When we received an invitation to paddle the Whitsundays Mark was as keen as. Whitehaven Beach had remained on his bucket-list ever since our last venture was blown out in 2010. I on the other hand, was lukewarm. My recollection of Whitehaven came from 25+ years earlier. I had seen enough deserted beaches in New Zealand so to be frank, didn’t think much of the beach with glaring white sand. I do remember thinking how miserable and stunted the scrubby vegetation was alongside a trail up to a lookout. I do not remember anything about the view, probably because the sun was burning hot and I was being freckled and fried from all directions. Back then regulations were pretty casual around scuba diving for novices. It meant fishing something out of a bucket (? of Miltons) stick it in your mouth and plop over the side to play follow the leader. This was an unforgettable experience. Drifting in the clear waters exploring coral caverns surrounded by a plethora of exquisite fish life, the colour and shapes of which I had only ever seen in aquariums. I looked more closely at the agenda. The inclusion of Henning and Haslewood Islands piqued my interest and tipped me in support of Mark’s enthusiasm.
Getting to Cannondale
We usually break a trip north by staying overnight in Rockhampton. Tenting it in a caravan park on previous occasions meant a poor night’s sleep disturbed by the noise of trucks decelerating along the main road as they approached a nearby roundabout. This time we decided to stay in a cabin at Capricorn Caves. We booked the same studio cabin that Mark’s Mum had recommended. Upon arrival we found ourselves upgraded to a two bedroom cabin at no additional charge. The cabin was roomy, comfortable and impressively clean and tidy. There was not a finger smudge on any of the windows or sliding doors. I looked. While the grounds are clearly old, they too were in immaculate condition. I could not spy one weed poking through any of the thousands of rumpling pavers around the canteen or reception area. A group of school kids were staying within the grounds. Once they left the communal shower block our taps started to run and the general noise soon settled into a peaceful quiet. While Mark’s Mum had dined at a well presented country pub 10 minutes down the road, we decided to cook our own meal and, after a bottle of wine were soon snoozing on the couch before shuffling off into a comfortable bed and deep sleep.
The following day we drove directly to Airlie Beach. Part way along we received a text from Ross and Michelle. They were about 80km ahead of us. Mark and I stopped at Mackay for AM tea and to have a brief look around the Mackay Regional Botanical Gardens. These gardens are a place I would like to return to and wander around at leisure. Native plants are featured in distinctive design elements such as the Hoya australis trained on a curved mesh panel surrounding one of the buildings. Along the way we used the RACQ Fair Fuel app to locate a good deal. This time we were the only car pulling up for petrol at a particularly dingy station. All other vehicles were cued for diesel. Hoping we had a clean bellyful of fuel we soon found ourselves getting an earful from a person on a Stop sign for not stopping at the line before temporary traffic lights. Seemed a somewhat vigorous response when all we had done was a right turnout of the station, crawl 50 metres up the road and be waiting alongside temporary traffic lights. Not much of a threat. Certainly no reversing back to the demarcating line given that we had an even larger vehicle already snouted up our jaxy. The remainder of the trip north was unremarkable. We ate lunch at a table under shelter in a park just off to the left of the main road at Proserpine. The park has clean and tidy public toilets, and, as seen in Texas, a public shower while the gardens were frequented by a pair of Spangled Drongos. Ross had booked a cabin at the NRMA Airlie Beach Holiday Park. Just like the cabin at Capricorn Caves, it was immaculately clean, self-contained and had two rooms, one with a double bed, the other with two bunks. Given that we had three cars sporting kayaks, the management had kindly allowed us to park in an area that was usually gated off. A burgundy sedan carrying kayaks prowled past right on cue at 6PM as foretold. Having done the drive from the north side of Brisbane in one hit, Rob and Sue were ready to pull in. Dinner was the convenience of a meal at a local restaurant.
Day 1 Shute Harbour to Henning Island
Shute Harbour has recently undergone a major and swanky transformation. It now has two large car parks – an upper and a lower, both of which are administered by the council. It was a no-brainer to park in the lower as the upper was isolated and an invitation to have your car broken into. Neither the parking machines nor the recommended app would allow for an extension of time beyond seven (7) consecutive days. Indeed the car parking was so recent that no one could advise us what to do or how to surmount the problem, and, being early Friday morning, ringing the council was not an option. With parking secured for seven days we turned our attention to packing the kayaks down on the beach. The tide was still receding and our trusty old tarp proved no longer to be up to the task with ingress wetting some of the compression dry bags. By the time we were ready to lift the boats into the shallows the tide had turned. This was not a concern as the excellent planning meant that today’s paddle took place on a neap tide. Nevertheless, after our last experience, I remained apprehensive about how much we would be pushed south. Sue had cleverly summarised the plan, tide times and directions on two pieces of removable vinyl which adorned each side of her cockpit. Mark had set a rum line for each day on his GPS. One thing this particular group was not short of was maps. I doubt we were ever going to get lost.
