After our trip to the farm on Monday we left Rockhampton on Tuesday night and headed to our next destination of Airlie Beach. Our bus journey was going to be very long (about 7 hours) so we decided to get a night-bus and hopefully get some sleep on the bus ride; we were due to get on the bus at midnight and arrive at our stop at 7am. So after a very hot day wandering around Rockhampton we had to check out of our accomodation and catch our lift to the bus stop at 7pm... so we had 5 hours to waste at the service station and Macdonalds until our bus arrived at midnight. Well by half past twelve our bus still hadn't arrived and soon a driver from another bus came to tell us that our bus had been delayed in the flood waters and wouldn't be with us for another 2 hours
! We ended up finally getting on the bus at almost 3am and slept like logs until we arrived in Airlie Beach at 10am the following day.
We were heading to Airlie Beach in order to visit a collection of islands called the Whitsundays. The best way to see the islands is to go on a sailing trip with one of the many companies in town; as soon as we arrived we could see how popular the islands are, the town is packed to the rafters with backpackers going to the Whitsundays. During our travels we have meet lots of people who have already been out on a sailing trip here and we have been given lots of good hints and tips along the way about which boat to choose for our trip... one person even went on a boat (called Spank Me...hehehe) and the toilet exploded while they were out in the middle of the ocean! So after much deliberation and talking to other people we decided to go out on a slightly more expensive boat which had received fantastic reviews and was considered the best boat in the whole area. The boat was called Iceberg, it was a really small boat (it could only fit 12 people in it, compared to over 30 on the other boats) and we were going out on it for 2 days and 1 night. We booked our sailing trip with the Iceberg through one of the local hostels and recieved 2 nights free at the hostel for the nights before and after our trip... the hostel turned out to be pretty rubbish, but hey it was free
! So after a day wandering around town (and falling to sleep at the lagoon on the beach front), we got ready to go out for our sailing trip to the Whitsunday Islands.
We had to meet the crew and other guests on the boat at 8:30am at a private marina filled with huge yachts and speedboats... hmm I know, sounds swish doesn't it!! So we headed from our dingy hostel to the marina and met the other people who we would be spending the next 2 days with, including the 2 crew members called Tristan and Cameron... everyone was very nice and we all got on really well during the trip. Our first sight of the boat was fantastic; it was a beautiful sleek white yacht with tall sails. Tom and I had expected that we would have to go through tons of safety talks before we set sail, but two minutes after we had got on the boat and been shown to our rooms we were off out of the harbour and heading into the open ocean. Considering all the rain that Queensland has had lately I was really nervous that we would get bad weather during our trip and that we would all feel seasick, but I couldn't have been more wrong... the sun was shining, there wasn't a cloud in the sky and the ocean looked like a millpond. We all settled down on the deck of the boat while we sailed out to the first stop of our trip; everyone lathered themselves up with suncream and sprawled out to do a bit of sunbaking (that's what they call sunbathing in Oz)
. The yacht was absolutely fantastic and we all got to help raising and lowering the sails and enjoyed lounging around on the deck... we managed to get a little taste of the lifestyles of the rich and famous!!
