It's easy to see why Queensland's south-east is such a popular boating destination — good weather, beautiful beaches and easy access to everything a boatie could wish for. It's as though the entire coastline was purpose-built for pleasure cruising. Skippers are wont to set courses for the crystal clear waters off Queensland once they've spent enough time in the harsher waters of Australia's south, and there's absolutely no better reason to shake off the winter chills than the northern migration to Airlie Beach Race Week. There really is no bad time to set a course from Victoria or New South Wales to Queensland, but as the cold starts to bite through June and July it makes perfect sense to begin the trip north for the annual event that takes place each August.
The coastline that radiates north and south from modern-day Brisbane has been a popular spot for longer than written history can account. Evidence found in the vicinity of Moreton Bay shows that the indigenous residents of the area established semi-permanent villages with huts capable of housing up to 40 people around 10,000 years prior to European arrival. Living conditions through Queensland on the whole were indeed so favourable that the state was home to roughly one third of all indigenous Australians.
Dutch explorers were the first Europeans to investigate the east coast of Australia, then came Captain James Cook in 1770 and Matthew Flinders on a couple of trips around 1800. On Sunday June 3 1770, a day marked on the Christian Calendar as 'Whit Sunday', Cook entered a broad expanse of water studded with islands and calm anchorages. He proceeded north at a leisurely four knots, taking perhaps one of the earlier pleasure cruises in a region that would become renowned for such activities; though surely not the first.
Cook noted of the indigenous Ngaro people: “on one of the islands we discovered with our glasses two men and a woman, and a canoe with an outrigger, which appeared to be larger and of a construction very different from those of bark tied together at the ends, which we had seen upon other parts of the coast.”
As the metropolis of Brisbane grew out of the 1850s, busy urbanites sought relief from city life by spending time at less-populous beaches up and down the coast. By the early twentieth century, wealthy Brisbane residents were holidaying on the secluded South Coast (which later became known as the Gold Coast, due to its expensive real estate and high cost of living).The town of Airlie was named in 1936 (later becoming Airlie Beach) but didn't become an active tourism locality until the 1970s, when charter yacht companies began operating out of Shute Harbour.
These days, the Gold Coast remains a playground for monied Queenslanders, though it's taken on much more of a metropolitan feel. Beyond the palatial hotels and bustling tourism precincts that spring to mind at mention of 'The Goldie', the area houses a mass of marine industry, which is unmatched in any other part of Australia.
Brands like Riviera and Maritimo, two of Australia's premier yacht builders, are some of the region's big-name residents; however, the recreational boating industry is represented there at every level, particularly in and around Coomera.
DON'T BE IN A HURRY
This proliferation of boating business makes Coomera an obvious spot to stop off for anyone making the journey north to Race Week, or perhaps a starting point after taking the cruiser out of dry dock or long-term storage. Better yet, drop your yacht off a little earlier and pick it up in time for the trip after a fresh antifoul, a refit or a spot of routine maintenance.
An ever-evolving stalwart on the Gold Coast boating scene is The Boat Works, which provides a huge array of services to boaties from far and wide. For those travelling from lower latitudes, such as Victoria, a pit-stop at The Boat Works is all but mandatory, since there really is no place quite so well equipped to service big boats and small.
Four versatile boat hoists, the monster 300 tonne travel lift and expansive sheds and open hardstand allow TBW to lift and store boats up to 198 feet or 60 metres; for hands-on owners, there are facilities to undertake DIY projects with the confidence that there's a whole stable of professionals nearby should things go awry. It's possible to live aboard when on hardstand, while making use of en suite restrooms and showers, laundry facilities and even courtesy cars to get out and explore the area.
There's no shortage of things to entertain those whose vessels are laid up at The Boat Works, both on-site and further afield. For shorter stays, The Galley Restaurant and Cafe is a great place to while away the hours, while a visit to the chandlery will no doubt be in order. For a change of pace, there's even an onsite car museum.
Those who make use of a free courtesy car can venture to Surfers Paradise, Dreamworld, Warner Bros. Movie World, Sea World, lounge on the sand at The Spit, or seek out any of the seemingly endless activities available on the Gold Coast.
For future visitors, stage two of a major expansion at The Boat Works is about to get underway. This will include a large lifestyle precinct, complete with cafes, brokerage, professional suites and accommodation.
Once it's time to get back underway, there’s no need to rush; this is a stretch of coastline that's best enjoyed at a leisurely pace, in favourable conditions.
EN ROUTE TO RACE WEEK
If this journey is undertaken in the lead up to Race Week then the conditions will most likely be good. Monsoon season runs from December to March and by May the trade winds are blowing. These trade winds blow from an east to south-east direction, which will make the journey a breeze, so to speak.
There are plenty of spots to stop off along the way and ample picturesque anchorages. Passing by Moreton Bay, Sunshine Coast, Hervey Bay and Fraser Island, it's best to have a bit of time to explore and soak in the sights, but if the days are running short, then it's time to set a course for Shute Harbour.
Shute Harbour Marina is otherwise known as the gateway to the Whitsundays, and the soon to be built Shute Harbour Marina Resort will be the closest mainland resort to the islands. Not only does that make the marina the ideal location to set up base during Race Week, it makes it a fantastic spot to settle in at any time of year.
All told, Shute Harbour Marina will be home to 395 berths ranging from 10 to 30 metres, serviced with top tier facilities including showers, fuel and the private Marina Club Lounge. Pier 61, the marina's vibrant hub, will have everything visiting boaties need, including restaurants, cafes, chandlery and various retail offerings. If all this doesn't seem enough, Airlie Beach is just a short drive away, while there are 74 islands and several pristine national parks within a stone's throw of the marina.
As the most talked-about new marina project underway Queensland right now, not only does Shute Harbour Marina have a large range of berths available for eager travellers, it offers a range of residential packages for those who never want to leave. The entire project has been planned with sustainable practices and environmental design at the fore, protecting its unique marine environment for decades to come.
As far as future Race Weeks go, Shute Harbour Marina will be the most sought-after in the region; so close to the heart of it all, yet separate enough to withdraw to when it's time for a break. An action-packed on-shore Race Week program always offers plenty of diversions for those not out on the water.
NO TIME TO WASTE
Despite the strange circumstances that this year finds us in, Airlie Beach Race Week is scheduled to go ahead as planned, helping to maintain its presence for years to come. By the time things have calmed down a little, we'll all be begging for a good run up the coast to the spectacular Whitsundays, so now's the time to start laying the groundwork; book in that maintenance, stock up on gear and secure your spot in paradise.
THE BOAT WORKS
Location: 1 Boatworks Drive, Gold Coast Marine Precinct, Coomera QLD 4209
GPS: -27.8693714, 153.3324407
Berths: 115 x service berths from wide catamaran pens to 65m super yacht shoots, and alongside berthing with crane pad
Services on site: Expansive hardstand and refit sheds with 60+ marine trade professionals, 24hr security with onsite caretakers
Facilities: Ensuite showers, free laundry, captains and customer lounge, crew beach club with BBQ
facilities, restaurants, bars and cafes and there's even a car museum onsite
SHUTE HARBOUR MARINA RESORT
GPS: -20.28921127, 148.77871704
Address: Lot 22 Shute Harbour Road, Shute Harbour QLD 4802
Berths: 495 from 10m to 30m, larger available on request
Services on site: Chandlery and most marine trades
Facilities: Supermarket, bottleshop, restaurant and cafes, residential property, cyclone shelter and assorted retail
Contact: For enquiries relating to residential and berthing opportunities, contact Stuart Higgins, firstname.lastname@example.org