Pacific Star photo courtesy Kelly Dive

Pacific Star

fish photo We had a Great Barrier Reef diving and sailing adventure in the Whitsunday Islands on a three day and three night cruise aboard the custom built 18 metre catamaran Pacific Star.

We cruised to Nari Inlet on Hook Island, bushwalked and saw aboriginal art, visited beautiful Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island, cruised to Bait Reef on the outer Barrier Reef for a day of diving and snorkelling, and again at Blue Pearl Bay and Longford Reef.

visitors photo

USA friends saw our brief mention of Pacific Star on our Airlie Beach boat web site, and emailed to ask us for further information. After a bit of checking with local booking agencies, and with Kelly Dive and Sail, we decided this trip looked so good we booked to go along with them.

Pacific Star sails from Able Point Marina each Wednesday and Saturday evening, and the night sailing does give more time for activities. Kelly Dive had told us the first meal on board was breakfast, although there were snacks. We made sure we had dinner at Mangrove Jacks (our hamburgers, and our wine glasses, were enormous) before walking around the corner to the Kelly Dive shop on the Esplanade in central Airlie Beach.

Nari Inlet, Hook Island

Nari photo

There was little breeze, so we motored rather than sailed through the early evening, getting to know the other guests. We were headed to sheltered Nara Inlet on the southern end of Hook Island, for our first night. This is a favourite area for boats during unsettled weather, as it provides wonderful protection from any rough seas, and is a deep water anchorage. Nara Inlet runs several kilometres into the island. Macona Inlet, a little further to the east, has a camping area nearby. In the morning, the sea was glassy smooth.

As usual, we were awake shortly after dawn. Others slept on, some even through the noise of the generator starting. A rousing piece of classical music finally stirred them into action. Before breakfast, we went ashore in the rubber dinghy. An easy ten minute bushwalk uphill brought us to a small cave, with Aboriginal art. The paintings seemed more abstract than most, and we amused ourselves trying to work out what they might have represented.

Nari photo
cave art photo

We stopped several times to take photos, and had a brief wait on the beach while others were ferried back to Pacific Star. A little bit of exercise before eating always makes food taste better to me, and breakfast awaited us. Breakfasts tended to be "help yourself" affairs of cereal, fresh fruit, toast, and various spreads, usually ending when no-one could eat any more.

We cruised south through the narrow passage separating Hook Island from Whitsunday Island. Naturally you get a fine view of the jetty, and the now somewhat ancient 10 metre deep underwater observatory. A few hundred metres further long is the Hook Island Wilderness resort and camping area, and we waved to guests on the beach. This would be one of the more laid back and economical ways to have an island stay. You can check it out easily while on one of several one day, three island cruises, most of which include entry to the underwater observatory and a cruise in a glass bottom boat to view the coral.

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island

Whitehaven beach photo

Still lacking a breeze, we motored along the eastern shore of Whitsunday Island. Dive instructors Vaughan and Kim continued to teach the intending divers more of what they would need to know. Numerous people were to be seen throughout the voyage intently studying their manuals.

We headed down the coast to famous Whitehaven Beach on the far side of Whitsunday Island. Whitsunday Island is the largest in the Whitsunday group, and the group was named by Captain James Cook because he sail through on 3 July 1770. Cook thought the date was Whitsunday, however he had failed to allow for the international date line.

Whitehaven beach photo
Whitehaven beach photo

We were ferried ashore on the northern extremity of the beach in the rubber dinghy, together with heaps of air tanks and gear. While the intending divers did their "resort" training dives from the beach, I walked barefoot along the beach south a ways.

There is a track from the north end of the beach, marked by a short boardwalk. The track takes you 1.2 kilometres uphill to the lookout, newly enhanced with a viewing platform. The walk was a little slow without shoes, but the path was mostly sand and twigs, rather than rock.

I had the view to myself for a time, and could hardly stop looking long enough to photograph the most beautiful beach I have ever seen. The only reason I left when I did was that a group of people arrived (and reacted pretty much as I had). I could easily spend a couple of days just looking at the view.

I'm not sure how much the new divers managed to see, as I've heard the southern end of the 7 kilometre long Whitehaven Beach is better for actual coral.