We came to our first stop at about mid-day; it was a beautiful beach on one of the 74 islands in the area. And best of all we were going to snorkel there! One of the main reasons we went with the Iceberg was because we got to do 2 snorkelling dives at the southern most tip of the Great Barrier Reef... which we were extremely excited about!! Plus, because our boat was so small, we got to go to the more secluded and private snorkel locations. Since the very first moment we started planning our round-the-world trip snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef was one of the most important and special things we wanted to do and we were quite overwhelmed that we were actually getting to finally do it. There is a risk of getting stung in this area by Box Jellyfish, which are one of the world's deadliest animals, so before we were even allowed to dip our toes in the water we had to get kitted out with a full-body stinger suit which would protect us from getting stung (though as Tom kindly pointed out, it wouldn't stop us getting stung on our heads or feet, but hey ho don't worry we lived to tell the tale). Once we were all suited up we found out that, out of everyone on the boat, only Tom and I had never been snorkelling before and I was given a floatation vest as I'm not a very strong swimmer and the water would be too deep for me to stand in
. Before we knew what was happening we were loaded up onto a little inflatable boat with a motor on the back, taken a little way towards the shore and told to jump into the water and start snorkelling. Everyone jumped in and suddenly I became very nervous. I realised how far away from the beach we actually were and I felt like I was stranded in the middle of the ocean. Even though I had my floatation vest on and wasn't going to drown, I started panicing when I couldn't touch the bottom of the sand. Things became even worse when I tried to put my head underwater and breath through my snorkel mask; I started hyperventilating and, because I was screwing my face up, my mask was filling up with water. I felt like I was going to cry. Tom came over to help me and I calmed down a bit; he had seen some incredible coral and wanted me to come take a look, but by this point I had drifted far enough inland that I could stand up on the sand and I became rooted to the spot. All this happened in the space of about 2 minutes, when suddenly Cameron came over to me on the little boat and asked me if I was okay. He was fantastic and helped me to calm down properly, get my breathing back to normal and get accustomed to breathing through my mask with my head underwater. After a few minutes of just bobbing around next to me, Cameron told me to hold on to the side of the boat and he would gently pull me around the coral reef so that I wouldn't miss out on seeing everything. I cannot put into words how grateful I am to him for helping me and taking me around the reef..
. it was one of the most magical experiences of my life. There are no words to descibe how beautiful the coral reef and tropical fish were. For the next 10 minutes I held on to the side of the inflatable boat and was taken all over this small section of the Great Barrier Reef. Looking back on it now the whole experience feels like a blur, I can't recall how many types of fish I saw or what kinds of coral there were... all I can remember was that I was constantly gasping and letting out long moans into my breathing-tube everytime I saw a new type of fish or we went to a new piece of reef. My mask was still filling up with water, only this time it was happening because I couldn't stop crying. After a while Cameron took me back to Tom and told me that I was good enough to go out on my own now and that he would watch me to make sure I didn't get panicy again. Well I am very pleased to say that from there on I did really well. Tom and I went swimming off together and I even got to show him some of the things that he hadn't seen yet. We got to see huge long greeny yellow sea slugs with big black spots lounging on the bottom of the sea, shelves of bright orange coral that jutted out into the sea like a flat mushrooms, bright blue and purple clams with wavy lips that pulsed in the water, pink and green tropical fish that had a rainbow pattern, black and orange fish that looked like tigers, endless schools of yellow angelfish, huge fat grey and blue fish that were about 3 feet long, spiny pieces of coral that looked sandy but when swam over the top of it they turned neon blue..
. so many fish and corals we can't even descibe them all. We even went to the drop-off (like in Finding Nemo) where the coral suddenly disappeared and all that was ahead of you was wide open water. All of the coral was living and breathing and you could see it swaying in the water as we looking down on to it. One of the most beautiful things that you see when you have your head underwater is that the sun reflects in the water and it looks like sunbeams shooting up from the bottom of the ocean; it looks like the sun is underwater and shining upwards. No matter how much I sit here and type about how wonderful and magnificant it was, I will never be able to fully describe the infinate number of fish and coral we saw or do justice to what it felt like to be there at that moment. After about an hour we had to get out of the water and got taken back to the yacht to have some lunch and I thanked Cameron many many times for helping to improve my confidence in the water and for opening up a whole other underwater world to me.
After lunch (which was fantastic) we hoisted the sails again and headed out to another island for our second snorkel. The weather continued to be glorious and we couldn't have wished for a better day on the water. The second snorkel site was called Manta-Ray Bay and was tucked into the side of a little inlet on one of the most private islands. We were told that this dive site was a really special one because it had the highest concentration of fish out of all the Whitsunday Islands, just looking over the side of the boat we could see schools of fish swimming in the water around us. We all felt even more lucky when we found out that we had the best imaginable conditions for our snorkel! Before you could blink we were all clambering into our stinger suits and climbing down the steps at the back of the yacht and into the water.
