The Ngaro people were the first people to explore and live in the Whitsundays, a group of 74 islands off the coast of East Australia, utilizing outrigger canoes. But in the 1700’s European explorers arrived to map this area and explore what she had to offer. They came in tall ships, sailing the high seas. We had a free day in Airlie Beach and thought it would be fun to go out on a tall ship for the day, to do a bit of sailing and snorkeling. We chose the Derwent Hunter.
The Derwent Hunter was built in Tasmania in 1946 out of Tasmanian Oak and Huon Pine and she has been many things in her life. She raced the Sydney to Hobart, she was a fishing vessel, she was a research vessel, and now she takes out a handful of tourists 6 days a week. We chose her for her history, her fun but laid back itinerary, because she has a high eco rating, and because the group size that they take out is small. It also didn’t hurt that we got a discount for being YHA (hostel organization) members. We showed up bright and early at the marina and boarded the ship.
We sailed out of the Airlie Beach harbour and out onto the Coral Sea for our first glimpses of the Whitsundays. There wasn’t much wind, but we put up the sails and did a bit of motor sailing. You see, there is one more reason we picked the Derwent: All of the guests actually become the crew for the day. So we hoisted the sails ourselves and took off for an island called Bali Hai for a bit of snorkeling.
We sailed out through the main channel and past loads of beautiful islands. Rain chased us a bit of the way but it turned out to just be a light sprinkling. Along the way they served tea, along with heaps of fresh fruit, cake, and biscuits. Final reason we chose the Derwent: they feed you yummy food ALL.DAY.LONG. And you all know how much we love to eat.
As we got closer to Bali Hai, we put on our stinger suits. It’s jellyfish season here in the Whitsundays. You can’t swim along the coast at all because of all the poisonous box jellyfish and irukandji. It’s recommended that you swim with a stinger suit, which is a full length 1mm neoprene skin suit. Let me just say that everyone looks dead sexy in a stinger suit.
We anchored at two different spots for snorkeling. We spent about an hour snorkeling at Bali Hai and then we crossed over to Langford Spit and did another hour or so of snorkeling there. It was a King Tide while we were there, so the water was several meters higher than it would normally be, and we were there at high tide. So the visibility wasn’t the greatest. But we were rewarded in other ways. Sea turtles love high tide and they were out in full force. We saw a dozen huge sea turtles during our snorkeling that day, and got to get up close and swim alongside quite a few of them. Here is a short video I shot of a huge sea turtle who let me swim alongside. He was as big as I am and we swam alongside each other for several minutes before he dove deep. Magical!
We’ve participated in volunteer work in MX where we got to help release baby sea turtles but never gotten to swim with huge sea turtles before. It was a real treat! The turtles were totally mellow and not at all bothered by all us excited people. We found out later that afternoon that turtles love to eat the jellyfish. And that the toxins in the jellies are a hallucinogenic for the turtles. They really are like Crash from Finding Nemo.
Soon it was time to head for home. We got to do a bit of snailing (with a very slow 5 knot wind) on the way back. But were treated to all sorts of other beautiful sailboats along the way.