Due South 2:Diving, Driving, Drinking and Reviving

Trip Start Feb 02, 2006
Trip End Aug 09, 2006

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Saturday, June 10, 2006

The next leg of our southern exploration began at Airlie Beach, gateway to the 74 beautiful islands which sit a few kilometres from the mainland and make up the Whitsunday Islands. Protected from development by their National Park status, the islands offer some of the most spectacular natural scenery in Australia and so it is no surprise that thousands of tourists like us flock here every year to spend a few days sailing around their crystal shores.

After a hefty night spent in the bars of Airlie Beach the night before, we congregated bright-eyed and furry-mouthed at Abel Point Marina to meet our vessel, a purpose-built catamaran designed for sailing the Whitsundays and scuba diving on the reef. After a few quick introductions with the watery seadogs who's company we'd be keeping over the next three days, we were away, and it wasn't long before the heady cocktail of the previous night's excesses and life on the open waves began to turn Brendan several shades of green. Much to his relief (and the relief of everyone onboard) we eventually arrived at our first destination, Blue Pearl Bay, where we donned stinger suits and scuba gear and descended upon the Great Barrier Reef for our first dive. Later that evening the two of us set out again on a night dive with nothing but a torch and a glow stick to light the way, and this was completely amazing; exhilarating and scary at the same time, and one of the best things we'd done on the trip so far.
The next few days were spent lazing on perfect white beaches, snorkelling and diving on the reef, and enjoying the surprisingly delicious onboard food. The whole trip was unforgettable and we were lucky to be blessed with fine weather and the company of a fantastic group of people, in particular those from Levenshulme, Didsbury and Wigan! Alreet cock!

After another deservedly hefty night in Airlie with our crew, it was onwards and downwards to Mackay and what a hunk of crap that place was. Mackay's only redeeming feature is that it makes every other place in the world look good, and we left at the first available opportunity in search of Town of 1770. Now if there was ever going to be an award for the Laziest Town-Naming Committee, Town of 1770 would undoubtedly win hands down, but fortunately, this small quiet village is splendid and full of cheap activities to boot. We took mopeds on the world famous 'ScooterRoo' tour around the town ending at a rocky outcrop where we watched the sunset with potato wedges (an Aussie delicacy) and a beer (another Aussie delicacy). The next day we each took turns in a one-passenger aeroplane with our pilot Bruce (a kitchen-fitter by day) taking in spectacular views and reclaiming our breakfast as Brucey-boy performed an array of acrobatic manoeuvres. He even let Giovanna take off, though I was deemed too ugly to do so.

After a couple of nights, however, we had to press on to Hervey Bay as we had booked ourselves onto a three-day self-drive excursion on the world's largest sand island, Fraser Island. On the way we stopped off at the small, picturesque settlement of Childers to visit a memorial for 15 backpackers who were murdered in an arson attack at the Palace Backpacker's Hostel in 2000 by a crazed bushman who reasoned at his trial when sentenced:
"I just don't like backpackers".
The memorial was a moving tribute to these people who were our age and in Australia for the same reasons we are.

We arrived into the retail park that is Hervey Bay that afternoon and early the next morning were introduced to the group of people with whom we would be sharing our self-drive explorations of Fraser Island over the next three days. There is something undeniably intimate about being crammed into a six-seater 4x4 with ten other people, and we quickly got to know each other.
Fraser Island is a truly breathtaking corner of Australia and we were blessed yet again with faultless weather. Amongst the highlights were Indian Head, a peninsular from where we spotted turtles, sharks and manta rays; the deserted Lake Birrabeen, without doubt one the most awesome beaches in Australia with soft, white sands wedged beside deep, black water; and the Champagne Pools, where serene, golden waters are set against the violent sea, and where we spent most of the afternoon looking for car keys.
Once again we were fortunate to be allocated a terrific group of comrades. Whilst by day we bounced along the sandy tracks absorbing Fraser's beauty, by night we set about destroying the ten crates of beer we'd brought through an intoxicating array of drinking games. We sang and danced and joked and chanted, and accosted other group's members, including a German named Falco who I took exception to when he said I looked like a German comedian in my hat (I thought he was being oxymoronic), but whom as the evening wore on, I grew to love. It was a fantastic three days and we returned to Hervey Bay sleep-deprived and dirty but elated and with nine new friends.

Pausing only at the beautiful Maryborough for an hour en route, we headed straight to Mooloolaba from Hervey Bay, and to the home of Dot and Ken, family friends who emigrated out here four years ago. Our intention had been to stay in Noosa, but after one-hundred-and-twenty days on the road we had become tired and travel weary, desperate for a familiar face, home-cooked food, soft beds in our own room, and most importantly, free internet (only joking Ken). We needed comfortable, homely surroundings where we could unpack our bags and recharge our batteries for a while. Dot and Ken provided this unconditionally, so much so in fact that whilst we'd planned to stay two nights, we stayed for seven. There is no way we can fully express our gratitude except to say that their hospitality gave us the break we needed to reignite the desire to keep on travelling and exploring, and move on to our next adventure.

And so it is from Brisbane that our next adventure begins, with a flight tomorrow morning to Christchurch, New Zealand, thus bringing down the curtain on six fabulous, exciting and thoroughly enjoyable weeks in this Land Of Plenty. Now let's see what those Kiwis have to offer...
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