Monday, July 13, 2009

Kayaking in the Whitsundays, Queensland, Australia

This was the holiday we were supposed to have in September 2008 - but it got postponed after Aaron broke his wrist snowboarding. In some ways I think this was the holiday that was never supposed to happen as we had a few disasters getting to Queensland (we missed our flight and lost some stuff!)

Anyway we finally all made it to Airlie Beach - Louisa, Lisa, Anne-Laure, Aaron and Helen. Louisa and Lisa did a supermarket sweep style shop for five days of food as the supermarket was closing on Monday night and we set off early on Tuesday morning from Shute Harbour on the water taxi out to Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island.

Heading out in the water taxi with all our stuff!

Whitehaven Beach is one of the iconic places in the Whitsundays. It is 8km of white sand and very popular for the day trippers. We were dropped off at the southern end, and set up camp. Then we spent the rest of the day snorkelling and going for a short paddle over to Haslewood Island to get a feel for the kayaks.

Whitehaven Beach

Although the Whitsundays are in the Great Barrier Reef marine park, they are relatively near to the coast and therefore the reefs are predominantly full of soft coral and organisms that can cope with a bit of sediment. They are still quite impressive in places and just off Whitehaven Beach there were quite a few soft corals, hard corals, giant clams, algae, fish etc..



After a relaxing first day/night at Whitehaven Beach it was time to load up the kayaks and set off on our first big day of paddling. We had set a route, recommended by our friend Dave who has previously done this trip. Unfortunately for us after several weeks of minimal winds and calm seas the forecast was for 15-20 knot winds and as soon as we got around the corner from Whitehaven Beach we started to get rather large swells coming in from the Southeast. This was rather unnerving to begin with as we weren't used to the kayaks, especially loaded up with all our camping gear, clothes, food and lots of water for the next 5 days. Once we realised how stable the kayaks were, relaxed and stopped fighting the waves it was much better. Unfortunately there were five of us, so one person had to take the slightly less stable single kayak. Once we got to Hamilton Island we were sheltered from the main southeasterly swell and the wind blew us towards Henning Island, about ~20 km of paddling in about 4 hours.

The team (left to right) Anne-Laure, Aaron, Louisa and Lisa (Helen behind the camera in the single kayak).

The nice thing about kayaking is that it is quiet and you see quite a lot of wildlife. Within 20 minutes of setting off from Whitehaven Beach several pilot whales were swimming through the passage about 100 m away from us. We also saw several turtles that popped their heads up to have a look at us.


Sea turtle

At the campsites there were quite a few birds and goannas around. We also had to store our food in the kayaks overnight as there were a few large mice/rat like creatures that chewed through several of our bags to get at our museli bars! Despite the rather rapid shop and a few minor losses to the mice, we had plenty of food and water. The weather was perfect for camping, not too hot and just a couple of drops of rain one night.


From Henning Island we were supposed to cross the main passage over to South Molle Island. From our campsite the passage didn't look too rough, but as we set out north it got pretty rough and scary. The wind was behind us but this meant that there were large waves breaking over the back of the boats and we were surfing down the front. We soon abandoned our plans to cross the passage and headed in to a nice calm Cid Harbour. We paddled around Cid Island to check out the campsite on the western side, only to find that this was not very sheltered from the wind and a big sign saying this was not a campsite (so the map was wrong). We retreated back to Cid Harbour where lots of sailing boats were sheltering and ended up camping at Nari's Beach. This is a very small, but probably the nicest camp site we had the whole time.

The forecast was for continued 20-25 knot winds for the next day, so we called up the water taxi to transport us across the main passage the next day. While we were waiting for the water taxi we further explored several of the inlets in Cid Harbour. As it turned out when we were finally transported across the passage in the early afternoon the wind had died down slightly and we probably could have paddled across. Oh well! We were dropped at our next camp site on South Molle Island.

Before setting off for our final paddle across to Shute Harbour we went for a wander on the walking tracks on South Molle Island. We headed up to the top of Mt Jacobs to get some views out across the Whitsundays.

Anne-Laure, Louisa and Lisa looking out from the top of Mt Jacobs, South Molle Island
The paddle back into Shute Harbour was still a little rough, but we had got quite used to the conditions and were almost enjoying the challenge....
So the conditions weren't quite what we had expected, but it worked out fine. We all got on really well. Although the camping was great it was nice to get into the shower and wash off all the salt at the end of it...

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