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There are so many things on the ‘must do’ list when you’re visiting Australia, and sailing the Whitsundays is definitely one of them. When I last visited Australia I took a day trip over to Whitehaven Beach with Ocean Rafting which was amazing, but this time around I was going to go for it. I booked on to a 2-day-1-night sailing trip with Matador for a proper sailing tour of the Whitsunday islands and couldn’t wait to go.
Matador is eco-certified and sails to the famous Whitehaven beach and snorkelling spots to experience the southern Great Barrier Reef. Now I have to admit, the weather was far from perfect for this trip. The rain had been blown over the Airlie Beach area and there was no escaping it. Despite this though, the crew on the Matador were awesome and the tour was still brilliant. One way or another, it’s a trip I’m certainly going to remember!
Some interesting facts about the Matador
- The Matador is an ex-racing boat and has won over 31 races during its time.
- It was once the largest racing yacht stretching 85 feet.
- The boat cost $21 million to build and is made of carbon fibre making it pretty quick and one of the fastest in its day.
- During races, it would be sailed by 26 crew members – squishy!
How does the trip work?
The day kicked off at a fresh 8.30 am at Abell Point Marina where I met everyone else going on the tour as well as the crew. Before heading on to the boat, we each had to fill in some necessary paperwork and were given our stinger suits which is what I pretty much lived in for the rest of the day thanks to the pouring rain. After all the necessities were done and dusted on land, we made our way onto the Matador where we all had to take our shoes off before boarding as it just gets too slippery and dangerous.
After we’re all on and have chosen our bunks, we set sail for a good few hours. For the first part we powered along on the boat’s engines but when we were out on the open water more, we put the sails up and let the wind power us along. At this point, you can volunteer to help to get the sails up as either a grinder, winding the ropes in, or a mastman to pull the ropes that lift the sails up. It honestly didn’t matter if you’d never done any sailing before; the crew are happy to let anyone get involved and make it easy and safe to do so.
The first day involves quite a large amount of time travelling before we reached our first stop, the famous Whitehaven Beach. The Matador anchored up just the other side of Whitehaven in Tongue Bay and we all jumped on the dingy and went over to the shore in small groups before walking to the start of the track that takes you to Hill Inlet lookout point and of course to Whitehaven. Tongue Bay was our stopping spot for the night as well.
The following day the crew are up bright and early to get the boat ready and on the move again. I’ve heard that on some other tours that everyone has to be up to help at this point, but things were nice and relaxed on the Matador and you didn’t have to if you didn’t want to. Day 2 saw us visit 2 different and beautiful snorkelling spots in nearby Butterfly Bay. We had plenty of time at each location before getting back onto the boat and making our way back to Airlie Beach.
What’s it like on the boat?
Despite seeing photos of the Matador when booking the trip, I really couldn’t get my head around what it would actually be like once on it. The only boats I’d been on before this were the ones that take you on day tours with seats and tables and sometimes even a bar. What I learnt quickly is that sailing boats are nothing like this. The Matador is long, narrow, mostly flat and is just super practical. The deck had enough room for the 21 of us to sit and the 3 crew to do their thing. The floor has all the ropes and pulleys to control the sails and of course the wheels for steering. Simply put, you’re right in the think of things and it’s super exciting!
To get down below deck you have to climb through a small space and down the ladder. Below deck is of course where everyone sleeps, the kitchen and the toilets. Everything is compact but in a clever way so that it’s not claustrophobic. You’re only allowed a small bag on the boat There aren’t any proper showers on board but for a one night trip, it’s not a problem.
What were the crew like?
We had 3 crew running the tour and they were awesome! Sammy was the hostess and was also the fantastic ship cook, Matty was the Deckhand and was full of energy, and Mark was the captain who had been sailing for nearly all his life and had some insane stories to tell. All of them were fun, chilled, really approachable and wanted us all to have the best time possible.
How about the sleeping arrangements?
Something that surprised me when I got on the Matador was to learn that they had double beds below deck. Tom and I grabbed one quickly and it was great for spreading out our stuff a little bit and we were able to sit on the edge if we wanted. All the beds are bunk beds with some being doubles on the bottom and have a foam mattress, pillow and sheet each. It was actually far comfier than it sounds, and judging from the snoring that was coming from everywhere, lots of others thought so too!
What happened when it rained?
As soon as we got on the boat, the crew suggested getting changed straight into our stinger suits to keep our normal clothes dry. Despite the rain, we still spent a lot of time on the deck. The views of the Whitsunday islands as we sailed by them were still stunning and the rain made it really atmospheric. The crew were amazing at keeping our enthusiasm and at breaking the ice between us all to make it really fun.
What was the food like?
Honestly, just because the kitchen is small, it doesn’t mean the food’s going to be average. Sammy put together fresh and delicious lunches of cold meats, pasta, salads and bread rolls for both days and there was more than enough for seconds and thirds if you were really hungry. For dinner, we had was a super tasty spaghetti bolognese (the best one I’ve had in Australia) with crusty bread, garlic butter and salad. It was all tasty, fresh and included in the price of the tour. Anyone who had dietary requirements was also catered for so nothing was ever a problem. We could help ourselves to tea and coffee as much as we wanted. I had decided to bring my own bottle of water with me but the Matador actually had drinking water on board but I was glad I didn’t have to worry about running out.
What to pack for the Whitsundays tour
Packing light is the key when it comes to going on a sailing trip. There isn’t any secure storage on the Matador and only bags no bigger than carry-on luggage are allowed. Tom and I just took our small day bags and this was plenty enough. I just took a pair of leggings that could double up as pyjamas as well as warmer clothes if needed, a hoodie, one pair of shorts, 2 t-shirts, swimwear, towel, toothbrush and hairbrush. Tom and I also took our camera, go pro and drone but was sure to keep them in our backpacks as much as possible to protect them. Don’t forget to also bring high factor sunscreen and mosquito repellant too. I would also recommend bringing a carrier bag with you to put any wet or dirty clothes in to keep them separate from the rest of your clothes to make sure you always have something dry to wear.
If you’re at all worried about getting seasick, be sure to bring motion sickness tablets with you and take them before you get on the boat. The crew aren’t allowed to give you any medicines but are incredibly helpful if you do feel unwell. I got a bought of seasickness in the evening and they kindly gave me some ginger biscuits and plain crackers to help settle my stomach which I was so grateful for.
What’s the atmosphere like on the Matador?
When I was researching the different Whitsundays sailing tours, I soon realised that there were different styles. They either tend to fall into the ‘relaxed category’ or the ‘party boat’ category. For me, my hard partying days are pretty much done, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like a drink. The Matador fits perfectly in between with alcohol permitted, a nice big fridge to put it all in and some great built-in speakers to play music through. There was no pressure to play any drinking games or down a bag of goon (which is how I imagine the party boats to be) but it was really relaxed and we could more or less spend our time how we wanted to.
When I learnt about the weather forecast for the trip, initially I was disappointed. I was worried that we weren’t going to be able to see anything and that the water was going to be so choppy I would want to jump overboard and swim back to land. The reality was though, that yes, the weather wasn’t great, but the crew were and the overall experience definitely was. It was amazing to hear about the racing history of the Matador and to learn about the crew and how they had come to do what they do. A huge part of travelling is meeting new people and the weather is never going to stop that.
Going on a tour on a sailing boat is something completely new to me, and getting to see some of the Whitsunday Islands and snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef is something that I won’t forget. It was exciting to learn a bit about sailing but also not have any pressure to do so if I didn’t want to. For me, sailing on the Matador was the perfect mix of exhilaration, adventure and relaxation.