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Birds eye view of Heart Reef in Whitsunday Islands, Australia

Sailing Through Paradise Around the Whitsunday Islands

By Gillian Scholes

Last updated: 6th November 2011

I used to think that postcards gave a deceiving picturesque image, so when I saw pictures of Australia‘s Whitsunday islands and Whitehaven beach I was quick to judge…oh how I was wrong, with endless white sands, lush green forest and an ocean clear to the floor, the Whitsunday islands truly are a slice of paradise.

Sailboats on water that is reflecting a clear blue sky

I began my voyage in Airlie Beach at Nomads hostel, where I shared an 8 bed dorm in our own little en suit hut. My first few days were spent chilling around the lagoon (a massive outdoor swimming pool) then heading out in the evening to Magnums, Beaches and Phoenix – the local hot spots for backpackers. Already I heard the buzz about the Whitsunday cruises, so I was excited to board my vessel on Tuesday evening. Gap 360 told me I was to board the Solway Lass which turned out to be a Pirate Ship; with sails, anchors and wooden decks this 100 year old tall ship had all the character you imagined plus the comfort of any hotel with our own 4 bed cabins, dining tables and showers.

A sailing ship on the water

Waking up on the ship was amazing, stepping out of my cabin to calm glistening waters and just the sound of water lapping up against the boat with no one else in sight, not to mention a delicious spread for breakfast – all thoughts of sea sickness had gone. We were also very lucky to sea about 20 Pilot Whales swim past our ship, splashing out of the water, only 20 meters away!! It wasn’t long after breakfast before we headed onto to Whitehaven beach, famous for its very soft white sand – and our first lookout point did not disappoint. The view is beyond doubt as good as the post cards; it was hard to take it all in – with sand stretching as far as the eye can see with ripples of clear water in patches where the tide had gone out, you had to squint because it was so bright, it definitely felt like a dream. We then ventured down onto the beach and walked to the ocean for a dip in the clear warm waters and of course the ultimate photo opportunity, we even saw Stingrays and mini sharks swimming in the streams leading to the ocean. That afternoon we were given a true pirate sailing experience, where the crew climbed up the ropes and let the sails take us away while we sunbathed in the breeze, taking in the incredible views.

A sunset on the water seen from a boat


Snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef gave the biggest variety of fish I had ever seen. Our first trip was at Blue Pearl Bay where the multicoloured reef coral brought in meter long fish and gave the scuba divers a chance to dive deeper – unfortunately I did not find any pearls though. On the third day we sailed past the exclusive Hayman island resort where our snorkelling ventures had us swimming with turtles and then sunbathing on a single patch of sand in the middle of the ocean. Our last night was spent anchored in Nara Inlet, a hiding spot when storms approach, lucky for us the water was so still there was hardly a ripple to be seen. From there we ventured into the caves seeing lizards and the paintings of the Ngaro people. When we weren’t off snorkelling, scuba diving or seeing some of the islands attractions we would sail the ship, sunbath on the deck and enjoy the delicious food that Jade had cooked for us, including nachos, fresh fruit, curries, roasts and afternoon tea. Most importantly we were able to go on the Tarzan rope swing, where we all attempted to back flip but mostly ending in a back splat. Evenings were spent enjoying the sunsets over the horizon, chatting to our fellow passengers and crew, learning about the area and enjoying the onboard bar!!

A group of people in scuba gear giving a thumbs up for a photo

My three day sail around the Whitsunday Islands was truly a unique experience; the Solway Lass is unlike any other boat out there. Sailing the waters was so peaceful that it melted all your worries away and the crew were so friendly and their passion and love for the boat made us all fall in love with it too. By the end of the trip no one wanted to get off, but we all felt like pirates at heart with a Turks-head branded around our ankle that will last forever.

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