Snorkeling and sailing on the Whitsundays

Why went snorkeling & sailing on the Whitsundays… and didn’t visit Whitehaven beach!

If you are planning a trip along the East Coast of Australia then you would have read, if not heard, endless comments about Airlie Beach – the gateway to the Whitsundays.  

A fabulous place to breathe in the salty sea air as you sail through islands. It has a plethora of islands that you can visit and endless spots for snorkelling as you are on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef.

We originally envisaged a gorgeous 3 day, 2 night trip with the boys sailing through the islands – just like we did 20 years ago!  But then we saw the cost… HOW MUCH?!?! I nearly fell over. The cost for 2 adults and 2 children would be nearly $2,500. O.k. I know that includes food and accommodation for 2 nights… but ouch!  

That was way over budget and as we had overstayed our planned time in Australia, with a heavy heart, we had to come up with a plan B.

Luckily, being a tourist hub there are options and budgets to suit everyone’s needs.  So therefore, we opted instead to take a sailing trip out and include some snorkeling.

The snorkelling wasn’t the primary goal of this trip.  Instead we wanted the boys to have an experience of sailing on the Whitsundays –  hauling the mainsail and feeling the wind take you on your way.


The ship

After much internet research we selected a boat; the Derwent Hunter.  It was actually the boat keith sailed for 3 days around 23 years ago! I can’t believe it’s still in service.  

But when we listened to the Captains heart warming story of the Derwent Hunters history – you can see how it is still sailing.  It’s a sturdy boat which has received several uplifts and overhauls over the years and is in fabulous condition today!



The day starts off with your collection from your accommodation.  You are then dropped off at the marina to meet the crew members and fill out some paperwork.

As it wasn’t a fast craft it limited the distance we could travel.  This is the reason why we didn’t go to the famous whitehaven beach with its crystal clear water and white sands.  However, this didn’t really bother us because we have already been during our last visit and we decided this is something the boys could visit at a later date.

Instead, our journey would take us to 2 different snorkelling sites in Hook Island.  A really beautiful spot where we then had lunch before we had the 2 hour journey back to Airlie Beach.

I’m actually quite glad we picked this boat, as we had the most leisurely and relaxing day with some pretty awesome snorkelling!


The boat

As I said this is not a party, fast craft boat.  It’s a beautifully crafted sailing boat with a 3 female crew and a young helper on board for the day.   They were all so lovely and got the boys involved wherever possible.

We set off using the engines but as soon as we were in clearer water they hoisted the main sails.  And we were delighted that they asked the boys to roll up their sleeves and join in – boy it was hard work (yes, I did have a go too!).

The crew were very knowledge and in fact one of the members had recently become a Master Reef Guide (she’s also a Marine Biologist!).  Having such knowledgeable people around makes my life so much easier as Ethan has sooooo many questions about the sea and marine life!!!


All Aboard

Before setting off we ran through lots of safety briefings to ensure everyone knew what to do in case of an emergency.  It was all done very sympathetically to their audience. We sailed with another family, with 3 boys, and 2 lovely ladies, so had the run of the boat.  The boys were able to make friends too, which was a bonus!

The boat had a toilet on board (“the head”) and there was a sleeping compartment for storing bags (and children).  However, majority of the time we were all up on desk chatting and soaking up our surroundings.



Our destination was a place called ‘Hook Island’.  There was only 1 other boat around the area so we literally had the whole place to ourselves.  The boat was well equipped with everything you needed and your safety was the crews primary concern.

To reach the snorkelling sights we all had to board a tender to get you closer to the best areas.  We were all given stinger suits and given a snorkel mask and fins. Once you are on the tender (small boat), they had woggles (otherwise known as pool noodles), boogie boards with see through sections and lifejackets.  It was all very well set up, especially if you are not confident in the water.

The crew members told us where to go and what to look out for.  There were 2 tenders out watching over us and available should anyone want to get out of the water or require anything.  We saw so many different and brightly coloured fish & healthy coral!

Snorkeling on the Whitsundays

Snorkeling on the Whitsundays

Chasing fish

While we were out Ethan’s tooth was loose and it was causing him trouble with his mask, so we swam to one of the tenders and (to the disbelief of one of the crew), pulled his tooth out and handed it to her – ha ha!  Her face was a picture. Ethan then swam off happy – all I could do was apologise!

We had a great time.  But it all passed too quickly, and soon rain arrived with dark clouds looming.

Rain while snorkeling


Lunch & snacks

On the journey out the crew brought out tea, coffee and cake/biscuits which the boys dived into immediately! It was all gobbled up in no time!!

After we had finished the snorkelling we came back to the boat to a light buffet lunch.  There was plenty of choice with salads, chicken, noodles and bread rolls. It was all fresh and delicious with plenty to go around our group and the crew.


Sailing home

On the journey home the weather had started to turn.  Grey clouds had arrived and we managed to pick up a little wind.  

It made for a more interesting journey as the main sails were hoisted again and we were riding the waves home. 

Being up on deck and having the wind in your hair made it more enjoyable. It took around 2 hours to return to Airlie beach.


It was at this time that we had a talk from our Master  Reef Guide.  She shared her expertise with us and talked about some of the fish and marine life that we saw while out snorkelling.

She also talked about the preservation work that is being done to help protect the Great Barrier Reef.  Ethan, as per usual, was lapping up the information!



The price for a family of 4 for a full day out snorkelling, with lunch included was A$525.



It was such an amazing day out and whilst I did enjoy exploring Whitehaven beach and seeing those pristine white beaches, this trip was all about the sailing.  

As we couldn’t afford the 3 day 2 night adventures, we decided on just a day trip. Unfortunately, in order to snorkel and see Whitehaven we would have had to go on a fast craft!  This didn’t meet our criteria and instead we chose the Derwent Hunter and I’m so glad we did.

We all thoroughly enjoyed the sailing and snorkelling.  I’d highly recommend this ship for an awesome day out!

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