Ngaro Sea Trail (Whitsunday Islands)


The Ngaro Sea Trail is one of Queensland's "great walks", even though it is much more boating than walking and requires you to either own your own yacht or to charter one. The sea trail is named for the Ngaro people, a group of aboriginals who had lived in the Whitsunday Islands area for 9000 years until the arrival of Europeans. I won't debate whether it is or isn't a "walk", or the fact that most people who sail the Whitsundays do so without even realising that they have been on the Ngaro Sea Trail. However, it is a recognition of past inhabitants and is as good a reason as any to explore the wonders of the Whitsundays - which is why we are here.

Airlie Beach to Nara Inlet (27 km)

The sun shone brightly and there was a gentle breeze as we assembled at the Abell Point Marina for the start of Whitsundays Catamaran Adventure. A group of eight of us had been planning this trip for months - we had arrived in Airlie Beach a couple of days ago from our Hinchinbrook Island hike and last night we met up with our six friends, who had arrived by various means from different parts of the country.

We checked in to the yacht charter company and were shown our boat "Double Play", a 47 foot Leopard catamaran with four cabins, two in each hull, (each with its own ensuite - luxury) and galley / dining area between hulls - it was bigger and roomier than I had imagined. While some of us saw to the logistic task of getting all the food, drink, snorkelling and diving gear stowed on board, others were being given a very comprehensive 3-hour briefing of the boat's equipment and operation.

Then we set sail for an on-sea demonstration of how everything worked and, once our briefer felt we knew it all, he hopped into his zodiac and left us to head off into the deep blue yonder of the Coral Sea. We were in information overload and there would be the odd hiccup during the first couple of days (an unintentional gybe by the helmsman, followed by intentional gibes from the crew), but these soon smoothed out. Captain Mike (who has done a few bareboat charters) said it was the most comprehensive briefing he had received, so - thanks Cumberland.

Heading out under sail

Nello takes the helm

Leaving Airlie Beach

The mainsail was still up from the demonstration and, as soon as we had motored through the gap between Pioneer Point and Pioneer Rocks, we cut the motor, unfurled the jib and set sail on a 58° course for the southern end of Hook Island - more specifically for Nara Inlet. It was great not to hear the throbbing of the twin diesels and to feel the pull of the wind, as we sailed across Whitsunday Passage on one long tack in 10-12 knot winds.

Passing Pioneer Rocks

Leaving the mainland behind

Passing the northern point of North Molle Island, the wind picked up a little in the open stretch of the passage and we cruised past 5 knots. Wind in the sails and wind in your hair - this was how it should be. Just before reaching the long protected inlet at Nara, we furled the sails and motored up its calm waters, protected from the south-easterly wind to anchor near the far end.

Double Play at anchor

Anchorage in Nara Inlet

The rocky shoreline of Nara

View down Nara Inlet

The first day's sailing was a success - now it was time to try out the zodiac. A short climb from the shore is a Ngaro cultural site, a rock shelter containing buried middens and rock art of the Ngaro people, who had lived here for 9000 years before the white man came - from the time when these inlets and islands were still valleys and hills of the mainland. It makes you think.

Ngaro rock art (fishing baskets)

Ngaro rock shelter

By now, the sun was setting and it was time for that sea-faring tradition, gin and tonic on the stern deck, followed by Thai beef salad for dinner - our voyage had certainly started well.

Nara Inlet to Stonehaven Bay (38 km)

It was a calm night in our very stable catamaran on the glassy waters of Nara Inlet and, breakfast over, we raised the mainsail before motoring back out of the inlet. As soon as we hit the open waters, we cut the motor, unfurled the jib and set sail once again, rounding the point at False Nara Inlet and gybing our way northwards alongside Hook Island. Across the blue of the sea, the distant ranges of the mainland faded into even paler shades of blue, and the white sails of other craft glinted in the morning sun. The south-easterly breeze was gentle and a bit changeable, but with long gybes out into the channel and back, we made our way seaward of Langford Island to approach the famous resort of Hayman island.

