Staying on budget while travelling in Australia is not always easy, as tours and excursions are relatively expensive (not to mention the alcohol prices!). While undoubtedly providing some unforgettable memories, doing the whole gamut of activities dotted along the East Coast can leave a big hole in your wallet.
If you’re budget conscious, you will likely have to make some tough choices along the way on how best to spend your hard earned travel money. For me, this amounted to a decision between a trip to Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world, and a couple of days sailing the Whitsundays. After considering prices (both were going to be $300 – $350 AUD for an overnight trip), the weather forecast and my personal preferences, I opted for the sailing trip and it turned out to be the highlight of my time so far in Australia.
The Whitsundays are located off the coast of Northeast Queensland and are easily accessed from the town of Airlie Beach. The collection of islands offer picturesque scenery, plentiful snorkelling and diving sites and the famous Whitehaven Beach. While the region was hit hard by Cyclone Debbie in March, by the time of my visit in late May conditions had improved considerably and our crew reported we had some of the best snorkelling since the storm.
There are a number of options for exploring the islands, with boats leaving each day from Abell Point Marina. Most travellers seem to opt for a one or two night trip. For those who are short on time or wary of sleeping on the boat, there are day trips that will get you over to Whitehaven Beach. Private charters are also available. In any case, tours should be booked before arriving in Airlie to avoid disappointment, as the boats do fill up even in the low and shoulder seasons. When booking, a travel agent can be helpful as they can recommend the boat that is best suited to individual travel preferences (The Clipper, for example, has a reputation as the backpacker party boat).
We sailed on Hammer, a former racing boat, that carried about 20 passengers and three crew. Our very capable crew took us to two great snorkeling sites and Whitehaven Beach, cooked up some of the best food I’ve had in weeks and taught those who were interested some of the basics of sailing. The evening was spent on deck, enjoying the company of new friends, having a few drinks and plenty of star gazing. While the sleeping quarters were a bit cramped, I spent most of my time of deck and was happy to sacrifice a bit of personal space for an unforgettable two days in this little piece of paradise.