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Sailing the Whitsundays is definitely a trip you need to add to your Australia Bucket list. The first time I was in Australia I took a quick day trip to the Whitsundays with the awesome Ocean Rafting. I was whizzed out on a high-speed boat to the world famous Whitehaven Beach and some incredible snorkelling spots which were out of this world. I’m a real water gal so I’m not even exaggerating. This time, however, I was fortunate to have more time on my hands so was eager to explore more on an overnight Whitsundays sailing tour.
The only thing that was left hanging on my mind was what on earth do you pack for a Whitsundays sailing tour? I’d never been on a sailing boat so had no idea what to expect. So if you’re going on one of these tour and are wondering the same thing, I’ve got you covered! I’ve got all the information right here about what you need to pack as well as some handy tips so you know what to expect. Now, I wasn’t fortunate when it came to the weather for my sailing tour – it was right at the end of a stormy patch and it rained for most of the first day, but it was still awesome! You can read more about my trip here to get an insight into what to expect.
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- How to spend one day on Stradbroke Island
- How to spend a day on Magnetic Island
What is the best Whitsundays sailing tour?
If you Google overnight Whitsunday sailing tours, you will find so many companies to choose from which I think can be a little overwhelming. In all honesty, the best Whitsunday tour for you will depend on what kind of experience you want. There are one-night tours and two-night tours. There are party boats and ones that are more chilled.
I booked my tour with Matador as, for me, their tour offered the perfect mix of fun and relaxed and we went to some awesome spots for snorkelling as well as the famous Whitehaven beach. Yes, it was raining, but the crew were awesome and made the whole experience loads of fun still. I also loved that the Matador is an ex-racing boat that won plenty of competitions in its time as well as being one of the largest boats back then.
My advice for finding the best your for you is to decide on your budget, decide how long you want to be on the trip for and whether you want more of a party atmosphere or a relaxed feel.
Where and how to book a Whitsundays tour
Airlie Beach is the gateway to the Whitsundays and you’ll find plenty of tour operators selling tickets for a number of trips. I recommend speaking to a few of them to make sure you’re getting the best price for the tour you want and seeing what deals might be on offer. Most hostels also sell tours so be sure to take a look there, too.
However, after saying that, my favourite way to book trips and tours is online. Websites like Get Your Guide has a huge selection of Whitsundays tours to choose from (you can check them out here) as well as tours for all over the world, so they’re a good company to keep in mind. Another awesome website and the one I booked my tour through is Bookme.com. This website is awesome if you’re travelling on a budget as they offer discounted tickets for loads of tours. You’ll need to keep an eye on this website as they only sell tickets for tours about 2 weeks in advance but it’s worth being patient as they offer seriously good deals.
When is the best time to go to the Whitsundays?
If this is your first time in Australia, you need to remember that the summer runs from December – February and winter from June – August. If you have the chance to be flexible, I would recommend taking your tour around the springtime (September-November) as it’s generally nice and warm but not baking hot as you’re going to be out in the sun for a lot of the trip. However, if you’re time in Australia doesn’t fall around this don’t worry too much. I went on my first trip in the middle of winter and it was still a lovely hot day. Queensland ain’t known as the Sunshine State for nothing!
What to expect on a Whitsundays sailing tour
Put simply, an awesome time! As I’ve mentioned before, it rained for much of my trip but the staff still made it really fun and it was a fantastic way to experience a little of the 74 islands that make up the Whitsundays.
On the Matador, the day started early with us all meeting at Abell Point Marina before jumping on the boat and heading off. We had the chance to help out the crew with operating the sails which were both hilarious and harder than it looks but we also had plenty of time to just chill out. We stopped off at the famous Whitehaven beach as well as some awesome snorkelling spots to experience what is actually part of the Great Barrier Reef. I saw loads of fish and sea life, and as someone who loves the ocean, I was in my element.
If like me, this will be your first time on a sailing boat it can be hard to know what to expect in terms of the layout. The Matador is a long narrow boat and is built for practicality from its racing days. Everything has a purpose and the top deck is covered in pulleys and ropes for sailing the boat. There’s plenty of space to sit and relax but expect to be right in the thick of things as well!
