Finding Supplies in the Whitsundays

There is much to think about when planning a trip to the islands, not the least of which is finding adequate supplies of fresh food and fuel.

Finding Fuel in the Whitsundays

Depending on the size and style of your boat, you can choose from a few different places to get fuel.

If you’re in a trailerable boat, there are a few petrol stations to choose from and you’ll probably want the one closest to your preferred launching ramp to avoid carting extra weight further than you need to. Shute Harbour, for example, has a petrol station very conveniently located about 150 metres from where you launch. If launching a boat at the public ramp at Abel Point Marina, the closest petrol stations are on Shute Harbour Road in Cannonvale. Head southwest from the marina for a few kms to find the Shell or BP stations there.

If you did not trail the boat, or you need to refuel on the water, you would need to go to either Meridian Marina at Abel Point, or to Hamilton Island (where everything comes with a premium pricetag). The refueling wharf at the Abel Point Marina is located underneath the main building in the middle of the marina, not far from the public boat ramp.

Getting fuel at the marina requires that you call the marina office (the number is written on signs at the fuel wharf). That’s only open at certain times, so fuel in the early morning or in the evening isn’t an option.

Finding Food Supplies in the Whitsundays

Groceries in Airlie Beach proper is a bit expensive and has limited choice, so you may be best heading into larger supermarkets at The Whitsunday Shopping Centre in Cannonvale for example. The Whitsunday Shopping Centre on Shute Harbour Road also has a number of other handy shops like a chemist, bottle shop, Tandy, banks, etc. Look for the place with the white sails that shade the carpark out front.

Alternatively you can go a little further to the Centro shopping complex on the outskirts of Cannonvale, which has an even wider array of outlets, including a big BCF (Boating, Camping, Fishing) store.

There is also an IGA in Jubilee Pocket, with a Bottle-o next door. This is OK if you’re not too fussy about what kind of foods you want. It’s not as big as a Coles or Woolworths.

If you would like to spoil yourself and maximise your holiday time, get someone else to put together a tailored grocery shop, complete with recipes and deliver it to your wharf of choice. Check out Whitsunday Provisioning if you want to get someone else to worry about your food.


Sometimes the effort of hauling your boat out of the water just to top up your supplies is too great. So, what are the alternatives?

Both Shute Harbour and Abel Point have places you can leave your boat while you hop ashore. Hamilton Island is also a viable alternative.

At Shute, you’ll need to arrange a mooring if your boat is 5 metres or more, otherwise you can tie it up at the anglers wharf near the ramp for a few hours while you resupply. Call the Harbour Master to make arrangements for a mooring.

Getting water for a bigger boat at Shute is less convenient than at Abel Point. There is a tap at the boat ramp and one on the anglers wharf, but neither of these is appropriate for getting more than about 60 Litres of water. Access may be restricted by various fishermen, other dinghies tied to the wharf, the tap that turns itself off… you get the picture. If you are schlepping jerry cans, you can go back to the ramp.

There are Whitsunday Transit buses that regularly run as far as Cannonvale if you want to go that far. Else there is an IGA at Jubilee Pocket (closer than Airlie Beach) where you can get fresh veg and non-esoteric groceries. Download the schedule at the Whitsunday Transit website.

At Abel Point you can usually grab a spot on the Marina providing it’s not too busy. If you just need some more grog, there’s a conveniently located bottle shop right at the marina. It’s also not too far away from the shops at Cannonvale. Call the harbour master there to book a spot. Water is piped out to the births, so that’s the easier place to go to top up larger vessels, unless you happen to be near Hamilton Island.

“Hammo” has a good harbour and marina and for about $60 a night can make a reasonable resupply destination. There is a fuel wharf, water, ship chandlery and even some groceries (though nothing like a Coles or Woolies for choice). Just remember because everything has to be shipped to Hamilton Island, it’s more costly than on the mainland. There’s a great selection of restaurants too if you fancy a night off from one-pot dishes on the little stove.

