Just before catching our overnight Greyhound bus to Airlie Beach last Wednesday, Jem and I walked along Shelley Beach to Urangan Pier to watch the fishermen in action, a young boy caught a baby shark, and the beautiful sun setting over the water. We then got a lift in our hostel bus to the bus station and caught our, very busy, bus. Neither of us slept much on the bus and we arrived into Airlie Beach, on the Whitsunday Coast, at 9.30am on Thursday morning feeling very tired.
Airlie Beach is a small town which has, sadly, got no beaches but what it does have is, quite a nice, man-made lagoon for swimming and sunbathing and it's a great base for the whitsunday Islands. I was here seven years ago so I was interested to see whether it had changed much.
We'd already decided were we wanted to stay so we jumped in the free Bush Village Backpackers bus and headed to the hostel, 2km West of Airlie Beach. We decided to treat ourselves with a double room ($78 deluxe double, bathroom and kitchen) and booked for Thursday night and then Sunday and Monday night for after our sailing trip. After dumping our bags we then headed into town on the free bus to get some brekkie as we were both starving because we hadn't had any tea the night before. After breakfast we checked into the Oz Adventure Sailing office, paid the remainder of our bill for the sailing trip($15 each for a 'Stinger Suit' and $40 each for reef taxes) and had a wander round the very small town.
The very 'not' sexy 'Stinger Suits' (all-over-the-body suits, with hood) are required from October to April in Queensland Coastal waters because they are filled with the deadly box jellyfish and the much smaller, but similarly dangerous, Irukandji jellyfish. They may appear harmless, but the sting from a box jellyfish has been known to kill in a matter of minutes so we were definitely wearing it!
We spent the day chilling round the hostel and had an early night ready for our trip.
The next morning we had brekkie at the hostel (included in the price) and walked to Abel Point Marina for 8am. We met our group, 14 people in total, and Paul Elliott, the dive instructor and crew member for the trip. We then took our shoes off and boarded the boat, our home for the next three days, a 16.4m Ketch Kiana. There are so many boats to choose from in the Whitsundays but we were recommended Kiana for diving as it has on board diving (i.e. you don't have to waste time getting off the boat to keep refilling the tanks) and also it is a small, usually a bit older, group. The owners did an intro talk (we later found out from the crew that the owners are a little bit anal when it comes to waving bye bye to their boat), got told that unfortunately due to the 5m waves in the Outer Reef we would not be able to take the boat there and dive (Boo hoo very sad as we are not going to Cairns but this only means that we'll have to come back another time - yipee!) and set off for Blue Pearl Bay, Hayman Island. Watch out Jack sparrow here I come!!!!
There are 74 beautiful islands in the Whitsundays. Most are uninhabited and almost all are part of the Great Barrier Reff Marine Park, Central Section. Many of the islands are coral-fringed. The Marine Park covers the main reefs of the Great Barrier Reef, most 39 nautical miles from the Whitsundays.
We had quite a rough ride to Hayman Island, the most northerly island in the Whitsundays Group, thankfully I had taken some seasickness tablets and only felt slightly queasy. I dread to think what I would have been like without them! The waves were 2.5m high and there were 25knot winds. On the way our dive instructor Paul gave us a talk then when we arrived at Blue Pearl Bay, which is on the North West of the island, we had a gorgeous lunch and chilled for a bit. Then the certified divers (i.i. Jem and I) went out for a dive. We dived quite close to the island where the most coral is. Due to the previous days bad weather the visibility was poor and we didn't really see much but is was good to get back into diving after a couple of months off.
After diving we had a nice chilled beer and got to know the group. Later we had a lovely roast dinner, a brief talk about the following days plan and bed.
Saturday we were up at 6.30am for brekkie at 7am and sailed to Luncheon Bay, Hook Island, the second largest island in the Whitsundays. Again it was choppy on the way, especially when we sailed through an inlet between Hayman and Hook Island, but I think I was getting used to sailing because we had a great time standing at the very front of the boat as we went over the waves. We also saw turtles popping their heads up for air and then when we arrived to Luncheon Bay we saw lots of batfish and a couple of jellyfish - pass me that stinger suit!
Jem and I decided not to dive again due to the poor visibility so we had a great time snorkelling instead and were able to see alot more fish and coral. We saw Parrotfish, Banded Humbug, Fox-face Rabbit-fish (who swim with their partners - very cute!), a Hump Headed Maori Wrasse which can grow up to 2.3m and we heard fish crunching the coral and saw lots of beautifully coloured coral.
After a lunch of Satay Chicken with rice and salad, we sailed to Maureen's Cove, we had ideally wanted to go to Manta Ray Bay but only so many boats can moor their at any one time and there was already a queue! Again we snorkelled at different parts of the cove and saw Bi-coloued Clownfish (i.e. Nemo's), big clams, lots of Parrotfish, Moon wrasse, Estuary Rockcod, Violet Lined Maori Wrasse, Sailfinned Tang and Irukandji Jellyfish. I also saw a stupid family, without stinger suits on, snorkelling and trying to break a bit of coral off - idiots! We gave them a glare and they got out of the water. At around 4pm we sailed to Nara Inlet for the night, a little cul-de-sac, quite close to Whitehaven Beach, where we were headed the following day. That evening we had a gorgeous dinner of Spag Bol, made by our hostess Kyla, and a great night with the group. Paul also gave a talk to us about the different fish and coral we'd seen and told us the plan for the next day.
