A Whitsunday Adventure
(A page from my Travel Journal).
I had the most amazing time sailing around the Whitsunday islands. There were several firsts for me but I’ll get back to that later. I arrived in Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsunday islands after several lazy days in Sydney.
Airlie Beach is a small seaside town and is most famous as the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands, a World Heritage site. The town’s main street is just packed with travel agents, restaurants, bars, souvenir- and surfwear shops, and hostels which predominantly cater to backpackers – it was quite evident when I arrived here: this is backpacker territory. Twentysomethings from all over the globe; some were working here as waiters, drivers or kitchen help, and some were just passing through. I felt quite awkward with my Samsonite suitcase (even though it’s made of canvas!), Diesel jeans and ditto t-shirt. None of that here. This is backpacker country where scruffy t-shirts and surfer shorts rule.
the bathroom was not a pretty sight
I got to my accommodation (Bush Village) and felt totally out-of-place in the dorm with five (very friendly) Brits and Aussies. The dorm was a mess of clothes, bags, toiletries, shoes, unmade beds, you get the picture… What was I thinking?!! I mean, backpacking was something I did in my teens around Australia and in my 20′s around Europe. I’m now 36, accustomed to good hotels where I have my own room, and most importantly, my own bathroom. Just my luck then that three of the five sharing the dorm with me were girls and there was only ONE bathroom!! That evening, I had to wait my turn (more than an hour) in order to have a shower and by the time it was my turn, the bathroom was not a pretty sight; you know, wet floor and hair all over the place. Wonderful.
Anyway, after a quick shower, I headed into town and treated myself to a dinner at one of Airlie Beach’s fancier restaurants, Capers. I looked at the wall and saw a picture of Nicole Kidman having a meal at Capers. I thought, “Hey, if this place is good enough for Nicole, it sure is good enough for me!”. I felt so much better after a sip of that smooth Merlot and I felt even better when the main course arrived: parpadelle (similar to fettucine) with heaps of king prawns, scallops and different types of fish in a blue crab bisque. Absolutely gorgeous.
My sailing trip around the Whitsundays started the next day….. and what a trip it was! There are many boat trips from Airlie Beach and I chose (after meticulous research – the last thing I wanted was to end up on some backpacker party boat… and there are heaps of those party cruises here) the Derwent Hunter, a 90-foot double-masted schooner.
There were 17 of us on the boat – the Dutchies were again in the majority, followed closely by the Germans, including (it is sometimes quite amazing how small our planet is) an ex-colleague of mine from the bank.
On the first day, we sailed to the highlight of the Whitsundays: Whitehaven Beach. The beach is a wide arc with an inlet on one end, with sand so white, I needed my sunnies to protect my eyes from the glare. The sea was an astounding spectrum of turquoise and blue – reminded me of the stunning coast around Cancun really. Breathtaking stuff.
I gave the ant’s butt a quick lick…
Our guide took us on a bushwalk around the island to get acquainted with the vegetation and to show us how the Aboriginals utilised the different types of plants and trees. We stopped at a tree and our guide pointed out the hundreds of tree ants on the branches. He gently picked up one of the ants and showed us its lime-green butt. Seems the Aboriginals used the juices from the ant’s butt as a sort of medicine or aphrodisiac. He asked if anyone wanted to taste the juices and I volunteered. I gave the ant’s butt a quick lick and it tasted like a concentrated lime sherbet. I’m serious. Anyway, that was the first of several firsts on this trip for me – licking a tree ant’s butt!
We then got to spend the afternoon on the beach. The sand felt cool even though it was a hot day and the water, at 24 degrees, was lovely. We were on the constant lookout for blue-spotted stingrays (you don’t want to be stepping on them as they have a nasty sting) but they kept well away. The sand on the beach was quite extraordinary. They said it’s 99.9% silica, some of which was used to make the lens on the Hubble telescope. Whatever it was, it had a very compact structure, kind of like moist salt, and when you walk on it, the sound of each footstep is similar to the barks of seals.