In a pinch, many resorts can provide some basics like ice, bread and milk. Check 100 Magic Miles (the book) if you want to know which ones. You’ll also find radio frequencies and phone numbers for all the various harbour masters in there too.

The Bush Trails of Hamilton Island

Hamilton Island may not be not the obvious choice for hikers looking to experience the Whitsundays, because it’s almost synonymous with relaxation and the lay-by-the-pool-with-a-piña-colada island resort lifestyle. However, the Island holds an impressive variety of trails appropriate for those of moderate fitness and above.

Dappled light on Hamilton Island's Scenic TrailMuch of the vegetation feels quite open by comparison to the dense canopy-covered forests of many Whitsunday islands, sending beautiful dappled light down through the trees. There is much less undergrowth and fewer climbing vines, giving walking on Hamilton Island a feeling of being in the Australian bush, but with palm trees.

With less canopy comes less shade and so planning walks for early morning and packing plenty of water is highly advisable, especially in the summer months. Most trails have plenty of shady rest spots for a breather and gulp of water.

Escape Beach, Hamilton IslandThe variety of trails on Hamilton Island is impressive, most leading to a choice destination like the secluded and aptly named Escape Beach where it was easy to forget you are on the busiest island in the Whitsundays, or a craggy peak with spellbinding views of around 50 of the 100 magic miles.

Wildlife is also prevalent – you might come across various bird species such as orange-footed scrub fowl, kookaburras and cockatoos, sea eagles. Butterflies are also common in spring and summer months. You might even catch a glimpse of deer which act as a reminder of plans in the 1970s to establish a deer breeding program on the Island.

The walk to South East Head, Hamilton IslandWe recommend the walks to South East Head and Passage Peak. During the last part of the walk to the head, the forest canopy gives way to grass trees and open vistas giving you a spectacular views south over Pentecost Island and the Lindeman Group.

The trail to Passage Peak is a hard climb, but well worth it for the fantastic views in all directions, including glimpses of the white silica sands in Hill Inlet on the far side of Whitsunday Island. This must be among the best vistas of any Whitsunday walk. As good as Mt Oldfield on Lindeman, Mt Jeffreys on South Molle, and Whitsunday Peak on Whitsunday Island.

View from Passage Peak, Hamilton IslandThese trails are a bit different to National Park walks, and not just because Hamilton Island isn’t a National Park. For starters they are a little more challenging, primarily because the initial Scenic Trail from the resort has quite a steep gradient, so whichever destination you are heading to, your walk will start with a upward stretch guaranteed to get your circulation moving. Most of the Islands trails have similarly steep sections, requiring some exertion to get up, and care to be taken to avoid slipping on the way down. These steep sections do mean that you reach the higher points faster than more gently gradients usually experienced on National Park trails.

View from Hill Top Lookout over Coral Cove and Mangrove Flat, Hamilton IslandQuite quickly, you will start to catch more breezes and glimpses of the surrounding scenery, and there’s a sense of exhilaration to having a good workout in beautiful bushland with cracker lookouts.

If you’re not in reasonable shape you might find the walks a bit of a challenge, as would younger children. But for everyone else who would like to soak up Hamilton Island’s natural side, these are some of the very best walks available in the Whitsundays and more conveniently located than most.

Another upside to being outside a National Park is that you could always opt for the easy way to see some nature and grab hilltop views – quadbikes! Quadbikes would allow you to cover much of the island from the comfort of your sure-footed iron horse with a fraction of the time and sweat. So perhaps there’s something for the exercise-averse after all.

Exploring Lindeman Island

Lindeman Island is just to the south of the main group of modernly frequented islands. But it has been at the centre of European activity and indeed tourism around the Whitsundays since the 1920s. If you are interested in the history of this area we would recommend reading – Ray Blackwood’s The Whitsunday Islands – An Historical Dictionary. It’s no ‘Game of Thrones’, but it is fascinating.

