The distance between Brisbane and Airlie Beach, whilst looking fairly short on the map, takes a painful 18 hours on the Greyhound!! Leaving Brisbane at 3pm got me to Airlie Beach at 9am the following morning!!!
I picked a hostel at random out of the Lonely Planet guide (aka the backpacker’s bible) and somehow managed to pick the one closest to the bus station and the beach! Not bad going!
They let me check in early, but since the 8 bed dorm that I should have been going into wasn’t ready yet, they upgraded me to a 4 person dorm! Loving this place!! The room itself doesn’t have any windows, but it’s clean, has air con, an en suite bathroom and free wifi.....and all for $20 per night! Awesome! I would honestly recommend Airlie Beachfront Backpackers to anyone!!
I didn’t actually make it out of the hostel on the first day – I was still recovering from my ridiculously long bus journey!
When I did venture out the next day I realised that Airlie Beach is basically a 1 street town! Everything that you need is on the main street or down by the lagoon (another outdoor swimming pool with a fake beach!)
I started looking at sailing tours round the Whitsunday Islands – the only problem is that there are literally hundreds of them to choose from! I ended up speaking to a number of travel agents to get their recommendations (I just didn’t want to end up on a party boat with a bunch of drunken teenagers!). One boat was mentioned at almost every travel agents.....The Waltzing Matilda!
So, I booked onto the cruise for the next day and hot footed it down to the offices to pick up my paperwork and onboard bag before they closed.
The next morning I checked my things into the luggage store at the hostel (which is free if you book an overnight tour through the hostel travel booking desk!) and headed down to the Abel Point Marina to meet the boat.
By 8.30am we were being guided down the walkways of the marina towards the boat that was to be home for the next 2 days.
The Waltzing Matilda is a beautiful 16.5 meter ex-racing yacht with old fashioned wooden interiors. Since it’s a fairly small boat, they limit the number of people allowed on the overnight cruise to 12.
We handed over our shoes before climbing on board to meet our skipper, Locky and our decky, Charlotte who allocated our bunks on the boat. I was in a room at the back of the boat with 2 other girls (Kelly from London and Miranda from Brisbane). There were 10 of us in all on the trip, an Italian couple whose names I never did learn, a couple from Brisbane (Kelly & Justin), Lauren and Kelly from London, Rosalind and Steph from Aberdeen, and Miranda from Brisbane.
Once we had our stuff stowed and sorted, we headed back up on deck for the safety briefing before we headed out of the marina into the beautiful blue waters of the Whitsundays.
We sailed for a good few hours, sitting on deck enjoying the sunshine (and a cup of tea or two) before we reached our first destination, Dumbell Island. Here we anchored, changed into our swimmers and donned the required stinger suits, which are basically thin wet suits which reduce the likelihood of being stung by a jelly fish.......even though there are no jellyfish at this time of year!!! They also make you look a little like tellytubbies once you have the hood and mittens on!!
Once suited up, we grabbed our snorkel masks and noodles (swimming floats) and hopped onto the dinghy which took us over towards the island and the coral reef. The reef here was beautiful and there was just so much to look at whether it be the shoals of brightly coloured fish, the different strangely shaped corals or the purple lipped clams that closed as soon as you got too close, that the hour we had there flew by! However, after an hour we were all beginning to shiver, so we hopped back onto the dinghy and transferred back to the Matilda where a hot lunch was waiting for us!
From here we sailed on to our next destination...Esk Island. We moored up here, jumped back into the dinghy with Charlotte & headed over for a walk on the island (most tours don’t stop at this island as it’s supposed to have the largest population of Death Adders in Australia......we didn’t see any!).
So, we went trekking across the island in flip flops (not easy!) taking tonnes of photos as we went! (I think I’ll pass up any future invitations to go rock climbing in flip flops...or “extreme flipflopping” as it got named!)
Back on the Matilda, we headed out for a sunset cruise to Tongue Bay where we moored for the night. Following that we headed downstairs for dinner and some drinks. I ventured out onto the deck very briefly (because it was freezing on deck) to look at the beautiful starry sky and the full moon. Everyone headed to bed at around 9.30pm knowing that we had an early start ahead of us in the morning!
