GREAT SOUTH LAND
I take a deep breath and I let my lungs fill up with the warm salty air. My vista is clear and all I can see before me are miles of luculent still water. I shield my eyes from the reflection of the pregnant midday sun as it bounces off the crystal-clear teal surface. There are no skyscrapers or office buildings blocking my horizon and the air is crisp and devoid of the urban grit you get in cities.
This part of the coastline is uninhabited and I am grateful that there are no cars. Silence ensues and the only sound audible is that of the soft waves lapping up the silica sand dunes. Australia is a special place and, whilst I am biased, no one could disagree that it’s isolation and incredible ecosystem is one of the main reasons people flock here every year. Rolling sunshine, the azure sea and the incredible native bushland overflowing with colourful flora and fauna; Australia is a vibrant tableau.
It’s also a very visceral place and one of its greatest viewpoints is unquestionably via sea. We boast miles of untouched coastline and the Great Barrier Reef is a must-visit on any trip down under. It's the world’s largest coral reef and comprises over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for 2,300 kilometres. It can be seen from outer space and is the world’s biggest single structure made of living organisms. Any trip to Australia wouldn’t be complete without visiting this unique array of uninhabited islands, with crystal-clear coves and an abundance of natural and colourful marine life.
Whitehaven Beach is the mecca of the Whitsundays and the ideal gateway to explore the Great Barrier Reef and the other islands via a Sunseeker yacht. Around me are seven unblemished kilometres of solid turquoise coastline. We have moored our Sunseeker yacht in the bay, enjoyed a picnic lunch on the stern and now explore the coastline via foot. The crystal white silica sand dunes are so fine that they do not retain heat, making it comfortable for me to walk barefoot in the scorching midday sun.
The warmer, tropical ocean current here means that coral thrives and the kaleidoscopic hues contrast strongly with the crystal-clear water. Amidst the protected and vulnerable natural Australian ecosystem, you can experience the true meaning and epitome of what a trip ‘down under’ actually entails. Earlier, whilst snorkelling, I feasted my eyes on an ancient Sea Turtle who glided slowly and elegantly through the water. I even spotted a Reef Shark, small and dynamic with sharp black tips; they are an important and integral part of the makeup of the reef and are vital in controlling fish populations and coral growth. It’s a humbling experience to be able to share and witness this vibrant yet vulnerable ecosystem and to be a silent spectator in the symphony and activity of life beneath the ocean’s surface.
Tonight, after sunset, we will take the boat back to the well-stocked marina at Hamilton Island. It’s easy to berth at the well-connected marina and it is the perfect spot to enjoy the spectacular natural beauty of this car-free island. For not the first time, I truly understand the concept of space and freedom that the Australian coastline affords. This is one of the main differentiation points between boating in Australia and boating in Europe: the space and the wildness.
‘The environment is different,’ Brad Rogers, Director of Sunseeker East Coast Australia, tells me before the trip. ‘We are quite exposed to the elements off the coastline. It’s so vast, you do have to plan your trips.’
The Australian boating community is mainly a cocktail mixture of “long-term boaters” and newcomers who have discovered the beauty of boating after the restrictions on international travel imposed in 2020. Most long-term boaters will do ‘Sydney over the summer, and get a skipper to take the boat north for the winter,’ explains Rogers. Others are content to use their Sunseeker to discover the labyrinth of estuaries and waterways in Sydney Harbour; Pitt Water and even further afield up to Port Stephens still make for spectacular boating.
Yet, it’s the Great Barrier Reef and the cluster of islands which surround it that are the real draw card for most boat owners. It’s too beautiful and unique to go unnoticed, and there are plenty of comfortable marinas to berth. ‘The infrastructure has got a lot better,’ says Rogers. We were told that another must-visit is Lady Musgrave island. ‘It’s a beautiful place. You have to go there if you are heading north, it’s got a great anchorage too,’ Rogers tells me.
This island is the second southernmost island in the Great Barrier Reef and can be reached by Bundaberg (four hours north of Brisbane). The island boasts 3,000 acres of living reef sheltered by a protected lagoon, making it perfect for a snorkel to uncover the hidden beauty that lies beneath its surface. It’s a popular destination of choice for visitors for decades – a testament to its unique beauty and unparalleled fauna. From January through to May you can even see the Green Turtles hatch and watch silently as the hatchlings fight their way down the sandy beach and into the hungry mouth of the Pacific Ocean.
The archipelago of islands off the coast of Queensland are truly spectacular and unique. Here, the world which lies underneath the ocean’s surface is more frenetic than that above; and how many places in the world could we say that about?
I close my eyes and let the beauty of the panorama sink in and take form in my mind. The tranquillity of this area really does infect your core and forces you to rethink and revitalise your once ferverish pace. Here, amidst an incredible ecosystem and vibrant flora and fauna, I feel truly humble and grateful to be able to call this place “home”.
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