With a somewhat checkered history in Anglo-Australian settlement of the area, Lindeman was sadly the scene for a grizzly murder of two white sailors from the boat named Ellida in 1861 by the local Aborigines. The Aborigines had a camp of about 40 on Lindeman, probably because it’s one of a few with a reliable water supply. The cause of the incident isn’t known, and will probably never be known, as history only tells one version, that of the Europeans.

After some moderately successful grazing, the island became one of the early sites where tourism was developed. From the late 1800s there was some grazing activity on the island, and In 1923 Elizabeth Nicholson bought the lease and with her husband, Angus, and their three children, and took up residence. This marked a dramatic turning point in the island’s history. They continued with the grazing activity that was already underway, and in the late 1920s, in conjunction with Mackay Tours Ltd., built eight grass cabins and began bringing tourists to the island, an operation that expanded over the years until 1974 when the lease was acquired by by P&O. With the addition of facilities typical of resorts today, Lindeman passed into the next era of tourism.

Lindeman 1Image: Low tide at Boat Port

Boat Port, the north-western bay of Lindeman Island, is well protected from the prevailing southeasterly breeze and is an ideal careening beach (a place to run your boat ashore when the tide goes out so you can clean its bottom ). As tourism grew, so did the size of the island’s boats, and in the ’60s they erected some large piles in the mouth of the creek to dry-dock the larger boats. These piles still exist today and remind us of a nostalgic period when the Whitsunday islands were family businesses.

If you are boating in the area and moor at Boat Port, expect a long row into the beach, because at low tide, the sand flat dries a long long way out (at least 300 metres). Equally, this can be challenging if you want to come ashore for a walk and need to leave a heavy dinghy ashore when the tide is going down. Caution is to be taken as you could easily find yourself marooned for quite some time waiting for water to return to the bay.

Lindeman2Images: View from Mount Oldfield to Shaw Island.

Lindeman has many walking trails, all are nice, but some better than others. The ascent to Mount Oldfield offers some of the best 360 degree views of the Whitsundays you’ll see. The walk to Plantation Bay (where they used to grow fruit and veg for the island) is also lovely, offering splendid views toward the south before arriving at a beautiful sand beach. If you go during winter, the walk down to Gap Beach can feature clouds of butterflies, though the beach itself is nothing to blog about. (At this time, the only walk is being actively maintained by Queensland National Parks & Wildlife is the one to Mt Oldfield.)


Lindeman4Lindeman5Images: A quick stop-off at Neck Bay, Shaw Island. A collection of debris on the eastern side of Shaw Island.

A great stop-off in the Lindeman area is the campsite at Neck Bay on Shaw Island immediately to the east. This is a beautiful sand beach which features a similar drying flat as does Boat Port on Lindeman. There’s also a short walk to the other side of the spit that forms Neck Bay (it is essentially a vegetated sand dune that separates the ocean to the east from Kennedy Sound), where one can feel wind-swept and play spot-the-thong. There’s a lot of plastic bits and pieces jetsom washed up on a easterly-facing rocky beach. Flip-flops seem a popular item. There is quite a contrast between the two sides of the same spit.

If you hop across the tide-swept Kennedy Sound to Seaforth Island, which is only small and close by south of Lindeman, you’ll find picnic tables, some bush loos and a small circuit walking track through dappled sunlight to pretty views toward Shaw Island. Orchid beach faces Lindeman Island and is pleasantly sheltered from the southeasterly and tide chop. It’s a nice little spot, perfect for playing a scene out of Swallows and Amazons or Famous Five, sailing a dinghy loaded with a picnic of cucumber sandwiches and lashings of ginger beet. ‘Unfortunately’ it’s a National Park, so Timmy the dog will need to stay home.

Lindeman Island does not currently have a resort and is undergoing redevelopment.