Whitsunday Peak behind the point of False Nara Inlet

The blue haze of the distant mainland

Just before the rocky knob of Akhurst Island, which guards the southeastern end of Hayman, we once again swapped from sail to motor, to putter our way directly up the eastern shore of Hayman Island. Just around the corner of Castle Rock, we reached our destination, a mooring at Blue Pearl Bay, one of the better known snorkelling and dive spots in the Whitsundays. A school of big batfish were waiting and soon took up residence beneath the hulls of the catamaran.

Castle Rock

The batfish arrive to greet us

At anchor in Blue Pearl Bay

It was time for lunch and to check out the coral bommies and fish life of the bay - all three were impressive. Sadly though, my "waterproof" camera no longer was - it still operated, but the lens and viewing screen were condensing up. After a few photos it became a milky blur, but the images below give an idea of the "underwaterscape" at Blue Pearl.

The reef area of Blue Pearl

The beautiful coral and marine life of Blue Pearl Bay

One of the many boats out cruising

Langford Island sand bar

After lazing on deck, drying ourselves and our wetsuits, we fired up the twin diesels to motor back southwards (into the face of the wind), passing between Black Island and Langford Island this time to reach our anchorage for the night at Stonehaven Bay on Hook Island. The bay was well-sheltered from the prevailing wind and had a lovely setting, directly beneath Hook Peak, at 436m the highest point in the Whitsundays.

Stonehaven Anchorage below Hook Peak

Hook Island sunset

G&T on the deck was accompanied by a glorious sunset, with orange glow on the horizon backlighting the dark silhouettes of the nearby islets. As darkness settled in, the clarity of the southern skies revealed a myriad of stars above, and we tucked in to our pasta and puttanese sauce as the lights of Hayman Island drifted slowly back and forth to the rhythm of our gentle swing off the anchor chain. It was another grand finish to a grand day in the Whitsundays.

Stonehaven Beach to Butterfly Bay (22 km)

The sun was still hidden behind Hook Peak when we got up, but did not take long to emerge and light up the aquamarine waters of Stonehaven Bay. We were soon off, pulling anchor to head away from the green flanks of Hook Island as a brahminy kite soared high in the sky above. It didn't take long to motor the short distance across to the moorings at Langford Island, an emergence of rock and trees with a long sand spit on its southern side. It was high tide and only the end of the spit was above water.

Brahminy kite flying high

Langford Island sandspit - dive spot no. 2

The divers loaded their gear on to the zodiac and we headed across the choppy waters to drop them on the island, then it was back to the boat to pick up the snorkellers and drop them off in turn, parking the zodiac on the sand.

On the sand spit (weird effect due to fogged up camera lens)

The coral here was not as good as at Blue Pearl Bay, nor were the fish as numerous. However, I did have a gold medal experience after crossing to the far side of the spit in search of the manta rays that apparently frequent this location. There were no mantas to be seen, but there was a turtle and for a few hundred metres I glided along next to this sad-eyed and strangely elegant creature as it slowly swam along the length of the spit - a special moment.

The beach on Langford Island (lens still foggy)

Then it was back to the boat for a bit of sailing - mainsail raised and jib unfurled we set off from Langford on a broad easterly run, out into the white-capped waters of the Whitsunday Passage. "Double Play" cranked up to to 5½ knots as it plied its way across the big swell. It was time for me to have a go at the helm and I soon found that steering a 12m catamaran across the ocean requires a lot of concentration, as you try to match position relative to the wind to the course you want to take. When we reached a point where we could pass Dolphin Point, the north-western end of Hayman Island, Captain Mike gave the orders to gybe and we turned north-east to run more easily with the waves.

Looking towards the northern end of Hayman Island with Hook Island in the background

Rounding the point, we turned to head into the wind taking us past the tall cliffs at the northern end of Hayman Island and past its rugged eastern shore. From here it was a straight line into the wind to reach our destination of Butterfly Bay on the northern end of Hook Island. It had been a great sail, but was now time to drop the mainsail and start the motors to take the wind and waves front on and motor past Alcyonaria Point and into the relative calm of the bay.

