Whitsunday Wanderings [56]

By David Whyte

Out of the corner of our eyes Matt and I caught the quick flash of something large and silver chopping the water about 100 metres in front. We looked and each other then Matt was off; I still had to get my lure out while Matt was heading straight for the source. It wasn’t long before we heard a shout from Matt as he starts to reel in what was a sizeable fish – an 8kg Blue Fin Tuna. He had hooked it through the eye, which although lessons the fighting, did nothing for the amount of blood coming out. The rest of us quickly caught up and we hauled the Tuna onto his spray skirt. With all the blood in the water we nervously looked around while we decided what to do with the fish. Matt took his skirt off and we were going to shove it in the cockpit tail first, but one look at where a rather large mouth was facing made a nervous Matt change his mind; “I’ve got Kerrie to think of,” He said. We managed to get a fish bag out then manhandled the monster into it, tied it to the boat and headed straight for shore where we cleaned it and nervously washed up in very shallow water. That night the six of us struggled to get through the Tuna; but what a lovely meal it was. It took some effort for Mark and me to cut the steaks with a blunt hack saw blade and a knife. Trevor had claimed he had amputee saw in his comprehensive medical kit but wouldn’t let us use it on the Tuna.

This was not the first time Matt’s fishing skill had come to fruition. Since we left Mackay, nearly 2 weeks previously, he had provided a couple of memorable feasts of Coral Trout and lobsters. But he needed to, to make up for an earlier mistake.

Twelve of us departed the cooler southern climates for this trip, though there was only one night when all 12 of us managed to camp together. We had, during the journey, split into various groups with more group spread than a flare exercise. Most off us left from Mackay except Trevor and Sally who joined us at Hamilton Island half way through.

To start from Mackay some of us flew up while the rest drove up with a kayak Trailer behind Mark’s brand new Nissan X Trail. Matt and Mark drove the X Trail, Norm and Mike drove up in Mikes Car and the Culhanes and I flew. Mike and Norm picked me up on Saturday afternoon at the Airport and Matt and Mark arrived later that night. Sunday was to be a car shuffle and organisation day but two days of solid driving left Matt and Mark itching to get onto the water. So a sudden change in plans saw them leave at lunch time from Shade beach for the 30km Crossing to Keswick with Norm and the Culhanes doing the car shuffle to Shute Harbour on Monday morning when the Culhanes flew in. They were then going to catch the water taxi Monday afternoon and Mike and myself were going to paddle out early Monday morning. We watched Matt and Mark leave and went to pack up the XTrail and Mike said, “Who’s got the keys?”

Now Mike always had the reputation as a bit of clever bum so we didn’t immediately take any notice.

“No I’m serious.”

“Yeh right Mike.”

“No I haven’t got the keys.”

“Well neither have I.”

We quickly rushed down to the beach but by that time they were nearly a kilometre away. I unpacked my kayak and thought about trying to catch them but common sense prevailed. I am not a fast paddler and even with an unladen boat it would’ve taken some time to reach them. Plus it meant setting off with no gear at all paddling as fast as I could into unknown waters; not a good idea. Mike then came up with the brilliant idea of using the VHF to contact the local coast guard. After much tooing and froing he eventually got the local Coast guard to ask the local ferry operator to intercept them on his way to Brampton Island – we think. As we didn’t know if this was going to be successful we had to do something with Mark’s car. We had been standing around in the blistering sun all day, with our Canberra winter suntans, getting burnt and wanted to leave; but we didn’t want to leave the car unlocked (need the keys to lock these fancy new cars) at the beach over night. Norm cleverly spotted a tow truck operator across the road and we went and spoke to him. This was an interesting conversation.

“You want me to tow the car to a caravan park?”

“Yes please.”

“Do you own the car?”


“Do you have the keys?”


“Where is the owner?”

“On the water somewhere.”

“When is he coming back?”

“We don’t know.”

“So he wants you to tow his car away?”

“He doesn’t know we’re doing it.”


Eventually we convinced him of our story and got the car back to the caravan park. The operator dropped the car literally an inch in front of Andrew Eddie’s car. Which was left there from his trip that had departed a few weeks earlier. Though I don’t think Andrew knows this, until now. In the meantime the 50 ft ferry pulled up alongside Matt.

“Have you got some car keys?”

Matt said no. It then pulled up alongside Mark with the tourists lined up along the rail taking photos. The skipper came out again and shouts, “have you got the keys,” then left leaving Mark a bit bamboozled until Matt paddles over.

“Err, I think we have a problem.”

Matt had the keys in the pocket of his packed shorts! Mark did well to stay calm as they were forced to turn back after 8 kms. But they weren’t happy paddlers.

Now Mark didn’t know we had his car towed back to the caravan park as we didn’t know he was coming back. So he phones us up when he eventually got back to Shade Beach just on dusk.

“Where’s the car?”

“We left it at the beach, sorry we couldn’t lock it.”

“It’s not here!” Then silence.

Funny though, Mark didn’t appear to see the humour in this little joke. So the four of us left on Monday morning, as originally planned.