I felt so much more confident this time and had the time of my life. Tom and I stayed together during most of this snorkel and swam around with our hands linked and our heads underwater. It is difficult to imagine, but this dive site was just as perfect at the first one! We were really happy because we came across a school of mixed tropical fish who were feeding on the dead coral at the bottom of the ocean. Because they were eating, these fish were moving quite slowly and we managed to follow them for quite a while... the most incredible part was that we could actually hear them munching and chewing everytime they stopped to eat! Whilst Tom prefered the first snorkel site, I liked this site better simply because I was so much more confident and had an all-round incredible experience. The fish at this site were also much more used to human contact, so that when we swam up to them they did not scatter. Most of the fish we saw swam happily alongside us and most of them came right up in front of our masks so you could see all the tiny details on their bodies. After we got out of the water one of the other girls on the boat told us that she had been snorkelling and scuba diving all over the world and she had never seen such a huge concentration of fish in one place before! Tom and I were completely overwhelmed to have had such incredible experiences on our first ever snorkel trip! The really crazy thing was that everyone kept on telling us that the Great Barrier Reef gets even more beautiful the further north you go... so now we can't wait to go snorkelling when we get to Cairns at Christmas!
Once we were all back on the yacht after our second snorkel we headed to a place called Whitehaven Beach. This beach is the pinnacle of many of the sailing trips around the Whitsunday Islands and we were going to moor the boat there for the night and explore the beach the following morning
. During our sail over to our home for the night we got to see the sunset alongside the hills on the surrounding mountains. Everyone on the boat went very quiet when the sun began to set as the sky suddenly blazed bright orange and we all sat around in silence and awe... the only sound was the soft lapping of the waves on the side of the boat. By the time we arrived at our spot for the night it had gotten pitch black and we all sat around on the deck eating our tea and chatting under the moonlight. After we had eaten everyone settled down on the deck and we spent the rest of the night lying back and looking at the stars in the quiet of the ocean. Most people headed to bed quite early as they were tired following the snorkels (the crew even slept on the deck!) however Tom and I stayed up until quite late relaxing on the deck and enjoying the cool sea-breeze. It was an unforgettable night.
It was a very hot night on the boat and we all woke up feeling quite groggy. However as soon as we got out on to the deck and saw our beautiful surroundings in the morning sunlight we all cheered up. Whitehaven Beach was stunning! After breakfast we all got ready and where taken over the beach in the little inflatable boat; we had about 2 hours to relax on the beach and go exploring. Some people wore their stinger suits to the beach, in case they decided to go for a swim, I didn't bother to wear mine but Tom took his because he wanted to go for a swim to cool down after being on the hot boat all night
. The water was crystal clear and the sand was as soft as silk between your toes. It was another baking hot day and we nearly melted as we walked along the beach. After a going for a little stroll Tom headed into the water with the other people from the boat and he saw a couple of rays swimming around and a huge mud crab with big pincers scurrying along the bottom of the sand. It turned out that the crab was lost... he should have been in the mud, but had some how found his way to the beach... I don't blame him though, the beach was just perfect! Once we had all finished on the beach we got taken back to the yacht and we sailed away from Whitehaven Beach and around the corner to a place called Tongue Bay. There is a particular view of the Whitsunday Islands which always gets used in the postcards and we were going to see it at the lookout point on Tongue Bay; the view looks out over the islands and the ocean looks like a huge pot of swirly blue paint. As we entered this bay we realised how lucky we had been so far to have experienced such privacy, this bay was packed with boats full of backpackers visiting the look-out. As we were entering the bay we were lucky enough to see 2 Sea Turtles bobbing around in the water!! Tom was ecstatic as he had wanted to see a turtle more than anything during our trip and had prayed to see one close up when we went snorkelling. Even though we hadn't seen one when we had been snorkelling it was incredible to see 2 of them in the bay and we nearly fell over ourselves to get a photo of them
. A few minutes later we were taken to the beach and started the climb up to the look-out post. The day had turned out to be one of the hottest we have had so far and the short walk turned out to be one hell of a struggle in the mid-day heat. But I can promise that it was worth all the sweat and clambering. As we turned the corner to the look-out we all let out a huge gasp... the view was staggering! The only way I can describe the colours of the water and sand is to say it looked like someone had swirled their finger through a huge pot of white and blue paint. It was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen... I couldn't believe that it really does look like it does in the photos!! We stayed at the look-out for about 20 minutes and then headed back down to the boat. As everyone was getting back onboard Tom let out a shout when he saw that a turtle had come up close to the side of the boat. It was even close enough for us to see its head and the patten on its back. We were all so happy and felt very lucky to have seen such a rare animal.
