’t such a hard decision to make this time around. Most boats only have two trips a week, and if you are trying to match up to one departure day, you can eliminate many of the boats. There is a vast range of the type of boat as well, how many passengers they can fit and the atmosphere on the boat as well. Since I wanted to do a 2 night, 3 day trip, it was really important that you comfortable with the vibe and the people on the boat. I knew I definitely wanted a real sailboat, not a catamaran or big yacht, so that ruled out many of the options. I also wanted a fairly small boat, and didn’t want what people call “party boats,” where people drink their way around the islands all day. I wanted some rest and relaxation, and decided to try the Waltzing Matilda.

It was steamy hot on Wednesday morning when I was set to leave. I was booked in a hostel called Bush Village, which was a bit out of town but had self contained cabins and a pool. Since I had arrived on the hellish overnight bus from Cairns on Tuesday morning, I hadn’t accomplished a lot of Tuesday, and spent most of the day at the public lagoon, or pool, in town. I also did some grocery shopping for snacks and alcohol for my sailing trip, since they didn’t have a liquor license. I had to be at the Marina at 8:30am, and since my hostel’s shuttle bus didn’t leave until 8:45, I had to walk to the Marina. After breakfast and checking my bags into storage at the hostel I started off to the docks. Unfortunately, it was so hot and humid and within about 3 seconds, I was drenched. There was no breeze whatsoever, and my short climb over the hill to the docks resulted in my being completely exhausted before I even got there. Once I arrived at the Marina, after what seemed like eternity but was probably about 15 minutes, there were no sign postings anywhere, and it took me another 10 minutes or so to figure out where to go. I finally saw a young guy walking with a Waltzing Matilda shirt on, and asked him where I was supposed to be. Turns out he was our first mate Matt, and thankfully told me to have a seat and take a breather, as they were still prepping the boat. I sat down at a cafe next to another single girl, and asked her what boat she was going on, which also turned out to be Waltzing Matilda. Her name was Denise, and she was from Germany. After a few minutes, a woman named Sandy came to check us in and we met the rest of the group on the boat.

Our skipper Wayne brought us on board and after introducing himself and Matt, we checked into our “rooms.” Denise and I were the only single travelers and we were sharing a dorm room of sorts that had 4 single bunks in it. When I say room, it was really more of a cubby hole with mattresses and the two of us couldn’t both stand in there at the same time. Luckily, we were the only two people in there, as the boat wasn’t completely full. I don’t know how they could put two more people in there, as I found out it would have been really crowded. After putting our bags away, we went back on deck to meet everyone else, and once they got the boat away from the dock, we did our introductions. There was Matt and Jade, a British couple who had been traveling for about 10 1/2 months. Then Rachel and Dave, a young couple from Tasmania on their honeymoon. The last couple was Helen and Dan and their 3 1/2 year old daugher Eva from Ireland. At first, I sort of cringed inwardly a bit, as kids that age stuck on a boat for three days I imagined would be sort of a nightmare. Turns out that the Waltzing Matilda is one of the few boats that takes kids, so Wayne and Matt were fairly used to it. Denise and I rounded out the bunch, and I was really glad it was such a small group, just nine of us when it could have been 14.

Since the Waltzing Matilda is not a dive boat, we would spend most of the time sailing around the islands and snorkeling, and possibly docking a few places to do some walking on an island or two. Wayne explained all the rules of the boat, and interestingly, spent about 15 minutes explaining the rules of the toilet and bathroom facilities. Since it is illegal for boats to be out on the water without enough fresh water, we had to be very conservative with water use, which meant we each got a 3 minute shower a day and weren’t allowed to wash our hair at all. For 3 days. We also got instructions on how to use the toilet and the men were told “When out at sea, sit down to pee.” After all the embarrassing toilet discussions were over, Wayne explained what our plans would be for the next few days, but also so we realized that plans would change with the weather and things like that. Turns out that weather is the most important factor in whether your trip is successful or not.

I was really excited to be on a sailboat for the first time. Turns out that wind is sort of an important aspect of sailing, of which we had none of the first day. The sailboat comes equipped with a motor, so we motored slowly to our first destination, a small inlet to do some snorkeling. It took us about two hours or so to get there, and during that time Matt prepared lunch for us. Luckily he used to cook in his mom’s restaurant and he turned out to be a really good cook, considering the tiny kitchen and storage facilities he had to work with. After lunch, we were fitted with the obligatory stinger suits, as Wayne doesn’t allow people in the water without them, and our snorkels. Wayne brought us out to the reef in the little dingy, and even Eva had a cute little tiny stinger suit and lifevest on. The snorkeling was just as good as it had been up in Cairns, and if I had known that, I probably wouldn’t have paid to do a separate trip up there. The fish came unbelievabley close to us, and we were able to really be in there as long as we wanted. Once everyone got reasonable tired, we got back in the dingy and went back to our boat.