The paddle out to Keswick was a long one and we all felt absolutely knackered when we got there. Although it was only 30k offshore it was 5 hours of solid paddling; the wind and tide combined to make us paddle about 40 degrees off the rhumb line. The others arrived later that night on the dive boat. Next time we are doing the first leg by boat.

Mild SE winds give us a ride down through the channel between Keswick and St Bees on the following day and an easy paddle over to Cottermouth Island where we spent two days. This was a beautiful little island with some superb snorkelling right off shore. A small sandy spit led down to a picturesque lagoon and, as is my normal habit on these trips, I wandered off to take some photos. I was studying the unusual rock formations left by the ebbing tide; beautiful tiny indentations about a foot in diameter, like small moon craters, pocketed the now exposed sea bed; so symmetrical that they appeared to be made on purpose. In amongst these I noticed what looked like a turtle shell. Closer inspection revealed it still had a live turtle inside but the young turtle had misjudged the ebbing tide and was left stranded in the hot sun with the likely hood of being well and truly baked by the time the tide came back. With his flippers flapping my wrist like a naughty boy, I carried him to the deeper water. Now I know a lot will say this is just a natural event, which it is, but when you consider how many turtles are wiped out by plastic bags I felt I was just evening it up a bit. I was later chastised for not bringing him back for turtle soup and Matt looked at me and said, “Dave did you know turtles have rather nasty spur behind their front flippers?”

Evening saw the sand flies come out, and, as on most islands, you need some covering and insect repellent.

As luck would have it the rest day saw a great SE blow straight towards our next destination. But when it was time for us to leave on the following day it had swung around to the North giving us a moderate headwind for the long hop to Goldsmith Island. As a result some decided to head over to Brampton Island, catch the ferry back to Mackay and then drive up to the Whitsundays. The next few days were to be a series of long island hops and Robyn was still getting over the flu and Norm was feeling his age. We left at the crack of dawn on the forth day into the headwind for Goldsmith Island. Mike was starting to come down with a cold as well, so along the way he veered off to Brampton to join the others. Matt, Mark and myself pushed on to Goldsmith where we arrived, made some soup, slept, made dinner slept then left for Shaw. From what I saw I think it was a nice spot.

Unfortunately for Mike there was only room for 3 on the ferry so he opted to paddle from Brampton back to Mackay though he had a good tail wind. We got an SMS from him later saying he was doing 21 Kph under sail. We sent one back “Yes Mike, but it’s the wrong way.”

The paddle to Shaw was much more pleasant with a short stop on Thomas for a swim. The serenity of Shaw Island took our breath away. We paddled into a small protected cove of magnificent clear water that shimmered a turquoise blue in the afternoon light We pulled our kayaks up onto the milky white beach donned our snorkelling gear and headed back out into the clear water. It wasn’t long before Matt’s fishing skill brought in two large lobsters. Lobster Mornay took the place of freeze dried that night and the 3 of us struggled to get through them. There was a small stream leading down into the beach and although we were well into the dry season we managed to find a fresh water pool, big enough for a dip, a small walk up though a shady gully. In the evening a horde of blue butterflies danced amongst the trees like leaves across the lawn in an autumn breeze.

It was a relatively easy hop to Hamilton Island the next day where we were hit with a burst of civilisation. It seemed like a metropolis, with tourists, side walk cafés and people whizzing around in golf buggies like there was no tomorrow. But we did manage to stock up on our supplies. We caught up with Trevor and Sally under the shade of a palm tree busy putting together a folding double. It took six of us to man handle the boat down to the water where we left the hustle and bustle of the Marina to paddle to a small island only an hour away. We set up camp into time to watch another tropical sunset take away the heat of the day. The first campsite we came to on Henning didn’t look too inviting with the original cast from Deliverance sitting in chairs watching us land. When one of them attempted to stand it was obvious they had been drinking for some time but it was difficult to understand what he was saying through his missing teeth.

The next day we headed out to one of the eastern Islands to find a picturesque campsite among the Casuarina pines. Within easy swimming distance was some of the best snorkelling we had come across. Brilliant coloured fish dashed in and out of the equally brilliant coral, and all of this in only a few metres of water. Unfortunately for me my underwater camera must have leaked slightly and died.

We were thinking of joining the 3 million other people and paddling over the Whitehaven Beach but the wind was unfavourable so we headed for Border island instead for some more snorkelling and a bit of lunch before heading for some creature comforts at Hook Island back packers resort. Though I use the term Resort rather loosely when referring to this joint but for us it was great; it served meals, beer and had hot showers, even if you did share them with quite a few geckos. And by a strange coincidence the barman was Doug Fraser’s brother. Doug was well known in the club before disappearing into the wilds of Canada. Later that Day Mike left the others and came over to the dark side. That evening we sat in the open air bar sipping a cool beer watching the tide rush through the small gap between Hook and Whitsunday Islands. Huge flocks of flying foxes could be seen heading off on their nightly sojourn, silhouetted against the pink and purple of the evening light.

