After a long and rather uninteresting drive from Townsville we arrived at Airlie Beach - launch pad for the Whitsunday Islands.We last stayed here ten years ago and didn't think that much of it.But it does seem to have improved some. We don't remember the shore front being so well appointed, nor do we remember The Lagoon (a swimming pool with man-made sandy beach) being there.It actually made the place look quite attractive.But of course Airlie Beach itself was just incidental.The very beautiful Whitsundays were definitely the main attraction and, as the most southerly point of access to the Great Barrier Reef, also our last chance to go snorkelling there. M did, however, have one short burst of energy when she went out for a cycle ride.We wanted to go out on the Gretel (the first Aussie yacht to win the Americas cup), on which we'd sailed the Whitsundays on our last visit. However she is no longer there but is now plying her trade in the waters of the Mediterranean. So we were grateful to be able to call on David and Nobumi's Australian travel journal and, on the basis of their glowing report, booked our trip with Maxi Ragamuffin for snorkelling at Pearl Bay on Hayman Island. This, the original, Ragamuffin is the most successful Australian racing yacht ever and provided us with a wonderful day out on the water. This time we even got some time under sail, which was absolutely brilliant - although the tilt in excess of 30° was pretty scary for us landlubbers! We were all hanging on for dear life to stop slipping off the deck and into the ocean! (See Central Queensland photo album.)The snorkelling was also excellent, although different from our experience up at Port Douglas.There we were far out to sea and jumped from the boat into deep water, whereas here we were taken ashore and able to swim gently off from the beach.There was an abundance of wonderful fish and they were as interested in us as we were in them, swimming right up to our faces and even nibbling at our hands. (We took some photos with a non-digital underwater camera and these have still to be developed.)Our next port of call was Hervey Bay farther south on the Central Queensland coast.However, the distance from Airlie Beach is such that it took us two days to drive with an overnight stop at Marlborough.Hervey (pronounced Harvey) Bay seems to exist mainly as the ferry point for Fraser Island and, between August and November, for whale watching.There is only one official road on Fraser Island - the beach!Other than that there are only sandy tracks on which to travel inland.Consequently, the only way you can visit the island is if you have a 4WD or on an organised tour.Not having the former we had to opt for the latter and signed up for a two-day tour with the Fraser Island Company led by our guide, Steve.He couldn't half talk, but he was knowledgeable and informative, and really good fun with a wealth of quips and good stories.And he took E's ribbing in good part, giving as good as he got.We were a group of 24 and a range of nationalities, 8 Dutch, 2 Swedes, 2 English, 2 Austrian, 2 German (on their honeymoon - awww, sweet!), 6 Aussies and 2 Scots (ie us). Everyone got on really well and it was great to be in the company of so many Europeans for a change.Fraser Island is very beautiful and, surprisingly for an island made of sand, heavily forested.It used to be a major centre for the logging industry before it was listed as a World Heritage site. We drove up the main road (ie the beach) and stopped to view the wreck of the Maheno, a luxury liner which was built in Scotland in 1906.She ran aground during a cyclone 75 years ago and has been lying there ever since.We stopped at the usual sights including the coloured sands, Indian Heads which is the actual rock around which Fraser Island formed, a trek through forest alongside the crystal clear water of Wanggoolba Creek, and a paddle - up to our knees/thighs - up Eli Creek.We stayed overnight in a tented camp, with a very comfortable bed.It was a good night with a good crowd, Steve having rustled up a very tasty meal.One thing you can't do on Fraser Island is swim in the ocean, at least on the east coast where it is full of all manner of deadly things - sharks, jellyfish, rip tides and undertows, poisonous weed - so we stayed clear!But refreshment was at hand with opportunities to swim in the inland lakes of Wabby and Birrabeen. Lake Birrabeen was quite bizarre because the properties of the lake are supposedly good for exfoliating skin and washing hair, and everyone was giving themselves a thorough beauty treatment - even Steve with his long curly locks - and in the pouring rain.As the rain swept from the hills over the 'loch' we felt we were back home in Scotland. We wished we had had more time to spend in Hervey Bay as it's a really attractive small collection of communities along the length of long sandy beach and with lots of cycle tracks weaving between the trees along the shoreline.But we did manage to fit in a whale watching trip on Quick Cat II and were treated to some wonderful close ups of mother and calf pods - some of them snoozing on the surface (must bringing up a calf which drinks 200 litres of milk a day) but others cavorting and splashing around having themselves a whale of a time (sorry but couldn't resist).See Central Queensland photo album.It was then off to Noosa to meet up with Valerie - Pam's cousin - and her husband Derek.Following their directions from Cooroy, we headed up into the high hills with the low late afternoon sun in our eyes.With a car right up our bum, too late we saw their house and driveway flash past.A quick U turn brought us back to see Derek standing at the end of the drive and he guided us on to his property from where we saw one of the most amazing views. Their house on Black Mountain overlooks a lush sweep of hills and valleys formed by volcanic outcrops as far as the eye can see in all directions.We hadn't met Val and Derek before (they emigrated in 1963) but they readily welcomed us into their (very lovely) home. We really appreciated their friendliness and warm hospitality - it was also nice to recognise a hint of Pam's family and Surrey after all our time on the road.We have really enjoyable evening with them and their vast estate produces so much that we were treated to a delicious dinner, breakfast with eggs from their own hens and lemon butter which Val makes from her own lemons - we went away with a jar which is now eagerly being consumed.We would have loved to have spent more time with Val and Derek, but the sale of Annie drives us on all too quickly.In Noosa, after a change of tyre and a car wash we arrived at our caravan park in a lovely spot at Munna Point right on the banks of the Noosa River.We had intended to have a game of golf that afternoon but sunshine, sand and laziness won out and we spent the afternoon on the beach instead. We knew Brett from our time in Surrey and he has since moved out to Brisbane.By chance he and his friend Jane happened to be here at the same time as us so we met up that evening for drinks and a meal. We had a really enjoyable evening and it was good to see Brett again.Jane, being the only Australian, was on the receiving end of some invigorating discussion about Australia's quirks and foibles!!She was, however, more than capable of holding her own and took our views in good spirit. Next morning we were on the move again - next stop our first visit to Brisbane.
E M xxx