I was not at all surprised when Mark said to point towards Whitsunday Peak to stay on the rum line for Henning. The rest of the group remained further south. After many years I know better than to question Mark’s rum line. Furthermore, my boat was very heavy to push along, and I for one did not want to paddle further than absolutely necessary. I stayed alongside Mark. The conditions were mild. The water was warm. The eddies were still. The trip across the Whitsunday Passage a breeze. Having not been to Henning before, it was unclear whether the beach we could see was our destination. Turned out it may have proven to have been a better choice. By now the flood tide had covered the rocky causeway between the NW tip of Henning and a rocky promontory providing a potential short cut for the rest of the group while the rum line had delivered Mark and I to the way point Tom had marked. And Tom being Tom, it was right on the button.
There were a couple of boats with day trippers already at Henning. Little wonder as it is a pretty location. A sloping sandy beach fronts a gently undulating grassy camping area bounded by thick vegetation. I started to set up tent on an elevated spot close to the railing with a view out to the Whitsunday Passage. I felt a slight prickling on my neck but thought no more of it. That was until Mark told me I was covered in green ants. I had pitched the tent in proximity to a stumpy old tree which had a leaf ball. When my back had brushed against the tree the ball had discharged its content of angry ants with impunity. The only thing faster than those ants was my plunge into the sea, hat, boots and all. As I watched little green ants float by I was amazed I had not copped an armada of bites. We promptly abandoned that site for the safety of open grass. Once set up we went on a paddle around the island which confirmed how tiny it is and how close to civilisation we were as yet another twin engine passenger jet roared in overhead to land at Hamilton Island.
After some delightful husky Gaelic melodies from Rob’s penny whistle the day was bought to a close with the first of many intense glorious sunsets. Not long after dark they started to rock up. Probably from ‘Hamo’. After all, it was Friday night. The first crew came carrying a LED flashing boom box the size of a decent floor speaker. Not long after two more red and green were honing into shore. Fortunately Mark had suggested they might like to set up in the next camping area which was at least visually out of range. The kayaks were all moved a safe distance from becoming an inebriate tripping hazard. Unfortunately whatever power supply they had, it was a good one as the music boomed well into the night and that western beach seemed deliciously remote.
Day 2 Henning Island to Whitehaven Beach
By day break curiously two of the three powerboats had disappeared and our other beach companions (the quiet ones) were well into packing up. Packing kayaks on Day 2 is always a challenge as somehow things seemed to puff up overnight. Once the hatches were secured the kayaks were lifted into exquisitely warm clear waters and we floated off on turquoise silk towards Fitzalan Passage. Whilst notorious for turbulent waters, excellent trip planning had rendered this passage quiescent. The potential for rough conditions was eluded to by the patterns on the surface hinting at eddies. The noise of jets, tour operators and the rigidity of high rise buildings contrasted with the isolated rugged coastline of the southern part of Whitsunday Island. We had plenty of time to get to Solway Passage so we meandered along the southern coastline of Whitsunday Island landing at Turtle Bay where Rob re-set the foot pegs in the Mirage 580 he had borrowed for the trip. The adjustment was a long way up the nose requiring both Sue and Michelle to do a disappearing act up the snout of the kayak to tighten the screws. We could not find any evidence of a camping site Tom had marked as a way point, but came to the conclusion that the middle of the three bays would be the most suitable if you had to put ashore here.
The water remained very warm and beautifully clear. Eventually we pulled into Chance Bay for a snack and a leg stretch. Mark and I went up to take a look at the campsites. While it was quite a hike up a soft sandy track, the view from the campsite towards Pentecostal Island was utterly magnificent. It was also open to the SE. The acacia had just come into flower and were so fresh and so floriferous that the campsite looked like it was poised for a wedding reception. Heading out of Chance Bay we rounded into the beginning of Solway Passage. Again, through Ross’s good planning, this was quiescent. Only a small tidal race hinted at the volumes of water that were starting to stream out with the ebb tide while we made an effortless 8 to 9km/h. And then Whitehaven Beach came into view – a gracious curving white arc, an arc littered with people, powerboats, sail boats tour operators, a float plane, the only thing missing was a cruise ship. We slipped by snokeling brown buttocks including one adorned with a scrag of seaweed to be greeted by more mounds of flesh baking upon the cool sand.
