Diving down the East Coast and Movie World

Trip Start Sep 04, 2003
Trip End Dec 16, 2003

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Flag of Australia  ,
Sunday, November 16, 2003

We have bought our Aussie bus passes and our intention is to travel from Cairns to Brisbane stopping off on the way for some sailing and diving.

Townsville is a city port named after Robert Towns, the Sydney sea Captain who founded the town in 1864. Townsville is also renown for its diving and is home to the Yongala wreck. The Yongala was a passenger liner that sank off Cape Bowling Green in 1911 with all aboard and a racehorse called Moonshine. Despite the sad story, the wreck is now home to abundant coral life as well as numerous fish and sea creatures. Unfortunately, we were unable to make the dive trip out to the Yongala due to ear problems, but it is top of a long list of places to dive next! Instead we made the most of the time and opted for visiting the Billabong Sanctuary. How could we resist when the time table read; 10:00am Hold a Koala, 10:30 Hold a Wombat, 11:00 Hold a Cockatoo, 11:15 Hold a blue tongued lizard, 11:30 Hold a crocodile! We did all of the above and we shall put some photies up soon! Michael had serious fun watching the crocs being fed and in particular took a liking to one croc called 'Psycho'. According to Michael I seem to have learnt all my moves off this croc?!#*!

Airlie Beach
Airlie Beach is a small place full of backpackers. We are staying in Magnums, renowned for its toad racing, wet T-shirt competitions and the quaffing of beer. Despite that, the hostel is in really good nick and probably the best we have stayed in with fridge, freezer, fan and air conditioning....all it is missing is a good foot massager! We explored Airlie in little less than half an hour (that's all it took!) and booked ourselves on a sailing course.

Competent Crew Sailing School - Whitsunday Islands
Having got rid of our backpacks and stowed all the essentials in our mini backpacks, we caught the ProSail bus down to the marina and boarded the Clement Webb. The Clement Webb is a 40ft yacht that sleeps 9 + 2 crew. Lucky for us, there were just 5 of us so we got our pick of bunks. We met Brian and Shaun, the skipper and hostie, in the galley (nautical term for kitchen) and were given our Australian Yachting Federation books and course notes. It seemed we were going to be studying hard over the next few days. The skipper laid a chart of the Whitsunday's down in front of us and went through the basic essentials that any boater should know; tides, currents, the compass, scale, wind direction etc After an hour long briefing (all very relaxed) we released the spring rope that moored the yacht to the dock and motored out of Airlie Beach Harbour for a photo session. Lucky for us, we are going to make the front cover of the new ProSail sailing school course brochure - Seriously! Having had our picture taken at numerous angles while we pulled up the main sail, we set off for Hook Island.

Predictably, we learnt how to sail by having a go at everything from pulling in head sheets to sailing close haul. We all took a turn steering and tacking (turning the yacht). When tacking the skipper (the person steering) shouts: "right everyone READY TO TACK" (lots of yes-es from the crew) LEE HO." Michael could not get this right, he was so funny, he would shout sincerely every other combination of nautical terms that sounded similar to the above. His classic tacking commands being; "All Aboard, Lido". The afternoons were spent snorkeling in the reefs off the islands. The evenings we moored in small and beautiful bays where the water was clear, beaches white and the island bush full of sulphur crested cockatoos! I usually fell asleep to the gentle lapping of the waves against the boat. The second night I dreamed about pulling in the main sheet and trimming the head sail while tying a bowlen with the other hand. Each day was very much the same, sailing in beautiful seas with the wind around 15-25 knots, isolated showers every now and then (although the 'isolated' showers had a bit of a habit of following us), mooring for a snorkel, moving onto the next inlet, anchoring and being fed dinner. The final day we were up early to move from Chalkie's Beach to Whitehaven.

Whitehaven is a picture perfect beach with powdery white sand that stretches for 6 miles. The Aboriginal name for Whitehaven is 'Whispering Sands'. The turquoise sea around Whitehaven is about 10m deep apart from in one area where a fissure drops to around 100m down. A deep sea spring gurgles up through the fissure causing the rocks to be warn away on either side of this cavernous drop, creating the Whitehaven powdery white sand (99.8% pure silica). We sailed back to Airlie Beach, taking the time to barbeque the mackarel caught by Brian. We moored in the harbour with the boat in one piece so I think we can call ourselves vaguely competent crew!!

Interestingly, anyone can hire a bareboat and sail it around the Whitsundays. No certification or sailing experience is required to charter the boat. This causes much amusement while sailing as the yacht radio burbles with skippers asking Sunsail (bare boat charter company) questions about how to furl head sails, turn fridges on and if X litres of fuel is enough to get the boat home....very worrying!

Scotland V Australia and Bundaburg
We caught up with the rest of the team from Clement Webb in Beaches, the local hotspot for watching the rugby, drinking hideous cocktails and dancing on tables. We watched Scotland lose to Australia in a miserable game for the Scots, while drinking warm Bundaburg (rum and coke)! Not too much drinking though as we are diving in the morning!

