*First version originally published in 2013 while I was working as a qualified kayak guide in Sydney. I would only recommend solo paddling if you are a confident paddler with open water experience & the ability to self rescue – if not, join a guided tour! The Whitsundays are a beautiful group of islands off the central coast of Queensland, Australia, on the Great Barrier Reef.
Being dropped off by boat on an idyllic remote beach on an island is a dream. A beautiful place to relax; to take time out and to just find peace. But then… what if you want to explore a little further…? Some of the Whitsunday Islands have walking trails, but on others – it’s just you and that beach. And if you do want to explore a little more, kayaks are the perfect option to get out on the water and have the freedom to access neighbouring bays, beaches and coves. And so our camping and kayaking break began…
Hiring the kayaks from Salty Dog, as opposed to bringing my own, meant for no hassle in terms of transporting the boat from Sydney. If I were to do a longer trip, I’d definitely look into it though, really just for the comfort and fit of my own kayak.
A few (ten) considerations if you’re planning to kayak around:
1. Tide charts are essential. The tidal difference is significant and you can find yourself with a long carry of kayaks over coral if you mis-time it, or want to leave or arrive somewhere at low tide. Make sure your tide sheets and maps are waterproof!
2. Since there is a lot of coral, I’d opt for plastic over a composite kayak if you don’t want to worry too much about scraping the boat around. Personal preference on this one though of course.
3. Tie up the kayak at night. The last thing you want to do is wake up to the sound of the ocean lapping near your tent, and to see your kayak floating off – in spite of the fact that when you arrived, the tide was seemingly miles off.
4. Ask for local advice. On Hook Island, Neil at Salty Dog advised us that the north east corner of the island, around the Pinnacle was ‘pretty adventurous’ and safe to say, as we rounded it in Scamper, I was glad we hadn’t taken it on. Not that it isn’t doable, but you need to choose your window and potentially be prepared for some rough water and challenging conditions. Know your limits.
5. Keep an eye on the conditions while you’re out. Kayaks are a fantastic way to paddle into new bays to explore and to snorkel. Afternoon winds certainly picked up and on our paddle home, if we’d left it any longer, we’d have been rounding the headland into Maureens Cove in big white caps and an awful lot of chop. Just be aware of your abilities – not to mention, how challenging a paddle you fancy taking on.
6. Paddling from island to island on a multiday trip would be awesome, but if you’re short on time, consider making use of Scamper, the water taxi. Scamper can save you time by taking you out from Shute Harbour to wherever you want to camp on your first night, and they’ll also take you and your kayaks from island to island if there’s a crossing you don’t fancy, or you simply don’t have time.
7. And of course, as with any kayak trip, make sure you have your safety equipment, at the least a PFD; spare split paddle; manual bilge pump; a V sheet (a large sheet you can spread out if you get into trouble to attract attention from the air); first aid kit; flares; a whistle and don’t forget you’ll want to take a lot of water with you. Salty Dog provided all of this with our rental kayaks, plus a spray deck.
8. If you’re lucky enough to be joined by whales while you’re out there, remember as a rule you should not be closer than 100m, or 300m if calves are present. Now, there’s not much you can do if the whales approach you, but do respect them and their environment and certainly don’t paddle between a mother and her calf. More info on the NSW Marine Mammals Regulation here. And what’s more, just enjoy the magical experience! I’ve only been lucky enough to paddle with dolphins so far, and it really is just incredible.
9. Sun protection. Although it’s most likely hot out there, you really do want to consider wearing a long sleeved rashie for UV protection, and a good hat. I’m not quite ready yet to wear one of those full on cloth, “legionnaire” style hats (often fluoro orange) popular amongst the kayaking community here, but I won’t deny they offer the best sun protection…
10. And I really can’t emphasise enough: know your limits. The challenges of paddling in the open ocean should not be underestimated and if you’re uncertain and inexperienced, why not join a trip with a local operator like Salty Dog and reap the benefits that come with paddling with experienced guides.
And no, sorry, call me vain but I’m just not ready to rock this yet…