When we walked through the camping area, we soon realised that we had the last of the camping sites and had to squeeze two tents into each site. A couple arrived not long after us in an open sailing boat and found themselves pitching their tents next to the communal day area. Ignoring the apparent lack of booked sites, and the behaviours of some of the neighbours, the camping ground was an unexpected delight and probably one of the best I have come across in a National Park. A soft sandy track with a camping sign marked the entrance to the camping ground. A short way in, private from the beach was a communal area with two large tables shaded by a roof. From here narrow sandy paths ran in various directions branching off which were small sandy cul de sacs, the individual camping sites. Most of these sites were in close proximity to each other (less than five feet apart) but a sense of privacy was afforded by the vegetation which featured layered vines. Each cul de sac had a low broad square wooden table stained dark brown, the kind favoured by people using backpacks. The toilet managed to have a regulation compliant ramp up from one side and each cubicle had a door. The latch on one of these had some of us thinking that we were going have to employ creative thinking as to how we were going to get out, that was until we figured out the dicky catch.
Later that afternoon began the start of our catered trip when someone offered to take our rubbish. Could have knocked me over with a feather. Turned out they used to operate kayak tours and understood the relevance and significance of their offer. Someone needs to update the brochure too, as after 3PM, unlike as claimed in the brochure, hardly anyone left. Mark and I tried out the snorkeling gear we had bought for the 2011 trip and dibbled along the rocks bounding the southern end of the beach where we came across a delightful flurry of small schools of fish. We also got chatting with Steph and Peter from WA who had come via the open sailing boat. Called ‘Fairbreeze’, Steph said she was a Welsh design known as a Gentleman’s Day Boat. It was one of 14 in Australia and they had just trailered it up from Victoria. It looked very small compared with the other sailing boats and very open to the weather and highseas. Yet she and Peter had sailed around the Keppels and had a couple more days around the Whitsundays before putting back in for their next destination. They eventually planned to make their way to Tasmania to join a catered fleet that were sailing to the wooden boat festival. Another deep rich sunset was followed by heavy metal into the wee hours interspersed with an occasional Johnny Cash.
Day 3 Whitehaven Beach
Steph and Peter had suggested we walk to the lookout over Hill Inlet before the tourist boats disgorged their payloads so the next morning we paddled north. There was very little to see in the way of sea life with the exception of brown rays with broad dark tails. After a long walk up the beach with one kayak, the decision was made to secure the rest to a tree stump before setting off up the track to the lookout over Hill Inlet. It is an easy walk. Starting with soft sand under the casuarinas it soon starts to climb up a pristine boardwalk before following a wide well constructed and worn path. We ducked out a little early just in time to see Fair Breeze coming in with her three burgundy sails aloft. Just as well we had listened as by the first lookout people were already jostling for position to take their selfies in variable attire against the stunning turquoise waters and sparking white sands. By the third lookout we had someone do the honours for the six of us. On the way back down I spotted a small brown snake sliding off into the mulch.
From here we pushed the breeze to head for the north end of Chalkies Beach on Haslewood Island for a spot of snorkeling. It was much quieter with only a handful of yachts but there was little to see in the way of coral. We had lunch in the shade of a mingy casuarina and decided to paddle around Teague Island to the SW of Haslewood. As we left Chalkies we noticed one of the tour operators anchored between the two islands. The operator told Mark that this was the place for some of the best coral viewing in the area. Eventually a couple of us flopped into the water and discovered a display of coral that was more like what we had anticipated. I was surprised that the current was not stronger. It certainly picked up as we paddled through the ‘no bare boats’ passage. The eddies were starting to swirl and we pulled ourselves through a small tidal race. The southern face of Teague Island was stark. Sheer cliff faces were striated with deep chasms. Even though the conditions were calm, I get a bit nervous being close to rocks and kept a conservative distance away. Solway Passage was starting to grow a little more restless with a slight tidal race creating delightful chippy waves. The day was concluded with another rich sunset followed by round two of heavy metal.
