Day 21: We packed up our van in the morning say our goodbyes to Chris, Phil and a few others, jumped into Freddo and headed out of Hervey Bay. That day was a long drive, we were going to stop at Bundaberg to tour the rum distillery, unfortunately we arrive too late as we want to get up to a place called 1770 / Agnes Water to do something called Scooter Roo.
We arrived in Agnes Water about 1:30 and sign up for Scooter Roo to start at 2:15.
Scooter Roo is a company that offers tours around town on 50cc scooters done up to look like small Harley Davidson's / American Choppers. They provided helmets, leather jackets with flames on it and transfer tattoos to make yourself look badass. I got a few flaming skulls and such, Alicia got a nice heart just below her neck but when it came out we noticed it said "biker b****" on it. We picked our hogs and headed out round the grounds for a bit of a practice. I immediately flew off onto the grass because it felt so strange trying to turn it. I started to get the hang of it. Unfortunately Alicia had a little trouble with it though and she was dubbed a Koala, which meant she then had to go on the back of one of the lead bikes (which was a massive, proper bike) I thought she would actually like being dubbed a Koala but she was a little disappointed after having paid $75 for the trip.
We ride around for about 3 hours, looking at Kangaroos and checking out the sights. It was really good fun with about 30 odd of us in a line trying to over take each other, I even managed to reach the maximum speed of 80km/hr. Alicia was zooming up and down on the back of her massive bike with the rider going up to 120km/hr!
When we got back to the headquarters we picked up a professional picture and we all had a good laugh at each others.
In the evening we headed off north as it got dark. We drove for another couple of hours until we found a rest stop to sleep in. Curry for dinner, at least we remembered to wash it up this time so it didn't stink out the van. It's Sunday, so we both take calls from family and head to bed about 11.
Day 22: This day was defined really by a lot of driving. We covered 440 km overall but because of roadworks (that are literally all over the roads in Oz) and the slow speed limits, it practically took the entire day.
We did make one stop at Rockhampton, a city that seems to be obsessed with cows, there are statues of them everywhere and in our brief visit to the I-site their top suggestion was to visit a cattle market. We opt to go to their free Zoo, it's not that big and it's animals we had seen before, but it gave our legs a bit of a stretch and some fresh air before we made lunch and promptly headed back on the road.
Around 6pm we pull into a road house (an area behind a petrol station) for the night, unfortunately we are only supposed to spend 12 hours there and I'm not keen to leave at 6am so we chance it. The road house was also situated right next to a train line with long lines of coal carts being pulled for as far as the eye could see. If all this wasn't indicative of a great nights sleep, it was incredible humid in the car and full of mosquitos. Frequently in the night I had turn on the lights and kill a few. Not a great sleep, but at least it was free.
Day 23: We left the road house at around 7:30am and make our way a few hours north east to Airlie Beach. We check in to our "Jucy Stop" in Nomads backpackers, instead of another carpark we get more of a camping pitch which was nice. The rest of the day was spent shopping (food, sea sickness tablets and finding an underwater camera) and finding a place to use cheap or free internet. In the evening we bought a bottle of Bunderburg Rum to take on the boat with us whilst dodging the rain which is pouring outside (we hoped it wouldn't be like that the next day), then meeting for a few drinks with Ben (He was on our Noosa trip and we also met him on Fraser in a different group. It was just by chance he was on the same Whitsundays boat at the same time) and Caroline (She was on our Fraser tour) to try and get ourselves into the Whitsunday spirit. The weather made it difficult, but it was a fun night whilst it lasted. We all turned in fairly early for an early start tomorrow and to try and catch up on some sleep from the previous nights poor slumber.
Day 24: We had to get up, check out, park and pack for our trip ready for the 8:30 briefing at OzSail office. The clouds are grey, but it's not raining so that's good. OzSail gives us a brief talk about what to bring and what to expect as well as taking some local fees and stinger suit rentals (to protect against jellyfish) we still had to pay.
The rest of the morning was free until we met up again at 12:30 to collect our suits and board our ship, ex racing boat "Spank Me".
Shortly after leaving the very fancy harbour they have problems setting up the sails and we have to keep doing circles in the water until it's sorted. I volunteered as a "grinder" to help put up the sails (its 8 people spinning 4 grinds that lift the sail). Whilst sailing, the boat leans over massively to one side, everyone try's not to fall off.
