Bill Biega's

The Whitsunday Islands - Australia

Whitsunday I. Map

The Whitsunday Islands, off the coast of northern Australia, are similar in many ways to the islands of the Caribbean. They are mostly rocky, with numerous dazzling beaches, and bordered by extensive coral reefs There are two major differences:
The seasons are reversed. The winter cruising season lasts from the end of April till October. As in the Caribbean the Trade winds blow a fairly constant 15-20 knots. The danger of hurricanes, called cyclones in Australia, is even greater than in the Caribbean and lasts from early November till April.
The other is the size of the tides which reach 15 feet (as in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington State). Consequently one must be aware of the state of the tide when anchoring.
Coming into a bay near high tide and carelessly dropping anchor in a depth of 15ft might result in being high and dry 6 hours later. Whitsunday IslandsBad enough on a sandy bottom, but disastrous among coral heads. Close attention must be given to the scope of the anchor chain. Rope is little used in these islands due to the danger of chafing on coral heads. These tides also cause strong currents in the narrower passages between islands, I experienced sailing through such a passage under full sail, doing about 7 knots through the water and actually moving backwards! San Francisco Bay sailors are familiar with this problem.


The Whitsunday Islands span an area of nearly 90 miles from southeast toward northwest and are seperated from the Queensland mainland by the Whitsunday Passage, which is about 5 miles wide at its narrowest point. They lie behind the Great Barrier Reef which extends several hundred miles along the coast of Queensland at a distance of up to fifty miles from the mainland. However, the Barrier Reef lies at least 30 miles to the east of the Whitsundays. No worry, the reefs in the Whitsundays are just as spectacular.
Most of the yacht charter companies operate out of Shute Harbor or Airlie Beach. "Yachtsman's Handbook to the Whitsunday Passage" by David Bradley and David Colfelt is a well written guidebook which details all the anchorages and gives numerous tips. Of the dozens of anchorages in the Whitsundays the following two are perhaps the most spectacular.


Butterfly Bay - Hook Island

Beautiful beaches, excellent snorkeling and gorgeous scenery. The bay is about a mile wide at the entrance and it's two lobes extend in about a mile. There are reefs close to the beach. Two of my crew decided, against my advise, to row in to the beach on a falling tide. They were stuck there for five hours!

Whitehaven Beach - Whitsunday Island

A four mile long brilliant white beach. Anchor at the SE end, behind the reef, for an overnight stop, although a day-time stop may be made anywhere along the beach.

Here are some more Pacific cruising areas for you to check out.
More Whitsunday I. sources

Sailing New Zealand

American Samoa

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Copyright 1998 by B. C. Biega

Last Updated October 2003