Back on board after a good snorkel
(photo: D. Keightley)

Pulling in to Butterfly Bay

The rocky point dividing the two wings of Butterfly Bay

Butterfly Bay is a double bay that lies beneath the steep flanks of Mt Sydney. We found one of the few free moorings in the smaller of the two wings of the butterfly and tied up for lunch. It had been a good sail and now it was time for another good snorkel on the fringing reef that lines the bay. Despite an enormous amount of dead and broken coral (damage from Cyclone Yasi perhaps?), there was good recovery and lots to be seen, with a wide variety of fish and the odd giant clam (shame that the camera was now totally fogged up).

Sunset over Butterfly Bay

Back on the boat, there was plenty of time left in the day for a leisurely read in the sun with a cup of coffee in hand as the boat swung gently on its moorings - the occasional "bullet" of wind gusting down from the hills behind to rock the boat and shimmer dark-banded across the water reminded us that elsewhere the wind was still strong ... as did the cloud that seemed to build up in the south-east and scurry across the sky during the afternoon. However, as the sun set, the cloud redeemed itself by lighting up orange pink above the hills of Hook Island to our west ... just another day in paradise.

Butterfly Bay to TongueBay (55 km)

"Red sky in the morning, sailors' warning" - so goes the old adage. Well, that is what we had, and the squalls out to sea reinforced it. After a fairly rocking night of gentle pitch and yaw, we raised the mainsail and got the boat ready to leave Butterfly Bay. Motoring out of the shelter of the bay, we unfurled the jib, turning westwards to tack into a strengthening south-easterly and work our way past a string of small coves and bays to Pinnacle Point. Already the whitecaps were surging across the ocean surface.

Passing the point, we needed to tack even further out into the Coral Sea to position ourselves for a long reach down the length of Hook Island. Somehow I found myself at the helm again and it was exciting sailing, as we crashed out through the almost 2 m swell in a 20 knot wind. "Double Play" lifting its bow high above the swells and crashing down into the troughs as we powered seaward.

Captain Mike was keeping his eye for the point where we could tack and start the reach down the length of Hook Island. On his command, we swung the boat southwards - the seas immediately seemed smoother as we no longer beat into the face of the swell and sailed on between Double Rock and the point, past the green-clad cliffs of Mackerel Bay and on towards Hook Passage.

Leaving Hook Island behind

The rocky tor of Whitsunday Cairn

The east coast of Whitsunday Island

The wind was still as much southerly as easterly, forcing us closer and closer to shore. Ahead lay the rocky tor of Whitsunday Cairn, marking the northern tip of Whitsunday Island, and to its east a rocky headland that we had to pass. Pointing as high as we could into the wind, we squeezed by, but it was clear that we would need to tack seaward to pass the next headland and reach our destination of Whitehaven Beach - and so we did.

As soon as we changed direction the boat speed began to surge and, on our run out towards Border Island, we passed 6 knots for the first time. Once again, Mike gave the signal and we turned south - the wind had by now swung more easterly and we soon found ourselves on another long and surging 5+ knot reach, passing between Border and Dumbell Islands.

Not long after, we threaded the gap between Esk Island and Tongue Point to reach the long white strip of sand of Whitehaven Beach (voted second best beach in the country in some on-line survey). That I won't debate, but it is true that its long line of pristine white sand is an impressive sight, even on a day like today when grey clouds and sunlight fought for the sky.

Double Play anchored at Whitehaven

View back towards Whitsunday Cairn from Whitehaven

Arriving at Whitehaven Beach

It was a popular place - big motor cruisers on tourist trips plus lots of yachts were already anchored there. As we arrived a sea-plane even flew in and landed to bring more people. Fortunately, Whitehaven is a very long beach and we could choose an area away from the concentrated masses to anchor. After lunch on the boat, the fair Nello and I swam ashore from the catamaran to enjoy a stroll along the smooth, squeaky-fine stretch of sand of Whitehaven.

