I got a lot of mixed suggestions about where to visit in Australia. Some people said to ignore the west coast because there’s nothing there. Some said to skip the Gold Coast because it’s just a resort town. Some said to skip the Outback because it’s too hot. Some said to skip the Great Barrier Reef because of stinger season.
The Whitsunday Islands were one place I was told to skip because they are “overrated.”
And wow, am I happy that I ignored them! Does THIS look overrated to you? Yes, that’s exactly what it looks like.
I sailed around the Whitsunday Islands on a 2 night, 3 day trip on the boat, New Horizon from True Blue sailing. The boat, which sleeps up to 32 people, is a notorious party boat. I didn’t realize its reputation until after I booked the trip. I googled “overnight trip to Whitsunday Islands” and the New Horizon was one of the first ones to come up so I booked it.
While the sailing company definitely encourages you to drink (there were probably 3 separate emails reminding you to bring your own alcohol), it was not a party boat. Everyone had a couple beers and glasses of goon (boxed wine) during sunset and into the night but no one was black out drunk or puking over the side of the boat. The crew keeps you very busy so there wasn’t really time to party.
We got on board New Horizon the first day around 2 p.m. in Airlie Beach. After a brief safety demonstration, we sailed to our sleeping spot. We arrived about 2.5 hours later to an inlet off Hook Island, one of the Whitsunday Islands.
Once we anchored, we were each handed a wet suit and jumped off the boat’s diving board. Stinger season in Queensland is from October to May so you will be forced to wear a stinger suit if you visit during this time. I did not see any jelly fish or stingrays while we were swimming but I was happy to have one just in case!
That night we watched the sunset and made new friends over a couple bags of goon. Goon is a nickname for Australia’s boxed wine. You can get 5 liters of goon for about $15. It’s crap! But it’s cheap so it’s very popular among backpackers. I found the dry white flavors to be the most drinkable. Some of the younger travelers (we had people as young as 18 on our boat) preferred the sweet, fruity goon and I can tell you this is absolute crap wine. Go for the dry. It’s more like Franzia in the States.
We had four crew members on our boat. There was a chef, Louis, who actually competed on Master Chef Australia and was great! We also had a skipper, a deck hand and a dive instructor. These guys have a HARD job. They basically get no days off. They turn the boat over the day you get off and another set of guests get on three hours later.
The first night we had a dinner of mashed potatoes, salad and fish. The crew was great about allergies so everyone was able to eat at each meal. There is free water on the boat but soft drinks are extra. And of course, as they reminded us, you had to bring you own alcohol.
There is a strict curfew of midnight in the Whitsunday Islands. Because most groups wake up early for the sunrise, it’s a respect thing. The deck lights and music were turned off right at midnight and we were kicked off the deck and sent to bed immediately. We were woken up at 6 a.m. so most people were happy to get some sleep.
There are three separate rooms on the New Horizon, each with bunk beds. I was in the room furthest to the front of the boat. We had 4 sets of bunk beds in our room and it was filled with all female, solo travelers. We all became fast friends! You would have thought by the end of the first night that we had all traveled to Australia together.
The beds were small but very comfortable. There’s also power and AIR CONDITIONING on the boat! New Horizon is one of the only boats in the Whitsunday Islands with air con.
You are not allowed to sleep on the deck of the boat. This is a safety reason that they told us several times. Although if you’re sneaky, you can get away with it. 😉 And the stars are AMAZING so you’ll want to sneak up there.
We were woken up promptly at 6 a.m. “The sleep portion of your trip has ended,” we were told over the boat speakers before they played “A Whole New World” from Aladdin. It was actually hilarious!
When we all emerged upstairs, breakfast was ready including unlimited coffee! This New Yorker was happy. It was unbelievable to be in a bikini at 6 a.m., drinking coffee while sailing around these beautiful islands.
The thing I found the most shocking about the Whitsunday Islands was that they kind of look like they’re in Canada. I was expecting tropical trees and sand everywhere. But a lot of the islands we sailed past had pine trees and rocks everywhere. It could have been Lake Louise! It was really strange to realize we were in the Pacific Ocean but surrounded by pine trees.
