Hinchinbrook Adventure Week
19-25 June 2022
By LI LIU
Li recently went on an incredible seven day kayaking trip to Hinchinbrook Island, with eight other women, organised by Women’s Adventure ACT as a private sea kayaking expedition.
I did the Beginners Training Program with our Club, but hadn’t been out onto open water before I went on this trip. This was my Middle Age Crisis trip and I came out with a sense of achievement. I think self-assessment is very important—after all, you are the one knowing your comfort zone and your capability.
I didn’t join the River Canoe Club Whitsunday expedition because I didn’t feel that I had enough kayaking experience and had never camped before. However, this tour to Hinchinbrook Island—being an organised tour and knowing I would be fed!—made me feel less anxious. This tour was run by Coral Sea Kayaking, and we had three guides—one male and two female—who also doubled as the chefs on the trip.
We had a pre-trip meeting on the evening prior to our departure. Our guide did a briefing for the trip and also issued us with one 40 litre and one 10 litre dry bag for our personal belongings.
DAY ONE: 19 June
We travelled by bus to our departure point at Lucinda, two hours south of Mission Beach. Here we packed our kayaks—although we didn’t practice paddling skills or discuss any safety procedures at this point (!).
We had lunch at the park opposite the massive Lucinda Sugar Service Jetty. At nearly six kilometres long, the jetty is supported by concrete and steel pylons, and enables Lucinda to receive the largest ships used in the raw sugar trade.
After lunch, we set off across the channel to George Point for our first landing site on Hinchinbrook Island. We used five double kayaks and two single kayaks between the twelve of us. From Lucinda to George Point, this leg was around six kilometres.
DAY TWO: 20 June
It was two sessions of paddling for the day. After a quick yoga stretch and warm-up, we headed out. Following the coast, we rounded the most southerly point of Hinchinbrook Island (Hillock Point) and then headed north into the stunning Zoe Bay.
We explored the rainforest, following Zoe Creek up the most beautiful, refreshing clear pools of Zoe Falls. There was a giant snake right on the walking track, but luckily, he or she was not hungry. We all had a relaxing swim, followed by lunch of potato coleslaw salad, chicken breast slices with pita or flatbread with the biggest Queensland avocados, followed by fresh watermelon and rockmelons. Store-bought salads are never as delicious as when you have them in the wild.
We also hiked up to the infinity pool on top of Zoe Falls, where there are spectacular views across the rainforest and white beaches. Also, the cloud-covered mountains are incredibly breathtaking. This was the only time we met people who were doing the 32km Thorsborne Trail during the trip. We left Zoe Beach around 3pm and continued along the coast where our day’s paddle finished at the sheltered Banksia Beach campsite.
The first leg from George Point from to Zoe Bay was around 13km in two hours 50 minutes, and the second leg from Zoe Bay to Agnes Beach was around 6.7km in one hour 10 minutes.
DAY THREE: 21 June
This was the toughest day of the trip. The weather was overcast, but not much wind. I carried on as normal and enjoyed the fun paddle to catch the waves. As we paddled more into the ocean, the waves would be up to two to three metres, and we could not see each other’s kayak due to the waves.
The seven kayaks were separated but I remain calmed until one woman yelled out that a kayak had capsized and held up her paddle. We had been told to turn the kayaks around and keep our position against the wind. It took more than an hour for the guide to drag the two women back to their kayak and pump out the water. In the meantime, while we were waiting, one of the double kayaks drifted off, and one of tour leaders carrying out the rescue had to chase them back.
The worry started to kick in—what would happen if another kayak capsized, who would rescue them? We waited in a large swell with strong winds, which was very scary for me. Later, we found out that the runaway kayak had a malfunctioning rudder, and the inexperienced kayakers did not know how to control the kayak. The double kayak was heavy to turn, and the T–rescue was not working well in big waves. Also, one of the women had not put on her PFD on properly, which did not help either.
We abandoned the plan to paddle to the campsite directly, instead paddling to the sheltered beach nearby. We has some sugar-hit food and caught our breath. The poor women had to toughen up and keep going because there was no way out.
I was amazed that we had fresh cucumbers, bean sprouts, capsicum, avocados and sushi for dinner. No-one bothered to make sushi— instead, we had a sushi bowl.
The first leg from Banksia Bay to Shepherd Bay for was around 18km in three hours 30 minutes, and the second leg along to Cape Richards was a further 9km in one hour and thirty minutes.
DAY FOUR: 22 June
We changed paddling partners today. The two women who had a fall had been paired with the more experienced kayakers. The paddle to Cape Richards was not so bad, although I still felt anxious about the waves. We walked through the ruined Hinchinbrook Resort, then reached the top of the rocks at Orchid Beach and had lunch with a beautiful view. I was surprised to see fresh cos lettuce.
