N I G E L M A R S H P H O T O G R A P H Y
U N D E R W A T E R I M A G E S A N D A R T I C L E S
DIVE & SAIL THE WHITSUNDAYS ON KIANA
by Nigel Marsh
Liveaboard diving is one of the best ways to do a great variety of dive sites on your dive holiday – a full on dive experience. The only problem with liveaboard diving is if you have a non-diving partner there is little for them to do while you are submerged, so non-divers rarely join their partners on these trips. However, I recently experienced a liveboard that is perfect for the non-diver and diver alike, a voyage to the Whitsunday Islands on Kiana.
Based at Airlie Beach, Kiana is a 16.4m long steel hull ketch that caters for up to 14 passengers. The vessel offers 3 day trips, departing Monday and Friday, exploring the Whitsunday Islands and the outer reef, combining sailing, diving, snorkelling and even bushwalking all in one trip.
Boarding the vessel at 8.30am, with a mixed group of tourists from around the planet, we were first introduced to our crew – Skipper Brent, chef Meredith, dive instructor Stefan and deck hand Ian. After a briefing on the boat, we were allocated our bunks and got underway.
I was a bit surprised to discover that I was the only Aussie passenger and speaking to the crew they informed me that over 90% of their guests were from overseas. Why more Australians aren’t taking advantage of this wonderful vessel to explore the glorious Whitsunday Islands is a complete mystery to me.
With only light winds the sails were stowed as we motored between the picturesque islands of the Whitsundays. After a few hours cruising we had a wonderful smorgasbord lunch as we rounded the top of Whitsunday Island, just one of the many very filling meals on offer throughout the trip.
In the early afternoon Kiana tied up at a mooring and we went ashore to explore. As we walked through the national park we saw numerous birds and even a goanna on our way to a lookout. Arriving at the lookout the view was breathtaking – Whitehaven Beach in all its glory, one of the best stretches of sand on the planet!
We then had a few hours to explore the beach and swim, which was home to a surprising amount of wildlife; including sea birds, thousands of soldier crabs and numerous stingrays in the lagoon.
Once back on Kiana we headed north, partly under sail, to the top end of Hook Island and our overnight anchorage. After a very filling roast for dinner, everyone turned in for an early night.
The next morning we did our first dive, right where we were moored, at a site called Luncheon Bay. The coral gardens at this site were a real surprise, with a great variety of soft corals, gorgonians, black coral trees, sea whips and hard corals. Unfortunately the visibility was only 8m, stirred up by strong winds and big seas the week before. The crew informed me that the visibility can be over 15m at times, especially over winter.
In depths to 17m we explored bommies, caves and ledges and encountered a great variety of marine life, including Maori wrasse, giant trevally, sweetlips, moray eels, fusiliers, coral trout, batfish, nudibranchs and even one huge Spanish mackerel. Manta rays, turtles and reef sharks are often seen at this site. Luncheon Bay was enjoyed by all on board – the certified divers, the introduction divers and the snorkelers.
After breakfast we headed east, out to Bait Reef on the Great Barrier Reef. Arriving at noon we tied up to a mooring and went off to explore a dive site called the Coral Gardens. The visibility was also stirred up here, only around 12m, but we still had a brilliant dive along a wall and explored numerous bommies and large caves. The next two dives at the Stepping Stones and Hawaii were also similar, and at each site we saw trevally, Spanish mackerel, Maori wrasse, sweetlips, fusiliers, coral trout, batfish, whitetip reef sharks, stingrays and a surprising number of gropers.
The next morning we woke to a beautiful day, sunshine and no wind, perfect weather to explore the most famous dive site at Bait Reef – Manta Ray Drop Off. This sheer wall drops to 75m and is cut by numerous ledges and caves. As we drifted along the wall we encountered whitetip reef sharks, grey reef sharks, giant trevally, Spanish mackerel, coral trout, Maori wrasse, batfish, red bass, snapper, bonito and a few green turtles. In the shallows were millions of baitfish being feasted upon by packs of trevally, with the action happening thick and fast as the fish charged around us to capture their prey. It was a brilliant dive, and the visibility had even increased to 15m. But we did miss the manta ray that was spotted by one of the snorkelers.
Our final dive was on another section of Manta Ray Drop Off. This section of wall was more sloping and covered with lovely hard corals, plus cut by some deep trenches. We saw many of the same species as the first dive, but also had a silvertip shark circling us for almost five minutes. We also came across the local turtle hangout, with two green turtles and a hawksbill turtle enjoying a rest in one small section of reef. By the end of the dive the visibility had increased to 20m, a pity we had to leave.
With flat seas we had a pleasant sail back to Airlie Beach, passing around the top end of Hook Island and skipping passed Hamilton Island, Black Island and many other islands. We all kept an eye out for humpback whales, but the giants eludes us, we had to be happy with sightings of dolphins, flying fish, sea snakes and a few jumping eagle rays.
Arriving back in Airlie Beach at 4pm we all said our goodbyes after enjoying three fantastic days in the Whitsundays. It was a wonderful trip, my only complaint was that it wasn’t long enough. Next time I might look at doing two trips back to back!
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