The only stop for day 1 was snorkelling a reef called Caves Cove. Really nice introduction to the reef, although in hindsight it was still the least interesting spot on the trip with sparser coral and fish. Alicia panicked to begin with getting in the water as you had to just flop yourself off the side of a dingy to get in. The stinger suit helps keep you a float and she had a "noodle" float to help, so once she had relaxed and seen some of the coral she soon got the hang of it.
Spag Bol for dinner which was served on the only available surface down stairs near the bunk beds. Upstairs on the boat it was where all the socialising went on, downstairs is really only for sleeping with a small galley. As the skipper says, "it's an ex racing yaht, it's built for speed not comfort". With a full boat of 26 passengers and 4 crew, it's a bit of a squeeze.
After a few drinks everyone turned in for a reasonably early night but through the night we hit a pretty stormy patch of weather. The high winds made the boat rock violently whilst we could hear the water slosh against the side of the boat just through the walls in our bunk. The rain also came through the emergency hatch in the ceiling which woken me up a couple of times. The conditions made it hard to sleep, but we were all tired so we still got a decent amount.
Day 25: It was still raining when we woke up at 6:30am although the storm seemed to have stopped. First call today is Whitsunday Island. We anchored in Tongue Bay for Whitehaven beach; we were told that it was the second best beach in the world 99.9% silica sand. They used this sand to make the Hubble telescope lens.
We took the little dingy over to the island 6 at a time. It was then a short walk up to the lookout for the postcard shot of Whithaven, the view was great and the water fantastic. Unfortunately though it was raining a little and the sky was full of grey clouds (not quite what we had imagined the weather to be like). After getting all our pictures, we head down towards the Hill Inlet and the beach itself. The sand was so fine on the beach that you could actually exfoliate your skin by rubbing it on your face gently, putting it in your hair would soften it and you could even clean your teeth with it. I promptly did all of them. Me and Alicia then put on our stinger suits and waded out into the clear shallow water with an Irish couple to walk with the many stingrays (which you could see the outline of swimming around as you walked out - although the wind obscured any real view of them) and to look for sharks. Me and the Irish guy went for a swim out to a sand island in the middle of the Inlet whilst Alicia and the irish girl went back to sit on the beach for a bit (although it did rain again). We left at 10:30 with it slowly brightening up and sailed for the next few hours whilst we relaxed on the deck in the now sunny weather.
Lunch was meat pie, Alicia double pied (Alicia: not called Pie Face for no reason :P)
Dive spot 1 - Luncheon Bay (Hook Island) we paddled around with an array of fish, Alicia managed to get off the boat with a little help from myself and first mate "Sam" we both enjoyed ourselves once in the water though seeing quite a few really big fish (1 type was a bump head parrot fish) amongst other brightly coloured and interesting looking fish. Alicia headed back to the boat a little earlier, I stayed out, abput 10 minutes later I looked up but Spank Me seemed to be miles away which lead the rest of us snorkelling to worry a bit (afterwards we would find that the anchor had unattached and the current had taken it out to sea). We continued to snorkel for a bit, then rested on the beach where we found the rest of the "stranded" until the boat returned to pick us up. Once all on board we sailed out away from the island but for some time the skipper fed a Sea Eagle by chucking scraps of meat from tonights dinner up off the boat. The bird would circle the boat and swoop to catch the meat, although it seemed to have problems catching anything, the sea gulls picked up the meat that fell in the water, they got more of the meat than the Osprey.
Dive spot 2 - Blue Pearl reef (Hayman Island) We swam off a beach made completely of dead coral. Alicia builds up the courage to snorkel. Once she is ready I jump in first, literally the first thing I see is a black tip reef shark that promptly swam away, I decided to keep this fact from Alicia until she gets out as she is still trying to find the confidence in get in the water. This is the skipper's (Neil) favourite snorkel spot as this was the first marine park, 14 years ago, so fish dont know you as a threat consequently they will swim right up to you and around you without any fear. Quality.
A feast was laid on for dinner, roast beef with freshly made cheesy mash and gravy. It went down a treat and was an epic feat considering the size of the Galley.
More rum (we are on a boat after all) and socialising on deck in the evening. A bottle of bunderburg rum had disappeared in 2 evenings. Not bad going. Alicia was tired though and went to sleep soon after dinner on top of 2 long naps in the day. She put it down to her sea sickness tablets.
Day 26: We got woken up at 6:45 today by the sound of the engines to find some people are already debating whether to go snorkelling. It was raining, cold and grey. Not exactly inviting at that time in the morning and not surprisingly most (sane) people decided not to go or even to leave their bed. Alicia didn't want to go but I and 5 others jumped into our still wet stinger suits and took the small dingy out towards the Black Island Reef.