Below deck are the sleeping quarters, tiny kitchen and toilet. The beds were a mix of double and single beds with bedding and were surprisingly comfortable. There aren’t any showers on the boat because it’s so compact but it’s really not a problem for one night.
My top tips for your first Whitsundays sailing tour
- Pack light – There’s not a lot of space on the boats and you’ll probably only have space to put your stuff on the floor right next to your bed in the gangway. Just bring the essentials only!
- Bring plenty of water– There was a drinking water supply on the boat I was on but it did have a bit of a funny taste, so if I would recommend bringing a decent amount of water with you to help stay hydrated. You might actually want to bring more to drink than you normally would as being around the salty sea causes faster dehydration as well.
- You’ll be barefoot: For safety reasons, you’ll be asked to take your shoes off as you get on board the board. The floor can get pretty slippery and being barefoot is the safest way to move around the boat.
- Alcohol is permitted: What better way to chill out than a couple of drinks on a deck of a boat in one of the most beautiful places in the world? Alcohol is permitted but there was a limit per person and no glass (for obvious reasons) is allowed. If the famous Goon is your go-to drink then you’ll also be asked to take the bag out of the box.
- Be prepared for all weather: As I found out, the weather can be a bit hit and miss and as long as the weather’s not causing a dangerous situation, the trip will most likely go ahead. Just make sure you’ve packed something waterproof and warm, along with your swimmers and sun cream. But more about that below!
- Get travel insurance, just in case: Sailing around the Whitsundays is really safe but I would always recommend getting travel insurance that covers this type of activity, along with snorkelling.
- Listen to the crew: The crew that was running the Matador were awesome, chilled and had our safety at the heart of the trip. Make sure you listen to what they’re saying to avoid injuries and have the best time.
- Get involved: Don’t be shy! These kind of trips are an awesome way to meet some new people and have a great time together. Because the boats have a maximum capacity, the groups are pretty small which means it’s easy to get talking to people and relax into the trip.
What to pack for your Whitsundays sailing tour
As sailing boats aren’t built with a lot of space left over, ideally, everything you’re packing needs to fit in a day bag which is similar to this. I used my small day backpack which was enough to fit everything in and keep it all compact.
Footwear: Although you have to take your shoes off whilst on the boat, you’re going to want something for when you’re visiting Whitehaven and walking up to the incredible view at Hill Inlet. I bought some Havaianas for the first time when I was in Brazil and haven’t looked back since. Not only do they have tonnes of designs to choose from, but they actually have a decent grip on the soles, unlike the cheap pairs you get from other stores. Alternatively, picking up a pair of swim shoes is a great option as they’re comfy for walking in and will protect your feet when snorkelling and swimming.
2 x spare tops: As you’re going on an overnight Whitsundays tour, you’re going to want something clean to put on for the next day anyway, but I would recommend taking another spare top as well. As it was raining during my trip, it was nice to have a change of dry clothes to put on. I tend to go for cotton t-shirts as I’m so pale (thanks to my ginger genetics) and don’t want to burn.
1 x jumper: The evenings can get pretty chilly on board the boat so be sure to bring a jumper to layer up a little. Tom has a really lush North Face fleece which is warm, soft and breathable without being too hot. Additionally, it dries quickly and hasn’t lost its shape despite having it for well over a year. You can get them for both men and women in a variety of colours too.
1 x shorts: As you’re going to be stepping over things up on deck and shimmying down steps to get below deck, I’d definitely recommend wearing shorts for your trip. Pack a pair of lightweight shorts like these that will be quick drying and comfy when they are wet.
1 x pair of leggings: These are a great idea for either wearing if your sailing in cooler weather in the day or to double up as pyjamas at night. I love a pair of comfy yoga leggings like these ones and they’re available in a range of sizes too.
Waterproof jacket or poncho: Again, this is another ‘just in case’ item but as they don’t take up much space, you’ll be so chuffed you packed one if you do need it. I have a small foldable waterproof jacket that I love in a practical kinda way, but if you can’t get hold of one of these before your trip, a decent reusable poncho will help you out as well.
