There’s some bucket list things that are pretty common in Australia, and like many others we’ve dreamed of hiring doing a Whitsunday Yacht Hire for many years, and after a fair bit of planning, we made it happen.
Yep, we’ve ditched the 4WD and camper trailer and taken on a whole new level of living; a Whitsunday Yacht Cruise, with a whole heap of our family.
Why the cruise?
Normally, we’re pretty frugal, and if you’ve been following along for some time you’ll know that we are travelling around Australia as economically as we can, and the cruise is the exact opposite of this.
Sarah and I have always wanted to live on a boat and see what its like, and there’s no better place to do it than the Whitsundays, and with a whole heap of your family. Its been more than 6 months since we’ve seen a heap of our family (and much longer for a few), and there’s no better place to catch up than on a 40 foot yacht, for 6 days!
We paid for this
I go into the exact costs below, but you should know that we received zero discount, sponsorship or gifting on our Whitsunday Yacht Cruise. We paid full retail price, and my older brother actually put the deal together after getting a number of quotes.
We refuse to trade ‘promotion’ for gifts, or cruises in this case, and that allows us to be completely and utterly unbiased. This was not something given to us in return for publicity.
What does it cost?
I won’t beat around the bush here; its mega expensive, and you should be prepared for this. However, if you travel with a larger number of people the costs drop substantially, and you can get a number of deals if you are prepared to shop around, and find something good.
For our 40 foot yacht, that sleeps 10 people, we paid $7000 for 6 nights, with the first night being in the harbor, before we’ve actually left. Now, we had 7 adults, and two kids (which we excluded from the split, and paid for fuel instead), and that meant the total cost per person, per night is about $167, which is getting more reasonable.
On top of this, we had to pay for fuel, a night at Hamilton Island in the marina (optional), stand up paddle board hire (optional), stinger suit hire (optional, but recommended in some months) etc.
We motored a fairly substantial distance, and used a total of about $415 worth of fuel (about 180 litres)
We got the worst possible weather
In the week leading up to our Whitsunday Yacht Hire, I knew we were going to be in for a rough time, with absolutely shocking weather. The forecast was 45 – 60km/h winds for the entire time we were on the boat, with rain on and off, and overall, pretty much the worst weather you could hope for.
This really hurt our plans, as it meant we weren’t allowed to sail with the winds being too strong, and had to motor everywhere. It also meant that we weren’t allowed to do any of the south, or eastern part of the Whitsunday Islands, which are where many of the better spots are.
Even on the west side, the swell and wind was so bad that it was rough, unpleasant and really not the place you wanted to be in, and that’s coming from a big, 40 foot catamaran.
What is Bare Boat hiring?
This term is thrown around a lot, and its actually really simple. You’re hiring the bare boat, with no staff. If you’re from industry, its essentially the same as dry hire.
Where can you leave from?
Shute Harbour and Airlie Beach are the two most common places to hire your yacht from, and depart from.
Is it worth doing a night in the harbour?
Many of the Whitsunday Yacht Hire experiences come with the option of paying extra to get on board the night before, which we decided to proceed with. From memory this was about half of the daily cost, and it allowed us an opportunity to get all of our gear onto our yacht, find homes for everything and settle in.
I would imagine if you didn’t do this, life could be quite hectic trying to get it all done, and take on the information that is taught to you in the information session. We were very glad to get on the night before, and settle in.
Where can you leave your vehicle?
Having booked this in the middle of our lap of Australia, we were a bit unsure of what we’d do with our camper trailer and 4WD. Fortunately, at Airlie Beach there is a paid car park at the Marina, which is only a few hundred metres away from where the yacht is. We paid $50 for 6 days, and it allowed us to pull in, sort gear out easily, drop it off for the boat and then park up again.
These car parks are lit, close to lots of businesses and apparently have CCTV, which gives you a bit of peace of mind. Either way, we had no issues leaving our gear here, and it saved trying to find an alternative a long way away, which would have been much harder.
Sailing or motoring
If you hire a yacht with the ability to sail, then you might get a chance of giving this a whirl. Sailing one of these yachts is relatively easy if you know what you are doing, with a huge amount of gear that smaller yachts don’t have. That said, if you’ve never sailed before, or the weather is unkind, you will either struggle to sail, or you won’t be allowed to.
For us, the wind was over 25 knots the entire time, and we were only allowed to put half a head sail up when going with the wind, which helped us along quite a bit, and smoothed the ride out, but we weren’t properly sailing.
The yachts come with motors that you can drive around comfortably with, and having one on either side allows for some pretty amazing control of the yacht. In total we did over 100km in the yacht over 5 days, and it was entirely motoring, with a bit of sail assistance on a couple of occasions.
Who does the Whitsunday Yacht Hiring?
There’s a huge number of big, and smaller companies renting out Yachts. We went with Whitsunday Escape, but you can look online and you’ll see a ridiculous number of options, including Charter Yachts Australia, Chumberland Charter Yachts, Rent a Yacht, Charter Yachts Australia, Yacht Charters, Sunsail, Any boat and more.
Do you need any prior experience?
These cruises are advertised as not needing any experience (as its ‘protected waters’), and whilst you’d get away without it, we were very glad to be comfortable around boats, general mechanics and to know how things work. You don’t need a skippers license, but several of us on board had one regardless. You won’t be allowed to sail without prior experience, but even still, there’s a fair bit to understand and get right.