Luncheon Bay

divers aboard photo

While Amanda served lunch, we motored along the eastern side of Hook Island towards Mantaray Bay and Luncheon Bay on the north side of Hook Island. Sheltered from the prevailing winds, there are some wonderful spots for diving and snorkelling along this area. I believe there is also a camping ground at Maureen Cove.

There was much activity on board. The newly instructed beginning divers had their first chance at a real dive, and the certified divers had a chance at a night dive, as we anchored here overnight.

I did some snorkelling, but it was a little late in the day for underwater photographs, despite some interesting sights. Eventually the water temperatures made cramp a concern, and I had a somewhat oversized wet suit, so I swam back to the boat.

Skipper Adrian and dive instructors Vaughan and Kim assisted with the meals by barbecuing steak and sausages on the second evening. The large lounge turned into the entertainment centre, with very bad videos being shown. Would you believe Austin Powers turns up almost every trip? After an energetic day, most of us turned in relatively early.

Bait Reef, Great Barrier Reef

Bait Reef fish

Very early in the morning we got underway, having breakfast along the way. Again the wind failed us, and we motored to Bait Reef, one of the closest of the actual Barrier Reef areas. With little breeze to assist us along, the sea was very calm, and very clear. We took up a mooring in 20 metres of water, and could clearly see the bottom.

A large fish greeted the boat, obviously intent on having any dinner scraps. While snorkelling, I notice a number of large fish under the boat, keeping in the shade, or perhaps just waiting for scraps.

Bait reef fish
Bait Reef fish

There was lots of diving for the SCUBA people, and we moved to a different mooring every now and then. I snorkelled without a wet suit, but eventually started to get cramp and had to warm up. We were able to get taken a distance from the Pacific Star in the dinghy, and then snorkel back with the slight current assisting us.

The visibility was excellent, and the colours of the coral and the fish not suitably recorded in the photos I took with a disposable underwater camera. They were both brighter and more subtle to the eye than anything in the photos on this page. I had an absolutely wonderful time, with my only concern being to avoid sunburn.

There were several other vessels in sight, and far away on the horizon you could catch glimpses of the large FantaSea Reef World dive platform. A seaplane landed nearby, and a group did some diving from that. It is a very fast way to get out to the Reef, and avoids a lot of problems if the seas are a little rough.

We sat at Bait Reef for dinner and a night dive. Great food, as usual. Diving obviously makes you much more hungry than normal.

Blue Pearl Bay, Hayman Island

Blue Pearl Bay coral

We headed for Blue Pearl Bay on the north side of Hayman Island after the night dive. It was pitch black by 10 or 11 p.m. when we actually moored for the night, and I have no idea how Adrian located the mooring. Luckily Pacific Star has radar, depth finders, and a GPS with charts of the entire area.

Blue Pearl Bay fish
Blue Pearl Bay fish

I really enjoy the fringing reefs of the spectacular Blue Pearl Bay, just around the headland from the famous, exclusive (and very expensive) Hayman Island resort. Hayman was one of the first resorts, founded around 1950, and changing hands several times. It had a reputation for being exclusive, and the usual prices seem to reinforce that perception. However it has over 200 room, and Bedarra and Orpheus Island (further north than the Whitsundays) are now considered the exclusive resorts. The resort managers where I live (Whitsunday Terraces) tell me it is worth going to Hayman, just to see how a high class resort should be run, if you can find a reasonable standby price. However on a Pacific Star trip you get to visit all the same areas of the marine National Park as the guests at Hayman.

The reefs and beach are part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine National Park, and while very popular with tour operators, there are only two moorings, so boats at anchor have to stand a little distance offshore. There is at least one giant clam only metres from shore, and a wonderful range of fish.

A lot of the fish cluster in the shallows when dinghies arrive, and you don't even have to go in the water to photograph them. While perhaps not as clear as the outer reef, Blue Pearl Bay really is a wonderful spot. I would however advise having some sort of foot covering on hand if going ashore on the northern beaches, as the coral on the beach can be hard on bare feet. The sandy beach towards the south is tempting for those wishing to stay ashore, but at low tide, it is very difficult to swim out past the coral, as it is very close to the surface.

Longford Reef

Longford Reef coral

Longford Reef is a few kilometres from Hayman Island, so you often see the Hayman Island launch drop picnic parties off, complete with blue and white beach umbrellas. The sandy beach is narrow but very long, and seems to have coral along the whole length.

