Whitsunday Islands & The Great Barrier Reef

Trip Start Jan 27, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Saturday, April 3, 2010

The smell of work that returned us to Airlie Beach turned out to be just a vague whiff than anything substantial, so after a short while we decided that we were going to move on- but not before doing the things we came here to experience. After completing all available on land activities including hiking in Conway National Park, visiting Cedar Creek Falls to watch yobs try and break their neck jumping off the top into shallow water (none of them succeeded unfortunately) and walking the coastal boardwalk in town, we had pretty much done it all and it was time to hit the water.

I suppose I shouldn't really refer to it as hitting the water. We are still in marine stinger (jellyfish) season here in the Whitsunday’s so there is no hurling yourself in the water in wanton abandon. You either need to travel three hours by boat to the reef or squeeze yourself into a stinger suit and splash about nervously with the knowledge that you are only 75% protected.

I’m sure there are some of you right now thinking surely it can’t be that bad…they’re only jellyfish after all! For those of you who are familiar with the Box Jellyfish, you know how scary, painful and fatal these big bad boys can be. And for those aware of the Iriganji, you know that you wouldn’t even attempt to get in the water. Paralysis and then death by drowning from the sting of a jellyfish that you never even see (it weighs in at about 1.2 millimeters in size) is certainly not the way I plan on going out.

So we booked ourselves into a combo package that gave us the whole Whitsunday experience- a day on the reef, a day sailing the islands and an overnight stay on Long Island.

The Great Barrier Reef trip was a great day. It was Matt’s first time on the reef so he was pretty excited. I was just hoping we were going to a good dive site. They can be hit or miss on the reef, dependent on the tour operator or the conditions on the day. Because of the recent cyclone there was a little damage on the reef, visibility was down and the fish seemed to have disappeared, but it was still a good dive.

We went out to Knuckle Reef and enjoyed a 50 minute dive where we saw some amazing coral, lots of rainbow cod, played with sea cucumbers and mucked around. We were in a dive group of 4 plus dive leader and despite the one French guy who was clearly no diver (he could not control his buoyancy at all) we had a great time.

The rest of the day was spent snorkeling, sunning ourselves and relaxing on the large pontoon to which the boat docks. We also took a glass bottom boat tour with a marine biologist explaining a lot of the reef below.

The trip back to the islands and then Airlie Beach was an interesting one, with the crossing of the shipping channel proving to be pretty wild. The boat rocked violently from side to side, kids were sick and many nervous passengers clinging to seats. It was scary and awesome!

Day 2 saw us down at the marina again at 7.30 in the morning to board Camira, a big purple sailing catamaran that would take us around the islands, past North and South Molle, Hook, Daydream and on to Whitsunday Island and the famed Whitehaven Beach. We struck up a conversation with the skipper rather quickly after he acknowledged that the "piss taking section was established" (he overheard us making fun of the popped collared, southern cross tattooed cricket team members on board) and enjoyed a smooth sail and a really interesting conversation to Daydream Island.

We arrived at a snorkel spot just as light rain began and while everyone suited up and piled off the boat, Matt and I roamed about trying out different seats, but eventually agreed we had already secured the best spot on the ship: behind the skipper (with whom we could continue to extract urine) right up on the side of the boat (best views of the deck, sails and passing scenery) with the bar positioned three meters adjacent to our position. What more could you ask for?

The bar opened at 11am right as the drizzle turned to real rain and it was at this point that Matt and I were in our element. While everyone else piled inside the saloon, which went from fresh to rank in about point-two of a second, we whipped out our rain slickers and sat on the side of the boat drinking and laughing in the face of the weather.

There were quite a few green sailors on this trip too, although many of them were probably due to hangovers, and it was a very quiet trip over to Whitehaven. The weather had calmed and we had an hour to spend on this huge expanse of white sand. Unfortunately the weather was not good enough to do it any justice, but on a clear day it would be amazing. 96% pure silica, the white sands are unbelievable and seen from the lookout or the air - in the right conditions - are simply stunning.

Back on board we enjoyed a barbeque lunch before settling in with more drinks for the sail back to Daydream Island. Here we disembarked for a ferry to Long Island and half an hour later arrived at the ageing Long Island Resort. Likely a premier resort at one stage, today the complex was not all that impressive- not for the price tag on a room anyway.

We were staying at the 'Barefoot Lodge’ out back, which offers backpacker accommodation and full use of the resort facilities for about a quarter of the price. Matt and I wasted no time. After checking in we headed straight to the pool area and finding the hot tub empty, made ourselves at home. We spent the next few hours in there uninterrupted, leaving only to refill our drinks (from our own supply, not the bar!).

The next morning we explored the island only to find it really is not very impressive!! Rocky beaches, loads of rubbish and downed trees – the latter from the cyclone no doubt – made for a very average island. So we headed back to the pool and enjoyed some sun, a swim and a meal at the bar before heading back to the mainland on the afternoon ferry.

Back at our mat Yvette’s, we spent a further couple of days getting organized for the next big leg of the trip, chasing up jobs in Charlotte’s Pass in the Australian ski fields (which we got – yay!) and then having our arms twisted to spend one last day of relaxation, extreme pool badminton, drinks and chilli mud crabs before taking off to the center of Australia. It was the perfect end to an unexpected leg of the trip. We came here expecting to work on a tropical island and instead find ourselves making the entire loop of the country and ending in the snow!!

Such is life.
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