*Original version posted on swellhaven.wordpress.com in 2013 while working as a qualified kayak guide on Sydney Harbour. The Whitsundays are a group of islands on the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Central Queensland. We camped and kayaked around Hook Island for my 30th birthday celebrations.

Some basic advice and 20 ‘don’t forgets’ from our short camping trip on Hook Island:

1. Don’t even think about going without snorkel equipment. If you don’t have your own, hire a snorkel, mask and fins from the likes of Scamper or Salty Dog before you leave Shute Harbour

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My first experience snorkelling with a turtle – magical

2. Insect repellent. Lots of it.

3. Water. Lots of it. There’s nothing but salt water around the islands. If you use Scamper to get off the mainland, they’ll give you big tubs/bottles to fill up. They allow for five litres a day which, for us in September when it was warm but not super hot, was plenty.

4. Head torch. No water; no electricity. I just used my Petzl Tikka for this trip. Does the job.

5. Thermarest or equivalent compact camping mattress – especially if you’re camping on rocky, sharp, sticky outy coral. This ain’t the Sheraton.

6. An esky and another box you can seal with food that doesn’t need to be chilled, to avoid using valuable melty ice.

7. On Hook Island we had lots of marsupial mice (Antechinus stuartii) trying to get our food. Keep the food away from the tent to discourage them from joining you in your sleeping bag during the night. We had our food sealed in a box, away from our tent and we still had these little mice doing circus acts off our tent ropes while gnawing through the fly sheet. No exaggeration – there was a full on Cirque de Soleil performance going on in our porch.

8. A solar charger. Not essential but it was great for keeping our GoPro charged and charging phones. I’ll review our Goal Zero kit eventually…

9. Kayaks. If you have some prior kayaking experience, it’s an amazing way to give you a bit of freedom. DO ask for advice on winds if you aren’t familiar with the area. Don’t overestimate your ability. Do also look at tides – it can be a long walk across coral carrying kayaks if you mis-time it. And do tie them up at night so they don’t float off overnight… That would be embarrassing. Check out my tips on kayaking the Whitsundays if you think you’re up to for the adventure.

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Loving it

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10. Stinger suit. Salty Dog’s Neil likened it to wearing a seatbelt – not required for every trip, but it’ll keep you safe in the event you do need it. Not to mention it takes away the worry that any clear floaty thing heading towards you may result in death. And bear in mind how remote you are if something does happen. And if you don’t have a VHF radio, you may have no means of communication with the mainland… And we really are talking life or death if you’re stung by a box jelly fish or irukandji, prevalent in this area in certain seasons.

11. Vinegar. In case you’re not wearing the stinger suit and the bad stuff happens. But really, just wear the suit.

12. Underwater camera.  At the time of travel, Our GoPro Hero Black edition with the wrist strap worked so well, especially with two batteries and the solar charger. Oh and a big memory card for all those pics and vids… I’ll be reviewing our various GoPros on the site too.

13. Don’t forget the stove. No fires allowed on the islands. We love the Trangia. I’ll review this and the Jetboil soon too!

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Looks like fajitas…

14. Take a robust bag for all of your rubbish. You’ll be taking it all with you off the island.

15. Sun protection: Sunscreen, suncream, sun tan lotion, long sleeved shirts, hat. Take it all.

16. If you’re camping on a coral beach you’ll want the longest, strongest tent pegs you can find. Coral beaches are not tent-peg-friendly. We just took our big Vango tunnel tent – loads of room for two people, but since you barely have to carry it any distance, it was a goer.

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Coral – not the ideal base for your tent, but you can’t complain too much when you’re on the Whitsundays!

17. Nature doesn’t always play ball – Be Flexible. We were unexpectedly moved one morning from Maureen’s Cove to Crayfish Beach by Scamper. We were just cooking up our breakfast and our stuff was everywhere. A strong northerly was forecast (which we weren’t aware of without a radio/any comms) and Wayne arrived on Scamper and told us we could either stay there, and get stuck (not conducive to catching our flight) or move. Cue the quickest pack up of a campsite you have ever seen, with complete strangers from the boat packing up our dirty washing! Go team.

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Scamper can take you (and kayaks) from the mainland to the islands, landing on the beaches where conditions allow

18. A sense of humour for unexpected large lizards trying to steal your brekkie. We called a particularly large goanna, Tiresome George, for his fondness for our bacon sizzling on the Trangia.

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Maybe it was just the tomato he was after…

19. Book your campsite from the National Park. We didn’t actually display our permit, but you do need to book your place, and for some of the very popular sites like Crayfish, you may need to get in early.

And finally 20: a sense of adventure. Essential.

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Spot the tent – Maureens Cove, Hook Island

Camping Maureens Cove

Camping on coral (and alot of big bitey ants) at Maureens Cove

Camping Crayfish Beach Whitsundays

Relative luxury camping on earth/sand at beautiful Crayfish Beach

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Magical snorkelling. The reef is really shallow so you can see a lot without the need for scuba gear.

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Shallow reef. Huge corals exposed at low tide.

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