Australia - Airlie Beach / Whitsundays
Trip Start Dec 05, 2005
124Trip End Ongoing
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The long greyhound journey featured a couple of stop-offs, for toilet breaks (2:30am) and breakfast (6:00am). The latter allowed us to take in our first Australian sunrise, over a fog laden field somewhere around Mackay (PIC).
We arrived into Airlie Beach at 9:00am and checked into our motel, the Whitsunday Wanderers Resort, only to find that it was the place we had to go to register our place on the Whitsundays Sailing trip - a bit of lucky planning there! On registering we were hit with a $45 ((18 GBP) reef tax fee and a fee of $15 (6 GBP) for stinger suits. We couldn't exactly refuse the stinger suits as there are a lot of deadly jellyfish in the water in Queensland (some of the most deadly are only as big as your thumbnail and transparent) so if we wanted to do any snorkeling in the waters of the great barrier reef then they are a must.
We met up with Karen and Erica whilst picking up our stinger suits, they would be joining us on the Pride of Airlie Catamaran, along with Pete, Dave, Vicki, Jasmine, Scotty, Magda and Sam - all of whom were on the Fraser Island trip. From here on in we were all to be known as 'Team Fraser'...our clique was established!
We wandered around Airlie Beach town for a while, essentially a one street town - purpose built for the trips over to the Whitsunday Islands. As the seas around the beach are full of 'stingers' it is not advisable to swim there so a man-made lagoon has been built to allow visitors to swim safely (PIC).
We met up with the other guys there in the afternoon and told them about the activity we had just booked....
...whilst we were in town we stopped off at a Peter Pans travel agent to use their cheap internet and Verdi spotted an activity called 'Awesome Foursome'; a helicopter trip around the Whitsunday Islands, a Parasailing ride, a Jetski ride, and a Quad biking tour in the rainforest, all for an amazing $250 (100 GBP).
Returning to our motel we took a dip in one of the pools, it didn't look particularly clean but we were too hot to care. A shower afterwards freshened us up and we then made our way down to Morocco's (bar next to the motel which we had money off vouchers for) for a feed, before meeting up with the guys for a few drinks at Magnum's (a popular bar / hostel in the centre of the main street).
Stopping off for a hot dog on the way home we packed our day bags for the sailing trip and made it to bed by 1:00am.
No sooner had Andrew informed his mum the night before that the tonsillectomy had done the trick and Verdi had been germ free for the entire trip to date, than she had miraculously developed a stinking cold - rudely awaking us with a runny nose at 8:30am
Despite not leaving for the Whitsunday's until 3:00pm we had to check out at 10am so we left our bags at reception and wandered down the main street in search of soft drinks, hard drinks (beer & Southern Comfort) and a football. On our travels we bumped into Karen and Erica again who were out in search of presents for Erica - it was her birthday.
In an effort to kill some time before the meeting for the trip, we popped on the internet to check emails and for Andrew to send an email for prospective employment with his former employers who happen to have offices outside Sydney.
At 1:30 we attended the trip meeting which confirmed that 'Team Fraser' were all on the same boat - 'The Pride of Airlie' and also in adjoining rooms on South Molle Island, with us sharing with Erica, Karen and Magda.
With keys distributed, we made our way down to the jetty where our crew was waiting. Little did we know that the '5 minute walk' to the jetty was more like a 15 minute trek in the blazing heat made even more arduous by the cool bag FULL of booze that we were lugging!
Making sure 'Team Fraser' (PIC) boarded the boat first, we nabbed the best seats in the house - at the front resting against the windows of the cabin, and popped the beers in the eskys to keep them cold. During the next two and a half hours we sailed through crystal azure waters (PICS) while chatting amongst ourselves, sunbathing and getting stuck into the cool beers - not a bad way to spend a Wednesday afternoon!
Arriving at South Molle Island at 5:30 (PICS) we chucked our bags in the dorms and headed straight for the pool before indulging in some 'happy hour' pool side cocktails. We weren't the only ones to take advantage of the house cocktails as the local lorikeets swooped down on any leftovers. One, even being cheeky enough to take a sip from a full Daiquiri as its unexpected victim had her head turned.
After cocktails it was straight to the bar for dinner, presenting Erica with her birthday cake (PICS) and more beers before heading back to the room to freshen up with showers and adorn our party hats (PICS). Back at the bar we partook in some lame drinking games organized by the crew, only one worthy of mention was 'swap the top' as it resulted in Andrew having to swap tops with the petite girl next to him! (PICS).
More dancing, drinking and mayhem ensued (PICS) before we made our way to bed at 1:30am, not looking forward to the breakfast that was scheduled for 6:30am.
With a view to making the most of our only full day on the Whitsundays, we had to be up, dressed and ready for breakfast at 6:30am - a bit of a shock to the system!
After hours of patient struggle in the pursuit of a good photo of one lone Rainbow Lorikeet in Ettalong Beach we were a bit surprised (and slightly miffed!) to be greeted by about 40 of them happily posing all around the breakfast tables waiting to snap up any meager leftovers (PICS).
