With the holidays fast approaching and the weather in both Europe and North America turning cold, some yachtsmen are heading to Australia for a warm escape. The island nation is steadily becoming more popular with private and charter megayachts alike, and as a result tourism boards there and the national body representing the megayacht industry are doing all they can to promote the cruising grounds. The trouble is, the government is applying restrictive regulations that frankly don’t make any sense.
It’s come to a head particularly in the Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef, where yachts measuring 35 to 70 meters LOA (about 115 to 230 feet) are held to the same rules as huge cruise ships. This means they’re prevented from mooring near popular spots within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Parkâ€”the very same spots the Tourism Whitsundays board promotes to yachtsmen as being perfect cruising grounds.
Now, I’m not saying the spirit of the regulations is out of line. In fact, it’s important to protect the reef and the delicate environment from discharge and other damage. But since when does a yacht carrying 12 passengers equate a 2,000-tourist-strong cruise ship as far as its environmental impact is concerned? And when’s the last time a charter captain tossed an anchor onto a reef and turned a blind eye to guests trampling over the aquatic life?
I’m not alone in these sentiments. According to a report in The Courier-Mail over the weekend, fashion designer Giorgio Armani and the Crown Prince of Dubai are among the charterers who’ve recently been frustrated by the regulations. The yachts they were aboard were each denied landing permits and access to beaches and islands they wanted to visit after reading about them on the tourist board Web site. The owner of the yacht the Prince was on even told the paper, “We are just the kind of business that tourism agencies should be promoting–high yield and low impact–but we are being treated like we’re a nuisance.” As a result of the regulations, which he said lack common sense, this owner is even considering moving his yacht to Europe.
To be fair, the government is aware of the problem, thanks in large part to the efforts of Super Yacht Base Australia, which represents megayacht-industry interests in the country, and even members of Tourism Whitsundays. But as we all know, regulations can be and often are slow to change.In the meantime, if you’re considering heading Down Under for your holidays, talk with your charter broker about what your options truly are. Better to find out before you go that some areas are off limits than to wake up aboard and be sorely disappointed.