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Blown away in the Whitsunday Islands

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We arrived in Airlie Beach from Bundaberg nearly a week ago – it’s hard to believe how much time has passed already.

Our first full day in Airlie was also fairly uneventful. We wandered around the town (of which there isn’t much) and spent some time at the Airlie Beach Lagoon. Now, this lagoon is pretty funny. You cannot swim in the ocean because of deadly jelly fish year round, but especially in the summer from November to March. So, the town decided to build a really funny outdoor pool of sorts – the lagoon. They made it to look like a true lagoon, complete with fake sand, to hang out at.

Kenna with the lagoon

Kenna with the lagoon

Not as nice or fun as a real beach, but it does the trick in the extremely hot weather that is characteristic of northern Australia. We spent most of the day at the lagoon, and then went for a beer at our hostel’s bar. We discovered that they have snake bites (half beer, half cider) here that are even better than at home because they use my favourite thing in the whole world – CORDIAL. Why we do not have cordial at home, I do not know – it’s this delicious syrup that comes in about 100 flavours that you add water to (the first time I had it I did not know this, however, and drank it straight. It was nasty). It it awesome, because you don’t have to keep it refrigerated, and it makes the disgusting tap water here actually taste good. So, instead of retsina or grenadine that they use at home, they use raspberry cordial. Yum.

The New Horizon

The New Horizon

Our next day here was our day to board our boat, which was lovely. We immediately met a bunch of cool people (our boat held 33) and started the very bumpy journey out to the islands. It was quite overcast and windy that day (characteristic of the wet season up north – there were also a few cyclones brewing near Cairns), so we got tossed around quite a bit. Quite a few people got sick, but I was smart and experienced after my bout of seasickness in Thailand a few years ago that I took some meds and was golden. We made it to our destination for the evening, a nice quiet bay, a few hours later and hunkered down for some socializing and dinner. Our boat was nice and quite big (although I think the ideal number of people for it was probably around 20…) so there were lots of space and places to hang out. Some dolphins came by to visit in the dark where our generated light was shining and it really excited us – they were eating tons of little fishies swimming around and when they snapped at them, you could see little puddles of blood. They came up quite close but didn’t seem too interested in us…but it was still an awesome experience.

Everyone crowded into the saloon on the New Horizon

Everyone crowded into the saloon on the New Horizon

Everyone went to bed decently early that night – we were warned against drinking too heavily because we’d be making a jaunt across more unsheltered water to Whitehaven beach the next morning, and they didn’t want sickies. We slept quite well in the double bed in the 24 person berth we were in – they were nice and let the couples have first dibs at the doubles. The ship reminded me a bit of a stuffed turkey – there were 24 beds at the front, and another 8 that you got to by a backdoor in the rear. The crew slept in a very small space in the captain’s station, and they even made the hired photography guy sleep in the storage area. It was quite cramped.

The next morning, we were wakened early, and told that we were going to go snorkelling/scuba diving first, because the winds were too strong to get to Whitehaven Beach. So, off we went to a nice place called Blue Pearl Bay, right next to a very ritzy celebrity resort that costs $10,000/night to stay at. Scott and I were unsure about diving – we are heading to Cairns in a few days to do a very intense 3-day dive tour where we do 11 dives (which is actually more than our total dive experience at the moment…), and we didn’t want to spend the money ($50/each for the dive). The dive instructor took a bit of a fancy to us, however, as we were two of only 6 certified divers, he managed to convince us to do the dive and gave us a bit of a deal to do it. We were the first group up to dive, and it was amazing. We are so happy he made us do it…the Great Barrier Reef is truly amazing and we saw tons of fish! Scott and I have never seen so many fish before on a dive. The dive was super chill and fun, as we didn’t go very deep (so it wasn’t hard on our bodies or oxygen supply) and saw tons. My favourite was visiting a little anemone where a few little Nemo clown fish lived and they poked their heads out to visit. We also passed through quite a few tunnels in the coral which was neat. Our dive master brought fish food in a little bottle and kept feeding the fish which was also super cool – they kept swarming us. We exited the dive by coming right up onto the beach where the snorkelers were – we’d never done that before either.

"Elvis"

Elvis

After the dive, we spent some time snorkeling in the bay – not as cool as diving, but still lots to see. We managed to see “Elvis” a giant fish that lives in the area who is very tame and friendly. I forget what kind of fish he is, but he was huge – he had giant lips which made him look hilarious.