A wet-suited Nello having just swum from catamaran to beach

Whitehaven Beach beneath a cloudy sky

Kayakers illuminated by a ray of sunlight

Distant Pentecost Island beyond Teague Island

Moody skies - looking north from Chalkies Beach

The afternoon was pressing on, so we returned and "Double Play" motored the short distance across to Chalkies Beach, where we had planned to anchor for the night. However, six boats were already there and, with the steep drop-off from shore and paucity of safe anchorages, we abandoned that plan and motored back towards the north, rounding the small but lovely Esk Island, with its hoop pine forest and sandy coves, to reach Tongue Bay.

The rain arrives

Sandy cove on Esk Island

A passing turtle (photo: R. Watkinson)

This bay also offered protection from the easterly wind and we were lucky enough to find a mooring free. We tied up just as G&T time was approaching - it was a lovely setting, looking back northwards towards the mountains of Whitsunday Island framed by ominous grey clouds and swinging gently to and fro on our mooring as sea-eagles soared above and the odd turtle swam languidly by. After spending much of the day at the helm, I confess that it was an exhilarating time - being in control of a 47 foot catamaran under sail on the high seas (or so it felt).

The Ngaro Sea Trail may be a "great walk", but I was thinking less and less about the land aspects of it and more and more about the sea.

Tongue Bay to Cid Harbour (47 km)

As the sun rose, the ominous grey clouds had been replaced by billowing white ones with plenty of sunshine. We took advantage of the high tide to launch the zodiac and head across to the rough coral sand beach on the north side of Tongue Point. This is one of the most popular tourist destinations for its views over the shifting white sands of Hill Inlet to the hinterland of Whitsunday Island and also down the long white strip of Whitehaven Beach to the south. We arrived at the same time as a large boatload of Canadian tourists and wandered up the short path, through the coastal forest to the viewing platform.

What you see when you get up early

Yachts in Tongue Bay

The zodiac lands at Tongue Point

The panorama was spectacular, if not not perfect, for the high tide covered most of the white sandy flats, obscuring the classic postcard scene. Below us, a couple of sharks lolled in the shallows as patches of sunlight came and went. It is strange that Tongue Point is best accessed at high tide, but best viewed at low tide - we didn't have the time to join the dots and headed back to the zodiac and then the boat.

The sands of Whitehaven Beach

Panorama from Tongue Point over Hill Inlet

All aboard, we hoisted the sails and set off, heading out to sea way past Esk Island in an attempt to sail through Solway Passage. However, the wind was more southerly than easterly and we ended up tacking several times, during which helmsman David equalled my record of 6.14 knots. Unfortunately the strong tidal flow through the passage meant that we still had to turn on the motors to get clear of the narrows - and it was already lunchtime.

Catamaran approaching Solway Passage

Pentecost Island rises from the sea

Passing the southern point of Whitsunday Island

I relieved the helmsman, and we reverted to sail for a while as we changed direction to make a broad reach towards the high-rise ugliness of Hamilton Island Resort. The narrows of Fitzalan Passage, separating Hamilton from Whitsunday Island lay ahead and, fortunately, even though the wind had dropped right off, the strong tidal flow carried us through.

The conical peak on Hayman Island

Approaching Fitzalan Passage

Hamilton Island resort (for those who like high rises)

The wind was now so slight that we needed the motor as well to maintain speed, pushing northwards past Henning Island and Loriard Point to enter Hunt Channel, separating Cid and Whitsunday Islands. Ahead, thick grey cloud hung over the misty grey ranges of Whitsunday Island - the weather now looked decidedly ominous.

Grim weather ahead in Hunt Channel

Leaving the good weather behind

The mists of Cid and Whitsunday Islands

Big clouds over the mainland

We could also see the distant masts of a large number of yachts and catamarans anchored in different parts of Cid Harbour. The water here was almost glassy calm and we found a place to anchor in the second row of boats at Sawmill Bay.

Sunshine and cloud in Cid Harbour

Sawmill Bay anchorage

Coastal forest near Sawmill Beach

It had been another long day of sailing and a few of us felt the need to stretch our feet, so we lowered the zodiac and headed in to Sawmill Beach to do the short coast walk from there to Dugong Beach - plenty of nice coastal forest with hoop pines and fan palms, but alas no dugongs.