Sailing around the Whitsundays
From Whitehaven beach, we sailed to a nearby harbour where we moored for the evening. On the way, we spotted some dolphins and humpback whales splashing their massive tails in the water.
That night, after a beautiful dinner, we got to gasp at the magnificent sight of the Milky Way. It was such a clear night, it seemed like we could see every star in the sky. The captain pointed out a series of constellations and planets; Venus, Mercury, Mars and Jupiter were visible but the most breathtaking sight was the constellation of Scorpio, with its head, curly tail and stinger. Absolutely stunning.
I guess because I was travelling alone, the crew allocated me a bunk in the crew quarters next to the kitchen! I laid in it for several minutes: it was narrow and close up against the ceiling (about 50cm between the bunk and the ceiling), and it was a warm night. No way, I thought. I gathered my mattress, sheet and blanket and made my way to the deck where I found a great spot with an unobstructed view of the magnificent sky above. This was my second ‘first’. With a gazillion stars strewn across the dark velvety sky above me and the gentle lapping of the water against the ship’s hull, I fell into a beautifully deep sleep. So deep that I didn’t even feel the light rain that passed in the early hours of the morning! I woke up at first light (about 5:45am) with a damp blanket and a stiff back. I figured it was a small price to pay for avoiding the bunk bed below.
After a quick breakfast on the deck, we left the sheltered confines of the harbour and sailed to a lovely snorkelling spot. When we got there, we put on our sexy stinger suits – these are top-to-toe lycra suits which protect you from the stings of jellyfish (yes, loads of dangerous ones here – the box jellyfish sting can literally result in a loss of consciousness within minutes which means you drown!).
The diversity of fish and corals was simply staggering. I think I saw larger numbers of fish in Malaysia and Thailand but the diversity of the marine life here is just mind-blowing. The highlight was seeing a giant moray eel slither around the reef as we chased it.
That evening, the wind picked up and the sea became choppy. We were back in a sheltered cove but this time, I didn’t think it wise to spend another night on the deck as dark clouds were gathering and the wind was very cold. The next morning, I heard from several people who had opted to sleep on the deck that they had to grab their stuff and rush down as it started to rain heavily in the middle of the night.
After lunch, we geared up for the sail back to the mainland. By this time, the winds were gale force and it rained from time to time. We helped to hoist the sails and away we went, across the Whitsunday Passage to Airlie Beach. This sailing trip through bad weather was my third ‘first’. As we cleared the sheltered cove we were in, the waves swelled and we were soon being thrown around from left to right, front to back. We held on tight and the experience was electric.
The boat crashed through the large waves, sending massive amounts of water onto the deck. We were given raincoats but we were still drenched. Loved it, loved it, loved it! The wind was so strong that we averaged about nine knots across the Passage. Spectacular stuff!
I returned to the backpackers joint at Airlie Beach and dished out a substantial sum for my last night there. No more dorms for me. I had a shower in my own bathroom, then crawled into bed and drifted to sleep with images of the brilliant sands of Whitehaven beach still flashing across my mind. It was an unforgettable Whitsunday adventure!
Search for hotels in Airlie Beach.
Other Travel Journal entries include:
- The good life (Mendoza, Argentina)
- Perth: an unexpectedly cool city (Perth, Australia)
- A tropical paradise, five wishes & a setback (Krabi, Thailand)
- Some lazy days in Salta (Salta, Argentina)
- The spectacular bus ride from San Pedro de Atacama to Salta (Chile/Argentina)
- Mystical Rapa Nui (Easter Island, Chile)
- My great laundry adventure (Bariloche, Argentina)
- A little piece of heaven (Bora Bora, French Polynesia)
- That rock star feeling in the Lost World (Iguazu Falls, Brazil/Argentina)
- Getting over my Jaws complex (Lang Tengah, Malaysia)
- The wonders of Angkor Wat (Cambodia)
- A desert full of wonders (San Pedro de Atacama, Chile)