Whitsundays: Whitehaven hype
If you've ever perused lists of the world's top ten beaches in upmarket travel mags, this probably isn't recognisable as Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island. Where is the long sweep of pristine white sand? Where are the swirly sandy patterns in the deep blue water?
When this picture was taken the sand was littered with debris from ex-Cyclone Oswald and more recent heavy rains. It would have looked a hell of a lot better had the waves not been lapping the high-water mark, but no one ever advised me, 'Don't visit Whitehaven Beach at high tide'. On the plus side, the bits and pieces did create some nice beach art.
Neither should I have visited at high tide if I wanted to see the swirly sandy patterns. I was also at the wrong end of the 7-km beach, the sheltered southern end, whereas the patterns are at the mouth of Hill Inlet. Oh, and I should have been looking down from a plane, ideally. If it had been a seaplane, I could have water-landed and walked at the southern end and then flown over the swirly bits. Did the Whitsundays tourist office tell me any of this when I called them? No.
A friend of mine sailed around the Whitsundays for a few days on a tall ship that moored in a nearby bay. She was able to climb to the Hill Inlet Lookout – from where she took wonderful pictures of the swirly bits. The tourist office told me I couldn't climb to the lookout on the trip I was planning, but they didn't volunteer which companies offered that option. Like H2O Sportz, for example, who make half-day visits to Whitehaven that include a guided walk up the hill – with information on the history and ecology of the area, which would have been right up my alley. Their brochure says 'times may need to be changed due to tidal changes'. So you can see the swirly bits at their best, right?
Or, you can do a scenic two-hour trip in a seaplane (including one and a half hours on the beach) for $149, which is only slightly more than we paid for a day trip to Whitehaven and Daydream Island with Cruise Whitsundays. If you're planning a trip to the Whitsundays, my advice would be to think carefully about exactly what you want to achieve. Prioritise. And don't try to kill too many birds with one stone.
If you have specific requirements and want go it alone, you'll need a boat. I guess you'd anchor in Tongue Bay* and then walk over to the Lookout. As we sailed past Hill Inlet the only thing I could see were people where I wanted to be.
So, I have to conclude several things. I didn't do enough research on the best ways of viewing the Whitsundays' most famous landmark. I shouldn't have tried to combine it with visits to other islands. (Sack the tour operator!) I know I didn't see Whitehaven at its best, but I have seen better beaches in WA (Conspicuous Beach), Far North Queensland (Cape Tribulation), New South Wales (Jervis Bay), Victoria (Thirteenth Beach) and Tasmania (Bay of Fires).
There wasn't much wildlife in evidence during our boat trip. We saw wallaby tracks in Whitehaven's sand and the real thing in Daydream Island's resort. A couple of Pied Oystercatchers were trying to avoid intruders on Whitehaven; and there were gulls, of course. But we didn't spot any soaring White-bellied Sea-eagles, Brahminy Kites or Ospreys; and we didn't see any sea life. One of our boatmen attributed this to them all taking refuge from the storms. Still?
With a certain amount of disappointment, therefore, here is my take on Whitehaven Beach.
As usual, I was disappointed to see how much human rubbish there was on the beach. I wished I'd had a bag to collect it.
It makes me angry. I'm sure the large blue lid had been washed up, but the plastic cup must have been chucked at the back of the beach.
The only thing you're supposed to leave behind are your footprints.
* According to my Whitsunday & Islands Offshore Boating & Recreational Guide you can only anchor at the southern end of Whitehaven Beach and in Tongue Bay beyond Hill Inlet.
Post script: please note that tour options change frequently.