None of us had any experience with big yachts like this, but we’ve had extensive experience with smaller boats, and whilst its not the same, there are a lot of relatable pieces of information.
With the weather as bad as it was, we were glad to know what the limits would be of a normal sized boat, and I’m pretty confident that if you got shocking weather and it was your first time out on a big, expensive yacht that you are controlling, it would be pretty intimidating.
We had some really rough rides, and whilst I was never concerned for our safety or for the vessel, it was only because of prior experience. Hopefully if you go out, you get good weather, and that solves a heap of issues!
Where do you stay each night?
Every night, you need to find a mooring, or anchorage to stay. We were told to have one sorted by 4PM, and to get prior approval if we needed to move after that. You can also pull into a couple of different marina’s, and we spent a night at Hamilton Island in their marina (which comes at a cost).
Where you stay is ultimately determined by you, but you chat to the hiring company once, or even twice a day to confirm your plans, and they give you advice on what your options are.
We had plenty of experience in finding good bays to avoid the insane wind and swell, and ran it by the tour company each day, who were more than obliging, with some information on the tides and best times to move that was helpful.
Despite the weather, most of the spots that we stopped at were actually decent. Our worst night was at Butterfly bay, where we moored, and it was not overly flat.
This made for a rocky night, but far worse was the wind and current was all over the show, and we kept having the mooring buoy go under the boat, and knock (fairly loudly) against the edge of the boat.
When you’re sleeping centimetres away, this is loud, annoying and hugely disrupted our sleep, and after that we decided anchoring was far more enjoyable!
On your first night, often you’ll get sent across to Cid Harbor, which is a great starting point, and is surprisingly picturesque. From there, you can move to a different area, and you can spend multiple nights in the same place, or keep moving.
The public moorings have special rules regarding how long you can use them, but you’ll get a heap of information in the 100 magic miles book.
Stingers and sharks
I was super keen to do a heap of diving, and some of that disappeared when we heard about the stingers, and sharks. When the water is warm, there’s a real risk of getting stung by a box jellyfish, or irukandji, both of which are very serious, and you’d be mad not to avoid it.
The advice is to wear full body stinger suits up until the end of May, but its really dependent on the water temperature. You can hire these, or even buy them for fairly cheap. We opted to use our wetsuits, and long sleeve shirts or thermals as needed, and as we didn’t swim a huge amount it worked just fine.
The sharks on the other hand, are an interesting one. Coming from WA we’ve had plenty to do with sharks over the years, but I was surprised to hear that in Cid Harbour you can’t dive, and there’s even buoys everywhere stating not to, due to the sharks.
We confirmed their presence after hooking onto one not long after arriving, and given the previous shark attacks in this area its not a good idea to swim here.
On top of this, you’d want to be wary in water that is murky, or has land run off, as the sharks are present, although we didn’t see any outside of Cid Harbour. The boat hire that we had came with a Shark Shield Freedom 7, which you should use if you have access to!
Fishing and Spearfishing in the Whitsundays
Asides from the amazing scenery, the Whitsundays are touted as one of the best fishing regions around. With the weather, we lucked out badly, but still managed to catch a handful of good fish, including a couple of mackerel when trolling. The maximum yacht speed under motor was just right for this, and we threw the rods out with lures whenever we could.
We did a bit of snorkelling, but even in the calmest places the visibility was average, and there’s a lot of no spearing zones on the West sides of the islands, which we were confined to with the bad weather.
What are the yachts like?
If you’ve done any travel in a Caravan, then a lot of the living on a Yacht is very similar, and its not much of a change. These yachts vary a lot depending on how old they are, and what you want to pay, but they cram a huge amount into a tiny space, and can be really comfortable.
Our yacht had 4 double beds, with a nook at the front of the boat for our kids on each side.
There were two toilets, about 800L of potable water, a reasonable kitchen, and battery system. If the sun didn’t shine well, or you didn’t drive for a few hours each day you’d have to run the engines to charge the batteries, but we never struggled for power, or water.
Hot showers are heated by the engines, so you need to run them anyway if you want to have a warm shower, and the water stays warm for quite a while.
Outside of the yacht had plenty of sitting area, and you could walk around easily enough, and sit on the trampoline at the front.
Was it worth doing?
I don’t think we could have gotten worse weather if we’d tried, and I’ll be completely honest with you; it did put a bit of a damper on our trip. We were positive, but it was a hard pill to swallow given the amount of money people had poured in, and the effort people had taken to fly all over the country to get onto the Yacht.
We had some truly amazing times, and when it was calm in the bays, or we were off exploring in the tender, or hiking on the islands it was unbelievable. Sarah and I really appreciated the learnings from living on a boat, with water everywhere, and the desire to live full time on a boat has gone for a while.
I’m sure we’d have had a much better time if the weather was better and we could get around to places like Whitehaven Beach (all of the East side of the islands), but we didn’t have a say in the matter, and that’s life.
There were a couple of moments where we felt a bit over it (pounding through swell for hours on end), or being kept awake by a buoy smashing its way up and down the hill all night long, but it was hard to deny the insane beauty of the region, and we want to see more.
We still thoroughly enjoyed it, and would do it again, although perhaps later in the year when the chance of strong winds is reduced further.