Day 4 Whitehaven Beach to Whitsunday Cairn Beach
Having spent two nights at Whitehaven, it was time to move onto for a night at Whitsunday Cairn Beach. The forecast was starting to sombre with rain, a strengthening S to SE wind and a thunderstorm offshore. Again we were catered for, this time by a young family from the Burdekin who had come out to make the most of the three day weather window. They offered us water and to take any rubbish we had. Today there was a red chopper alighted part way along the arc with its rotors still running – yesterday it had been an orange one. We had left by 7am yet as we paddled by, the crowds already amassing at Hill Inlet. Heading around Tongue Point we pulled in on the far side of Tongue Inlet which was sheltering a host of craft. We had a nibble and leg stretch on the beach before continuing on by Peter Head. By now the wind was starting to pick up and fill out the sails. We hugged the dramatic rocky coastline and were at our destination by midday. Our arrival was greeted by a rocky shore bounded by a steep coral bank. Straps were used to hoist all of the boats well above the tide line.
Whitsunday Cairn Beach campsite was another charming spot. This time a path of coral spawned cul de sacs on either side before concluding with a magnificent door-less loo. The loo set up on a platform and afforded a gorgeous bush outlook. While setting up tent several tenders came ashore with snorkelers. I soon went in and to my delight discovered a reef of coral that was just as good, if not better than what we had seen the day before. Three of us decided to head up the Whitsunday Cairn track. It was a steady climb and we had clearly not given ourselves enough time to get back before dark. After walking 400m it was clear that I for one would need more time to make any progress and we turned tail to get back to the beach just as the Scamper called in with the pre-arranged water drop. Another intense sunset was followed by the music from a nearby yacht while the waxing moon illuminated the coral paths around this exquisite location.
Day 5 Whitehaven Beach to
Crayfish Bay Maureens Cove
The following morning the wind was forecast to start with 15Kn and quickly rise to 20Kn. It proved true to the prediction. While Mark and I were keen to check out the remnants of the resort on Hook Island where we had seen lights moving around the night before, the group clearly wanted to get going for Crayfish Bay. It was a fun rip snorting sail that had us scooting alongside Hook Island as the seas were started to rumple. As we passed the headland to Crayfish Beach, there was some discussion as to whether it was what Mark had said. It looked right to me. By now the seas off the second point were starting to get confused. I remember this area being feral in 2010 without 15 Knots added to the mix. As a result of today’s conditions the call was made to just keep going. As we approached Pinnacle Point it started to lump up more and after my sail jibed I was a lot more wary. I put out a skimming brace and Mark diplomatically restrained his desire to surf the waves which would have left me in his wake but not out of his ear. After the group rounded the point we came ashore in the lee of the headland. Chatter, laughter and relief that all intact. Hook Island provided relative shelter from the strengthening SE, although it did not stop the wind entirely with the occasional eddy swirling down into the bays. We passed by Manta Ray Bay and made the decision to return for snorkeling.
Having bypassed Crayfish Bay we landed at Maureen’s Cove a day early. We arrived to find around eight plastic boats hauled up onto the coral banks and a series of partially packed campsites. Turned out we had gate crashed the last day of camp for two groups from the River Canoe Club from Sydney. They had caught Scamper across and had around 5 days of glorious conditions for a total of around 23 paddlers. Unfortunately for a couple of people in one group, they had tested COVID positive and it appeared they had had movement restrictions placed upon them, which in some ways seemed somewhat unfair as chances were the lurgy would have already moved on within the group. Gate crashing this group resulted in the last of the catering with provision of water, gas canisters, methylated spirits, food and of course the treasured rubbish collection. The group could not have been more accommodating and were very apologetic for having their stuff in the way – jeepers who were we to complain after they had fueled, watered and fed us. It was followed by a fairly discrete and liberal use of hand sanitiser Mark had picked up at Silly Sollys in Cannondale. With the surplus of fresh water it was time to have a shower and do some washing. Rob tried out a hammock that no one laid claim to and acquired it given that it would only deteriorate further if left behind in the tree.
Day 6 Maureens Cove
With the forecast showing no sign of abating we decided to stay at Maureens Cover for three nights. Furthermore, National Parks and Wildlife had a 200 metre exclusion zone in effect around the southern end of Hook Island during a cull of goats that would conclude on Friday. The goats seemed to have got the message as well as a cream Billy Goat Gruff and his harem remained in the vicinity of Butterfly Bay for the next few days. Their calls at night were highly varied and at times quite eerie. A large tarp was set up over the camp table which was just as well as it was christened with bat crap. Curiously a solitary flying fox seemed to be making its way amongst the branches of the sea lettuce tree we were camped under but had the graciousness not to foul the tarp or tent.