Breakfast consumed and photo opportunities with the Lorikeets exhausted, we all made our way over to the Pride of Airlie and set sail at 7:15. Yet again Team Fraser made their way to the front and got the best seats on deck - prime position to soak up the sizzling morning rays.
The crew had obviously indulged in the beer offers as much as us the night before as they forgot to get bread for lunch which resulted in an unscheduled stop at Hamilton Island, a relatively built up island considered to be the capital of the Whitsundays. With our tight timetable ticking away we were not actually allowed off the boat - restrained to simply circling the harbour, a tender was sent to retrieve the bread.
A couple of hours of sunworshipping later saw everyone cured of their hangovers just in time for our first spot of snorkeling and our first chance to see everyone in their super hero outfits...a.k.a our attractive, tight fitting 'stinger' suits - a must in the waters at this time of year. Unfortunately pride, ego and sheer embarrassment put pay to any photo's of the stinger suits - no one was brave enough to pose!
Even more unfortunate was the lack of marine life and vibrant reef, that we had anticipated around the snorkeling site. The cool water and hours swim was a welcome relief nonetheless.
Back on board and peeled out of our stinger suits we demolished the lunch spread (cold meats, salads and bread) before resuming, our by now customary, position of lying prostate against the cabin window, to continue soaking up the sun.
A further two hours on the open water and we arrived at Whitehaven beach on the uninhabited Whitsunday Island - the largest of all 74 islands. Stretching over 7 kilometers, the pristine beach boasts natural white silica sand so fine that it stays cool even in the searing midday heat. We stayed there for a couple of hours affording us enough time to relax and indulge in the tranquility of our surroundings and the crystal clear waters that ebbed against the shore (PICS).
As Whitehaven beach disappeared over the horizon we embarked on the two and a half hour sail back to South Molle Island. Much of the journey was spent in blissful silence as we took it in turns to drift in and out of contented afternoon naps.
Returning to the resort we again headed straight for the pool to enjoy a relaxed swim without the stinger suits before grabbing a quick shower and making our way back to the bar for dinner and yet more drinks. The days activities and previous nights drinking took its toll on us aged travelers ('mum' and 'dad') as we were forced to retire to bed at 11pm and leave the 'kids' partying into the small hours.
With yet another dawn (PIC) wake-up call we were ready, eaten and at the boat for 7:15 again but with slightly less spark and enthusiasm - the late nights and early mornings had caught up with us all quickly.
First destination was to be snorkeling at Hayman Island (PIC)(supposedly the best location in the Whitsundays for snorkeling) so we made the most of the two hour sail there by catching up on some much needed sleep...all while sunbaking at the front of the boat of course.
As promised, Hayman Island was much more impressive in terms of marine life than the previous day, with hundreds of striking multi-coloured fish darting in between us - some even shooting straight up to our faces before dodging out of the way at the very last second. We had been warned to keep an eye out for 'Elvis' as well (previously referred to as 'hairdo' fish from our visit to the Aquarium in Sydney) as he was well known on the reef not only for being one of the biggest fish there, an impressive 3ft, but also remarkably friendly and approachable. Luckily 'Elvis' had not left the reef and graced us with his presence several times.
Snorkeling over we raised anchor, headed for Airlie and tucked into another lunch spread just as the heavens opened. The North Australian 'wet season' being what it is, the downpour only lasted about 10 minutes and afforded us an opportunity to cool down before resuming our seats in the sun. The sail back to Airlie (PIC) passed quickly as we all indulged in yet another afternoon nap in the cool breeze that had followed the downpour.
Upon reaching Airlie harbour we endured the return leg of the long walk back to the hostel before jumping in the pool there for another cool down. Showered, refreshed but knackered, we popped down the main street to collect our tickets for the following days 'Awesome Foursome' that we had previously booked. After a brief kafuffle with the laundry (awkward cleaning staff tried to highjack our machines!) it was time to meet everyone from The Pride of Airlie (A.K.A Team Fraser) at the bar next door for a last night cheap meal and drinks.
The drinks, conversation and dancing (PICS) started to flow and as the night progressed we decided to move on to a club around the corner. Unfortunately (maybe a blessing in disguise) Verdi's flipflop had been stood on and broken earlier in the evening and the bouncer at the club had a 'if your flipflop's not down your not coming in' attitude and turned us away. Leaving the rest of team fraser to continue partying (yet again!) we made our way back to the room...by this time barefoot in the torrential rain...and slumped into bed at 1am.
With the music from the night before still ringing in our ears, we crawled out of bed at 7:30am only to be greeted by yet more pouring rain and a dull, overcast sky - not exactly perfect weather for a helicopter ride, parasailing, jet skiing and quad biking in the rainforest!! Nevertheless, we packed our bag and waited for our pick-up at 8:15.
Fortunately the skies had cleared markedly by the time we arrived at the airfield and by the time we had checked in and buckled ourselves into the doorless 'bubble' helicopter (PICS), the sun had made an appearance for us.