Someone had told me a few days prior to bring snacks with me, but it turns out that wasn’t necessary at all. Matt had set out a nice little spread of afternoon tea for us, and we happily settled in for some more cruising. As we are in the wet season of a tropical rainforest, it came as no surprise that is started raining on us. What I didn’t realize the rain meant however, was that we had to close all the windows down below and how absolutely hot and steamy it got down there without any air circulating. Aside from the rain, the heat was still ever present. Wayne decided to dock at a place called Whitehaven beach, which is a sprawling, completely shallow clear beach that seems to go on forever. We arrived when the tide was low, and after a short walk through the rainforest on the island, we got to the beach. The water was so clear and inviting, but the luxury of just running and splashing into the water was over, as we all struggled to put on our wet and sandy stinger suits. We had about 2 hours before we had to be back on the other side of the island for Wayne to pick us up, and we lazed around the water, looking for sting rays and baby sharks near the edge of the water. Dan and Helen went off for a walk alone, probably the first time in a long time they had a few minutes alone and we watched Eva, playing with her in the sand. After a while, I began to wonder what was taking them some long though, since we only had a few minutes before we needed to be back on the other beach to be picked up. We finally gathered up our gear and started to make our way off the beach, which was actually quite a walk. Helen and Dan finally caught up to us, and happily told us they had just gotten engaged. Turns out that Dan had been carrying out this ring for over 2 months from Ireland, and was looking for the perfect place to propose, and Wayne had suggested Whitehaven beach at sunset, which was a truly beautiful place. After many congratulations all around, we made our way back to the boat and our dinner. Since we were done snorkeling, we all had some wine and beer and set back to relax.

It started to rain again after dinner though, and rained hard enough that all the windows needed to be shut. The boat had a covering that was up while we docked for the night, so we sat under that and talked, all dreading the inevitable of having to sleep below deck in that sweltering heat. Turns out we had reason to fear, as it was one of the most dreadful nights sleep I have ever gotten. Not only were our bunks tiny, which was to be expected, but the heat was just stifling, and Denise and I sat there and sweated all night. A few smart people actually went up on deck and slept out there after a while once it stopped raining, which was about 3am. The next morning, we were all pretty worse for wear, and all we wanted to do was hop in the water and cool off. The necessity of the stinger suits sort of put us off though, and after breakfast we went back on Whitehaven beach for a few hours. The tide was high this time, and the difference in the beach was amazing. There was almost no beach left, and the water was basically a huge baby pool. The water never got above my waist, and we were pretty far out in the water. We saw huge sting rays again, and a few turtles. After about two hours, the skies darkened and it started pouring. We had to be back to meet the dingy anyway, and we marched through the forest with about 50 other people from other boats through the torrential downpour and all waited on the beach for our dingys. Wayne came to pick us up and we were soaked when we got back to the boat. Matt again had some tea and snacks set up for us, which was really welcoming.

After the rain died off a bit, the wind picked up enough for us to sail, and we finally got the sails up for a few hours. Once the rain stopped and we were sailing, the weather was great. It was warm, but breezy and not too hot and sunny. It was, frankly, perfect sailing weather, and we all settled on deck with our books and or towels to lie on. After a few hours, we reached our next snorkeling spot. We were all pretty tired from the day before and the horrible night’s sleep, but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity for more snorkeling. The stinger suits started to take all the joy out of going in the water, and we tiredly struggled to pull them on. The snorkeling was pretty good at this place as well, and there were some resident turtles that we could get really close to, along with the now ubiquitous brightly colored reef fish. Right towards the end of our snorkeling, Matt called out to be to look down in the water, and we saw this huge fish meandering past us. It was the biggest fish I had ever seen, until we saw the next biggest fish, which was bigger than the first. Jade called it the cow fish, because we all joked it was as big as a cow. It might not have been that big, but maybe as big as a calf. When we got back on board, Matt showed us a book of reef fish, and we identified the first one as a huge maori wrasse. The other one that I spotted was a bump-headed parrotfish, but it was ginormous. I couldn’t get a good photo of it, because it swam into the murky depths of the water too quickly. But it was really cool to see such a huge fish swim by.

