While the Whitsundays is better known as the bareboating capital of Queensland, the waters off Townsville offer a less crowded alternative. Local charter company Tropic Sail (tel. 07/4772 4773; www.tropicsail.com.au) has a small fleet of yachts, catamarans, and motor cruisers and offers bareboat and skippered sailing holidays around Magnetic Island and to the 13 other unspoiled and secluded islands in the Palms group. Owners Shaun Watson and Wendy Keller are experienced sailors who will set you on the right course. Whether you choose a 3-day sail around Magnetic Island, or a weeklong cruise that takes you to Great Palm, Curacoa, Fantome, and Orpheus islands, you can almost always count on ultimate seclusion at more than 42 potential anchorages. These are virtually untouched cruising grounds. As you sail, you may see dolphins, sea turtles, dugong, manta rays, and -- at the right time of year -- migratory whales. There are private moorings at Magnetic Island, so you can get off and enjoy a meal or drink in one of the many restaurants or bars. Charter rates start at A$440 to A$575 per boat per night for a six-berth yacht, plus marine park fees and fuel. You can hire a skipper for a half or full day, from A$300, and Tropic Sail can also organize provisions for you and suggest sailing itineraries. Ask about seasonal discounts and standby rates. A minimum charter of 3 nights (5 nights in peak season) applies.
Day Trips to the Reef
Most boats visiting the Reef from Townsville are live-aboard vessels that make trips of 2 or more days, designed for serious divers. Barrier Reef Dive, Cruise & Travel (tel. 1800/636 778 in Australia, or 07/4772 5800; www.divecruisetravel.com) sells day trips to Wheeler Reef, where you can make introductory dives for A$80 for the first one and A$120 for two; certified divers can make two dives for A$80, all gear included. The cruise costs A$180 for adults and A$130 for children 6 to 12. The price includes lunch and morning and afternoon tea, and snorkel gear. Cruises depart Townsville at 6:30am, with a pickup at Magnetic Island en route at 7:25am, and return by 5 or 5:30pm. Several operators, including Adrenalin Dive (tel. 1300/664 600 in Australia or 07/4724 0600; www.adrenalindive.com.au), have trips to the Yongala, the Coral Sea, and the Reef.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.