The following day the group elected to paddle around Butterfly Bay, take a stretch on a western beach before returning to Manta Ray Bay for snorkeling. The wind continued to whip over and around the island. I did not have any weight in my boat which made for a rip snorting sail with a paddle outrigger. At one time Rob reckons he saw my boat skip sideways as the sail was blasted by yet another strong gust. The snorkeling in Manta ray Bay was very different to that of more than 25 years ago, indeed in 2010. There was no stag coral. There was only one bat fish. The Maori Wrasse that I caught a glimpse of was a baby compared to the two that were there many years before. Yet the fish life here was quite plentiful and very colourful. One commercial boat load after another arrived then departed. Another advantage of kayak camping is that you can spend as long as you like in the water, go wherever and get back in for another gander. However, today, with the wind up, it was easy to get cold once out of the water. We spent some time huddling in the lee of the boulders or on them to absorb some of their welcome thermal energy.
Back to camp for lunch, followed by domestic duties which had the washing out, some rolling practice, or for me, more time snorkeling. I was delighted to get a better look at the Maori Wrasse which had eluded me earlier. The day was concluded with sundowners framed by an intense sunset.
Day 7 Maureens Cove
There is no phone reception at Maureen’s Cove and each day we were catching up to the last reliable weather prediction. The decision was made to head around the corner to Steens Beach in search of the reception Mark and I had managed to get when we had called for Scamper to ‘come get us’ after we had been blown out in 2011. Mark was of the impression that the campsite for Steens Beach had been moved further south around the next point. While I was not as convinced, the reef out the front was not as I recalled. There was phone reception and the S SE of around 20Knots remained unchanged. We headed out for Black and Bird Islands to get an idea of what the conditions might be like. I was not repeating my mistake and this day had 10 litres of water in my day hatch.
As we approached the sandy beach fringing Langford Island, it became clear that it was time to leave before we had arrived as a broad section of reef was quickly being exposed by the ebbing tide. We turned tail, and made for the western side of Hayman Island. We skirted wide of the rocky outcrop on the SW corner of Hayman as it looked like it too was being left high and dry. With the wind up our clacker we made quick time surfing and sailing – Mark clocked up to 17Kph. We came ashore in the lee of a rocky headland for a bite to eat and some final phone reception and a discussion of what we would do the following day. Thereafter we continued to circumnavigate Hayman Island which is well worthwhile. The shoreline has striking features such as broad chasm which cleaves off the NW tip of the island which has subsequently been lined with sand. The columnar rich pink orange hued rock faces are very different from the rest of the islands – it would have been great to have had a geologist to explain why this seems to be so different. The full day concluded with the usual routine of sundowners in the presence of a spectacular sunset.
Day 8 Maureens Cove to Curlew Beach
The forecast was stuck on S – SE 20 to 25 Knots. Having been out and around Hayman Island, the decision was made to head down the western side of Hook Island and make for Curlew Beach. We would be paddling against both wind and tide so progress would be slow. We had been told by a former kayak tour guide that if you hug the island you will be out of the current – much like a river with back eddies along the bank. We sort shelter by skirting around Stonehaven Bay which started out as host to a plethora of yachts, that was until they pulled up anchor before a large prowling police launch came too close. We made slow and steady progress. Out of the shelter of Stonehaven the wind gusts certainly felt stronger than 20 Knots. As we approached the bottom of Hook Island Mark and I were at the front of the group punching through standard sea kayaking fare you experience off Fraser Island. That was until I saw breaking and rolling waves up ahead. Chicken feather moment. Not a good look. Grant had said the conditions off Hook were the roughest he had ever paddled in. Why rolling waves? Mark said it was deep. We had been see sawing up and down quite steep chop for wind over tide for a while. There was no clear reason for surf and there was plenty of it.