Tide's out at Dugong Beach

Sea kayaks at Dugong Beach

We returned to the boat at G&T time, watching the russet hues of the brahminy kites as they soared above and the brief head-above-surface, as a succession of turtles swam by below. The sun had finally returned to slowly sink below the western horizon, lighting up the diversity of clouds in shades of orange to pinkish-red. What do they say - "red sky at night, sailor's delight" - I certainly hope so.

The sun finally returns .....

... to set golden on the horizon ....

.... and paint the sky pink

Cid Harbour is a popular anchorage and there were about 30 boats spaced out along its green-clad shore. As night fell. the mast lights of the fleet lit up like a strange illuminated forest reflected across the glass-calm waters of the harbour - with lemon chicken and garden-fresh veggies for dinner, it was a perfect end to the day.

Climbing Whitsunday Peak (5 km - 440m ascent - 440m descent)

A few showers had passed by overnight and grey cloud greeted us in the morning over Cid Harbour. It was climbing day - backing the harbour lay Whitsunday Peak, at 426m the highest point on the island, and a path had been cut from Sawmill Beach to its summit. The fair Nello, Mike, Odile and myself comprised the assault party and at 8.30 am we landed by zodiac on the beach to commence the climb.

Fan palms near the shore

Beneath the Whitsunday Island rain forest

Entering the darkness of the rain forest, we moved quickly along the rocky path to reach Sawmill Creek, with its jumble of large boulders. Little grew on the stony ground beneath the dense canopy of trees and the air was still and humid. The path itself was wet and a bit slippery after the rain, as it crossed the creek to take us steeply up this dank and humid gully via a series of natural steps. Before we reached the summit, we would climb over a thousand of these steps - I know because I counted them.

Crossing a boulder-strewn creek bed

Forest of the slopes

A big bird's nest fern

Grass trees of the mountain tops

Reaching the ridge, there was a bit of air movement, which was very pleasant and the track now followed a gentler pitch up the ridge towards the peak beneath hoop pine, fan palm and broad leafed rainforest trees. In places, the canopy was more open, permitting a ground-cover of lomandra tussocks to develop, offering a bit of plant diversity.


Looking down on to Gulnare Inlet


Is that Double Play down there?

Every now and again, Mike would stop suddenly as he spotted an elusive bird on forest floor or tangled branch - he is an avid birdwatcher and it added interest to the climb. The path along the ridge was smooth and gradual for a while, before steepening with more natural steps to reach the bare rocks and grass-tree, bottlebrush, open scrub near the summit.

View from the peak over Cid Harbour

We reached the summit in a little over and hour and spent some time enjoying the views from the two rock platforms, one facing west over Cid Harbour (was that "Double Play" way below on the aquamarine sea) and one facing south to look down the length of Gulnare Inlet to the out-of-place high rises of Hamilton Island Resort and west over the green hinterland of the island to Whitehaven Beach. It was worth the climb.

Old farts on Whitsunday Peak


The crown of a hoop pine


Return to Double Play

The guides say that this is a difficult walk and one should allow four hours for the round trip - this is not really the case as the steps and well-formed path make the going easy for anyone with a bit of fitness. Our group of four fall into the older demographic and we were back at Sawmill Beach in 2½ hours, with some free time to enjoy the views at the top. When we reached the beach, we waved to our friends on "Double Play". The zodiac quickly arrived and took us back from beach to boat. Our climb was over and we were ready to sail.

Cid Harbour to Stonehaven Bay- return to Blue Pearl Bay (37 km)

We pulled anchor to motor out of Cid Harbour, but soon were sailing on a broad reach up the coast of Whitsunday and Hook Islands. It took only a couple of hours and two gybes to reach our destination - Blue Pearl Bay on Hayman Island. Yes, we were back, but the coral here was so good that it was an opportunity for the divers and snorkellers to have one last look at the magnificent displays of coral reef and tropical fish in the bay. My camera had partially defogged and although it was its swan song, as the photos below show, it was well worth it.