After the picnic lunch, we paddled around the northern headland of Hinchinbrook Island and made a short crossing to Goold Island and its sheltered beaches. That night we camped on beautiful Goold Island, which affords great views and excellent beachcombing. The paddling was easy, and we took our time to reach there on high tide. There is a big area of sandbars right out from the beach, which we tried to avoid to carry the heavy double kayak over a longer distance during low tide.
I set my tent up in front of a magnificent Australian native orchard with a million-dollar view at my front door. There are toilets, a water tank, picnic tables and shelters on the island. It was the most luxurious spot for the whole trip.
The first leg, from Sunset Beach to Cape Richards was around 6km, and the second leg on to Goold Island was around 9.2km in one hour 30 minutes.
DAY FIVE: 23 June
After four solid days of paddling, day five was a rest day. Garden Island was only 800 meters away and could have been a fun and easy paddle but we were so tired that no-one wanted to get changed and paddle.
I made a mistake during the easy walk on the island. I wore slippers and carried a cup of coffee in my hand. I had a bad fall and ended up with the biggest bruise on my back and sprained my ankle.
DAY SIX: 24 June
We set off, leaving Goold Island behind us and headed north. This was our longest open water crossing to the verdant rainforest isles of the Family Island Group. These tiny islands are surrounded by a fringing reef with white sandy beaches. The sheltered campground of Wheeler Island offers beautiful views back towards Hinchinbrook’s lofty peaks and west to view the sunset over mainland Australia.
Our tour leader and master chef made us some canapés, avocado on pita bread, ham-wrapped rockmelon, semi dry figs, sliced salami, fresh diced tomatoes and onions on crispy bread. I was so surprised that we had fresh vegetables even on day six. Eating on the beach with the sunset view made everything much more delicious.
The was our last night staying out the wild, so the music was loud, and we danced around the picnic table until 10pm. It was a very late night for us.
The leg from Goold Island to Wheeler Island was around 17km in two hours 40 minutes.
DAY SEVEN: 25 June
I happily packed all my gear. We paddled past Bedarra Island which is a private island with an upscale resort. We also stopped at the beach front of Thorpe Island for a break. Heading back to the mainland was easy with the southerly wind behind us.
Not all of the beach landings went smoothly—one of the kayaks capsized, but they didn’t seem to mind it, and we all made it safely to South Mission Beach. There are toilets and changerooms with cold showers on South Mission Beach—it was a great feeling to get rid of the salt and to change into dry clothes. We had a great lunch at Tuskers Tuckerbox and Catering at Mission Beach Surf Life Saving Club.
The final leg from Wheeler Island to South Mission Beach was around 13km in two hours 10 minutes.
Getting to Mission Beach
Mission Beach is approximately 150km (or 2 hours 15 minutes drive) from Cairns Airport. There are a few ways to get there:
- Greyhound Australia and Premier Motor Service will get you there for around $20.
- Mission Link Airport Shuttle costs $60, but will drop you directly at your hotel.
- Sapphire Transfers private bus works if you have more than six people—it is $60 per person.
Getting around Mission Beach
We stayed at Wongaling Beach. This is a tiny, coastal town, with a population of around 4000 people halfway between Mission Beach and South Mission Beach. It has a Woolworths supermarket, service station, newsagent, hardware store and some cafes, plus lots of tourist accommodation. Note that all shops are closed on Sundays, except the service station and the Bistro at Mission Beach Resort.
Dial-a-Bus is very handy—it can carry a big group of people at reasonable cost, and they will quote you the cost before you get on.
The free courtesy bus at Mission Beach Resort was great. I used it when I had dinner at the bistro by myself on Sunday night. It was a nice place to eat and drink.
There is one taxi in the area—I used it the last day to carry my luggage to the bus stop.
Pro tip: It is risky to have Asian food in the area when it serviced by a local teenager. I had the worst Thai food in my life at Mission Beach!
Challenges and some thoughts
- Everyone is required to help carry all fully-loaded kayaks down to the water each day—they are heavy.
- Sandflies are endemic on Hinchinbrook. Just take one anti-histamine (non-drowsy) in the morning and at night—you’ll still get bites but you won’t get itchy. Also suggest bringing along the sedative anti-histamines if you can take those (drowsy version) in case you do get a bad reaction.
- Seasickness can happen to you even if you don’t realise it’s happening.
- Stomach flu: I managed by taking a few tablets and drinking boiled water.
- Packing and unpacking was exhausting for me.
- Washing dishes in sea water with some tea tree oil detergent is not ideal, but what is the solution?
- The guides told me they used instant ice packs to keep food fresh—I plan to try it before my next trip.
- Bring lines and hooks, as food need to be hung up—the rats are smart.
- Test your pouches for mobile phones and make sure they are 100% waterproof.
- There is mobile coverage at George Point, on Goold Island and on Wheeler Island.