You’ve been dreaming about your Whitsundays trip for weeks, pining for that turquoise water and those clear, blue skies. But Mother Nature has a different agenda and serves up a cyclone that turns your beach paradise into a tarp temple. Do you call off your trip and bemoan your bad luck, or pack your rain jacket and stay flexible? Solaye went for the latter and learnt the unexpected pleasures of a storm well spent.
- Secluded beach camping
- Sleeping under the stars
- Breathtaking views at the top of Whitsunday Cairn
- Stunning coral and marine life at your doorstep
- Kayaking, SUP-ing, hiking, snorkelling, fishing
A Whitsundays Cyclone Warning
Most people picture the Whitsundays looking like the back of a postcard: permanently hot and sunny; clear turquoise water stretching on for miles; stunning coral reef at your fingertips; endless inlets and hiking trails to explore.
This is what we pictured too when a group of us planned a kayak and camping trip through the Whitsunday Islands to escape the 9-to-5 for six glorious days.
A week ahead of our trip the forecast looked perfect. No rain in sight. And then suddenly we arrived at the Shute Harbour marina to the news that a tropical cyclone was on its way. Not only could we not safely rent the kayaks, we were advised to consider cancelling our entire trip.
The reality is, for much of the year the Whitsundays are windy, wet and — most of all — unpredictable. So if you’re planning a trip to paradise you need to be prepared.
Here are 6 lessons we learnt about how to make the most of a cyclone warning in the Whitsundays, and still have an epic adventure.
# 1 Maintain A Healthy (But Still Safe) Dose Of Optimism
The original plan was to use Cairn Beach campsite on Whitsunday Island as a base to store our more bulky items while we kayaked to explore various campsites on Hook and Whitsunday Islands — the traditional land of the Ngaro people. Cairn Beach was perfectly located for this. From there we could do the approximately 3-hour paddle to Crayfish Beach for what’s supposed to be some of the best snorkelling in the Whitsundays.
From Crayfish we would glide through the stunning Nari’s Inlet on the way back to Cairn Beach. Another day we would paddle around the eastern coastline of Whitsunday Island to the starting point of the Whitsunday Peak hike at Sawmill Beach, then paddle for roughly 1 hour more to spend the night at Nari’s Beach, which looked a bit more picturesque than neighbouring Dugong.
The final days we planned to spend at Cairn Beach, to really soak up the amazing snorkelling, spearfishing, and walking tracks this secluded part of Whitsunday Island has to offer.
This plan was quickly smashed to pieces when the rental company refused to lend us the kayaks due to the rough weather warnings. But true explorers won’t be deterred that easily. For the moment, the skies were clear, the sun was out, and the water was a glorious blue.
We decided to risk what could become 6 days of camping in the wind and rain in the hopes that the good weather would hold for longer than expected. As long as they said it was still safe for us to camp, we were sure as heck going to make the most of it.
# 2 Get Into Island Life And Just Go With The Flow
With our original itinerary no longer possible, we had to quickly shift to plan B: spend most of the trip at Cairn Beach with the one kayak and one paddleboard we had brought and play it by ear to see if we could get the kayaks dropped off on the following days if the weather improved.
This was not a bad option.
Cairn Beach is a stunning little campsite on the water that sleeps only 12 people (make sure you book ahead online or by phone with Queensland National Parks). It’s a beautiful snorkel spot and is also one of the few areas where fishing and spearfishing are allowed.
# 3 Maximise Your Time In The Sun
Day 1 and 2 were gorgeous days, weather-wise. The ocean was calm and on day 1 we seized the opportunity for a calm paddle with the one kayak we had brought across the turquoise bay. From the kayak you could see straight down to the colourful coral beneath, parrot fish and ‘Nemos’ swimming to and fro. We couldn’t resist jumping off the boat with the snorkels to get a little closer, and were rewarded with a couple of turtles and even a harmless reef shark!
On Day 2 we set off to hike the much anticipated Whitsunday Cairn. The sun was still shining and we wanted to make sure we saw that view before the weather changed. We weren’t disappointed and we were glad we’d gone all out in the two days of dry weather we were gifted with.
#4 Make Friends With Strangers
Well that was nearly the end of the sunshine.
But fortunately, there’s something magical that happens when you escape the city to spend 5 nights sleeping under the stars with a handful of other like-minded souls. With phones switched off, time becomes relative, and doors of opportunity are opened as you shed your social inhibitions.
At this point the wet weather had started and sheltering together from the rain, we struck up a conversation with a lone explorer for hours.
He had a small boat anchored in the bay and had swum to shore to do the Cairn hike. With the weather taking a turn for the worse, he invited us onto his boat instead, where after a wonderful snorkel and spear fish in the high seas we took brief shelter from the massive gusts of wind.
Was it not for the rain, this opportunity to make friends with strangers and explore new parts of the Whitsundays by boat would never have occurred. We gave a wink to the rain gods.
# 5 Prepare To Get Wet (But Still Try Not To)
Tarps tarps tarps. We created a solid makeshift shelter from the (by now cyclonic) wind and rain, using an overhead tarp tied to the trees above our heads, and a fastened down tarp wall to block out the sideways gusts too.
Tarp-city was a must for staying dry once you’d changed out of your swimmers for the final time that day. Don’t forget to bring lots of dry bags and heavy-duty garbage bags to waterproof all your belongings, as well as rain gear and non-cotton warm clothes that still retain heat when they’re wet. Yep, we’re talking high fashion fleece and thermals. If you get wet, at least you’ll be able to stay warm.
This trip had buckets of type 2 fun: What’s type 2 fun?
# 6 A Little Rain Never Hurt Anybody
By the fourth day, the rain had come to stay. But that still didn’t stop us (it doesn’t stop the fish!) Instead we took the opportunity to explore more of the coastline, climbing over the rocks to a more sheltered part of the island with some great spots for spearfishing.
That night we had two delicious and freshly caught fish for dinner on the beach. The island life had us hooked.
It Was What It Was – And It Was Awesome
On the morning of the 5th day we awoke to our neighbour at the adjacent campsite telling us he’d received a text that the transfer boat was coming to collect all of us today rather than tomorrow. The storm was due to get worse and they were evacuating all the campers across the Whitsundays.
The rain stopped just long enough for us to pack up our campsite, before we were picked up and dropped off again in the land of hot showers and dry clothes.
It wasn’t the trip we expected, but we wouldn’t change a minute of it. Swapping a roof over your head for a night under the stars, your office job for a breathtaking hike you have all to yourself, hot showers for salty sea snorkels, dry shoes for the feeling of sand between your toes… isn’t it an obvious choice?
More wet ‘n’ wild adventures…