The water is insanely blue. It’s so clear you would think it’s fresh water! But it’s actually some of the saltiest ocean water I’ve ever tasted. Do not accidentally open your mouth! You WILL regret it.
We anchored at the famous Whitehaven Beach around 8:30 a.m. and tendered to the shore. We hiked about 5 minutes up a trail to a lookout point where we got the first glimpse of Whitehaven. It literally takes your breath away.
Whitehaven Beach is part of a national park so it’s almost completely untouched. There were two other small boats visiting Whitehaven when we were there but other than that, there was no one on the beach. I kept thinking that back in the States, this beach would have massive high rise resorts around it and would be completely ruined by tourism. Whitehaven is the opposite of that!
Whitehaven has the smallest grains of sand known to man and it really is the softest sand I’ve ever felt. It also didn’t get hot which was shocking! We had three hours to hang out at the beach. We had to bring stinger suits but I chose to just wade in the shallow parts of the water where I didn’t need it. Others who were more brave than me swam on the ocean side of the beach and saw several sting rays so the stinger suit is necessary if you choose to swim!
After visiting Whitehaven, we were taken back to the boat for lunch. Wraps are HUGE on tours! They’re easy to feed to a massive group of people so I had many on my travels through Australia.
After Whitehaven, we sailed to another cove where we were able to snorkel and those who chose to could dive. Sadly, the Whitsunday Islands are not the place to dive anymore. They had a cyclone in May 2017 that completely ruined their reef. While snorkeling, I saw that the coral had completely crumbled into basically dust on the bottom of the ocean floor.
There were still TONS of fish to see, including George, a famous wrasse fish in the area who is absolutely massive. We were told to lookout for George and we actually saw him within the first 5 minutes of snorkeling. But while on the bottom of the ocean, he looked so small that we didn’t believe it was him. We spent 45 minutes looking for him when finally our guide pointed him out and we were like…oh. Oops!
After snorkeling, we were sent back to the boat for coffee and snacks while we sailed to a sunset spot. They took us to a tiny deserted part of Hook Island that is only attached during low tide. Our group took beers and sat on the beach watching the sunset with our new friends.
We then anchored for our last night. For dinner we had pasta with meat sauce and garlic bread. Again, a great meal! And of course we topped it off with several bags of goon between our group.
In the morning, we were woken up again promptly at 6 a.m. After breakfast, we got on our stinger suits and had three hours to swim. The crew put out a giant blow up slide, paddle boards and the diving board.
Then it was sadly time to go back to Airlie Beach. It took us about 2.5 hours over decently rough seas to get back to land.
That night, True Blue Sailing organized a sort of after party for people who had been on their two boats sailing in the Whitsunday Islands. Let me tell you, this “afterparty” is crap. First of all, you get “free shots” that are basically just fruit juice. I think there was zero alcohol in it. The party is at Boom nightclub, one of the more popular bars in Airlie Beach. Pretty much everyone in town was there. But don’t expect to get drunk without spending a bit of money!
I enjoyed how much time we spent on the boat with New Horizon. I don’t get seasick and it was nice looking at the scenery and just relaxing. Not many people got seasick. Some a little queasy, but no one was puking over the side. I would highly recommend visiting the Whitsunday Islands while on the east coast of Australia!
Some things to note about sailing in the Whitsunday Islands:
- Showers aren’t really a thing. Each day you are allowed a 2 minute shower.
- You cannot bring bags with zippers. Most of these boats have had bed bug issues in the past so they’re extremely careful. We were able to store our bags at ABC Travel for $5.
- You don’t need to bring a lot with you. We mostly went from bathing suits/cover ups to pajamas and back again. All you really need other than that is sunscreen, a towel and flip flops.
- If you travel with True Blue sailing, note that their boat the Atlantic Clipper is more of a party boat. It sleeps more than 50 people and even has a disco area on the boat.
- Definitely consider an overnight trip. The islands are more than 2 hours from Airlie Beach so you really don’t get enough time to explore the area if you visit as a day trip.