Arrival at Whitehaven Beach is a little surreal. The luminous white sand, blinding sunshine and brilliant blue water all combine to disorient. Sailing boats and sea planes are moored in the sheltered water of the bay, their passengers picnicking on the beach. The most striking thing though, was the sand between my toes. It’s like nothing I’ve experienced before, like walking on satin. It’s so fine it squeaks as you walk.
The pristine white sand is 98 percent silica, the purest silica sand in the world. It’s not just exquisite, it’s unique. Not even elsewhere in the Whitsunday Islands are there beaches of this quality. This is something of a mystery. Nobody can say for certain how the sand got here but, most likely, it drifted here millions of years ago and became trapped on the island.
I found the island campsite, set up my tent in the shade of the forest at the edge of the sand, unpacked my gear and got acquainted with some of the local wildlife. The lizards were doing a passable impersonation of Komodo Dragons, at around a twentieth of the size. There was one other tent, home to a Canadian couple, other than that the island was mine. Or it would be once the day trippers went back to the mainland.
I found my hat and headed to the beach. The campsite is at the most southerly point of Whitehaven Beach, it’s the busiest area, probably because there is an ecological toilet block hidden away in the woods. There weren’t many people, but I felt like solitude and set off on the 7km walk to the far end of the beach. I was soon alone with just the breeze and ocean for company.
I came across a couple who’d flown to the beach in a red helicopter, now ostentatiously parked on the sand. I’ve never seen a helicopter on a beach before, but I imagine it’s quite an exciting thing to do. I stopped for a chat, they didn’t offer me a glass of the fizzy wine that’s part of the heli-picnic package, so I carried on my way towards Hill Inlet at the northern end of the beach.
Here, I found myself utterly alone. I swam in the warm clear water, sat down on the beach and just looked out to sea for what seemed like an eternity. The blues, greens and turquoise of the water merged with the blue of the sky, white sails occasionally crossed the horizon in from of me. Time seemed to stand still. I finally got up and wandered around the headland to reveal the beautiful Hill Inlet.
Walking back, I could see boats coming and going, sea planes taking off. It looked like a hive of activity, but by the time I reached the campsite most of the day trippers had left. As the sun began to sink the beach became deserted, I opened the bottle of Granite Belt red wine that I’d brought with me, and I watched the sun set with a couple from one of the boats that were moored off the beach.
Later, I sat on the beach and watched as billions upon billions of stars rolled out across the dark sky. There’s no light pollution on Whitsunday Island, dense galaxies of stars appeared in all their glory, and the cosmos seemed to be laid bare above me. It was heartbreakingly beautiful. I sat and pondered the mysteries of the universe, the main one being the slice of fortune that had deposited me in this place.