While the decision was spoken about to remain as a group, and in principal I agree with this sentiment, at this point in time I was focused on staying in my boat. I also seriously doubted whether I had the ability to be of any use to anyone else who might come out of their kayak in these conditions. Mark had headed in closer to the island and radioed for me to make my way in. I did not like the prospect of being caught broadside by a gust, not did paddling alongside rocks hold much appeal. The most important thing to me was to face it head on. Mark acquiesced to my refusal to come in closer to the island and came out to paddle with me through some even steeper and bigger swells as I attempted to skirt the rolling surf. In the meantime the rest of the group had done what Mark had wanted me to do and stayed in close to the island. Soon they were around 400metres ahead of us and radioing in for contact with the ‘northern group’. Ross had correctly assumed that Mark and I would likely be together, somewhere.
Given the conditions I wondered if the day’s paddle was to be capped off by surfing into Curlew Beach. This was not the case, indeed aside being blustery, Curlew Beach was quite calm. Our arrival landed us on the very edge of the reef with a haul across the sand to the campsite. This was not of the calibre of the other campsites and there would be not much left of it if you had a generous high tide. Most of the site was in shade and backed by a vine thicket hiding a number of small birds. It was quite nippy as few places were sheltered from the S – SE wind. Interestingly the wind recorded that day was a steady 25Knots at Hamilton Island with an occasional gust to 30Knots. Little wonder we were in bed early. There was no music to serenade us that night.
Day 9 Curlew Beach to Dugong Beach
The following morning we set off into similar conditions. It was all a bit ho hum and very wet. In the lee of a beach on Whitsunday Island we paused for a leg stretch, a nibble, a welcome patch of sun and an attempt to warm up on the rocks. It was here that the decision was made to call for Scamper to collect us from Dungong Beach the following day. Then it was back to the grind. Both Mark and I knew it would be slow going – 3kph is to be expected. The water was too ruffled to admire any coral and once you rounded any headland you really copped the full brunt of the wind which at times required that you grip your paddle to keep it in your hand. Even rounding into Cid Harbour bought surprisingly little respite or shelter. By afternoon the wind was settling to a benign calm.
At Dugong Beach an array of glamping tents occupied a part of the site and we speculated that they may be for the construction workers from Dirt Scapes who appeared to have the contract for track maintenance from Dugong to Sawmill Beach. The loo block also looked new and was well provisioned. Doors were back on hinges. Mark and I did part of the trail up to Whitsunday Peak. This impressive trail follows a bouldered valley from which emanated the sound of trickling water. The vegetation is varied, fascinating but as noted on the track up to Whitsunday Cairn, appears to support very little birdlife.
Day 10 Dugong Beach to Shute Harbour
While we were walking the trail the rest of the group had used their time to organise their gear in readiness for the pickup by Scamper which was due in between 0800 and 1000 the next day. We on the other hand were not organised, so got up at 0530, had breakfast and packed our campsite into bags. Right on 0800 Scamper pulled ashore. Whenever using Scamper be prepared for a potentially rough ride as your trip back to Shute Harbour may take you via the eastern side of the islands, which if it is blowing like it had been for the past three days will be rough. To prevent the compass on the Mirage 580 from rubbing on the hull of another boat, the Mirage was put on first, followed by Mark’s Marlin 560, the three Arctic Raiders then Sue’s Pilgrim. If you have any buckles across your hatches (as the Naturelines do), it is worth taking the time to rinse or dust the sand out from underneath the plastic buckle. Boats like Arctic Raiders do well to have their rudders secured with bungy or duct tape and consider putting some form of protection over your cockpit combing as it will be damaged if it is rough.
The service provided by the skipper on the Scamper was excellent. He handled all the boats with care. Each boat was laid on the side and secured individually. We noticed that the padding provided by Scamper had improved and no longer relied on pool noodles on the side struts. We left Dugong Beach and went north to Whitsunday Cairn Beach to drop Ben off. Ben worked for Scamper and was camping there with the plan to walk the Cairn to get some photos of the moon which had been waxing to the point of remarkable brilliance. Then it was around the top of Whitsunday Island into rough and choppy conditions I was all too happy to leave in our wake. A young couple were dropped off at Whitehaven Beach. The skipper gave them clear and thoughtful advice of what was permitted, where they could walk and confirmed the details of which day he would return to collect them.
Then it was off though Solway Passage which was more like an awakening taniwha with tidal races starting to form bounded by rough chop. Scamper made a wide turn into Chance Bay to drop off two women and a teenage girl along with a feast of protein. They were meeting up with family they had not seen for a month. Their family had sailed two Hobie pedal/paddle kayaks with outriggers from Tin Can to Chance Bay. One woman said that her son had asked her to bring a big steak. The Hobies looked small and slender on the beach. Then Scamper returned direct to Shute Harbour. The ride back was particularly rough around the SE side of Whitsunday Island. Once in the passage the conditions settled considerably. The predominant swell was nothing like Ray, Mark and I had seen in 2011.
