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REVIEW: Koala Whitsunday Tour

I’m tanned, my hair is salty, my camera packed full of pictures and my body is full of goon – I’ve just got back from a 3 day Whitsundays sailing trip with Koala Adventures!

Now the Whitsundays is probably the most talked about tour on the East Coast, and as the backpacker market is booming there is an overwhelming choice of boats, tours, providers and packages flooding the travel agents.
You can do day trips, budget trips, party boats, dive boats…you name it you can do it!

Luckily my decision was made easy through obtaining a free trip, and we also managed to hook up the rest of the group with an awesome 241 deal! Happy days!

The tour was a 3 day over 2 night trip on The Pride of Airlie with the 2 nights being spent in the Koala Adventure Island Resort on South Molle.
I was slightly dubious about the island stay, for a variety of reasons. First off the package itself is one of the cheaper on the market – starting at $349 – and secondly most of the other boats are liveaboards and I didn’t want to miss out on the sailing aspect of it all.
After meeting our host for the trip, Mischa (who I actually worked with at Cheekys!) we boarded the boat and sailed the hour or so to the island – with the goon being cracked out pretty pronto of course!
On sighting of our home for the next few days all my apprehensions quickly dispersed – it was straight out of a holiday brochure. Tall green palms lined an empty beach, framed beautifully by rolling green hills and dotted with quaint shack dorms.
Once we’d checked into our dorms – which were six share and included a double bed – we headed straight for the heated swimming pool in the middle of the complex, bordered by a bar!
The rest of the afternoon was spent sipping ice cold beer.
The beer proved the first main niggle with Koalas though. As a licensed resort it’s decided to cash in on the booze front by not allowing external alcohol on the island. Beer at the bar isn’t too pricey though ($15 a pitcher) and you can bring your own booze for the boat.
However my backpacker budget didn’t take too kindly to this restrictions so I promptly smuggled on a litre of vodka, bottle of Jack and a goon bag!

Being an all inclusive deal (minus the booze and snacks) dinner was served promptly at 7. The meal was pretty basic and the portions could’ve been slightly larger, but ok all the same.
Following food we had an hour to chill before some group bonding over drinking games. To get things kicked off we were promptly given some free jugs to lubricate the carnage, but these were quickly finished off after some hefty sculling! As fun as the games were though it became apparent that they were a tool to get some cash through the bar and everyone kind of drifted off after a couple of rounds.
And this is my second negative of the island route – by giving everyone the space to split off and by imposing paid drinks it puts a quick hold on the party vibe and group bonding, something that I think is the basis of an epic Whitsundays adventure.
But due to the weather (which by the evening was pretty gusty at 25knots and overcast) I was happy to be spending the night on land rather than a rocking boat!
The night quickly drifted off into a drunken haze, but the early start meant it didn’t go on too long.

6:30am and breakfast was laid out ready for the long day ahead. Coffee faded away hangovers (for the people that actually managed to make it!) and by 8 we were all – slightly wearily – back on board the boat.
Every backpacker knows that the best way to rid a hangover is to continue the party, so by 8:10 most people on board were back on it!
A few hours and a few bags of Oz’s finest later we arrived at Border Island where a spot of snorkelling was in order. The water was beautifully clear, warm and teeming with fish so we all piled in.
Unfortunately it seems this reef has suffered heavily through tourism, with vast majorities of it badly damaged, dead or dying. And compared with other dive sites it really didn’t compare. I personally feel this could be significantly improved if tours warned people not to touch or stand on the fragile underwater landscape – it was a noteable exclusion from our safety briefing.

The next stop, via some rather bumpy waters, was a visit to Hill Inlet on Whitsunday Island where arguably the most famous photo stop on the East Coast lies – Whitehaven Beach.
Whitehaven is a salt water estuary which boats turquoise blue waters weaving through snow white sands, and is the purest sand in the world at 95% silicon. The sand itself is protected – the only company to have access to it was NASA during the creation of the lens for the Hubble Space Telescope!
After docking in the bay and dingying it to shore we took the stroll to the lookout point. Again the weather let us down slightly and the breath taking view I was expecting didn’t quite live up to the hype. Even so we walked down onto the sand itself and waded around. The shallow waters provide a haven to stingrays who populate it in vast numbers and are great to chase!

Thankfully the sail back to the Island was smooth, the wind dropped right off and underneath a blazing evening sun we all partied and got rather loose before docking as the sun sank into the sea – leaving just enough light to jump off the jetty and swim to shore!
Again tea just about hit the spot, although Kerri as a vegetarian had to settle for yet another veggie burger.
With no organised activity for the night most groups split off to drink in their dorms so the nightlife wasn’t what I had hoped for after a day of getting merry.

Our final day once again started with an early one, but luckily the sun had decided to join us and the weather had sorted itself right out – so an hour of sunbathing was on the cards for our trip to Blue Pearl Bay.
After the previous days snorkelling I wasn’t as stoked to get in the water, but this was soon changed as I dipped my head in for the first glance – the water was full of a vast array of fish or all sizes and colours and the coral was pristine and stretching all around the bay. An hour later and after mingling with giant Maouri Wrasse and shoals of Parrot Fish we hit the boat for lunch.
I was slightly disappointed to see the same cold buffet food plated up and that once again the vegetarian option was simply minus the chicken. Even so the sun was out and food wasn’t the main thing on our minds – there was some serious sunbathing to be done on the way back to the mainland!
And that’s how the trip ended, sailing through a patchwork of islands on some of the most picturesque seas imaginable.

All in all I have rather mixed opinions of the Koala Adventure Island experience.
I know for a fact that had the weather been calm and sunny I would’ve much rathered the liveaboard for atmosphere and fun, although that does cone with a rather large jump in pricing. Despite the facilities Koalas boasts (pool, golf course, spa, bar etc) the first 2 hours on the island are the only slot you could really enjoy them, unless of course you extend your stay without the sailing.
Secondly even though I was first impressed with the luxury island concept it’s not really what I wanted. I wanted to party and meet heaps of new faces whilst staying in some of the most perfect locations on the planet, something that was slightly lost in a plastic signposted resort, it was more flash packing than actual backpacking.
The food side of things was ok, but the lunches could’ve easily been improved – especially the veggie option.
The main worrying aspect though was the lack of first aid kits to hand. One of the members of our group, Joe, managed to impale his foot on a safety catch when he slipped on the boat. There was only a basic kit on board and when he went to redress it on the island he was told that there wasn’t one available – a serious oversight or lack of communication? Either way it didn’t fill us with too much confindence.
I can’t really complain much due to the fact I got my trip for free, but had I paid full price ($410 including reef tax) I’d certainly feel slightly unhappy with spending my hard earned cash here.

All in all the Whitsundays were a blast and a beautiful place to explore – but I’d suggest spending slightly more money and doing a liveaboard rather than booking with Koalas.

Have you done a live aboard on the Whitsundays? Fancy guest posting a review?
Email me on curiouscheese@Mac.com

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