Before embarking on travelling the East Coast of Australia, there was one major destination that seemed like everyone’s highlight: The Whitsundays. The Whitsundays are made up of 74 emerald green Islands dotted around azure blue waters in tropical Queensland. They are a great access point for the Great Barrier Reef and are close to party town Airlie Beach, which is where most tours depart from. It is also home to Whitehaven Beach, which has been named the second best beach in the world. I have never been super big into sailing, but it seemed like a must do. Everyone talked about it and described it as a highlight and it did indeed look beautiful. Plus it would involve beaches and snorkelling, so what could possibly go wrong?
However, I’m sad to say that my Whitsundays experience was not like everyone else’s. I didn’t have the time of my life. It’s a beautiful part of the world but the tour we booked on to – the Pride of Airlie with Koala Adventures – turned out to be a complete disaster.
Before the tour even began I became skeptical if we were getting good value for money: this tour is advertised as a 3 day, 2 night tour, yet it started and finished at 2pm on its respective days. Hmmm. I decided however, to go for it. Chris and I had each paid a whopping $470. For that price tag it had to be good right?
We got picked up on the first day and taken to our boat, where we were taken to South Molle island, which was to be our home for the next two nights. Unlike a lot of boats, this tour was not a liveaboard, but instead we stayed on a resort. For me, this was fine. It meant no nasty seasickness or claustrophobia. The resort itself was fine, there was a pool, stellar views, and the room was clean and comfortable. However, there was something odd about this place. Without sounding too silly, it was creepy. The resort had obviously been abandoned by previous owners at some point and the whole resort had an eerie, empty, abandoned feel. Kind of like the vibes at the beginning of a teen horror movie.
One of the things I was most looking forward to was meals being included! Not having to pay for food for a couple of days or cook or clean, amazing! Of course, there’s always a risk you won’t like the food served up but I was sure it would be good. We were paying quite a lot after all. I’d heard about people on other tours being served delicious home cooked meals or huge buffets. When it was dinner time, we were told it would be ‘buffet style’. Excellent.
Turns out the buffet was just self serve pasta with self served bolognase cooked in bulk.
It was cheap, it was easy. It was disappointing. The food was pretty much all the same. Breakfast was toast, lunch on the boat was more pasta. I told the staff that I am vegetarian, yet for lunch they provided me with tuna, assuming that I am a pescetarian and eat fish, which I thought was not only out of order but really assumptive, and could to some people who may be vegetarian for spiritual or religious reasons, be taken as offensive.
I know I sound at risk of sounding precious about my food: this isn’t the case. Each night I ate what was given and I have been in situations where dinner has been much more dire, but when I have paid so much with meals included, I expect the meals to have been at a higher standard. This was the first of the disasters. It was disappointing, but it wasn’t enough to ruin the experience. The food could be terrible but it provided fuel and I was still hoping that the full day of sailing would be such an amazing experience it would banish any food worries.
On our first full day we woke up bright and early to embark on a day of sailing, snorkelling, and visiting the Whitsundays. As we jumped aboard we enjoyed the gorgeous views of the Islands and made our way to Whitehaven beach.
This journey took us over two hours, and I have to admit something: I got bored. Something was missing. I didn’t feel like I was experiencing the Whitsundays. I just felt like I was travelling somewhere and anticipating the end of my journey, like being on a bus. This was much the same for the duration of the time we were on the boat. How could other people have had such incredible times? This was honestly dull! Why was it so dull?
Well, I put it down to the total lack of entertainment. The crew seemed nice, but they made no effort to engage with us at all. They were not lively and didn’t make an effort to get to know us. Everything felt like a chore for them and like they were not there to ensure we had a fantastic trip. Even on our day trip back from the Great Barrier Reef up in Cairns entertainment had been provided with one of the crew singing some reggae. We got nothing – no info about the Whitsundays, no conversations, nothing.
Finally, we got to the highlight of the trip- Whitehaven. Visiting Whitehaven Beach was one of the things I was looking forward to most, and it seriously didn’t disappoint. The sand is the whitest, purest, finest sand on earth. So fine it is used to clean the Hubble telescope. It is an amazing exfoliation for your body and you can even use the sand to brush your teeth. Despite the sand being so bright and white, it was not at all hot on the feet, but instead remained cool under the beating hot sun. And then there was the sea… It was every kind of blue imaginable. This was a stunning place and I wish we could have been here longer, but we were only at the beach an hour, which is a shame because I’ve heard that other tours get to spend much longer on the beach.
After a shocking lunch on the boat we headed out to our snorkelling destination. After already experiencing the Great Barrier Reed in Cairns I wasn’t expecting the snorkelling to be as amazing, yet still we were on the reef and diving or snorkelling is one of the main activities in The Whitsundays.
When we got to our snorkelling site, I was so disappointed (surprise, surprise!). I was expecting colourful coral and an abundance of wildlife. Instead there were a few fish flying solo around dead coral. That’s right. Most of the coral at this site was dead. It was so depressing. After the tour we discovered the site they took us to wasn’t even on the Great Barrier Reef. I still don’t understand their reasoning for taking us there when there must be much better snorkelling around, but that for me did have the biggest negative impact on my Whitsundays trip. Other people who hadn’t snorkelled before didn’t really mind, but I was frustrated as I knew these people could have a much better snorkelling experience elsewhere and discover the true beauty of the underwater world.
Whilst I talk about snorkelling, I also want to have a little moan about the stinger suits they provided for us. As you are probably all aware, Australia is home to some of the most deadly and dangerous jellyfish in the world, such as the Box Jellyfish. If these stingers touch your skin you could be dead within 30 minutes. It’s tropical waters are also home to plenty of other non-deadly jellyfish, which won’t kill you, but will hurt you and probably ruin your day. This risk isn’t everywhere or at all times of the year, but due to the companies insurance policy, we all were given stinger suits which were compulsory to wear in the sea. This didn’t bother me, I certainly didn’t want to get stung by a stinger. Except the stinger suits they provided had holes in. Not just little holes, but huge, gaping holes all over the suits. When we were in the waters I didn’t see any jellyfish (It would have been hard though, seeing how bad the visibility was), but it still angered me that they would provide stinger suits that would honestly protect you against f*** all. Give us shit food, fine. But don’t put our health at risk.
It wasn’t all bad – my absolute highlight of the trip which made it worth it was the bush walk on the morning before we left to go back to Airlie Beach. South Molle Island is home to a stunning bush walk with absolutely breathtaking views. I don’t think photos could capture how beautiful it was up there.
We also saw an abundance of wildlife such as crazy-big spiders and beautiful butterflies.
Everyone else I encountered who had travelled the East Coast of Australia had put The Whitsundays down as a highlight and talked about what an amazing time they had. I honestly wish I could say the same. I think the biggest bummer for me is the money I spent on it. $470 is SO much money. I only spent that because I thought this opportunity would be worth it, that it would be a once in a lifetime experience. I do believe that we make our own experiences to an extent, and obviously if you make an effort to enjoy something and interact with the people you’re with you will have a better experience, but there was no way I could of done that here. We tried to make the most of it but nothing could hide the shit food, the bad service, or the utter boredom on the boat. It made me think: what the hell have I spent my money on here?
I really hope this tour company improves because it is so unfair that us poor backpackers are being sold such a false experience. I know there are fantastic Whitsunday experiences out there that cost a lot less. So learn from my mistakes and do your research before booking, don’t just book because it’s the best dates for you or because of what the travel agent says, like I did. Do not go on your Whitsundays tour with Koala Adventures with Pride of Airlie.