In order to appreciate the true beauty of Queensland, you really need to get out on the open water. I spent two nights and one very full and fun-packed day sailing the Whitsundays off the east coast of Australia aboard ‘Hammer’ – a 75-foot maxi yacht that has won the Brisbane to Gladstone race four times.
This amazing adventure had been organised as part of Contiki’s BEACHES AND REEFS tour. There are two main pieces of advice I can offer you about this tour. First: don’t hesitate. Just book it. I was concerned I wouldn’t meet people my age or who I’d get on with, but we were a close knit group of 50 by the end! Second: splash out on the tour that includes sailing. We had WAY more fun than those who didn’t. I might even go so far as to say it was the highlight of our trip (and there were plenty of contenders!).
SAIL THE WHITSUNDAYS WITH CONTIKI…
AND HAVE NO REGRETS
Along with the Condor and the Broomstick, Hammer is part of a small fleet now used by the company Prosail Whitsundays to take people out on sailing, snorkelling and island hopping trips. Once aboard, you automatically become initiated as a ‘Hammerhead’ and the occasional shout of ‘Hammers’ – used to assert your superiority over any other Prosail vessel in the vicinity – is very much appreciated by the crew.
SAILING THE WHITSUNDAYS
If you’re prone to nerves, I’ll give you a little heads up. In a matter of seconds, you can go from lying on deck enjoying a leisurely cruise to clinging to the railings with your feet hooked over the side of the boat (which is suddenly at a 70-degree angle), as waves splash across the deck, wind whips your hair all over your face and you hear all of your belongings clattering around below deck.
The good news is that you get used to it. By the evening of the second day, we had our backs to the railings and cups of goon in our previously white-knuckled hands – a much more comfortable (if slightly less secure) way to sit!
Sailing is really good fun and the crew members make sure that everyone gets involved, whether it be steering, raising the sail or turning the winch handles.
The Whitsundays are part of the Great Barrier Reef, so it would be criminal not to have a look at what’s lurking beneath the surface of the water. First, though, you’ll need to dress yourself up in a full-body ‘stinger suit’. These are similar to wetsuits, but the material is thinner and they’re much easier to put on. Prosail has done every guest a favour by purchasing them in plain black, which allows you to look as good as it’s possible to look when you’re dressed head to toe in baggy lycra.
You can use Prosail’s snorkels and masks, as well as taking a noodle float, but fins are banned because of the damage people cause when they accidentally kick the reef. Bear in mind that this doesn’t prevent you from accidentally kicking the reef with your bare feet. Coral can be incredibly sharp and gashes have a tendency to get infected, so take care and treat any cuts regularly with iodine.
Whitehaven Beach has regularly been listed as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The incredibly white sand is 98% silica. Not only does it look pretty, it also doesn’t retain heat from the sun, making it comfortable to walk on barefoot.
To reach it, you’ll take a dingy to a beach on the opposite side of the island and follow a footpath to a popular lookout point. From there, you can really appreciate how the sand bars have built up to create a wave-like expanse of varying shades of emerald green. Save some space on your memory card, though, because you can have a lot of fun once you reach the beach itself.
SILLY PHOTO OPPORTUNITIES
It seems to be par for the course to get involved with a few silly photos when on Whitehaven Beach. Pretending you’re naked behind the National Park sign has been done to death but feels like a right of passage. Jumping shots are pretty much a necessity, and since the large, unbroken expanse of sand creates a similar effect to the salt flats of Bolivia, you might as well throw in a perspective shot or two while you’re at it.
The marine life had been amazing, but some of the most unique wildlife experiences happened when we visited Whitsunday Island.
I saw my first Australian wild snake beside the lookout point, ran into park wardens literally vacuuming spiders from the public bathrooms, and then licked an ant! Greentree ants are Australia’s only species of weaver ant. They produce a sticky substance, which they use to weave nests of leaves, and it tastes really sour – a bit like green Starbust. If you grip the ant’s front legs between your thumb and forefinger and gently place its back end against the tip of your toungue, it won’t be harmed. Having said that, given Australian animals’ propensity to kill you, it’s probably not a good idea to lick anything without a guide first confirming what it is.
There’s clearly no guarantee that future groups will have the same crew members as we did, but if they’re half as good as our team, you’re guaranteed to have fun and be well looked after. Captain Ned, Sarah and Mitch all went out of their way to make our stay aboard the Hammer as comfortable and memorable as possible, and Mitch’s nachos were the best we’ve ever tasted.
Sailing the Whitsundays is a great mix of fun and relaxation, but it’s important not to expect high-end luxury. There are a lot of people sharing a reasonably small space and, for that reason, the sleeping area is open plan and very cosy, and the water supply is limited. As long as you can look past the inconvenience of taking one-minute showers and sleeping on a comfy but narrow shelf, you’re guaranteed to have an amazing and unforgettable experience.
I joined Prosail’s Hammer as part of Contiki’s Beaches and Reefs Tour from Sydney to Cairns, which was sponsored by Contiki. While they requested that I write about my trip, the choice of topics has been left entirely up to me. Any opinions expressed are a genuine reflection on how I felt about the experience. For more information about Prosail, check out their Facebook page.