If you were to paddle it, it would be worth considering splitting the paddle with a night on the Molle Group as it would be unlikely that you would have the tide in your favour in the final return leg to Shute Harbour. But for today I was quite happy to offload the kayaks onto the well-designed floating dock.
This venture was a paddle of contrasts. The hire yachts look luxurious yet they are very much constrained as to where they go and what they can do. And, at an estimated $2000 per day, as opposed to $6.50 per night, I am not convinced that you get that much bang for your buck when comparing a cabin bed with the flexibility of kayak camping. As your eyes trace the rugged ridges profiled by hoop pines, down to massive rocky outcrops plunging into deep swirling emerald waters the scene could be shattered by the roar of commercial jet coming into land. A sweeping panorama starting with the distinctive profile of Pentecostal Island concluded with the jarring rectangular profile of high rise apartments on Hamilton Island. People were all around and at times we were obliged to share their music preferences well into the night. On the flip side we were privileged to the kindness of others and for a while there you would think we were on a catered paddle with people approaching us and offering to take our rubbish, offering us water, food even a beer. The first few days paddling were quiescent whereas the last few days were punctured by strong S to SE winds ranging from 20 to 30 Knots. This trip completely swamped my initial luke warm enthusiasm. The trip planning by Ross was exemplary and key to such a successful venture. The water was warm and we experienced very little insect load. All in all it was a magical trip so much so that I would appreciate an opportunity to return to walk Whitsunday Carin, Whitsunday Peak explore Nowra Inlet and the Molle Group at a time when the S – SE are likely to be quiescent.
Food Taken for a 10 Day Trip
Over time our pantry had accumulated a wide variety of unused food bought for kayaking trips. Some trips had been cancelled, other items were not eaten, part of the spare meal, been given to us or had simply looked good on the supermarket shelf. The collection had to go especially the stuff that was best before many moons ago.
Meals were one pot slop or one pot delight depending upon how hungry you were.
The use of laksa and spicy pumpkin soup, dahl and made for an excellent flavour base and was enhanced by the regular use of quantities of dehydrated onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, peas alongside extra coconut milk powder and fresh garlic and filled in with an extra packet of rice or vermicilli. The water in the tins of sliced water chessnuts or canned corn was not too salty.
Fried pancetta became delicious salty bacon to go with shaker mix pancakes and honey for breakfast.
A salami bought at the Brisbane markets left tins of tuna redundant for lunches based around a wrap which were filled out with a generous squirt of mayonnaise, slices of mature cheddar cheese kept in chux cloth and pulse salads. While the pulse salads (lentil, bean, quinoa, rice etc) came in plastic bowls which were a nuisance, the salads were tasty and filling and worth the rubbish.
An array of packets of stuff came out for sundowners. Fortunately most was gluten free and able to be shared by all. Spicy broad beans and wasabi peanuts were amongst the more interesting fare.
My attempt at making toffee to gum together sesame seeds and nuts stuck together was successful as a chewy/crunchy energy packed scroggin that stuck well to itself.
Porridge laced with sultanas, dried mango, linseeds and dehydrated banana could have benefited from a small pinch of salt. The successful use of skim milk powder for coffee and to have on porridge has cemented itself into the menu.
The cherry tomatoes and whole small capsicums lasted well and were always welcome. Others took continental cucumbers which also lasted as did celery and raw carrots. Peanut butter would be a welcome addition.
The meals were satisfying and neither of us felt hungry during the trip. I attribute this to the use of pulses at lunchtime and as a frequent addition to the evening one pot affairs.
Gear Taken for 10 Day Trip
As per usual our boats were very heavy. However, there was nothing we did not use amongst the gear we carried. Maybe we could have taken fewer clothes, but then again having enough to ensure you can stay warm and dry is important, especially when you have been paddling in conditions that not only leave you soaked but your glasses so salt encrusted to the extent that you have difficulty seeing anything. These were the conditions Mark and I encountered to the west of Hook Island and the campsite at Curlew Beach we landed at thereafter was not only shaded, it was cold as there was little protection from the wind. Next time Mark says he would take the wheels as they allow us to hoist our boats up high enough to haul them up steep banks and over rocky reefs.