Planning a Boat Trip around Weather & Tide in the Whitsundays

Once you’re aboard your sailing vessel in the Whitsundays, each leg of your trip will require planning as you go. This will be largely governed by two factors: weather and tide. Or, to put it more precisely, wind and current. These two elements govern whether you have a smooth, fast and enjoyable journey, or an uncomfortable or even unsafe one.

Knowing your limits

Every craft and crew will have it’s limits. Getting to know those is a process of trial and error. It is always best to err on the side of the former, gradually increasing your exposure to the elements, rather than jumping in at the deep end. Because when boating, if providence should see it so, the deep end can be very very deep.

For our 2011 research trip, our runabout boat was about 5 metres long, had some protection from the elements in the form of a half-cabin, was capable of good speeds and was pretty solid. But we had our limits – ours was about 15 knots of wind, and knowing if it gusted to 17-19, we’d be OK.

The weather forecast

Knowing what to expect from the wind, in terms of direction and strength throughout the day of our trip is critical because it is this that drives many other factors such as wave height and intensity, or when is best to travel given the tidal state. Whether the weather is fine or whether the weather is wet, is a secondary, unimportant factor.

There are numerous ways to get wind forecast information: through VHF radio broadcasts; going online; looking at noticeboards of seafaring service providers; even the television. However our preferred method is to go online, because it’s the most up to date and depending where you look, you can get very detailed, hour by hour forecast data.

However, while these sources may be detailed, they are not particularly accurate in my experience of late. Nor are any other forms of getting the forecast for the Whitsunday Islands. They are only predictions, and those can be flawed. All use some component of Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) data to make a call. It is probably best to looking at all the forecasts and then work out which elements you choose to believe based on experience and prudence.

Screen shot of Elders WeatherFor example, Elders Weather is great for an indication of strength, because it’s always a few knots stronger than the others. One a recent trip we experienced a stubborn southeasterly trade wind that refused to make way for summer and these winds seemed to always blow stronger than predicted. Elders Weather has an iPhone app, and is also specific to Hamilton Island, which is a pretty good indicator of what things will be like out there among the islands.

Screenshot of Windfinder.comTo get wind direction, try Windfinder which has some great detailed data on wind strength and direction, wave height and direction and broken down into three hour blocks. It is also specific to Hamilton Island. This site makes a pretty good call on the wind direction, but the strengths are usually too conservative.

Screenshot of, there’s Seabreeze which does the best job of visualising the data. Down the coast around Jervis Bay where we live and in Sydney it is awesome for wind direction and wave height, but it isn’t accurate at direction or strength up here in the Whitsundays. It seems to take a pretty wide area from Hamilton Island to Gladstone and try to provide a forecast for what is a rather large swathe of coast. However, it does give a good general hour by hour trend pattern that you can see readily, so you can refer to it to get a sense of what the week might look like at a macro scale.

Assessing the tidal situation for current predictions

Screenshot of World Tides iPhone appSo, once I have a picture of the likely wind strength at various times of day, I then look at the tides and what they’ll be doing. Right now that is a matter of looking at a tide chart for Shute Harbour and using maths to calculate what it will be like where we’re going, which is a pain. So, I have an iPhone and an app calledWorld Tides which is really good and tells me what it will be like at a slightly more specific location, but it’s not cheap as they go, particularly because I have to re-buy it every year for up-to-date data.

Tide is important because it equates to current. Tides in this part of the world are big, and correspondingly, current is strong, particularly around these islands where there are narrows and channels, etc. When the moon is full or new (these are when we get “spring tides”, not just in the season of spring, as the name suggests), the tides a much bigger and currents are correspondingly fiercer. We’re in a powerboat, so up to 5 knots of current slowing us down isn’t a big bother, but if we were in a sailboat, then it could mean a quick or very long trip to our destination.