Beach cover-up: Having something to whip on over your swimmers is essential if you’re pale like me. I personally love the kind of cover-ups that you slip over your head rather than a sarong as they keep the sun off of my shoulders and I don’t have to faff around trying to tie it.
Sunglasses: A decent pair of sunnies are must for your time in Australia anyway, but it’s really important to have a pair when you’re sailing as the sun against the water can be super bright. I’ve been trying to take more care of my eyes since being in Australia so I always buy sunglasses with a high UVA and UVB sun protection. Amazon has some great sunglasses with UV protection at super affordable prices.
Sunhat: As cute as it would be to have a big floppy hat on the boat with you, you stand a pretty big chance of losing it as you’re sailing along at pretty high speeds. I would opt for a baseball cap instead to keep the sun off your face and avoid the embarrassment of your hat flying overboard.
Something to sleep in: Having a separate set of clothes that are solely used for your pyjamas is a great idea in case the rest of your clothes get wet – there would be nothing worse than sleeping in wet clothes! Just remember that the sleeping conditions are small so you’re going to be close to everyone. Just something to keep in mind before you pack your skimpiest set of PJs…
Swim suit: A huge part of a Whitsundays tour is, of course, getting to experience the beach and the sea life so you’re going to need your swimmers. Boohoo.com has a huge selection of both bikinis and one pieces so you can get your hands on what ever style you like. Just so you’re aware, Matador required us to wear stinger suites which they provided whilst in the water as well for insurance reasons.
Microfibre towel: Hands down this is the one thing you can’t go backpacking without. These towels are super light weight, fold up small and are fast drying. Sand also just slides off of them so you won’t be dragging half of Whitehaven beach back onto the boat with you.
Beach bag: I like to keep a foldable resuable shopping bag on me and these work great as beach bags. You’re only going to need a few bits with on the beach and when you’re back on the boat it can all be packed away again. These Samsonite ones are really strong and come in some awesome designs to choose from.
Sunscreen: As you’re going to be spending a lot of time (hopefully) in the sun on deck and also swimming, it’s so important to use a high factor sunscreen that is broad spectrum, water resistant and also reef safe. Reef safe sunscreens can actually be quite tricky to find so I’d recommend heading to Amazon and picking up some of the Tropical Sands biodegradable and reef safe sunscreen to be sure you’re staying safe in the sun as well as protecting the reefs.
Hair ties: It’s going to be pretty windy on the boat and that combined with sea water makes for a messy mop. I spent my trip with my hair tied up and really love these springy hair ties as they don’t snag my hair or pull it too tight.
Compact hairbrush: One thing that was super important on the boat was to not brush your hair below deck as it can get in the pumps and block them up but, of course you’re still going to want to brush your locks, right? To save space make sure you pick up a compact hairbrush like this one or this one.
Toothbrush and toothpaste: Just bring your usual toothbrush and toothpaste when it comes to your trip. Please don’t buy a mini travel friendly toothpaste tube because it’s a waste of plastic and it’s great to do your bit to crack down on this!
Face cloth: This awesome little face towel is awesome for so many reasons and a great thing to take on your trip with you to freshen up. This Nano Towel removes make up, oil and general yucky stuff from your skin and it eliminates the use of single use face wipes.
Deodorant: Just don’t be that person to skip this in such a small space, ok?
GoPro: If you want to capture the amazing marine life while you’re in the Whitsundays, a GoPro is a must. I have a pretty old GoPro and although the quality is ok, GoPros have definitely come a long way. The new GoPro Hero 7s are insane and you can pick up a real bargain on Amazon with loads of accessories as well.
Power bank: There aren’t going to be many sockets on the boat to charge your tech up, and my power bank was super handy for the trip. This one is really compact and has 2 cables built in meaning you won’t have to bring those on the boat with you as well.
Waterproof phone case: If a camera isn’t in your budget and you want to use your phone for those underwater shots, why not pick up a water tight case to use instead? It’s a really budget friendly alternative and they take up such little space for travelling in general.