After all this, we got back to the boat for some lunch and in the hopes of going to Whitehaven beach – it is supposed to be amazingly gorgeous and somewhat reminiscent of Lake Mackenzie on Fraser Island. However, upon arriving back and eating, we were told that the cyclone was moving south and that gale force winds were expected that afternoon, and that most of the boats were being ordered back into port. Everyone was thoroughly disappointed – it meant our trip was essentially cut in half. They said that we’d have a giant party docked in the marina with a few of the other boats who were coming back (not all came back – it depended on the discretion of the company who you were going with) and just hung out for the afternoon/evening there. It really sucked – we didn’t pay a large amount of money to sit on a boat in the Airlie Beach marina. This got a lot of people up in arms about a refund, etc., and put a bit of a damper on the evening. The group managed to pull it together and make the best of the evening though – the boat crew went and bought a few flats of beer and other drinks and made a giant punch for us and we started playing drinking games. Scott and I have really expanded our drinking game repertoire – it’s amazing the games people have all over the world. The Irish in particular have quite a few interesting ones – they really are a drinking bunch! Our group was primarily half British and half Irish, so it ended up being pretty fun and interesting. There was no drama though, which was awesome – nothing like Fraser Island. No bad apples in this group!

We awoke the next morning to the boat moving – even though we had been promised a good “lie in” (sleep in). This confused us terribly – where were we going? We thought it was unsafe to move? Where was our seasickness warning? The churning of the boat immediately got my sensitive tummy going and having not taken my meds, I ended up hogging the tiny washroom and writhing in pain. Turns out we had filled up our septic tank and we needed to go out to sea to dump it. That grossed me out too…yuck. How can that be good for the ocean?

View of the ship from the back

View of the ship from the back

As soon as we docked, most people got off the boat. We drove a few new great friends (our favourites – Pip and Serena from Ireland) back into town and had another very lazy day doing nothing. The boat company actually turned out to be pretty awesome – they gave us back our $65/person fuel/reef fee back to us, a voucher for a half price sail trip which we can try to sell, and a letter to see if our travel insurance will reimburse us. Quite a few other boats didn’t get anything, so we were pleased. We’d highly recommend the company – I believe it is the True Blue Sail Crew which runs the Tongarra, the New Horizon (us) and the Atlantic Clipper. We’d actually recommend people book the Clipper if they are heading to the Whistundays – it was the largest boat with 55 people and had 3-person cabins, each with their own bathroom (we only had 2 – one for the boys and one for the girls). They also had a hot tub and a really fun crew that organized lots of games and activities for them. We’d also recommend NOT going on the Tongarra – it’s very small, and you sleep outside on the deck. It rained quite a bit at night on our trip (and does for most of the summer), so you end up pretty drenched. Not fun.

As a bit of an after party to our trip, we were all to meet at 7:30 p.m at the Phoenix bar, where we would apparently get free pizza. Little did we know, 6 other boats were going there to get free pizza too and it turned into a gong show. You were supposed to stay with your boat to get the pizza – so we hung out near David (the crew guy), thinking he’d be the one to hand it out. We were WRONG. The douchebag totally ignored our boat and the pizza got handed our randomly, missing half the people on our boat! It was pretty brutal. So, Scott and I took off to buy our own pizza. We were pretty peeved.

We spent the rest of the night dancing and socializing with all our new friends. It was tons of fun! We went to another bar called Beaches which had a live band playing for a bit. A few of us are still staying for Australia Day (exactly like Canada Day) today, so it should be good fun. We’re promised a ripping good time with an Aussie barbie and some good fun later this afternoon. Tomorrow is another long drive to Cairns before heading off early the next morning on our 3-day dive trip, so we’ll be in a black zone again for quite some time.

3 comments to Blown away in the Whitsunday Islands

  • Dave

    I love snakebite too. Steph made fun of me for drinking it and said everyone back home would too. Thanks for validating me. Sorry about the boat hopefully things calm down when you get to cairns

  • Marc Chiswell

    WOW…

    I’m so jealous. This trip sounds unbelievable!!!

    When are you going to signapore?

  • Scott

    We will be in Singapore for Feb 20. Booked the flight!

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