High-flying views and Great Barrier Reef dives in Australia’s Whitsunday Islands
High-flying views and Great Barrier Reef dives in Australia’s Whitsunday Islands
Journeys

High-flying views and Great Barrier Reef dives in Australia’s Whitsunday Islands

Travel journalist Sophie Friedman gets a short but sweet taste of the high life on board superyacht Oneworld.

By Sophie Friedman | 5 January 2019

The superyacht lifestyle might be shrouded in mystery for many, but last year that all changed for me when I was invited to try it out for myself on board Oneworld, a newly launched Australian charter yacht. For two nights, I’d be cruising through the Whitsundays, the 74-island chain between the Great Barrier Reef and the coast of central Queensland, Australia, the country’s Sunshine State. Being a travel journalist certainly has its perks.

After a soggy, cold week of unending rain in Sydney, I finally landed at Hamilton Island, the largest inhabited island of the Whitsundays. I felt like I was dreaming. The sky was so blue it looked painted on. Palm fronds blew gently in a dreamy 25-degree breeze. In just over two hours I had escaped Sydney’s doldrums. As Oneworld pulled out of the marina, I sat with the other guests up on the top deck, unruffled by the strong breeze, talking about how excited we were for our Great Barrier Reef excursion.

High-flying views and Great Barrier Reef dives in Australia’s Whitsunday Islands

Oneworld

High-flying views and Great Barrier Reef dives in Australia’s Whitsunday Islands

Oneworld

But first – food. The dinner table was set beautifully, but we were all lounging in shorts and T-shirts; it immediately became clear that meals aboard Oneworld were a laid-back, casual affair. Our chef was Clancy Atkinson, and when I popped into the kitchen to meet him he told me he’d just come back from New York, my hometown. We had a good chat about the food scene in New York vs. Sydney – the next two days looked set to be a foodie’s dream.

Over roast Barramundi, Australia’s favorite fish, plans for the next day began to take shape: we’d be kicking things off by taking a seaplane for an aerial view of the islands, a pretty typical activity for charter guests. We were now far enough from Hamilton Island that there was no mobile service, so we did the unthinkable and enjoyed each other’s company for the rest of the evening without interruption.

High-flying views and Great Barrier Reef dives in Australia’s Whitsunday Islands

Heart Reef

High-flying views and Great Barrier Reef dives in Australia’s Whitsunday Islands

Heart Reef

At noon the next day, after a delicious al fresco breakfast, our seaplane pulled up, ready to escort us. We cruised over half a dozen islands, pristine Whitehaven Beach, and across the Coral Sea to Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The clarity of the water, stunning shades of blue and turquoise, was staggering in its beauty. We swooped down to get a closer look at the Heart Reef, everyone pressed up against the tiny windows. I was gobsmacked by how exquisite the islands and reefs looked from above.

The only energy we expended was in our thumbs shooting endless photos of the dazzling ocean, but somehow it was time for lunch and we were eager to tuck in back on board. It was a proper Aussie barbecue, eaten outside on deck: Queensland king prawns, oysters from Coffin Bay in South Australia, and bright, simple charred broccoli with baby carrots, so moreish I nearly licked the bowl clean. I thought to myself, “the only thing that can make this better is ice cream,” and lo, a bowl of tiny, perfect cones were delivered – toasted coconut gelato covered in dark chocolate. The superyacht life was working its charm.

High-flying views and Great Barrier Reef dives in Australia’s Whitsunday Islands

Whitehaven Beach. Photo: Tourism Whitsundays

High-flying views and Great Barrier Reef dives in Australia’s Whitsunday Islands

Whitehaven Beach. Photo: Tourism Whitsundays

Afterwards, we motored slightly north to Tongue Bay and, slipping our flip flops off and slathering on factor 70 sunscreen, we made the 700 metre walk up to Hill Inlet Lookout for the view over Whitehaven Beach. This is no misnomer ­­– the sand was as white and fine as powdered sugar – and after snapping a few photos, we ran down and sunk into it.

Back on board, a few guests slipped into the hot tub while I played a mean game of Connect 4, followed by a few rounds of rummy. While we munched on asparagus with Jerusalem couscous and goat cheese from Meredith Dairy in Victoria, the captain, Matt, gave us the lowdown on the next day. It was anchors up at 4am so we could motor to the outer reef for diving. I went to bed that night with visions of Finding Nemo dancing across my eyelids.

High-flying views and Great Barrier Reef dives in Australia’s Whitsunday Islands

Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Tourism Port Douglas and Daintree

High-flying views and Great Barrier Reef dives in Australia’s Whitsunday Islands

Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Tourism Port Douglas and Daintree

Our Reef Safari guides Brett and Charlie arrived just after breakfast and soon we were deep beneath the surface, feeling weightless, gliding silently, effortlessly, over coral and schools of vibrant surgeonfish, angelfish, and butterfly fish, with the occasional sea anemone. Back on board, Brett and Charlie gave us a quickie overview on the Great Barrier Reef’s estimated 1,500 species of fish. One dive just wasn’t going to cut it; I’d have to come back.

When we boarded Oneworld the crew had mentioned offhand that there were some toys onboard, but when I saw an enormous inflatable slide being set up and slicked with dish soap for extra speed, I was so excited I thought I might burst. Some of the group snorkelled or went stand-up paddleboarding, but three of us spent the afternoon flying down the slide, becoming increasingly giddy, going down on our stomachs, then head first, then trying to do a flip at the end (not a success).

For our final dinner, after another few rounds of rummy, we sat down to seared Queensland scallops and pan-roasted king salmon with a pea and rocket purée so delectable I want to spread it on everything. Dessert was creamy, refreshing coconut sorbet, the ideal cap-off to two days spent soaking up sun and sea.

Superyacht life is no longer a mystery. And now I’ve got a taste for it.

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