The 20 minute flight over the closer Whitsunday Islands was spectacular (and slightly nerve wracking at first with us leaning out of the hole where the door would normally be!) providing endless stunning panoramic birds eye views of the scattered islands (PICS), reef and even a couple of sharks. We made like Japanese tourists and went 'click' crazy with the camera only stopping when the camera died on us! The flight was a fantastic experience and really the only way we could have seen the islands of the whitsundays and their reef fringes in their entirety.
Returning to the ground we had a 30 minute wait for the Parasail company to pick us up and take us to the Coral Sea Resort. This is a plush resort right on the waters edge in the centre of Airlie beach and the Parasail and Jetski company operate from a jetty alongside the resort. At the jetty we had another short wait for three other couples who were also doing the parasailing. Once we were all ready we boarded the boat and set out into the wide open sea. As soon as we set out we volunteered to be the first out on the parasail - brave or stupid? Who knows?
We were strapped into the harness and then attached to the Parachute. A few tips and safety checks later we were airborne. We shot out to full extension, about 30 meters above the water, and straight away decided to invert so that we were hanging upside down, with nothing but the harness holding us in (PIC)- it was pretty scary letting go that first time, praying that the harness would hold!
The parasail lasted about 10 minutes (PICS) and in that time we inverted a few more times, just for good measure. We were also unceremoniously 'dunked' into the sea just before returning to the boat which was refreshing to say the least!
We then sat aboard the boat and watched the other 3 couples do a similar session - although they all seemed a bit more reluctant to go upside down.
Back at the jetty we boarded the Jetski (PIC) and zoomed out towards the open water beyond the anchored boats around the harbour. Verdi took control for the first 8 minutes and tried her best to dislodge Andrew from the back seat, taking the jetski to its full speed of 77km/h (about 50mph) and leaping over the choppy waters. Luckily Andrew had a tight grip and despite flying out of the seat on numerous occasions, stayed firmly attached to Verdi at all times. 8 minutes in and we swapped places. Now it was time for some revenge. Andrew tried some donuts (quick circles on the jetski - not the food) and then opened the jetski up to full throttle - eventually managing to match Verdi's 77km/h. Unfortunately Verdi had the same vice-like grip and stayed on board throughout. We got completely drenched and our hands ached with the force we had to hold onto the jetski, but the experience was amazing - it won't be the last time we go on jetskis, that's for sure!
Back on dry land we had an hour and a half to kill before the quad biking so we took advantage of the Coral Sea Resort. We were allowed to use the pool and restaurant in the luxury resort so did just that. It was a shame we had to go quadbiking because we could have quite easily spent the rest of the day lounging by the pool with its stunning outlook over the Whitsunday Islands (PICS).
The journey to the quadbiking site was a quick one, only made painfully slow by the presence of two Aussie idiots who would unfortunately be our companions on the activity. After a quick run through on the quadbikes and a few practice laps in the grounds we set out into the farm estate and took on some pretty challenging routes (PICS). We have done quadbiking before in Scotland but this was something else. The bikes were evidently more powerful and the terrain was much steeper and more rocky.
From the farm estate we then ventured into the rainforest and the terrain just got tougher (PICS). We both almost came off our bikes and Andrew smacked his leg on the frame of the bike when his foot came out of the vehicle on one particularly treacherous downhill. It felt like it was broken but it was just a bad lump, bruise and some bleeding under the skin - nothing to worry about! We carried on and even did a few jumps over a pipe which had been laid recently for that purpose (PICS).
Back at the office we had an hours wait while the aussies did another hour on the bikes. We were more than happy to call it a day, knackered after the day's activities. Instead we hung around and played with the resident dog, Ash (PICS), although 'played with' is probably a strong word as all he wanted to do was slouch around in the heat of the mid-afternoon sun - and who can blame him.
Another short minibus journey and we were back at the hotel - completely exhausted. So much so that we slept from 5:30pm to 8:30pm, woke momentarily to have some snacks and watch the tail end of a film on the telly, and then went back to sleep for the rest of the night. The day really was awesome and our new experiences of parasailing and jetskiing left us with a taste for more.
Despite having passed out at 5:30 the previous evening, we slept through till 11:00am, obviously needing the rest after the previous day's exertions. Getting ready slowly we then strolled down the main street into town and stopped off at the 'Village Café' for a late breakfast.
We spent some time on the internet in order to search for some accommodation in Magnetic Island and Cairns (our next two destinations), and did some much required laundry duties - the quadbiking had left our clothes caked in dust.
The remainder of the afternoon was whiled away eating ice-cream on the waterfront and meticulously constructing a hand-made necklace for Verdi. Who would have guessed that it could take so long to pick a few beads and thread them onto a piece of leather! We also got lucky and witnessed the Commonwealth Games Flame being relayed through the main street of Airlie Beach - no-one had any idea it was due but it was an unexpected surprise nonetheless.
After dinner we returned to the motel room to pack our bags and get a few hours sleep before waking up at 2am to watch the live Liverpool vs. Chelsea football game. No sooner was the game over then Andrew fell back asleep - Verdi hadn't even made it to the end - seemingly only waking up for Chelsea's two goals. Did someone say the word 'Jinx'?
Where I stayed