After snorkeling, we settled on the boat for the night. Even though I don’t get seasick, by about 7:30 or so, I started to feel kind of ill. It wasn’t seasickness, just a slight nauseous feeling. By the time Matt put dinner out, I wasn’t feeling all that great, and going up top for air was only helping slightly. I went to lie down for a while, and ended up falling asleep for the rest of the night. I think I was just overly tired and my body just sort of had had enough. I woke up fairly rested the next day, as it wasn’t so hot on the boat that night and I got a decent nights sleep. In the morning, Wayne dropped us off on South Molle Island, which is basically a huge resort island where you have a private bungalow and there is golf and everything. But it is also a National Park, so we went for a hike up to Lookout Point, which gave us a great view of the dock and surrounding islands. After a few hours on the island, we got back on board for one last meal together and started our sail home.It ended as quickly as it started and we arrived at the Marina about 4pm. After photos were taken and everything, we said our goodbyes and parted ways. It wasn’t the last time we would see each other though, as all boats reserve tables at various bars and restaurants and we would all meet up  there later that night.

I checked back in to my hostel and had the longest shower of my life. We were all meeting at 7:30, which didn’t give me a lot of time but was just enough to relax for a bit. We met at a bar called Beaches, and Dan and Helen arrived without Eva as they managed to find a babysitter for her for a little bit. Rachel and Dave didn’t come, because they were on their way to the rest of their honeymoon, a resort called Long Island. Slightly different the the Long Island in the US, I believe. The night was going really well, we were drinking and having a good time, until the babysitter called Dan to come and get Eva. He asked the bouncer if he could come back with his child, and understood that he was allowed to. However, when he got back with Eva, the bouncer said he didn’t realize he was bringing her back with him, and wouldn’t let him him. I’m not sure what was said or what happened, but this jerk of a bouncer sort of pushed Dan a little bit, while he was carrying Eva. So she started crying and it just got really weird there for a minute or two. Dan ended up taking Eva home, and we complained to the manager about the bouncer. Of course, he said he couldn’t do anything because they were contractors, but he wrapped up Helen and Dan’s food for us, since they hadn’t had a chance to eat it. It was sort of a buzz kill, but Matt, Jade, Helen and I went out for a few more drinks to another bar. It was sort of a strange ending to the evening, but it was still fun. I just wish Dan and Eva had been able to at least say goodbye without her being upset by that stupid bouncer.

As with any trip or activity, as I’ve said before, it depends on the group you are with. I have to say I was really lucky, and after discussing it with everyone else that night, we all realized we were lucky for various reasons. Helen and Dan said they were so thankful that we all enjoyed Eva’s company and they were able to leave her with us at various times. They said they’ve had some hard times with her, where the tour operator might ignore her or makes them feel like it is a burden, and Wayne and Matt were really good with her. Since she had to pay full fare, it was to be expected, but they actually seemed to enjoy having her there, which makes a difference to them. Whenever we were snorkeling and Eva got tired, Wayne would put her in the dingy and show her fish and the turtles and stuff, and allow Dan and Helen to enjoy themselves. Eva was really smart and fun to talk to and while her parents might have had parenting issues with her, I think she did really well on this small boat for three days. Denise and I were really lucky that the couples we were with were so nice and personable, and didn’t really couple off very much. Since Rachel and Dave were on their honeymoon, they tended to keep to themselves a little more, but that was to be expected. It was just a really good group of people, we all enjoyed each others company, and when you are on a boat with 9 strangers for 3 days, it can really make or break your trip. Unlike some other things I’ve done so far here in Australia, it was definitely worth the money and will probably be one of the most memorable.

I’m going to hang out in Airlie Beach for the next two days and do nothing really. I was going to go to Fraser Island, which is another popular destination for backpackers. But I just wasn’t excited about it, and it is expensive to do a tour there, and I always said I wouldn’t do things just because I thought I should. Plus, I have to be in Sydney on the 15th to catch my train out to the Outback on the 16th. So it would have been really hectic to bus it down to Hervey Bay where you leave for Fraser Island, do a two day tour, bus to Brisbane, and fly right to Sydney. So I am just going to relax here, and am flying to Sydney on Monday, which is the same price almost that I paid for my bus trip from Cairns to Airlie Beach. Ridiculous! I’m looking forward to going to my friend Denika’s sheep station and not being a tourist for a while, seeing a little bit of real Australian life and getting to see and do some things that not everyone does. Even though I enjoyed the Whitsundays immensely, it is really touristy and common, and I’m looking forward to finally “getting off the beaten track,” if only for a little while. 


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