On Sunday, sadly our last day, I was up at 5.20am as I couldn't sleep and spent the next couple of hours outside on the deck, on my own, just watching the waves and islands go by. At 7am we all had brekkie and sailed from Nara Inlet to Tongue Bay, which is a breeding ground for turtles and has alot of Tiger Sharks so swimming is not advised. Tongue Bay is on Whitsunday Island which is the largest of the the Whitsunday group and is home to the world famous, 6km long, Whitehaven Beach, on the Southeastern Coast. This is the longest and best beach in the Whitsundays and has pure white silicon sand. Kiana was moored in Tongue Bay and Brent, our skipper, dropped us off on the beach in 'Mini Kiana' and we walked to the lookout for Whitehaven Beach. Even though it was still only 9am there was a queue for the lookout and loads of travellers from the 'party boats' with their cans of VB!! I suddenly realised that we'd definitely picked the right boat. From the lookout we walked to Hill Inlet and chilled on the beach for an hour. Jem and I loved our stinger suits that much that we'd brought them along so that we could go for a swim. This was fun and we saw a couple of big fish. Unfortunately Whitehaven Beach wasn't like the photo's due to lots of rain and high tide making the water not very clear, but it was still great to see the beautiful beach and swim in the sea. We then headed back to the boat and set sail for home, which was going to take about 3 hours. On the way home Brent got the sails out and we sailed for quite a way which was great fun, even if a bit scary because the boat tipped on it's side and at one point I thought I was going to fall in!
We had an amazing experience on Kiana, we were lucky with the weather, the crew were lovely, the food was delicious and we had a brilliant group who will be friends for life!
We arrived back to Airlie Beach at about 4ish, arranged to meet the group later at a bar in town called Beaches and walked, the lovely route, back to the hostel. Our group met at 7.30pm for drink with the crew (Brent was on a second date so couldn't come) and a great night was had by all.
The next day I woke up with a bad hangover and just chilled with Jem and later wandered down into town to check out the lagoon which was exactly the same as I remembered it seven yrs ago.
On Tuesday we flew, from the Whitsunday Coast Airport in Proserpine to Brisbane and then to Melbourne, arriving in Melbourne at 6.30pm and kindly being picked up by Kate, a friend of Jem's who we are staying with in Melbourne. Kate and her husband Steve live in a lovely house in Newport, not far from the city centre and they have two gorgeous kittens called Maggie and harvey, who love Jem.
Yesterday we got the train from Newport Station to Flinders Street Station in town and got the free tram round the city to get our bearings. We past the Telstra Dome Stadium, in the Docklands, where we are going to watch an Ozzie Rules Footy game on Sunday, the State Library, one of Australia's oldest cultural institutions which was built in various stages from 1854, Parliament House which started to be built in 1856 and is still the city's most impressive public building. Australia's first Federal Parliament sat here from 1907 before moving to Canberra in 1927. Next we past St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne Town Hall which was built between 1870 and 1880, Block Arcade, built is 1891 and is a beautifully intact 19th-Century shopping arcade, Fitzroy Gardens which is one of the best 19th-Century landscaped gardens, Federation Square and St Paul's Cathedral. I tried to get on the Neighbours Tour but it was unfortunately booked out. Probably a good thing really because it's a bit of a rip off at $40. A friend of ours had told us to visit Degraves Street which is a narrow alleyway, filled with cool cafes and wine bars so we went there for a coffee and then got the train back to Newport. Yesterday evening was spent watching the amazing and very funny 'Priscilla Queen of the Desert' at the Regent Theatre. Priscilla is the story of three fish (or drag queens to you and me!) out of water travelling across Australian outback in an old bus. The soundtrack was brilliant and included classics like I Will Survive, Finally, Boogie Wonderland, Hot Stuff, I Say a Little Prayer and Don't Leave me this Way.
Today we're off to a really good food market called Prahran Market and we're going to get the free tour bus around the city. This afternoon we want to visit, the very lively and cosmopolitan, St Kilda to see the beach. Then hopefully we'll sample some of Melbourne's nightlife by visiting The Supper Club which is meant to be a really cool, funky bar that only the locals know about!
Our first impressions of Melbourne are very high. It has a much more European feel about it compared to Sydney and we love the cafe culture and the brilliant bars. The only down side is how much colder it is here but it's nice to wrap up once in a while hey!
Tomorrow is Anzac Day, a public holiday and one of Victoria's most important commemorative occasions. On 25 April, 1915, Australian and New Zealand troops joined forces to invade Turkey. After intence fighting in appalling conditions, a legend of endurance, courage and mateship created. We'll be getting up very early tomorrow morning and attending the Dawn service which starts at 6am, with the offical wreath Laying Service starting at 8.15am. There's then an Anzac Day March to the Shrine of Remembrance where a Commemoration Service is held at 1pm. Steve tells us that this is a very Australian day and I'm really looking forward to being a part of it.
On Saturday, Jem and I are hopefully going to Mornington Peninsula to visit Jools, Becs and Ruby. Sunday we have the footy and then Monday we pick up our Wicked Campervan to travel along the Great Ocean Road - can't wait!
I'll let you know how we get on when I can. Lots of love from us xxxxxx