The helmsman's view

Roomy cabin (partly in the hull)

Even in tropical waters, the cold creeps in when you are swimming for too long and it was the cold that finally chased me out and back to the boat - we all declared Blue Pearl Bay a top underwater spot. After a quick hot shower to warm up, it was time to loosen the mooring and set off.

Farewelling the batfish who had assembled once again beneath the catamaran, we motored across to Stonehaven Bay, our anchorage for the night beneath the rock-capped top of Hook Peak.

Our very spacious galley

All seemed to be going well on this our penultimate day in paradise - the walkers had had a great walk, the divers a great dive and the fisher-people finally managed to catch some fish for their breakfast in the morning.

To top it off, the sunset went from a narrow slit of gold on the horizon to the whole western sky turning rose, as the sun underlit the thick layer of dimpled cloud. In the meanwhile, Odile was conjuring up a masterly moussaka for dinner - such is the good life on a Whitsundays cruise.

The stern deck / G&T bar

Hull shaped steps and bathroom

Imagine sitting on the stern deck with a G&T in hand watching this

Stonehaven Bay to South Molle Island (47 km)

The odd rain shower passed by during the night, pattering on the cabin roof above us. More concerting was the fact that, when we woke in the morning, all the other boats had moved several hundred metres to the south of us. It was the only rational explanation, as the alternative was that we had dragged our anchor several hundred metres northwards and that is not a good look for sailors - we settled for the mass migration of all the other boats.

A strange light in the morning

On a broad reach across the channel

The south-easterly winds had picked up to over 20 knots by the time we set sail - heading out on broad reach into the white-capped swell of the Whitsunday Passage. The sails were full and the catamaran was slapping its way through the big swell, waves breaking over the starboard hull - the wind and waves were our engine and at one stage we touched 6.2 knots, giving skipper Mike the new record (somewhat debated by the joint previous record holders, given the over 20 knot winds).

Reaching a point high above north Molle Island, we tacked to beat a long course eastward towards Nara Inlet. On reaching the narrow mouth of the inlet, we motored up its calm waters to the far end and anchored for a lazy and filling lunch - it was our second-last day and time to start eating up all the remaining food. It was amusing to think that after a full mornings sailing, we were probably only a few kilometres as the crow flies from where we had set out - such are the vagaries of relying on the wind as ones power source.

Back at Nara Inlet

Nara was not our destination, however, and with Captain Mike asleep in his cabin, helmsman David and I took command. We pulled anchor to head out of the inlet and set sail for South Molle Island - one long beat, with a little motor assistance due to the drop in wind speed that afternoon. The crossing was uneventful until mid-channel, when whale-spotter David suddenly saw a humpback breach fully out of the water a few hundred metres ahead of the boat - I missed the breach, but I saw the mighty splash on its return. A little later, a big body roll and flipper wave, then nothing until it emerged to blow about 60 metres away on the port side. A couple more rolling loops on the surface and it was gone, but what an encounter!!

Heading across the channel towards South Molle Island

A humpback whale passes us by (photo: R. Watkinson)

At the old resort on South Molle

That was the highlight of the crossing and all else was a non-event, as we headed past North and Middle Molle Islands to the bay of South Molle Island, guarded to its east by the rocky head of Spion Kop.

Tide's out at South Molle jetty

Odile photographs the setting sun

This island is the site of a failed resort and we pulled up to the east of a long and crumbling pier at one of the resort moorings, before launching the zodiac to explore the resort - a curious mix of dilapidated bungalows and a still-operational core, including swimming pool and golf course. Clearly, reports of its death had been greatly exaggerated. The history of resorts in Whitsundays is a mix of great success and great failure.

Yet another variation on the setting sun

Then it was back to "Double Play" for the ritual of G&Ts while watching a golden-hued cloudless sunset and a final dinner of chilli con carne. It was the last night that we would all eat together on board the catamaran and we toasted the success of the voyage and the congeniality of the group. Seven days in the close confines of a cruising catamaran can test relationships and we all agreed that we had passed the test, forming a good and close-knit team that had made the whole 7-day adventure a very enjoyable and relaxing experience.