It was actually warmer in the water that it was on deck (the water was around 24C). The reef wasn't as impressive as the day before but the coral was more colourful and I got to spend a good amount of time in the water, I even saw a massive brown spotted fish (possibly a type of groper fish) other smaller colourful fish and massive coral outcrops. We swam over the reef that was only around 1-2 metres from the surface which sometimes made swimming hard, but ensured you were close to the action.
When we got out we were all freezing, luckily it was a little warmer below deck by this time. We had breakfast (cereal and bread), put the sails up and headed about 3 hours back (going 13 knots) to Airlie Beach port.
After we hit land again we jumped in the car and get our underwater disposable camera developed. I saw Arnie has brought out his autobiography, I bought that immediately. We headed to Hungry Jacks (effectively it's Burger King) to use their free wifi.
About 6pm we meet a couple of people from our trip (Ben and Caroline) in Beaches Bar for a $8 pitcher of cider. Later we head to Phoenix Bar were if you bought any drinks over $5 you got 1/2 a large dominos pizza for free. We met some of the crew in there and find that they are both leaving, partly because the Skipper was not exactly the nicest bloke and partly because the pay is poor and 15 hours a day is spent below deck cooking and cleaning. Not the dream job it seems then.
Day 27: It's the first day in Airlie that we'd woken up to blazing sunshine. Extremely frustrating. Why couldn't it have been like this on our trip?
We showered, packed and headed up the road, back onto the Bruce Highway, stopping briefly at The Big Mango, which was exactly what it said. It was a random 2-3 story high plastic mango in the middle of nowhere, save for a shop selling $4 pots of 100% mango sorbet. We took our photos, shared a pot of sorbet and chipped off up the road again.
We arrived in Townsville about 3:15. We head directly to Reef HQ, the worlds largest living reef aquarium. We manage to get in on student tickets due to a nice receptionist (from Norfolk). We had a talk on turtles, found Nemo and about 100 like him, saw some big ass sharks and rays and managed to put some names to faces of fish and coral we saw over the last few days. We left when it closed at 5pm and headed and hour north to Blue Water Creek Rest Area, a pleasant (and packed) rest area in a field near a creek. I set the bed up and Alicia cooked bacon and carrot pasta. We managed to sit and eat outside for the first time in a while with the sun finally retreating at 7pm.
Through the night we listened to the various bats flying around and enjoyed visiting the toilet as it was infested with big green frogs (Alicia found one on the toilet seat and by the time I found it, it had jumped into the toilet itself).
Day 28: We pack up and leave the rest stop. Our destination today is just outside of Cairns. It's a beautiful sunny day (about 30C) and bright blue sky. The day mainly revolved around driving, but we did stop off for a Sunday Lunch in Mission beach where we found a nice beachside restaurant where we had an excellent $10 fish and chips. After we walked around 4km round trip along the picturesque beach and shoreline (the water was nice and warm). Mission beach was a strange place in the fact that dense rainforest went all the way to the beach, so you could walk off the beach and do a jungle trek.
We drove a little further up the road and went of a couple of hours trek through the jungle up to a look out, it was really humid making to the steep walk harder, also Alicia was freaking out a bit because of snakes, it didn't help that there were a load of lizards that would run out infront of us and would rustle the dry leaves. By the time we got to the top she was a nervous wreck so we quickly made our way down where I saw a big monitor lizard sunny itself on the path before spotting us and legging it into the bush. Alicia was happy to see Freddo at the bottom and could finally relax.
We left Mission Beach around 4pm, passing a place called "Muff Creek" (lol) towards Cairns.
We had real trouble finding the free rest stops we heard about, all the places we saw were too far away from Cairns or when we got closer they all had "No Camping" signs and weren't set up for overnighting (e.g. no lights in the loos). Before we knew it we were in Cairns and after looking around a few more places we were forced to use a Jucy Stop at a place called "Serpents Nomads" where they had a carpark, but we weren't allowed to sleep in our car.
So we had finally made it to Cairns, unfortunately we couldn't spend the last night in Freddo, which was a bummer. But we had made it, in time and in one piece, having a car had been a much better experience than the Greyhound. We got to see some interesting and quirky places as well as meeting some interesting people.
We watched a film or two in Freddo that evening and turned into our 8 bed dorm room for the night ready to be up and out the next day to return Freddo to Jucy :(