Cruising The Whitsunday’s On A Barefoot Charter: Our 8 Night Itinerary
Would we cruise the Whitsunday Islands again? Only somebody who had never been to the Whitsundays would ask a question like that!
Think turquoise water, lush green forests and blinding white sand. The Whitsundays are an absolute playground for families, consisting of a bunch of islands – 74 to be exact – scattered across the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef.
For this trip we switched out our usual van for a Perry 44.5 powered 4 cabin catamaran called the ‘Dreamtime Princess’, and she was a beaut! We did a seven night deal with Queensland Yacht Charters who were awesome, and we were even lucky enough to score a Pay 4 / Sail 7 deal when we booked.
Our family was ready to stretch out our wings after being cooped up in the van so long, and the time we had out in the water on this trip will stay with us all for the rest of our lives.
Here we have put together the highlights of our 8 night Whitsundays adventure, including the places we visited and the parts we enjoyed most. Some locations were based on a combination of activities we wanted to do and current weather conditions. If considering a trip to the Whitsundays, keep in mind that summers are warm and humid with frequent rain showers, whilst winters are absolutely perfect, with warm days and lovely cool nights.
We opted for the overnight stay option, which meant we had access to the boat from 4 pm the day prior to charter. We’d definitely recommend this option for anyone with children or if you need more time to get organised. It made it super easy for us to get our three kids sorted and ready for the adventure.
We woke up to an 8 am induction after our overnight stay. The induction covered the basics of navigation, planning our itinerary for the next seven days, how the boat and equipment worked, and an hour on the water to ensure we were ready and fit to take off.
Once Scott our instructor was happy and felt comfortable we were in control of the vessel, we were on our way. The induction can take from 3 to 5 hours and will depend on your experience on the water.
First night we headed to Stonehaven Beach on Hook Island, which was a two hour trip from Coral Sea Marina. On arrival to Stonehaven there was a large bay well protected from easterly and southerly winds. This spot was renowned for good snorkelling and amazing sunsets. We arrived late in the afternoon so decided not to jump in the water, and instead opted for a fishing rod. There were a number of coral bommies in the area and it was a good spot to look for the coral reef fish species.
The next day saw us venture to Butterfly Bay and Blue Pearl Bay. Both locations were in green zones which meant all wildlife and fish were protected, and this resulted in an abundance of sea life everywhere! We were fortunate enough to have Butterfly Bay to ourselves and decided to take the dinghy ashore and explore the small beach and surrounding coral areas.
Butterfly Bay had a diverse range of soft and hard corals spread over a large patch of fringing reef. It was a very shallow bay which meant the kids were happy to jump in the water and snorkel around the reef system. It was no coincidence that this bay was called Butterfly Bay either – there were butterflies everywhere!
We enjoyed the day before venturing to Blue Pearl Bay on the west side of Hayman island for the night. On our trip to Blue Pearl Bay we chucked out a trolling lure in the yellow zones and were lucky enough to pick up a 75cm spotted mackerel for dinner.
Blue Pearl Bay was a magical experience! We were treated to a huge number of large Bat Fish that swam around our boat lights all night – it was a beautiful experience for the kids.
Our next stop was Nara Inlet which was nestled in the south east end of Hook Island. Nara Inlet was known for it’s sheltered anchorage and easy access to the island, but practicalities aside, this place was breathtaking! A stunning secluded bay with tranquil clear waters that acted as a window to the fringing reef below, and a mirror to the dense forestry that covered the island’s steep hills above.
Within the hills of the inlet was the Ngaro cultural site. The Ngaro Aboriginal people walked this land for over 9,000 years and their artworks still adorn the rock wall surface of what was once a hidden cave. There were also interactive displays where we could learn more – it was a great way for the kids to interact and learn more about the area.
Nara Inlet was a very calm and protected spot, perfect for swimming, kayaking and fishing. We did a spot of fishing there and were able to pick up a couple of Grassy Emperors from the bottom.
On day four there were strong wind warnings, so we opted for a short trip to Cid Harbour which was well protected from the wind.
We decided to walk the Whitsunday Peak track which was a great walk with amazing views, but it was quite a bit tougher than the 2.2km one-way estimate suggested! If you’re planning on tackling this track, allow three to four hours as the terrain was quite rugged and steep.