I woke up at 7am the next morning having just been kicked in the butt by Miranda as she climbed down from the top bunk! We had breakfast, got dressed and by 7.45am were on the moved to our first stop of the day...Whitehaven Beach. We aimed to get there early as most of the day trip boats arrive at around 11.30am in time for everyone to get baked by the midday sun!!
Charlotte took us up to the lookout from which you can see the ever shifting sandbanks and the pristine white same of Whitehaven Beach (which is 95% silica instead of the usual 70% ish that is found on most beaches, making the sand here whiter and finer (and really good for cleaning jewellery in and repairing scratches on glass items!
From here we headed down towards the beach following the boardwalk trail through the bush when we saw......a snake! (cue the frantic backing away and the clicking of numerous cameras!) We weren’t sure whether the snake was venomous, but no one was taking any chances!!
We gave it enough time to make an escape, but it just sat there. It took Justin throwing a twig near it to make it move, giving us enough time to leg it past and make it down to the beach.
Whitehaven beach is stunning! The sand almost seems to glow as the sun bounces off it and the water is so amazingly crystal clear that you can watch shoals of fish swim by.
We had about 1 ½ hours on the beach before we had to head back to the Matilda to begin the journey home.
However, since we were making good time, Locky gave us the chance to go for another short snorkel at the Coral Gardens. In the end only Kelly, Justin & myself ended up going in (the water was quite cold). We got the giggles when Justin commented that he sounded like Darth Vader when breathing through the snorkel which kinda put an end to the actual snorkelling!
Back on board we had our final meal of the trip and then retreated back up on deck to enjoy the last of the sailing.
We made it back to the marina at around 4.30pm and all headed back to our hostels with the promise of meeting up later to watch the State of Origin game at Magnums.
The match was good, although it didn’t go the way that everyone wanted, with NSW beating QLD 18 – 8!!
A few days later, Miranda and I decided to hire a car and drive out to some of the smaller towns near Airlie Beach.
We picked up the car (a cute silver Honda Jazz) at 9am and headed down to check out Schute Harbour. However, the harbour wasn’t anywhere near as picturesque as the marina, so we headed off in the direction of Proserpine which is the next town along from Airlie Beach.
Along the way we decided to make a detour up to see Cedar Creek falls. The falls aren’t amazing, but you can swim in the pool underneath them (not that we did...it was a bit too cold for that!).
So, we headed off in the direction of our original destination – Proserpine.
Proserpine is a small town which didn’t have much to offer beyond a crazy shop that sold anything and everything you never knew you needed, a really cute, old post office and some conveniently located public toilets. Needless to say, we didn’t stay there long.
From here we headed out towards Bowen (with me at the wheel! Eeek!!).
Bowen is a small town and home to the ‘famous’ big mango (No. 2 on my list of “big things” seen! It’s also the town that they used to film the movie Australia in. The town itself is quite pretty and has a lot of beautiful beaches, some of which have shark nets up so that it’s safe to swim there without becoming shark fodder!!
After a quick stop at the information centre to locate the nearest supermarket and BBQ facilities we headed off in search of food armed with a map and directions. We ended up heading to Queens Beach and having a BBQ on the beach there – there wasn’t another human being in sight! Bliss!!
Once done with lunch, we headed up the coast to Horseshoe Bay where we sat, chilled and read out books for an hour or so, on the almost deserted beach in the afternoon sun.
We decided to drive up to the lookout on Flagstaff Hill to watch the sunset, which was just amazing! You have almost perfect 360° views over all the beaches and islands as well as the inland industrial areas.
We headed home with the last of the sunset behind us and made it back to Airlie not long after dark.
My last day in Airlie was spent hanging round the lagoon with Maire and Sanna (we even went for a swim in the freezing cold pool!)
In the evening we headed over to the Phoenix Bar (next to the YHA) which does a great dinner deal....buy a drink for $5 or more....and get ½ a pizza free! Bargin!!
So, fed and watered, I headed over to the bus station to get my Greyhound to my next location...Townsville!