Day 82 Airlie
As we arrived in the dark last night, we are unfamiliar with our surroundings. On opening the curtains, we are startled to see a vista across the Coral Sea to the Whitsundays. What we had thought were house lights last night were in fact lights on the boats in the harbour and out at sea. How lovely.
Whilst having breakfast we are joined by a cockatoo, white with a crest of yellow feathers. It is quite at home on the balcony and even poses for photos! He is joined by two others later who make themselves comfortable perching on the railings.
The sea looks very inviting and we drive down towards Airlie Bay and Shute Harbour. We pass Abel Point Marina where there are a large number of boats both private and charter moored. Many are already out on the sea sailing for the Whitsundays.
The small town of Airlie Beach is synonymous with the east-coast road trip and backpackers and we soon realise that there is a predominance of young people. Hostels, tour operators and massive beer gardens on the Shute Harbour Road jostle with luxury homes and resorts clinging to the side of the hills.
We park up and go in search of a trip out to Whitehaven beach for tomorrow. After feeling sea sick on the Great Barrier Reef trip I look for a tour which spends the least time sailing. We choose a semi-rigid inflatable boat – a bit like a raft which takes only 45 minutes to get to Whitehaven. It’s very similar to a rib and when I’ve been on these, I’ve been fine – they are very fast and skim over the water.
Walking along the main street we come across the swimming lagoon which looks very inviting. Two large pools with beach, bridges, changing rooms and lifeguards in lovely gardens. Needing to shop we decide to come back after lunch.
Two hours are spent sun bathing and swimming in the hot afternoon sun. We are able to hear voices in all different languages, a truly international resort. The many young backpackers are enjoying the good weather and meeting new people. The atmosphere is great and all three of us relax for the afternoon.
As we leave the pool Marcus complains that his eyes hurt. On examination we can see that they are very red and weeping. There is a chemist across the car park so we pop in and speak with the pharmacist. ‘Oh, that’s the Chlorine’, she says and recommends eye drops and an eye bath for rinsing his eyes out. It appears that avoiding the stingers and the crocs in the sea has meant Marcus’ eyes are now dried out. The drops and eye bath do ease the pain and his eyes do return to normal after a while.
We have an early night as we are being picked up at the bus stop down in the morning at 8 a.m.
Day 83 Whitsundays
A bus pulls up at the stop just after 8 a.m. and the young female driver gets out. ‘You the Love’s’ she asks and ushers us on. There are some people already sat on the bus and two more to pick up on the way to Able Point.
On arrival we check in using i-pads and then are told which boat we will be on – ours is Black Betty. This is all very organised and bodes well for the rest of the day. Supplied with stinger suits we sit and wait to be called to our vessel.
There are five of these yellow boats with blue shades going out today and ours is the third to depart. There are 24 passengers in our party with 2 crew, a skipper and Host. After the obligatory safety talk and evacuation instructions we set off for Whitsunday Island.
The three of us sit up front with great panoramic views of some of the Whitsunday Islands (there are 74). The boat is fast and does not role which makes it great for me (I have taken a sea sickness tablet just in case). The host who has been sponsored by the company is from Wolverhampton is very good. He tells us interesting facts about the islands and ensures he chats to everyone on the boat.
When we reach Whitsunday Island the boat drops us off very close to the shore. We have to paddle through water, but it is very shallow. Our host Tone (Tony) leads us off the small beach up the steep hill to a lookout over the other side. The view is breath taking and difficult to describe. Hill Inlet almost splits the island in two and as the tide comes in and goes out the vista changes. The sea is the most unusual blue/green and there are swirls of white sand. It is absolutely beautiful.
Tone informs us that it is the 3rd most photographed sight in Australia (1st is Sydney Opera House and 2nd is Ayers Rock). We spend quite some time looking at this view from different directions as there are three different viewpoints. As the tide comes in we are able to see the changing swirls in the sand as the water covers it.
Back at the boat one of the passengers points out that a couple have not got back. Tone goes to chivvy them on but they have disappeared. How is that possible there is one way up and one way down. The skipper takes us round to Whitehaven beach and a search party is sent out to look for the missing twosome.
We are supposed to be going to Champagne beach for lunch. This is a beach that only this company can land at, making it very exclusive. Only 26 people there today! As we wait for the lost couple the tide changes and it becomes clear that we will not be able to make the trip to Champagne beach. How disappointing.
Nevertheless, we are still able to spend the next hour and a half on the whitest, finest, softest beach we have ever been on. There is a natural lagoon and waves on the other side of the sand. I walk the whole length of the beach enjoying the feeling of the sand between my toes, while Mark and Marcus swim.
As I reach the far end, I bump into our two missing passengers. They inform me that they decided to climb down the cliffs and go for a swim instead of coming back to the boat. I’m gob smacked and tell them they had better let the skipper know so that he can call off the search party.
When I get back to the boat, I eat lunch which has been served on board. The water is very inviting so we go back in. We are lucky enough to sea rays and lemon shark before we have to get back on board.
The boat sets off for Hook Island for the afternoon’s snorkelling. Everyone on the boat dons their stinger suit and we are handed masks, snorkels and flippers. The boat is moored in Mantaray Bay and it’s time to jump in. This is not like snorkelling off a platform we have to jump into deep water off the side and it is rough (it is windy here and the currents are strong).
I put on a life jacket and jump in but soon realise this is not going to work. The buoyancy is too much and I keep flipping onto my back. With difficulty I climb back on the boat and change the jacket for a noodle. Once I’m in the water again Mark uses the noodle to guide me round the coral, which is fantastic. A sheer wall curves across the bay. There is a lot of soft coral here which moves in the current but not as many fish. It is hard work snorkelling against the current and all three of us are glad to get back onto the boat after 45 minutes.
We move onto the other side of Hook Island to Butterfly Bay as the Skipper thinks the sea will be calmer here. We are pleased to see it is. There is another of the companies boats here and we moor close to it.
There is a wall of coral and stacks in this bay but there are also lots and lots of fish. Large parrot fish are nibbling the coral and other colourful tropical fish are swimming around the coral. This is much more enjoyable than the first place as we are not fighting the currents.
The journey back to land is a little longer that this morning. We have lamingtons which are a bit like coconut swiss roll, but are covered in vegemite – sounds weird but tastes really good.
The skipper has a bit of fun on the way back. We race the other boat and make quick turns and donuts. This is wild and great fun, a great way to finish a wonderful day. Everyone agrees it has been an excellent tour and well worth the money.
The courtesy bus drops us back at the bus stop and we call for a drink before we walk back to the apartment.