We left Mackay on Thursday 10 June to go island hopping in the Whitsundays as we made our way to Airlie Beach. With over 70 islands to choose from, there were just too many islands and too little time to see them all, so we’ve had a little “taste-tester” and we’ll go back and visit more, for longer, when we head south again.
We narrowed it down to the following locations, and you can click the links provided to go straight to that content. Whitsunday Island is the largest and as you can see, it’s the one we visited most during this cruise.
Brampton Island - Thursday 10 June
We left Mackay Marina looking forward to our short cruise to Brampton Island (20NM) taking about 2.5 hours. Here are some photos I took along the way.
Brampton Island was once a thriving destination for holiday makers and honeymooners. Unfortunately, the resort is one of many across the Whitsunday Islands that was damaged by cyclones or has fallen into disrepair. The resort closed in 2010 and plans to build a resort in the island never materialised. Below shows the location and our anchorage at Brampton Island.
Shortly after we arrived we spotted a number of turtles and later enjoyed a magical sunset.
We headed to the beach on a near low tide. I felt quite sad seeing the abandoned resort, runway and pool, especially when we spotted both a shark and stingray swimming in the pool. We figured they’d come in on a spring (higher than normal) tide and then got stuck. I let the RSPCA know about this and they left a message with the Department of Environment Marine Strandings.
Whether a coincidence, I read on another cruising forum that the shark was released over the weekend and the stingray apparently regularly returns to the pool for food and a pat! It swam up to the edge a number of times while we were there.
I also believe there’s a caretaker who lives on the island. While we never saw them, we did hear what sounded like a motor bike in the distance so perhaps they were doing maintenance nearby. Here are some photos taken while on Brampton Island.
Goldsmith Island - Friday 11 June
After a stunning sunrise at Brampton Island, we left for our trip to Goldsmith Island. It’s just a short hop (12 NM) from Brampton Island and Goldsmith Island is part of the Ingot Islands group. Here are some photos I took along the way.
Our cruise took us about 1.5 hours and we passed Tinsmith and Linnie Islands. Another nearby island, Farrier, contains some privately-owned cabins on leasehold land and we could see their lights on after dark.
When we arrived at Goldsmith Island, we noticed one of two mooring buoys was available, so we picked it up. Turns out, the rope attached to the mooring was too thick to go through our cat holes and over the cleats, so Robert rigged up a bridal that he attached to the mooring.
Below shows the location and our anchorage at Goldsmith Island.
We went to the beach for a walk. Goldsmith island has a camping area complete with a composting toilet, with plenty of loo paper! There were some interesting shells, and I took photos only, leaving them all behind.
Yet another gorgeous sunset at Goldsmith island, although better live than in photos!
Shaw Island - Saturday 12 June
Another short hop (13 NM) from Goldsmith Island is Shaw Island, part of the Lindeman Island group. Our cruise took us about 1 hour, 45 minutes, and we passed by the Sir James Smith Group of Islands and Thomas Island. Lindeman island is nearby. The Lindeman island resort was the first Club Med established in the Whitsunday Islands and in 1992 became the only Club Med village in Australia. But the resort has been uninhabited for almost a decade – initially battered by Cyclone Yasi in 2011 – and never restored to its former glory.
Below shows the location and our anchorage at Shaw Island.
Here are some photos of the islands we passed by on our cruise to Shaw Island.
The bay at Shaw Island is expansive and offers lots of options for anchoring. It was pretty calm but we still put out the flopper stoppers…I mean, if you have them why not use them! When anchored, we took the tender to the beach and enjoyed a champagne, beer, and some cheese and biscuits for a sundowner.
We also discovered that the tide really goes out quite a long way, resulting in us needing to drag the tender some distance back to the water. That’s a lesson we’re learning about planning where to leave the tender! There was another couple on the beach, who we’d met and enjoyed sundowners with at Island Head Creek when we were on our way to Mackay. We’re finding we often meet up with the same people as we head north. It was a cloudy evening and still an impressive sunset.
Whitehaven Beach - Sunday 13 June
We awoke to rain but at only 14NM away, Whitehaven beach was too much of a drawcard to miss seeing.
The beach is exceptionally special due to its pure white silica sand. Stretching about 7 km, it has amazingly soft white sands and a stunning blend of green, blue, and crystal-clear waters.