After some lunch we had to start sailing back to the marina as our trip was almost at an end. However as we were all sitting around relaxing, the skipper of the yacht told us that we had an hour or two to spare and we could squeeze in an additional snorkel stop if we wanted to. I have never seen a group of adults transform into a bunch of excited kids so quickly..
. surfice to say we all wanted to go snorkelling one last time and we headed off to a new dive site immediately. This site was called Coral Gardens and we were told that although we wouldn't see many fish at this site, we would see some of the most incredible coral imaginable. So we all jumped into our stinger suits and sat around like kids on Christmas morning, waiting to be allowed into the water. As soon as the boat stopped we all climbed down the steps at the back and headed out into the water. The current was a little stronger here and the water was slightly choppy, but I found that as long as I kept my head underwater I was okay. The coral here was just magnificent, the colours were mindblowing.... orange, yellow, blue, purple, green, neon, florescent. Tom and I went off in our own directions and we got to see more fish than we had expected. I was snorkelling by myself a little way off from the rest of the group, when I came to the edge of the coral. Without realising it I had found my way to the drop-off again, in front of me was nothing but wide open ocean. I floated here for a moment or two then slowly, so slowly I didn't even notice it at first, I saw a shadow coming out of the water towards me. At first I thought it was one of the other snorkellers when suddenly it rotated and I realised what it was... it was a giant sea turtle! At that moment my mind went blank. I couldn't believe that there was a sea turtle right there in front of my eyes. It kept on rotating and I got to see it's head, arms, legs and the pattern on its back
. I must have only looked at it for about 4 seconds when my brain kicked back in. I brought my head out of the water and shouted at the top of my lungs: "Tom! Tom! Quickly, there's a turtle! Come quickly"! But I couldn't see him anywhere, the current had got much stronger and no one else could hear me. I suddenly realised that I was on my own for this moment and I ducked my head back underwater to have another look at it. But it was gone. I looked everywhere but I couldnt't find it again and before I knew it I was crying like a baby... I just felt so overwhelmed by the whole experience. I don't think I will ever forget that moment; the image of that sea turtle coming out of the shadows and slowly becoming clearer will never leave me. I was so honoured. I meet back up with Tom later and I had to tell him that I had seen a sea turtle without him... I felt so guilty that he had missed out, but he was happy that I had got the chance to see one in the wild. We had to get back on the boat soon after because the water had become too choppy and everyone was shocked when I told them what I had seen.
Back on the boat we started our return journey to the marina. Because the wind had got up slightly we were able to hoist the really huge sails and put up the spinacer, powering the whole way home; the power of the wind even made the boat tilt diagonally at a 45 degree angle and we were all sitting on the deck clinging on for dear life! After our final hours of sailing we got back to the marina and said goodbye to one another. Once we had got back to our hostel, the first thing we did was have a look at our photos. We couldn't stop talking about how much fun we had had during our sailing trip and we agreed that it was, without a doubt, the best thing we have done in Australia so far and even one of the best parts of the whole trip so far! We really did have such a brilliant on the Iceberg, the crew were fantastic and we got to experience some incredible moments. I think the time we spent out on the Whitsunday Islands will always be very precious to us.
Today is my niece's 7th birthday... Happy birthday Megan. We hope you had a great day xxx