Lydia Jenkin takes to the waters off the Whitsundays.
A view of the yacht from the waterfall.
A view of the yacht from the waterfall.
If you like sea turtles and snorkelling, islands and adventures, and sipping a gin and tonic as the water laps gently around you then bareboating in the Whitsundays could be for you.
Bareboating is hiring a yacht, catamaran, or launch and heading off on a high-seas adventure, with yourself as skipper, and your friends and family as crew, even if you have no kind of boat licence or don't own a boat.
There's a thorough briefing and a few tests in the harbour to make sure you have things under control but, once they feel you have the general idea and you've proven you have some sailing experience, the boat is yours to sail away in. You choose your route, anchorages and desired locations, and you have the freedom to change plans as you go.
And what better place than the Whitsundays - an island-strewn tropical paradise north of Queensland on Australia's east coast that is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef.
Many of the 74 islands are unoccupied and surprisingly lush - it feels like a cross between the Bay of Islands and Cook Islands, with towering tree-lined ridges and cliffs, long white beaches and huge mangroves growing out of long, winding, Amazonian-like inlets.
My captain and I set off on a four-day cruise from Airlie Beach on a shiny Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 44i. The 45-foot boat sleeps three couples, has two bathrooms, a large saloon, and a nice roomy cockpit with two steering positions. The boat had been stocked up by Whitsundays Provisioning (highly recommended) so with our briefing all done, we set off for Nara Inlet on the south side of Hook Island.
It looked a lovely, sheltered spot, and the comprehensive guide book mentioned some Aboriginal cave paintings and a possible waterfall adventure, so we were sold.
Nick the captain, helming the yacht in the Whitsundays. Photo / Lydia Jenkins
Nick the captain, helming the yacht in the Whitsundays. Photo / Lydia Jenkins

We had a fantastic evening exploring the inlet in our little inflatable tender. When we found the waterfall we tapped into our inner Indiana Jones, and clambered up the pools and ledges to find the cool, fresh water, a luxury in the tropical heat.

Later we followed a few friendly bats up the stone steps to see the Aboriginal cave paintings. The sun had set by the time we reached them, but checking out the fascinating paintings in the dark with torches made it more atmospheric.
The next day we set off for the famous Whitehaven Beach, beloved for its luminous white sand and green hills. Climbing to the Hill Inlet lookout north of the beach gives you a great view and the turquoise blue waters are tempting. But it's also popular so, once we'd said hello to a couple of friendly sea turtles, we headed for a quieter spot: Cid Harbour, another lush, rainforest-like cove, with rampant bird life and beautiful deep clear water in close to the shore.
We jumped in the tender again and went for a cruise at dusk up a slightly swampy river, surrounded by towering mangroves. We waited with bated breath to see any kind of crocodile, but the only creatures we disturbed were stingrays, turtles, and the odd fish.
Again the feeling of wilderness was unexpectedly strong. Being somewhere so untouched, so rugged and free, and still having the comfort of a soft bed and cold beers in a fridge only metres away was delightful.
And that is the greatest charm of bareboating in the Whitsundays. It feels like a proper adventure but it's also surprisingly easy and relaxed.
Getting there: You can fly from Auckland to Airlie Beach or Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays via Brisbane or Sydney. Daily options are available through Air New Zealand.