Below shows the location and our anchorage at Whitehaven Beach. Just as we anchored a “rent a yacht” catamaran came close by and then dropped their anchor. We monitored this for a while and decided to move. The reason being that if we swung around, we may end up too close to them in the other direction, based on where we dropped our anchor. And we also figured we had more experience!
Here are some photos I took between leaving Shaw Island and arriving at Whitehaven Beach. As we were arriving we had a sea-plane take off in front of us, just as we were rounding the headland. We thought that was a good indication of how popular the beach is, and it was pretty amazing to see it so close. There were also frequent helicopters flying around, I guess tours from Hamilton Island or Airlie beach.
Having heard about the soft, white sands of course we took our tender to the beach. It was the most populated place we’d been since leaving Mackay!
Granted the beach is lovely (see the video), but we thought that the beaches at Goldsmith and Shaw islands rated just as highly but are not designated tourist spots. Whitehaven is on every ‘yacht hire’ itinerary, but we think there are other, possibly better places. Maybe it’s because we also don’t like crowds!
Sawmill Bay - Monday 14 June
The next day we took a slightly longer cruise, 18 NM, to Sawmill Bay in Cid Harbour. It took us about 2.5 hours traveling along Whitehaven Beach and then between Whitsunday and Hook islands.
Cid Harbour is very large and partially enclosed by Cid island. In 2018 many ‘no swimming’ marker buoys were installed, and are still in place, because of several shark encounters and it goes without saying that we didn’t swim or kayak there! (But nor did we see any sharks.)
Below shows the location and our anchorage at Sawmill Bay.
These are photos I took when leaving Whitehaven Beach. We passed Tongue Bay and I thought it looked like a great place to anchor and this has since been confirmed (in correct winds of course).
After ensuring our anchor was set and having lunch, we went to the beach and enjoyed a walk from Sawmill to Dugong Beach, about 3km return and offered some lovely views of Cid harbour.
The cats enjoyed relaxing on the ‘eyebrow’ while we enjoyed an amazing sunset.
May's Bay - Tuesday 15 June
Our original plan was to leave Sawmill Bay and stay the night at Nara Inlet.
We motored there to investigate the area, however, we were also keen to have some internet connectivity and after motoring around and me not being comfortable with one anchorage option (because it seemed a bit close to a rock ledge to me) we decided to go to May’s bay.
But I was happy with this decision, being that it’s a very special place because we first visited this bay nearly 25 years ago on our honeymoon, when we hired a bareboat charter for a week. And we also had the internet access we were looking for!
While it was only a short distance from Sawmill Bay if we’d gone there directly, because we’d first motored to Nara Inlet, our engine hours and distance were greater. But that also mean our water, which is heated by the engine, was piping hot!
The yellow line of this image, which is a screenshot of our track from the Navionics App, shows the round-about route we took and you can see where we motored around a bit at Nara Inlet. It’s a beautiful place and scenery is stunning.
Below shows some of the photos I took on our way to, and at, Nara Inlet.
We left Nara Inlet and headed to May’s Bay. Below shows the location and our anchorage.
After anchoring we took the kayaks to the beach and hoped that the sharks that are rumoured to inhabit Cid Harbour knew not to venture into the neighbouring bay!
We anchored a little further out from the beach and had good internet access.
This was important so we could check the weather for our next hop into Airlie beach, planned for the following day.
I thought the bay was lovely and what stood out for me was the difference in the landscape between Whitehaven Beach, Sawmill Bay and May’s Bay. They’re all part of Whitsunday Island but have quite contrasting scenery.
Airlie Beach - Wednesday 16 June
Check in at the Coral Sea Marina in Airlie Beach was after midday, so there was no rush for us to leave May’s Bay too early. And it was only 16NM away, so would take us about 2 hours.
Below is the location of the marina, where we were staying for a week, and a slideshow of photos taken along the way.
And here are a few of my favourite photos! The entrance to the marina had a curved wall, something we hadn’t experienced before.
Our week at Airlie Beach allowed us to stock up for the next leg of our adventure, meet some lovely people, go to the markets and enjoy a few meals out. We were also allowed to use the Coral Sea Resort pool and enjoy drinks and snacks at the bar.
In January 1970, cyclone Ada devastated much of the region and 14 lives were lost, 12 at sea. There was a memorial erected on the foreshore on the 50th anniversary of the cyclone.
Where to next?
We’re going to Townsville.