South Molle Island to Airlie Beach (19 km)

It was the last day of our Whitsundays cruise and it was a fine day to end on - the morning cloud would soon dissipate and the south-easterly wind continued to blow, which promised us an easy sail back to port. However, remembering that the Ngaro Sea Trail is actually a "great walk", it seemed appropriate to do one last walk. South Molle Island is mainly national park and has a good network of walking trails, one of which leads from the resort to a viewing platform on Spion Kop - a short walk that could easily be done before breakfast.

That was a bad way of phrasing it, as only Russell and I ended up in the 7am zodiac to shore for the walk. Crossing the resort golf course, we reached the boundary of the National Park and headed off up the track - rain forest quickly changing into more open eucalypt forest. From the whistles and twitters in the canopy, this open forest supports a much richer bird life than the dense rain forest.

A nice even path up to the saddle

View across the saddle

Looking towards the peak near Spion Kop

The well-formed track followed a gentle gradient upwards to reach a saddle high above the resort. where it morphed into a broad grassy track. The walking was easy and the views from the saddle spectacular. The landscape here was very different to that of Whitsunday Peak, with wide views across the valleys of South Molle and out to sea to the islands beyond.

Grass trees of South Molle

From the saddle, the track crossed to the eastern flank of a long ridge to follow a contour across its open grass-tree covered slopes. To the east, the faint peak of Pentecost Island rose above the darker shades of Hamilton Island, while to the south we could see the northern end of Long Island and the mainland to its west.

View from the eastern side of the ridge

A patch of rain forest near the top

The track then switched back to the more densely vegetated western flank of the ridge, offering views down onto the harbour of South Molle where "Double Play" lay moored on a sunlit sea - no doubt the others were already enjoying their breakfast out on the deck. Beyond the boat, Middle and Northern Molle Islands stretched out into the Whitsunday Passage - a superb vista.

Looking down on the harbour at South Molle

Double Play at anchor

Rounding the larger knob of Spion Kop, we reached the viewing platform just below the rocky seaward knob - the views were equally spectacular from here. However, my stomach was starting to rumble, so we hurried down to the zodiac and headed back out to the catamaran - time for a filling breakfast before setting sail one last time.

The rugged slope of Spion Kop

View across Whitsunday Channel from Spion Kop

Mike steered us northwards along the shore of the two northern Molle Islands, passing Unsafe Passage (which actually is safe as the big Hamilton Island ferries use it) in the process. On reaching the end of North Molle, we turned east to make one last pleasant sailing reach into Airlie Beach and Abel Point Marina. The pilot was waiting to berth "Double Play" and our seven-day adventure on the Ngaro Sea Trail was officially over.

The mainland - viewed through Unsafe Passage

The northern end of North Molle Island

Back home to Airlie Beach

It had been a fantastic time, some snorkelling, some walking, some wildlife-spotting, a lot of sailing - lots of sun, a bit of cloud and rain, good consistent winds, gourmet meals and fine wine, and a week of great company with a group of congenial friends .... and that is what cruising the Whitsunday Islands is really all about. So thanks to Mike, for skippering the boat, and to our fellow crew mates who seamlessly shared the tasks of sailing a 47 foot catamaran, Odile (photo man and hatch man), David (helmsman, anchor man and s--tman), Jennifer (radio man), Russell (quartermaster, divemaster and fisherman) and Jacqui (G&T man and fisherman), and especially to the fair Nello (galley man and Ms Congeniality), whose long-held dream to sail these waters was the inspiration for organising the trip.

PS My main roles were relief helmsman, zodiac man and garbage man (two out of three isn't bad) - the jobs mentioned above are but a few of what the skipper and crew did. What made the trip so enjoyable was the way everyone pitched in and shared these jobs and others (e.g. mainsail and jib team, mooring team, cooks and cleaners, batteries man) when needed - congenial!

Farewell to the Whitsundays