From Hook backpackers we headed up to Gstring Bay, where along the way Matt caught the Tuna. We paddled into the well protected Bay with a few yachts anchored in what must have epitomised the whitsundays: a sheltered bay with tall hills leading down to a beautiful anchorage. A young couple in a double kayak were enjoying the serenity of it all, until we turned up. And I am not sure if it was Trevor running around in the G string, Mike howling at the moon or our general behaviour but I did noticed that the young couple were on the water and gone before sunup the next day. Already, under Trevor’s steady influence, the group had deteriorated into a raucous mob. Again there was great snorkelling here right off shore with some deep drops within 50 metres. Most of us were carrying short wetsuits and although it was the tropics they did make it much more pleasant for prolonged snorkelling. A weight belt would be really nice.

The next day we meandered up the coast to the Top end of Hook Island where we caught up with Robyn, Michael and Norm lazing under some Pandanus palms with another group of paddlers. From there we headed over to Hayman Island to collect some water before camping on the NE corner of Hook. Now I must mention that kayakers are not really welcome on Hayman unless you upgrade you boat by a few million dollars. Filling up with water on the jetty saw a very officious looking women, pretending to be a naval officer, come down and tell us, quite clearly, that it might be better if we got our water somewhere else. I wasn’t sure wether to salute her and call her Mam or just laugh. Fortunately we had our water by then so we left with Mark offering her some words of advice about their hospitality- best we don’t go there again.

From Hook we paddled across the Straits in mill pond conditions to land at the Camping ground on the bottom end of North Molle Island. Robyn, Michael and Norm arrived a little later and for the first time the whole group camped together. After setting up tents and having a swim some of us packed our best clobber into the kayaks for a commando raid on Daydream Island. We were a bit weary when we landed after our Hayman Island experience but then one of the staff came and spoke to us and made us most welcome; pointing out where the shops and café were. So we pigged out on milkshakes and cappuccinos then loaded up the kayaks with bottles of wine and headed back to the campsite.

The last day saw us drift into Shute Harbour for unpacking the kayaks, loading the cars and the long drive back. The Driving was pretty easy as we went out west and Trevor and I managed to go from Rockhampton to Stanwell Tops in one day.

This was a great trip and as a sea kayaking destination the Whitsundays must be one of the best in Australia. Although conditions were pretty mild for most of our trip it can pick up quite nasty with a short steep waves. I would possibly rate this as a grade 4 trip, but the slide night at Trevor’s place later, now that was definitely grade 5.

I would like to thank Salty Dog Sea Kayaking Company at Airlie Beach for looking after our cars for us, saving us a fair bit of money. If you don’t want to drive then hiring your kayak from Salty Dog may be a much better option. For more details check out his web site at www.saltydog.com.au.

The Group spread

Much was talked about the group spread we had on our trip and to make it easy to understand I will explain it with simple scientific terms. The total group for going to the Whitsundays, which we shall call group A comprised of:

  • Trevor Gardner
  • David Whyte
  • Mark Pearson
  • Matt Turner
  • Sally Head
  • Michael Culhane
  • Robyn Culhane
  • Mike Snoad
  • Norm Sanders

At various stages during the trip the other groups were

  • B – Mike, David, Mark Matt, Norm, Michael and Robyn
  • C – Mike, David, Mark and Matt
  • D – Norm, Michael and Robyn
  • E – David Mark and Matt
  • F – Mark and Matt
  • G – Mike and David
  • H – Trevor and Sally
  • I – Mike alone
  • J – David, Mark, Matt, Trevor and Sally
  • K – David, Mark Matt, Trevor, Sally and Mike
  • L – Norm, Mike, Michael and Robyn

So heres how it went

First off Group A split into B and H where H were going to join at Hamilton a week into the trip. Group B set off for Mackay where they were to become group C and D with C paddling out to Keswick and D catching the Ferry. But part of C become restless and wanted to go a day early therefore splitting into Groups F and G with G going on Monday – the planned day. Leaving Group D to do a lot of the car shuffling. But group F left in such a hurry they took the car keys and had to come back forming group C again and left on Monday as planned with the ferry group D coming out to join that evening forming group B. On Tuesday Group B left for Cottermouth for a few days but on the day of Departure group spread came in again and split into Group C and D with C going to Goldsmith and D to Brampton and Ferry back to Mackay. When Group C set off one member was not feeling well and left forming groups I and E. Group I joined D and become L until the ferry departure when they split and become Groups I and D again with I paddling to Mackay and D catching the ferry. Group E set off to meet group H at Hamilton and nearly split again but were pushed on by Matt’s word of encouragement “We have to meet Trevor” so they stayed together to meet Group H at Hamilton and formed Group J.

Meanwhile groups I and D met up at Mackay and formed back into Group L and drove up to Shute Harbour to paddle out to the Whitsundays from There. But they didn’t stay together too long when Group I thought group J maybe having more fun and left and came over to J to form the new group K. Eventually Group K and D meet for a short period on the top of Hook Island before departing company. And at long last on the final night in the Whitsundays all groups came together to camp for the first time to form the full Group A.