Scuba Diving on the Stella Maris on the Outer Barrier Reef
To have previously dived with one of the most luxurious scuba dive companies in Australia meant that this scuba dive trip had little chance of ever living up to our previous expediton. From private cabin to shared bunk room next to the boat generators. As a rather light sleeper who sits up straight in the bed numerous times through out the night, I quickly learned that I would end up with black eyes and a brusied head if I kept it up from my top bunk only centimetres away from the floor above. The hostie was a norwegian girl, very blond and beautiful who had the Aussie crew completely hooked. Despite her apaulling cooking, the crew, each in an attempt to out do the other, would tell her how wonderful the food was! Put it this way, I began to appreciate the peanut butter sandwiches I could make myself at breakfast. The first night we motored out to the Outer Reef. It gave us all a chance to get to meet each other. Much to our surprise half the people on the boat were there to complete their Diving open water course. We had in fact been under the impression that you could only be on the boat if you were certified. The other experienced divers were a couple from Surrey who were BSAC dive instructors, who were about to hit their 500th dive! We thought would keep our heads low and follow the British couple and avoid mentioning we had less than 20 dives each.

The first day of diving quickly showed us that the fish and coral are much less vibrant and abundant than further north on the Ribbon Reef. Despite this, Michael and I were able to build up our confidence with our underwater navigation, develop our diving skills and have fun being underwater photographers. Having looked at the results of our photographic artistry I think both of us are suited to careers unrelated to the camera! We did have fun, the people on the boat were a laugh as were the crew. On the second day we had to motor back to the Whitsundays to drop off some of the passengers. It was a pretty rough crossing and some of us (not naming names...oh its ok michael said i can name names - poor poor green michael!) found the railing on the leeward side of the boat the best place to situate ourselves. While we are on the subject, an interesting anti-seasick method came from the skipper: Skip says, "Stick one cigarette filter in one ear and you'll have no worries...too easy". I don't think Michael tried it! Diving on the second and third day was off the various islands on the Whitsundays. Interestingly, the isle reef is very silty as there is no open water to take it away. For the best visibility it is best to dive at about 5 metres close to the beach, where the coral and fish are just blooming. We did make it back to Airlie Beach, thank goodness, so we could stock up on some proper food!

Surfer's Paradise
Having been to Surfers before, the high rise buildings and endless souvenir shops were not a surprise. Surfers is packed with tourists and in a week or two, the notorious Schoolies festival will take place up here on the 'Glitter coast'. (It is a week long festival for all those finishing their Year 12 exams.) The beach is packed with people, watched by numerous life guards in their red and yellow caps. We are staying in a hostel just outside the centre of Surfers. The hostel is currently full of Kiwis and as you can imagine, the noise last night (Saturday 15th Nov), the Wallabies v the All Blacks, was incredible. Empty bottles of beer littered the tables and a few miserable Kiwis lay on the benches when we came down to breakfast this morning.

All along the Gold Coast Highway can be found various huge adventure complexes. We visited Warner Brothers Movieworld, which was lots of fun and gave us a chance to catch up with dunna...dunna...dunna....BATMAN and the rest of the disney gang. Movieworld have some fantastic sets including the railway station where Harry Potter runs through the wall with trolley loaded with trunks to reach platform 9 and 3/4. We joined the special effects tour in a large auditorium. The guy leading the tour began to pick people from the audience to assist him. He needed a Memphis Belle pilot, a girl to walk along a 15 storey building and a Superman. Michael turned to me to say something quietly in my ear and the tour leader took it as an attempt to avoid being picked...so yes, Michael was selected to get dressed in blue tights and to become our favourite superhero, Superman. While those selected went to wardrobe, we all traipsed into a large studio and sat infront of some supersize video screens and a stage to watch the magic of using blue screen to produce unusual movie effects. Infront of an audience of 50 people, Superman (put the glasses back on and Superman becomes Michael Smith) appeared on the stage in a glittery blue and silver all in one suit with gleaming red cloak and a big S on his chest. From the way he was standing, it looked like he was wearing chuncky high heels, but no, it was just the stand Superman had to stand on for his performance. Superman was then told by the director to put his hands up in the air and pretend to fly. On the monitors, Superman appeared, grinning from ear to ear, flying over Surfers Paradise. Superman then practised his breastroke and chicken movements all of which appeared on the screen infront of us while he flew over Queensland. I will put the video up on the travel log for all to see soon.. promise!

Rugby Update
Did you watch the rugby last night? (Sunday, 16th Nov) We spent the evening in a pub in Surfers watching the Lions thrash the French. It was all very exciting with lots of Brits singing away. We are looking forward to the final although we hope that somewhere out in Uluru there will be a TV set?!
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