Sailing the Whitsundays


whitsunday map.jpg

After working in Airlie beach for about 2/3 months I still didn’t see the Whitsunday Islands. Every week lots of tourist come and go to Airlie to go visit the Islands and whitehaven beach in particular. This is the most photographed beach and the 4th most photographed place in Australia. As a photography enthusiast a visit to this beach had to be made. What hold me back from doing it is because the prices are a bit steep. a 3 day and 3 night sailing trip would set me back around $500 dollars.

When I was talking to a friend of mine that worked at the hostel where I was staying she told me about the possibility to do volunteer work on one of the ships. This sounded like a great way to save some money and see the whitsundays. It would mean that I had to do some work on the boat like doing the dishes and in return I got to see the Whitsundays and do all the activities that the guests do, for FREE.

In the past there where several tour operators that offered this but because they often couldn’t rely on backpackers they stopped doing it except for one ship, the Solway Mass. This ship departs every Tuesday and Saturday on a 3 night/3day tour. I signed myself up for the Tuesday trip because I was still working in a restaurant in Airlie. On Monday I got a text that the tour had been canceled because of low numbers. I signed myself up for the one going next week but also that one got canceled a couple of days later. I Decided to try it one more time because I wanted to leave Airlie in that week. Third time the charm, the tour was a GO.

solway mass at sunset

On Tuesday at 4.30 pm I had to be at the beautiful vessel you see above. I arrived and got put straight to work. I had to do some cleaning to make everything shiny before the guests arrived.

I was part of a 6 man crew, the captain, the bosun, the barman, the dekkie, the hosty, and (me) the volly.

At 7pm they arrived and after a short introduction talk from the crew we made our way out to the Islands to the first place to spend the night.

on the way there I helped a little with cooking and once the anchor was out we had dinner. After, Luisa the Hosty (cook) did the dishes and I dried everything. Then at around 11.30pm it was time to go to bed to wake up again at 6.30am

After taking some pictures of the beautiful sunrise at 6.30 I made my way back in to the kitchen to start prepping breakfast and setting up the buffet.

sunrise at the whitsundays

The first stop of the day was the famous Whitehaven Beach. When googling ‘Whitsundays’ images of an arial shot of this beach probably comes up first and it looks beautiful. On arrival to the beach though, my first reaction was: is this it? really? hmm. It is a lot less spectacular as I hoped it would be. The sand was white yes, but the beach isn’t vast and wide as I imagined. My guess was that seeing it from higher ground would be better.

panorama of whitehaven beach

I spend my time on the beach taking many many pictures and looking for rays in the shallow waters. After 1.5 hours we got a little guided tour by Stewie the barman up to the viewpoint. This was indeed a lot better then seeing it from ground level but still not breathtaking.

Whitehaven beach white tree

Back on the boat we made a short trip over to south whitehaven beach where we would spend our second night. We got to chill on the beach for 2 hours before getting back on the boat.

Back on the boat it was time for dinner so time for me to get back to work. Luisa already did all the cooking so I just had to set up the buffet and help cleaning afterwords. My tasks weren’t demanding at all and I kept asking if there was something else I could do because I started feeling guilty towards the other guests for hardly doing anything.

Luckily I had lots of time to take pictures and so I did. The skies and the views where amazing so I was constantly taking pictures. The Crew must have got tired of me grabbing my camera every time.

sunset at the whitsundays

At night the clear dark skies made it possible to see the milky way every day. If the boat wasn’t moving all the time I would have taken some pictures of that too. haha

On Thursday the weather conditions where good so we where able to do some sailing. The guests got to help pull the ropes to set the sails. It’s cool to see the crew climbing up in the masts like 21st century pirates.

Funfact: the Lastest Pirates of the Caribbean was partly filmed at the Whitsundays. Being on Solway Mass my mind definitely wondered off into that world a couple of times.

Back to the sailing. When the sails where out and the engine was turned off we got to relax and listen to nothing but the ocean. The light breeze and the sunny weather made this a very peaceful experience.

After some snorkelling and a lovely dinner we got to see yet another beautiful sunset and even a Dolphin swimming in the reflection of the sun. In the evening Captain Petie and Bee (the Bosun or petty officer) told us about the history off the ship, the discovery of Australia and the Great barrier reef and its inhabitants.

sunset from Solway mass


On Friday, before heading back to Airlie Beach we made one more stop to see some aboriginal paintings in a little cave on hook island. Back in the day the aboriginals used to live on the islands during the wet season and the area is considered holy by the aborigine.

On our way back I had to help out in the kitchen one last time and help clean the boat. At 3pm we arrived back in Airlie and at 4 the ship had to go back out at see for a private function so we had little time to get the boat ready again.

after lunch we needed to start cleaning and packing everything because after 1 hour in the docks the ships had to sail out again for a private function

I didn’t find the whitsunday Islands to be spectacular but I still had a very enjoyable time. The weather was nice, the many views and skies where amazing and the time on the boat was very relax. I’m grateful for volunteering on the ship and being part of the tight crew. They made me feel very welcome and made my time on the boat very enjoyable. Although I had the feeling that I didn’t do much, the crew was very happy with me and told me that I was the best volunteer that they have seen in a while so that made me feel good.

I definitely plan on doing some more volunteer work like this in other places. I heard that you can do something similar a bit north in Cairns but then on a dive boat and you get to dive for free every day. how cool is that. Luckily for me I’m heading over there right now.

Whitsunday Island

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