Airlie beach and Whitsundays, Queensland, Australia
16.09.2010 - 22.09.2010 29 °C
You win some you lose some. Luck usually finds a way to balance itself out and I believe, especially after getting those last minute tickets for Metallica in Melbourne, I was probably overdue for some disappointment. It arrived with bells on! Let’s put it this way, it may have been more appropriate to go in an ark rather than a sailing boat on this ‘dream’ diving livaboard to the Whitsundays and Great Barrier Reef. The day I leave for a three day sailing trip is the wettest September day in the area for 27 years. More than 140mm of rain fell that day, causing flash flooding and completely cutting off some areas of the mainland, including Airlie beach, where i had been staying. It was too dangerous to sail all the way to the Great Barrier Reef so I could feel that dream slipping away. Disappointing yes, but of course we made the best of things and still had a lot of fun on that boat.
I had arrived to Airlie beach, the gateway to the Whitsundays, after a full day of travel from Melbourne, buzzing but very tired from the gig the night before. I had to get a connecting flight from Brisbane to Mackay further North in Queensland, then catch a 2 hour greyhound bus journey to Airlie beach. My bad luck started here already as halfway to Airlie beach one of the tyres quite dramatically blows on the bus. With the driver getting some help from the lads on the bus, it took us nearly 2 hours to replace the tyre before we could continue to a late arrival at Airlie. As I now had an aussie sim card and 3G internet on my phone, I helped a couple of travellers out to find them hostels for the night. I didn’t even think about it but places in Australia away from the major cities tend to close their reception at about 8pm. When I finally arrive to my digs, I have to check myself in as absolutely nothing was open.
The first few days here were blissful. After the harsh coldness of Melbourne, it felt fantastic to be back in the tropics. Back to wearing skirts and sandals, much more like it. Where I stayed I was on the edge of forest in Airlie cove, just outside Airlie beach, very green, very lush, with big butterflies and white cockatoos playing noisily in the trees. I felt energised. I was so excited to book on the sailing cruise, one of the only ones that go out as far as the actual Great Barrier Reef, as here the reef is quite a hefty distance from the mainland. Meeting my fellow crew members very early in the morning at the harbour, the look of disappointment was clear on everyone’s face. It was absolutely pissing it down. Not the kind of heavy showery rain you usually get in the tropics but huge thick black cloud cover that did not look like it was going anywhere fast. I was surprised that the trip was still going ahead, but after being greeted and briefed by the owner of the boat Kiana, we set sail. Well actually no, it was too stormy to sail that first day so we had the engines on, yet another disappointment. We were all shown to our rooms and I was in the top bunk of a cabin along with four German kids and a guy from Chile. At first this bothered me. The Germans were school leavers on a gap year, what would i have in common with them? But actually most of them were really easy to get along with and it was not too bad. In total there were 6 Germans, 5 Brits, 2 Americans and 1 Chilean. The diving instructor, skipper and host made up the rest of the crew. It didn’t take long for friendships to form. I got on particularly well with Elaine, Scottish lass who was there visiting her friend Rob who had recently moved to Melbourne. The three of us spent quite a bit of time together as well as with team America, Lara and Amy, very funny characters.
This was my first ever liveaboard and I can imagine these are a lot of fun with the sun shining. But that first day spent trying to shelter from the relentless rain, people chucking up with sea sickness and one of the German lasses completely passing out for a good half an hour, i just wanted to go back to the mainland. Lucky we had a good crew of people to make it interesting and some delicious food cooked for us by the host. I was well impressed with the food. That first day, they slow-cooked a full roast lamb dinner for 17 people right there on the boat! We stopped off at Blue Pearl Bay for some diving and snorkelling. Even though it was out of jellyfish season, they made us wear these ridiculous stinger suits and hoods under our wet suits, even for snorkelling. It was pretty good though, Elaine was funny as she seemed to have a snorkel phobia! I could get her to put her head under water to look at the fish but only without her snorkel!! Very strange. It was also Rob’s first time snorkelling and he was pretty amazed. We were surrounded by colourful fish, but sadly the coral was in pretty poor condition. Apparently, a typhoon in the area the year before had destroyed much of the coral around the Whitsundays. To see the pristine stuff here you really need to get out to the great reef. After this we moored up near to Haymen Island for our overnight rest. Few beers followed by a pretty sleepless night. I couldn’t get used to such a limited space and the swaying of the boat kept waking me up. Being on the top bunk was like being in a coffin, I only needed to move onto my side and i would touch the ceiling!
Our prayers for sunshine the next morning were not answered. It looked pretty much the same, bloody miserable. Spirits were flagging even more. There was a couple on their honeymoon, I felt pretty sorry for them. We moved to luncheon bay where I did a dive around coral near to one of the beaches. It was OK, nothing special, although I was pleased with myself for achieving my first ever backward flip into the sea off the dive boat. At one point we all stopped to look at a large sea cucumber on the bottom. Lara was having some difficulty getting down to join us and wondered why. I had to use all my control not to spit out my regulator with all the laughing as we could see that the air bubbles from her reg were going straight into her stinger hood, blowing it up like a balloon and this was keeping her buoyant. The look on her face and the big conehead she had on her, very funny! That afternoon the weather cleared somewhat so we were able to get the sails up. SO MUCH FUN!! Well for some of us. It was still quite windy and the boat was being blown right over and again a few people were very sick. We moored for the night in tongue bay where we awoke to see turtles absolutely everywhere poking their head out of the water, so gorgeous.
There was a hint of brightness in the sky as we began our short trek onto Whitsunday Island and across the forest to the famous and very beautiful Whitehaven beach. This has recently been voted the best eco beach in the world, and it is obvious why. The beach has been kept exactly as nature intended, the clearest calmest aqua waters, wide sweeping sandbars. The sand is something special here, composed of 99.9% silica, it is purest white and has the consistency of snow when dry and soft putty when wet. Even with the cloud cover, my eyes hurt, with the light reflecting off the sand. Very special place. We spent a couple of hours here before setting sail back to Airlie beach. This time we had all our sails up, the sun made an appearance and it was a lovely ride back. Still, I was quite relieved to get to dry land to be honest. I didn’t fulfil my dream of diving the Great Barrier Reef so started thinking thinking thinking. A cunning plan was starting to hatch. One, I think even Baldrick would be proud of!