The East Coast: Camping in the Whitsundays

As with the rest of Australia, The Whitsunday Islands are a place of great beauty and hidden danger.

This is the story of sandflies, sunstroke, and blood blisters in one of the most stunning locations in the world.


After a lot of thought about budget and the kind of experience we were going for, it was decided we would camp on the Whitsundays instead of the traditional backpacker option: the sailing trip. What a wonderful decision.

Everything we needed for the next two days fit into a cooler, an army-issue dry bag, and a plastic box. When we arrived at the ferry, we were unsure if we were very efficient, or very out-camped.

The trip to South Molle Island was very quick, it was just across the bay. When we arrived, there were a few other tents set up, but no people. It felt as if we had the island to ourselves. Even the air and ocean were still.

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We set up the tent and took a nap. I sat and watched the birds living in the bushes around the site. Bush Stone Curlews make the most unnerving sounds I’d ever heard coming out of a bird (until we got into cassowary country, that is). Somewhere between a hiss and a moan, they would freeze every time I moved.

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The beach at Sandy Bay isn’t one you want to lay down on, it is steep and full of stones and shells and driftwood. None of the stone are the same and the shells are stunning. Lizards ran in and out of the driftwood, and we tried, and failed, to make friends with them.

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We spent the evening drinking tepid sparkling wine  and watching the sunset. Every now and then a turtle would poke its head above the water to breath, but never for long enough for us to be one hundred percent sure it was really there.

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In the morning we were up early and went on a hike before our ferry came to take us to Whitsunday Island. The path we chose took us through so many different landscapes it was hard to believe this was all the same island.

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When we finally got to the top of Mt. Jeffreys, it was worth the hike. The Whitsundays are amazing, you could spend a lifetime exploring it all.

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Upon our return to the campsite, the ferry arrived to take us to Whitsunday Island. It was a bit unnerving, being crammed onto a tiny metal boat that had more kayaks and camping equipment than people. Especially once we got into open water and the boat turned into a roller coaster, bouncing across the waves. Anything was wasn’t strapped down was going to go overboard.

We passed Hamilton Island, with its massive houses and resorts and wondered what it would be like to live there.

And then we arrived at Whitehaven. All the photos you see both do and don’t do it justice. Yes, it really looks like that. Yes, the sand is really that white, the ocean that clear, the trees that green, if not more so. It was like stepping into a photograph with the saturation cranked up. I was reluctant to even take photos, and wanted to just enjoy the experience.

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The campsites are off the beach, in the shade of the sandy forest. Before long, the biggest lizard I have ever seen came sauntering over to investigate. I really do mean saunter, this guy knew he was large and had no cares for us or anyone else camping, crawling all over our bags and fishing rods.

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We spent the afternoon paddling around in the ocean, trying to cool off our second bottle of sparkling. A tour boat operator called us over as they were about to leave, offering us the leftover ice from their cooler.

“I can’t let anyone drink warm champas, that’s a crime!”

Australians are fantastic people.

In the evening we sat on a picnic blanket on the beach and watched as it got darker and the stars came out, picking out which of the massive yachts anchored in the bay we would like to own (all of them).

And then eventually it was dark and we were the only people on the beach.

The only two people on Whitehaven Beach. One of the most beautiful, and most well known tourist spots in the country and we had it to ourselves.


In the morning we got up extra early to watch the sunrise over the bay.

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The sand on Whitehaven Beach is like nothing else I have experienced. It feels like flour under your toes, it is that soft, and it doesn’t get scorching hot like most beaches, and in the shade is really quite cool.

That doesn’t mean it can’t destroy your feet.

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After breakfast, I wanted to go and see Tongue Point and the Hill Inlet lookout. This is where those fabulous shots of Whitsunday Island come from, with the swirling white sand and teal waters reaching into the island.

We came across a little information sign hidden in the trees. It read: ‘lookout point, 600m’ with a little diagram of a dotted line down the beach and a little trail leading to a lookout. Lots of time to take a look around, and head back to pack up camp before the ferry arrived.

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After about 30 minutes we were confused, we hadn’t seen a trail heading into the forest, and surely we had walked more than a kilometre already. After an hour we were halfway down the beach and still nothing, and were beginning to wonder if we should head back so we didn’t miss the ferry.

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It was decided we pick up the pace and get to the end of the beach, surely the lookout would be there. We passed barbecues on the beach and dinghies and schools of fish  in the shallows. We brought one bottle of water and not much else for this ‘600m walk’.

Eventually the sand was rubbing my feet raw and I had to put my flipflops on. Sandals and the beach are a terrible combination.

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Finally we got there to Tongue Point and it was worth all the worry and walking and pain. Even from the ground this place is stunning, mind-bending. We couldn’t see a way to get across to the lookout on the hill without getting wet, and there was not enough time. What I would give to go back and spend a whole day there.

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After tearing myself away from taking photos and forcing myself to commit every detail to memory, we had very limited time to get back to pack up camp before the ferry arrived. Terrified of missing it, we jogged back down the beach (again, great for the feet).

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By the time we got back it was midday, we were hot and exhausted and out of water. While taking off my flipflops I accidentally dumped sand on my brand-new camera lens, the one I had gotten specifically for this trip. I almost cried.

We bought a can of pop off one of the tourist boats, and they asked where we had been to look so ruined. After explaining our confusion about the information sign, the boat driver shook his head and told us that the other end of the beach we had walked to was not 600m, but 7 kilometres.

Walking 7 kilometres, mostly barefoot, on even the world’s softest sand will give you blood blisters. Jogging 7km back will make them much much worse. Going on a 14km adventure in the full blazing Australian sun with 750ml of water will give you sunstroke. Spending a night on Whitehaven Beach, staring at the stars and drinking to your good fortune will leave your arms and legs completely covered in sandfly bites.

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It was absolutely worth it.

Camping on the Whitsunday Islands

 

 

3 Comment

  1. Lovely pics

    1. Thank you!

  2. […] I woke up feeling (and hoping) like my skin was coming off. The after-effects of sunstroke and being bitten head to toe by sandflies had me in an all-consuming state of discomfort. Sandflies were sent to Earth to punish us for our sins. They never stop itching. Multiple times overnight I awoke to burning, itching, and bleeding legs from scratching my sunburnt shins in my sleep. Pretty much all you can do is sit on your hands and try not to cry. We made two rookie mistakes on Whitehaven Beach. […]

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