Sailing the Whitsundays was at the top of my must-do list in Australia. I wanted to visit the stunning Whitehaven Beach and see the varying shades of blues of the Coral Sea. Also, I wanted a different experience to the usual beach holiday resort and quick day boat tour. So, staying on Airlie Beach or a fancy hotel in Hamilton Island was not going to cut it for me this time. Instead, I wanted to feel the salty breeze on my face from sunrise to dawn and be barefoot on a rocking boat for a few days. That’s right! Even the sea-sickness nasty effects would be welcomed if it meant enjoying the Coral Sea from an exclusive position.
HOW I BOOKED THE SAILING BOAT
I went online to do my research about sailing boats and best Whitsundays itineraries. The amount of boat options was overwhelming and reading the reviews did not make my selection any easier as every boat was “great”. So I reached out to a friend whose friend had just gone sailing the Whitsundays and got some advice on party-type boat options. However, I wanted a more romantic and comfortable sailing experience where I would not have to sleep on a bunk bed and share bathroom with 30 other people. An option was to hire a sailing boat with a skipper for a couple of days but you can imagine its hefty price tag. Despite its cost, this seems like a very popular option among Australians for a small friends or family type of holiday.
REVIEW: SAILING THE WHITSUNDAYS ON ICE
ON ICE is an exclusive catamaran catering for 8 passengers and 2 skippers. There are double and triple private cabins with en suite bathrooms as well as shared cabins with shared toilet. These are located inside both pontoons of the catamaran with the kitchen and common area in the middle. The en suite bathroom of the cabin is small but functional with everything you will need while sailing.
There is a common fridge with soft drinks and water, ice and of course enough space to store your own purchased drinks. In regards to food, you will be spoiled throughout the trip with plenty of tasty meals and snacks in between. They can cater for different dietary needs if told in advance. I especially enjoyed the tasteful snacks laid out on the deck for sunset watching! It was the perfect complement to the wine glass for sundown.
The best part of sailing the Whitsundays aboard the exclusive catamaran ON ICE was the excellent service and attention paid by the two skippers. They provided us with lively conversations, smooth sailing and great meals. Also, they ensured we had a fun sailing itinerary with plenty of water activities to do.
The worst part of the sailing tour was the not-so-great weather during the first two days. With an overcast sky and frequent showers, it was difficult to see the Whitsundays at its best splendour. Nonetheless, the crew of ON ICE made everything possible to keep us entertained (and safe of course). Seriously, I cannot think of a negative aspect of the sailing boat or service provided.
The 3 day/2 night sailing trip on ON ICE was approximately AUD 650 per person on a double-occupancy private cabin full board. For the quality of the sailing boat, service and tour, I would definitely call this affordable luxury.
FIRST DAY OF SAILING
The first day was short as the boat departed the harbour at around 4pm. As we sailed to the first anchoring point, where we spend the first night, we watched the sun set on the Coral Sea. Unfortunately, the sea was very choppy and the first hours I was under the influence of my strong sea-sickness tablets. It was a bitter-sweet start into the sailing trip but I was determined to have a good time. Luckily, my body got used to the rocking motion soon enough to enjoy the first evening meal out on the deck with the other 9 passengers. After a great dinner and a plenty of chat and laughter, I headed to my very first night sleep on a sailing boat. And guess what?! I slept like a log!
SECOND DAY OF SAILING
The second day began at 8 am with a generous breakfast and plenty of sunshine! Yay! We were in for a pleasant morning with the most awaited activity of all: Whitehaven Beach. We disembarked on Whitsunday Island, the largest island of the group, and walked 5 minutes across the National Park to reach the white beach sand dunes. And there it was: the stunning world-famous beach Whitehaven! We laid our stuff underneath a tree and the dream began! Due to the sand being composed of pure silica, it looks like shining white powder, which feels very soft and cold on your feet. Regardless of the temperature, the sand keeps cool throughout the year! Apparently, there are infant lemon sharks and sting rays patrolling the shore but I was not lucky to see them. After around 2 hours, we headed up to the lookout from where we could appreciate Whitehaven Beach from above. It looked so pretty!
Once back on the boat, we had our first lunch of the trip and began sailing to the next stop. A few hours later we anchored at another island’s bay for some snorkel. Unfortunately, we could not see much as the water was very murky due to the preceding rainfall. Nonetheless, we had fun swimming and playing around. By 5pm or so, we arrived at the second night’s location by Hook Island. From there we witnessed a gorgeous sunset and then, a clear starry night.
THIRD DAY OF SAILING
The third and last day was fantastic in every sense! The weather was at its best and the water’s temperature was perfect for a swim without a wetsuit. During the entire morning, we were at the same location so we could enjoy various water activities for the longest time possible. For around 3 hours, we went paddle-boarding, kayaking and swimming around Hook Island Reef. We also took an absurd amount of action shots with the other travellers. Without a doubt, this was the most fun day of the sailing trip when we all let our wild-forever-young side shine bright. At midday, we pulled the anchor up and began sailing back to Airlie Beach Harbour.
WHAT TO PACK?
Most sailing boats only allow one small soft bag per person, so you need to pack light. You can leave your large hard-case suitcase or backpack at a storage room or at the tour operator’s office in Airlie Beach. Bathroom towels, linen, stinger suits and snorkel gear are available aboard ON ICE. Only soft drinks are available for purchase on the boat, so bring your own alcoholic beverages if you want and, preferably in cans or plastic bottles.
Really, there are not many things you required for these 3 days of sailing apart from a few beach basics. Here are my suggested essentials for a 3 day/2 night sailing tour:
- Beach towel
- Hat and sunglasses
- 2 or 3 bikinis / bathing suits. Depending on the humidity, the wet bikini might dry overnight or not.
- A light cardigan or shawl to throw over your shoulders at night (in winter season)
- Beach wear for the boat and land stop at Whitehaven Beach (shorts, a sarong, kaftan or beach dress)
- High SPF sunscreen
- Sea-sickness tablets
- Underwater camera like GoPro or similar
You will be fine with just your beach slippers. Because shoes are not allowed aboard ON ICE, you will only need them to walk on the trail to the viewpoint at Whitsunday Island (no sports shoes required for this walk, flip-flops are fine).