We finally left Airlie Beach last Saturday, headed for Stonehaven Anchorage on the northwest shores of Hook Island, in the hope that we would go from there to the outer Reef. The weather however has slowed the pace down a little with stronger south-easterlies than we want to be at an exposed reef. So instead, we are spending a few days exploring around the northern part of the island.
We had been to the Whitsunday Islands on charter yachts before, but now that we are here on our own boat, things are a little different. So let us describe how things feel.
First of all, it is really special to be cruising such an iconic group of islands on Take It Easy, probably because it is so renowned. Most anchorages in the Whitsundays are surrounded by tall, heavily treed mountains overlooking the turquoise waters. In the sunshine the colours and scenery are stunningly beautiful. It is warm and with the trade winds at this time of year, you are assured of good sailing.
The wildlife is amazing as always. Whether it is the birds, such as the Ospreys and their messy nests, a Humpback Whale and calf frolicking, or big bat fish patrolling under our moored boat, you never can tire of seeing all these creatures. It is a wildlife photography heaven!
Two Roundface Batfish lurking under our hulls… the welcoming committee! They are really big!
The last time we were around these parts, the water was clear, the coral vibrant and fish life abundant. Several years and a few cyclones later, the latest in March 2017, we have to say there is a lot of storm damage. So the bays open to the Northeast such as Butterfly, Manta Ray and Luncheon Bays, which offered possibly the best snorkelling on Hook Island, are a sorry sight. There are upturned coral heads, broken branches and the water clarity is poor. When you know what a healthy reef looks like, it is quite sad. There are however a few pockets of corals that attract little damsels.
One of the things we find awkward cruising in the northern part of the group is that most bays are either very deep for anchoring or full of rubble and coral bommies. So far we have had the chain wrapped around rocks twice, which is OK if Wadie can dive to the bottom to clear it, but in 12 meters plus, Weaky Wadie can’t hold his breath that long! We are therefore reliant on picking up a public mooring. However, unlike at the Southern Reef, the moorings are only for two hours not 24 and unless you can pick one up by three o’clock in the afternoon when you are allowed to stay for the night, you keep having to shuffle off! It is tedious. Some of the bays, such as Butterfly Bay have enough moorings available that you don’t feel too bad if you overstay, but at places like Langford Island, boats will wait just outside of the mooring area and the pressure is on once your two hours are up!
We have tasted better things and can’t say we are enamoured with the conditions. As for the quantity of yachts, especially charter yachts, well, don’t get us started on that one! You know what we are like with crowds. Even if we were prepared for it, it still irks us.
Despite these drawbacks, we are enjoying our time here and have a few bucket list items to tick away, one of them anchoring inside Hill Inlet, Whitehaven Beach, the other getting to Bait Reef, offshore of Hook Island. We will keep you posted on these endeavours! And we will soon welcome our dear friend Sue who is joining us in a week or so. We will explore the Whitsundays a little more together, spending probably more time in the southern islands of the group which are less busy and out of bound for rent-a-yachts. Sue is a regular visitor on Take It Easy and we will be together for at least a month, slowly heading south to get out of the cyclone zone by 1 November.
Stay tuned for more Whitsunday adventures. We are off to Blue Pearl Bay, Hayman Island next!