You can see the start of the walk track at Sawmill Beach in Cid Harbour, and it then flows through the rainforest gullies and uphill to windblown heaths and finally to the peak.
The climb was certainly well worth though! The uninterrupted views of the Whitsundays from the islands’ highest peak were absolutely epic!
Warning: This track was steep and physically demanding so consider your fitness and walking experience carefully before setting out. The track was difficult to traverse, and slippery in wet weather. Overall a pretty challenging track and not recommended with younger children. Also note that this location was NOT safe to swim at due to recent shark attacks and sightings.
Hamilton Island is the largest inhabited island of the Whitsunday group and one of the world’s most iconic boating locations… and it wasn’t hard to see why! It was a gorgeous spot with lots of little restaurants and pubs to explore. Most of the island was closed due to covid whilst we were there, but never-the-less our kids had an absolute ball!
The bulk of the resort was on the side of a hill, and most of the occupants relied on carts to get around. We jumped into a couple of golf carts ourselves to get a better look around the island.
One thing you must do at Hamilton Island is to make your way up to the lookout to see the sunset. You can literally get 360 degree views of the surrounding areas – just stunning!
We then moved onto the white silica sands of the world renowned and award-winning Whitehaven Beach, one of the many jewels in The Whitsunday’s crown.
It was no surprise that Whitehaven Beach regularly tops the best beaches lists the world over. The waters were a crystal-clear aqua (it’s considered one of Queensland’s cleanest beaches) and the impossibly white pristine sand of the world-famous Whitehaven Beach stretched for over seven kilometres along Whitsunday Island. It defined nature at its more beautiful.
The sand contained 98% silica, which meant it was extremely fine and soft underfoot, with some comparing the consistency to that of baby powder. It also meant that the sand didn’t retain heat, so it was a fantastic place to walk barefoot, even on a hot day.
Whilst this was an incredibly beautiful spot, it also attracted a lot of traffic, so we decided to move across the passage to Chalkies Beach for the evening. Chalkies Beach had the same pristine white silica sands but less people, making it the perfect spot to snap a few pics. It proved a great decision to venture over there as there were far less people, more shelter and better protection from the wind. We were able to moor to a buoy here instead of using the anchor.
It was a flat glassy day on the water so we decided to leave early and make our way to Cateran Bay on Border island.
Border Island is a Marine National Park Green Zone and the reef here had been protected for some time and was in very good condition. It offered amazing coral viewing and an abundance of marine life that can be enjoyed if you’re wanting to go diving or snorkelling.
The kids went snorkelling and loved it! We would have had more photos to prove this if we hadn’t dropped the Go Pro in the water by the boat and were then unable to find it (oops!).
The beach was surrounded by tall cliffs and the crystal clear water was gorgeous.
We left Cateran Bay just past midday and made our way to Tongue Bay on Whitsunday Island. On our arrival we met a crazy giant QLD grouper who stayed at the stern of the boat the entire time.
We wanted to explore and had been told to check out Hill Inlet walk so we decided to jump in the dinghy and have a look. All we can say was “wow”! It was an absolutely amazing location that took us up a 700 metre walk to a platform where we had full views of Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet. It was definitely one of the best viewpoints of our trip and we highly recommend checking it out.
The water below looked amazing so we decided to jump back in the dinghy and go around the point to the beach. We had an evening swim here and the entire beach to ourselves – bliss!
Like all good things, this trip had to come to an end. On day eight we said our goodbyes to the local QLD groper and embarked on the two and a half hour boat ride back from Tongue Bay. We made our way to Coral Seas Marina to refuel, debrief with the charter company, and (sadly) disembark.
The highlight of this trip for the kids was the snorkelling at Hamilton Island, hands down. Their eyes were opened to a whole world below the surface – it was pure magic to watch!
For mum and dad, our highlights were the breathtaking scenery, the bush walks and the lookouts. The variety of fish and marine life were mind-blowing, the snorkelling was out-of-this-world, and the fishing and dinghy day trips were a hoot.
The extra room that the boat allowed us all compared to the van, was another definite highlight for both young and old.
Barefoot charters allowed our family to create their own experiences in a location that was world class. If you get the opportunity, make this your next adventure – we promise you won’t regret it!
Until next time Whitsundays.