Imagine waking up on a beautiful boat, in a quiet anchorage of an island archipelago. Listening to the gentle sounds of waves lapping against your boat as you make a coffee and watch the cool tones of morning light linger on the horizon, you wonder how you will spend your day in paradise. In the increasingly saturated Whitsunday island boat tour market, one experience stands out from the others; bareboating.
bareboat ('ber-ˌbōt) adjective. relating to or denoting a boat or ship hired without a crew.
To go bareboating is to hire a yacht for a skipper-yourself-adventure around the 74 islands and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park of the Whitsundays. Unlike the 2day/2night live-aboard experience, hiring a bareboat gives you the freedom to get off the beaten path and explore the magic of uninhabited islands and beautiful anchorages in one of the most stunning locations of Australia.
After a 3-hour boat brief in the marina covering anchoring, electrics, rules of the road and everything else you need to know to explore the islands by sea, you depart the marina with your bareboat briefer to quickly run through it all on the water, before being sent off on your merry way to explore.
I cannot explain how it feels when you are left to your own devices. Waving goodbye to your bareboat briefer and realising that it’s just you and your loved ones on a beautiful vessel, with islands upon islands ahead of you waiting to be explored, is the most exciting and incredulous feeling in the world. With the advantage of time on your side you get to watch more sunrises and sunsets, take longer walks, snorkel without the crowds, spend hours at the beach, go fishing and take your Whitsunday holiday at your own pace.
Having grown up in the area and with a number of bareboating trips under my belt, here is my list of not-to-miss-spots when bareboating;
Originally named Stockyard Beach it has over the years been nicknamed to Chalkies. Located on Haslewood island it is a stunning spot to spend the day and the perfect position to watch the sun set over Whitehaven Beach. Like Whitehaven, it features beautiful white silica sand and a walking path to a lookout.
The old faithful of anchorages. Not only is this one of the most protected places to anchor your vessel, it is absolutely beautiful. At almost a mile deep, the further into the inlet you go the more picturesque it becomes. Toward the end you will find names of visiting boats scratched into the rock face and a walking path to the rock paintings of the Ngaro people.
Whitehaven Beach & Hill Inlet
There is little description needed for this beach as the images speak volumes for what to expect. With the purest silica sand in the world, Whitehaven and Hill Inlet are located on Whitsunday island and are at the top of everyone’s list when visiting the Whitsundays. Anchor toward the south end of Whitehaven or tuck into Tongue bay which has access to Hill Inlet via the scenic lookout walking track.
Often overlooked is the little island off Hill Inlet called Esk Island. It is not the most protected anchorage but with a public mooring it is a lovely location to stop for lunch or to break up a sail in between Hook Island and Haslewood Island.
Inside the bottom edge of Hook Island is Saba Bay which boasts some beautiful coral reefs for snorkelling. Not often visited as it's exposed to the predominant winds, you can expect to find lots of soft corals, bommies and little caves to explore in the dinghy.
Received notoriety when Lara Bingle walked up it and said the famous question, ‘So where the bloody hell are you?’ The island has a small and easy track to a lookout but its defining feature is the long spit of sand and coral reef that stretches along it. More recently an underwater art feature was installed here, but you will need to be a confident duck diver to see it properly.
Blue Pearl Bay
Once crowned the jewel of the Whitsundays, the bay lost its status of having a pristine reef after a Cyclone breezed through. However it is on the mend and hopefully soon to reclaim its title! Here you will find underwater coral nurseries set up to encourage reef restoration, as well as another piece of underwater art. But by far the best part of this anchorage is uninterrupted sunset views.
Depending on your experience level, some bareboaters will let you go further afield and travel down to the Lindeman group where Maher Island’s ‘Blowhole’ is a must see. It is called this because of the way the water hits the rocks and shoots out like a whale's blowhole on a strong south easterly. It has a lovely little anchorage and is a great spot to see beautiful shells washed up onto the coral beach.
As one of the only destinations in the world where you can hire a boat without any tickets and with limited experience on the water, bareboating in the Whitsundays truly is a bucket-list worthy adventure for every ocean-loving traveller.
Words and photography by Ashleigh Clarke.