Whitsunday Dreaming [22]

By Rob Jung

We all have dreams of things we intend to do some day. One of mine was to kayak a sea, cruising along and exploring remote shorelines.

Julie, my co-paddler, organised our lift to Mascot early on a Sunday morning. The boat, a second hand Klepper Aerius II, was split into two bags and we had a ruck sack with our personal gear such as tents, sleeping bags etc. In my case I also had a little bit of photographic gearl. The big boat bag weighed 38kg, only 8kg over the limit, but they still let us on board without penalty. A few hours later we were cruising low over the southern part of the Whitsunday Island chain, spying scenes of jagged sea peaks pushing through low cloud (sea fog).

We landed at Hamilton Island on a balmy tropical morning at 11am. We loaded all the gear on the trolley and trucked it one kilometre or so to a quiet beach where we assembled the boat. We had plenty of time since ebb tide began at 3pm. In the Whitsundays we were to learn that tides are very important: tidal ranges are up to five metres. In the narrow passages these create five knot currents (which are tough to out paddle). Flood tides here travel north to south and ebb tides south to north.

Assembling the boat was easy, but packing required much experimentation and repacking of our dry bags. By four pm we were ready and headed off for Long Island. Pleasant conditions and a slight tailwind meant paddling was sail assisted. Even so it was after sunset before we landed on a rocky beach on Long Island. Here we discovered that our heavily laden boat would not wheel across large stones so had to pull out to sea gain. In another half hour, in waxing moonlight, we were fortunate enough to find a tiny bit of sand to land and wheel the boat to shore.

Every night most of the gear had to come out of the boat, and every morning it has to go back in, somehow! It was nearly 10am before we departed, packing proving quite a task as the tide fell and left lumps of coral protruding. In two hours we were on Shute Island where we set up camp for lunching and paddling over to meet the four other paddlers of our group who had made the long drive from Sydney. They had spent over four hours packing their kayaks and were eager to make distance before night! That meant us repacking in double quick time, which was made even more difficult by the two weeks of our food that the others had carried up from Sydney and 40 litres of water in 10 wine casks. Somehow we managed to be packed and away within an hour. So much for a relaxing non-stressful holiday in the tropics.

A promising sandy beach (White Rock) appeared as night approached, but the group leader felt enough distance hadn’t been made, so on we went. After dark (again) we landed at Humpy Point on a rough staghorn coral littered slope, which is not recommended for soft skin boats.

Monday we had to wait until 10am before catching the flood tide through the narrow passage between Long Island and the mainland. A headwind opposed the tide making conditions lumpy. Lunch at Paradise Bay was out of the wind, but then came 18 kilometres of open water in the crossing of Whitsunday Passage towards Lindeman Island. Against a breeze and one metre swell it was sunset when we landed on a pleasant beach on Seaforth Island. At the eastern end were grooves in the granite where freshwater had collected, which is notable since freshwater is hard to find on the Whitsunday Islands. We also found water in pools on the western side of Seaforth, on Shaw Island, Border Island and at the Woodpile on Hook Island, as well as in the creek north of the cave paintings in Nara Inlet.

Wednesday, getting to the neck on Shaw Island meant paddling into a blustery 20-30 knot headwind. That afternoon we climbed Shaw Peak (413m), collecting the usual bushwalking collection of cuts and scratches. Things that would not normally be of concern, but I was to learn, in sea kayaking where cuts stay wet for hours, they can fester and take much longer to heal.

Thursday an 8am start with a strong ebbing current, and a tailwind, had us quickly cruising to and past Pentecost Island admiring its towering ramparts. So good was our progress that we were easily through Solway Pass before midday, passing Whitehaven Beach (with its cluster of tour boats) before lunching on Esk Island, a delightful little Hoop Pine and rock clad jewel where the snorkelling is superb. After lunch we faced the tide to Border Island landing at sunset — a day of 40 kilometres. The group leader was ecstatic.

After two nights at Catamaran Bay on Border Island a fresh southerly had us sailing north: two hours, 13km to Pinnacles Pt on Hook Island and we kept up with the fibreglass boats. We camped just around the point at the ‘Woodpile’, an area which offers excellent snorkelling over coral gardens.

On Monday, as we left the beach a dark black shape of a three metre Manta Ray glided by. Paddling anti-clockwise around Hook Island we made Stonehaven Anchorage easily for lunch (with favourable flood tide), but we faced a tougher south east headwind and ebbing tide on the way to Nara Inlet.

Tuesday morning we paddled and sailed up Nara Inlet to the marked Aboriginal art site, had a late lunch on the S.E. point of Hook Island, then paddled across to the beach opposite on Whitsunday Island for an early camp and a walk along a virgin beach. Next day, a walk to the cairns and an afternoon departure still gave us plenty of time to set up camp on Cid Island. There were no other boat and it had a much less trampled appearance.

Thursday morning our four companions departed leaving us to a leisurely departure. After quick progress to Reef Point we toughed it out for 2 hours paddling hard towards Henning Island, but succeeded in drifting west towards Shute Harbour. Giving up against the ebb tide and wind we surfed back to Cid Harbour, camping at beautiful Joe’s Beach.

Next morning, with a flood tide we reached Henning Island easily, set up camp at the pleasant airy end and dried out our gear. Saturday was calm, tranquil and later sunny day, perfect for a cruise up Gulnare Inlet with its mangroves and pine covered shoreline. Sunday, in sunny mild weather, we paddled back to Hamilton Island to await our flight home.

Fact Box
Location: Whitsunday Islands
Transport: Air to Hamilton Island
Group: General kayak experience but not a lot of sea kayaking
Boats: Puffin, Greenlander, Estuary & Estuary Plus
Days: 14
Accommodation: Tent with mossie/sandfly mesh
Side Trips: Shaw’s Peak, Mosstrooper Peak (Border Island)
Charts/Maps: AUS 370, 254
Reference: 100 Magic Miles: David Colefelt
Special Tips: Popular campsites be careful with food – feral animals.