Aligning current and wind together

But one thing that applies to powerboats and sailboats equally, is sea state and chop and this is made from the combination of wind and current directions. A choppy, confused sea is uncomfortable and can be dangerous, so we like to avoid those as much as possible, especially if we’ll be heading into it (travelling in the opposite direction to the wind and chop, as opposed to travelling with it in the same direction). That means, if the wind is blowing from 8-15 knots from the southeast, then we want the current to be heading that way too. Because, if it’s heading in the opposite direction (northwest) then any stretch of open water between the islands (e.g. The Molle Channel, Whitsunday Passage, etc) is going to be all steep and confused.

In the Whitsundays the current generally moves southward when the tide is flooding (rising) and northward when it’s ebbing (falling). Because the Molle Channel and Whitsunday Passage run vaguely northwest to southeast, a forecast southeasterly wind is going to blow up (northward) those bodies of open water. So, when I look at my wind and current data together, I know I want to be heading out of Shute Harbour on the mainland on an ebbing tide, aligning wind and tide together. This will minimise the amount of bashing the boat does. If we were in a sailboat, we might make a different decision, because the current pushing us along might be worth the discomfort or may in fact make our passage impossible if sailing against it.

Of course, leaving on an ebbing tide has its disadvantages for the camper. Many of our destinations need to be arrived at on a mid to high tide for there to be access over the reef. We can find this information in 100 Magic Miles. So… that means sometimes we have to leave at the very beginning of the ebb tide, so it’s not too far down when we get there. And, when we disembark, we have to be careful that the boat doesn’t get stuck on the beach as the water disappears beneath it. But, this is easier to deal with than a horrible feeling of being half way across Whitsunday Passage with wind against tide, the sea choppy as hell and feeling you might’ve bitten off more than you could chew.

Scaling Whitsunday Peak

One of the more challenging walks on the islands is the climb up to Whitsunday Peak on Whitsunday Island. From Dugong Beach, there is a track that winds its way along the coast to Sawmill Beach, offering glimpses of azure water through the trees.

This is the easy part, for after pausing at Sawmill Beach to check out some rusty remnants of the old sawmill, you will start your ascent to the peak. Climbing through the dry rainforest with a high canopy was pleasant for the shade and dappled light. The track is long and steep, but generally well maintained. While the vegetation lacks variety during the climb, you will be quite busy enough looking where to put your feet to worry about it.

Crossing a gully toward Whitsunday Peak

The Department of Environmental Resource Management have made a huge effort to build stairs from stones available in the area. It’s a long and steep track that could’ve taken a small prison gang countless months to construct.

Stairs leading up to Whitsunday Peak

At some points you might be thinking that you must be close to the end only to find the track just kept going up and up. Reaching the summit is quite an effort – sweating and puffing are guaranteed, but you will be rewarded with spectacular views in all directions. To the north, a vista overlooking northern Whitsunday Island and Hook Island. West to the Molle Group and South over Henning, Hamilton, Dent, Pentecost, Lindeman and Shaw Islands. Eastward you will see Haslewood and Border Islands.

Looking over Hamilton Island from Whitsunday Peak

On the climb down, care must be taken to avoid twists or sprains injuries due to fatigue. The total trip will take approximately five hours and once you return you can enjoy a well deserved rest under the shade of pandanus trees, looking out over Whitsunday Passage from Dugong Beach.

Recovering at Dugong Beach

Camping is permitted at Dugong Beach and while quite small you could reasonably expect to have the company of one or two other groups. If you are after a more private experience you could take the boat a little way down Cid Harbour to Nari’s and Joe’s Beaches. A little more intimate than the one at Dugong Beach, they are smaller sites with smaller beaches and slightly less inspiring outlooks (still pretty good compared to most mainland sites). Nari’s beach would be ideal for a small group of about 6 friends or family.

Cid is a popular anchorage (stopping point) with yachtsmen because it affords good protection from most winds, which equates to calm waters and a generally peaceful sleep after watching the sun set behind Cid Island.

The location is one that’s known some Australian history. The hoop pines that sometimes give the area a Scandinavian feel were logged and milled here in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Later it had a role as a meeting and mooring point for Australian and US warships during the 2nd World War.

The view from Sawmill Beach to Cid Harbour