Road Trip Diaries # 7 – Ocean Rafting to the Whitsunday Island
On our 3rd day at Airlie Beach, we joined an Ocean Rafting tour that includes an exhilarating ride to Whitehaven Beach, snorkeling on pristine reef and a guided walk in the Whitsunday National Park. There were many choices for sailing around Whitsundays but we opted for the ocean rafting tour because it was one of the few operators that were allowed to moor at Tongue Bay, right in the white sands of Hill Inlet.
The small seaside town of Airlie Beach was charming and picturesque as well but I had been counting the hours when we could sail away from its harbor and around the Whitsunday Islands. We woke very early on the day itself, I guess we were excited for the day that awaited us. We didn’t have to wait too long, however, before our boat finally coasted to the pier along aquamarine waters whose bottom could not be seen. After a quick stopover at Daydream Island to pick up some more guests, we were off to the most gorgeous beach I have seen so far, speeding along at 140knots per hour. The ride itself was an attraction in its own right, swerving and weaving at high speed through the clear water like an amusement park ride. But I didn’t expect that there was even more in store for us than what was promised on the brochure.
Here are 5 Amazing things about Whitsundays
74 Gorgeous Islands
There is no shortage of unspoiled beaches and forested islands along the Whitsunday Coast, which spans from the beautiful beaches of Bowen in the north down to the golf greens of Laguna Quays. Of the 74 islands only 8 are inhabited. One of which is the luxurious Hamilton Island where Oprah stayed during her visit in 2010 and another is Whitsunday Island, where the beautiful Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet are located. This was our destination for our day tour. Verdant islands covered with thick forest, untouched by civilization and sandwiched between clear blue skies and azure waters are common sights as you cruise around.
Humpback Whales and Dolphins
Our raft was swiftly cruising over the turquoise waters towards Hill Inlet when it came to an abrupt stop – some passengers had seen an enormous humpback whale breaching from afar. It was a welcome surprise for everyone and especially for me as I had never seen one before.
Even from a distance, its presence was imposing and really awe-inspiring. We also spotted another one from the other side of the raft and just excitedly marveled at these curious mammals. Our raft didn’t go too close to avoid stressing them, which made me feel a bit guilty for swimming so close with the Whale Sharks at Donsol, Sorsogon. We spotted some dolphins as well on our way to Hook Island. Dugongs and stingrays also abound in the area but we weren’t lucky enough to see one. The best part of this trip was being able to see these animals in the wild as a bonus.
The underwater world at Whitsundays is teeming with life and color. Just a few miles northeast of the islands is The Great Barrier Reef, which boasts hundreds of species of marine life. I saw my first gigantic maori wrasse and golden trevally while snorkeling at Mantaray Bay on Hook Island. They were actually swimming near our raft and could be seen clearly even from the boat. They seemed to be used to people perhaps because they were being fed by our guide.
Maori Wrasse is a common resident of the pristine waters of Whitsundays.
Photo Credit: www.divearound.com.au
The water was a bit freezing even though I was wearing a wetsuit. But it didn’t stop me from soaking in all the wonders underwater until it was time to move to the next snorkeling spot. Many of us decided to just laze on the coral filled beach at our next destination. The waters here were just as clear and inviting but I preferred to sunbathe after the chilly dip.
World-Famous Whitehaven Beach
I have never seen a beach with sand as white as snow and as fine as the finest talcum powder. It was everything I had imagined it to be, a pristine paradise of indescribable beauty. I could not wait to touch it and feel it under my feet when we moored our raft at Tongue Bay. The vast expanse of dazzling white pure silica sand hemmed by lush forest on the other side and turquoise blue water was postcard-perfect. Seeing the place for real was a whole new experience, I still couldn’t believe I was actually here.
White Haven is rated as the 2nd best beach in the world according to the National Geographic, and the 4th Most Photographed Place in Australia. But the most remarkable thing about it was the absence of any man-made structure, except for the wooden lookout that affords a spectacular view of the area. The beach is part of the Whitsunday Island National Park. It is protected and hopefully will remain like that even if billons of dollars from resort and hotel developers are at stake. My visit to Whitehaven Beach was the day I became unfaithful to Boracay.
Amazing Hill Inlet
Just when I thought I have seen already the best views the place has to offer, a short trek to the northern end of Whitehaven Beach led to a stunning view of Hill Inlet. It was a vast panorama of different hues of blue waters and mosaic of glistening white sand that shifts with the ebb and flow of the tide. The fusion of colours was breathtaking. It’s no wonder it is one of the most photographed place in Australia. You couldn’t go wrong with your pictures here.
Our boat was dwarfed by the vastness of the seascape.
(This is part of our 6-week North Queensland Road Trip Series, which took place July- August 2010)