There’s no doubting the attractions of the Whitsundays, but a bout of bad weather can make for tough going in paradise.
If Tourism WA is looking for a new marketing angle it should talk to travellers in Queensland, who are unimpressed by the big crowds and the poor weather over the past fortnight.
We have just spent the past week in and around the Whitsunday Islands, an iconic destination that has put Queensland on the international tourism map.
It’s normally a boaties’ paradise, with warm, sunny weather, gentle winds, more than 70 islands, and the Great Barrier Reef offshore. Its popularity was evidenced by the large number of boats moored at Airlie Beach, which has grown from a quiet coastal getaway to a busy resort town.
The highlight of our visit was meant to be a 3.5-day sailing cruise, aboard the Anaconda III. The cruise itinerary included sailing around the islands, such as Hayman and Hook, then out to the Great Barrier Reef’s ‘outer reef’ for snorkelling and diving, and a stop-off at Whitehaven Beach, which is apparently the most photographed beach in Australia.
It ended up being more of an adventure trip, as the yacht battled high winds and rough seas in its search for sheltered moorings each day. The high winds meant we actually spent very little time under sail, with the skipper preferring to motor along. The trip to the outer reef was cancelled because the winds were too strong and the seas too rough – the same thing happened to us in Cairns, so that makes it two trips we’d planned to the outer reef in two weeks that have been cancelled because of poor weather.
We had to make do with snorkelling and diving in the bays around Hayman and Hook islands. It was pretty good, especially on the first day, when there was intermittent sunshine and we thought it was just an entrée designed to whet our appetite for a much better experience on the outer reef. As the trip wore on, and the weather deteriorated, the crew was obviously struggling to find suitable locations. On the final dive, the ocean was churned up so much that visibility was reduced to about two metres.
The final stop was Whitehaven Beach, a long, gently curving bay renowned for its bright, white sand. If the sky was blue and the sun was shining, it would undoubtedly be a very attractive spot. Unfortunately, it was reminiscent of a bad day on the English coast when we visited – the sky was grey and there was almost constant drizzle.
The sailing cruise gave us plenty of time to compare notes with the other 30 passengers aboard the yacht, nearly all were from outside Australia. There was a lot of disappointment about the bad weather, but also an acceptance that it’s just bad luck to be in north Queensland at such a time. As I write this, the rain has cleared and warm sunshine has returned to the region.
More significant was the impression formed by some European travellers who were on the final leg of their round-Australia trips. Their favourite experiences were in remote places away from the big crowds and the resorts. Places such as Karajini National Park in the Pilbara, the Gibb River Road in the Kimberley, and the rugged coastal cliffs at Shark Bay. They enjoyed finding beautiful spots that are not even on tourism maps, and they loved meeting grey nomads at quiet off-road camping spots in the outback of WA, the NT and Queensland. It was the warmth and friendliness of the grey nomads that made a really lasting impression.
The passengers I spoke to on the yacht may not be a reliable survey sample, but I was struck by the lack of knowledge of WA as a tourism destination. Most people had never heard of the Ningaloo Reef, and certainly had no idea that it rivalled the Great Barrier Reef for snorkelling and diving. Nor had they heard of Esperance, which in my view has stunning white beaches far more attractive than Whitehaven.
In keeping with the surprise factor that makes travel rewarding, one of our best experiences over the past week was in the nearby sugar town of Proserpine. It has some fabulous shops, including an amazing place called Colour Me Crazy. It had an incredibly eclectic assortment of goods, much more fun and interesting than the predictable shopping at Airlie Beach.
This is an edited version of Mark Beyer’s blog post, which can be read in full at http://markbeyerontheroad.wordpress.com/