Longford Reef coral
Longford Reef coral

Longford Reef seems somewhat easier for swimmers than Blue Pearl Bay, as you still usually have a little water depth between the coral and the sand. The disadvantage is that the water isn't usually as clear as at Blue Pearl Bay. However it is a great spot for someone wanting to check coral by swimming from a nice beach. There is a fair bit of coral, mostly close to the surface.

Longford Reef coral

Our skipper demonstrated that he could handle any sort of water activity. I had been wondering why there was a surf board stowed away, since we had the usual life jackets and float and other safety gear, and there was the rubber dinghy for getting to shore.

He took a ride on the surfboard, towed by the rubber dinghy. Very nearly managed to get back on board without getting his feet wet. Most of the passengers who attempted to surf were much less steady on their feet.

Fishing was another activity, with a nice spotted mackerel.

Spotted Mackerel photo

The Meals

Inside Pacific Star

We enjoyed tasty meals aboard, as well as snacks. There is a complete, but compact, galley aboard. Unlike many of the cruises, Pacific Star does not use premade meals from the local catering services. Our gracious hostess, Amanda, managed to provide quiche, pizza, fresh cake and cookies, and a wonderful variety of other items for the three lunches and two dinners.

Having a breadmaking machine on board adds considerably to the quality of the cold cuts lunches. Every time I turned around, Amanda seemed to have some new snack on hand. Amanda is a vegetarian, so those on a restricted diet were well cared for, while there always seemed to be an excess of food for the many meat eaters among us.

About Pacific Star

view on deck

An 18 metre purpose built fibreglass catamaran, designed for diving cruises. Pacific Star has seven cabins, individual air-conditioners, and compact ensuite facilities. The large main cabin is air-conditioned, with TV, video, and CD player. There is a 35 kW generator set to run all the electrical gear, although when temperatures are pleasant they try to avoid running the generator overnight.

Divers are well catered for, with two compressors on board, ample rack space for tanks, and hanging space for wet suits, plus room to suit up. There are two sets of steps to sea level platforms, with three steps below water level. No need to leap overboard, and no problems reboarding afterwards. There were sufficient wet suits in sizes 3 to 7 for everyone diving, although snorkellers sometimes had to use a wet suit that wasn't as good a fit.

There were plenty of masks, snorkels and flippers (fins), mostly of recent vintage. No-one seemed to have any problem finding a suitable size.

Value for your money

inside boat

$359 per person
including all meals, but not drinks, dives and government charges. Better prices are sometimes available outside the peak times or on standby, so it pays to check the prices. Prices do vary from season to season.

Dive prices are currently around $160 for 6 dives for certified divers, and around $90 for two training dives or $150 for four dives for beginners.

Government charges are a $5 per day Environmental Management Charge (Reef Tax) levied on all visitors to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. This $15 charge is collected on board. They are not included in the quoted fees.

Prices include a courtesy coach from the Kelly Dive shop and return to your accommodation. All meals are included, as is afternoon tea, and snacks. You can buy candy and canned soft drinks on board, or bring your own.

Since Pacific Star has no bar on board you bring your own alcohol, but not in glass bottles (for safety). We grabbed some essential supplies. A case of beer, two boxes of halfway decent wine, a six pack of cider, the remains of a box of Lambrusco. It did look a little excessive, since you can't dive after drinking, but there were three evenings for partying, and sufficient refrigeration space.

We each packed a small, soft sided bag, making sure we had swimming costume, towel, sunglasses, a hat that wouldn't blow overboard, and lots of sunblock. You go barefoot on board, and dressing up for dinner isn't expected, so shorts and a few shirts are enough clothes.

Further Information

view on deck

For bookings and information, contact Kelly Dive and Sail Shop, 1 The Esplanade, Airlie Beach, Whitsunday, Qld. 4802 Australia
Phone (07) 4946 6122 or fax (07) 4946 4368 or from outside Australia, phone + 61 7 4946 6122 or fax + 61 7 4946 4368 (where + is whatever you use to get an international line

Email or check out their web site at or their Pacific Star site at

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First photo of Pacific Star courtesy of Kelly Sail and Dive, all other photos by Eric Lindsay and Jean Weber.