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Wandering the Whitsundays

Whitsundays park sign

After wrenching ourselves way away from Cape Hillsborough we continued north on highway one, the road which goes around the entire country, usually near the coast. We didn’t go far though, our next stop was Airlie Beach, the jumping off point for the Whitsunday Islands. These are a group of subtropical islands with a reputation for being a slice of unspoilt paradise. We found a campsite, one of the Big4 chain which is top of the range when it comes to camping, they have fully equipped shared kitchen area so you can cook what you want. You often end up meeting other campers and chatting to them over dinner, which is usually nice. We are not BBQ experts like the locals, they cook up steaks and sausages and chops by the dozen. While we are usually boiling rice or couscous for something meat free and very spicy, they probably think we are just barmy poms. They really do camping well here, but I’ll talk about that another time.

Heading out of port

Airlie beach is a backpacker magnet; it’s a small town based around the seafront esplanade. Far more spic and span and lovingly developed than any British seaside town. The centrepiece is an artificial lagoon which is sort of kidney shaped and has a sandy beach on one side. Fringed by palm trees the whole development is top quality and it looks like no expense was spared building it, and then keeping it neat and tidy. The water has sunbathing holidaymakers from all corners of the globe sat around it. Sunbathing and showing off the body beautiful. As you can imagine we really dug the scene and donned out O’Neil togs and Ray Bans forthwith. Before long we had a bit of an entourage around us, hanging on our every word as we regaled them with stories of kangaroo rescues and heroic four wheel driving. Actually I might have imagined that last part, international trend setters we are not. We went for a swim and soon after getting out Candice Marie was too cold to stay, it was ‘arctic’ apparently. Meanwhile the lithe younger things sat around in bikinis and Speedos, soaking up the afternoon sunshine, watched over by the bronzed lifeguards. It’s a lovely town though, the sort of place where you could have a hedonistic time of it; if only our UK pounds were a valuable currency once again.

The main reason we came here was to go out and see something of the islands. There are 101 different tours out to the islands which are only just off the mainland, most of them follow a similar route and charge a similar price, about £85 for a full day. You can camp on the islands but there are few facilities and you can’t practically take a vehicle. So we booked our day tour and off we went at eight in the morning. We boarded the fairly small boat at the jetty, along with about twenty others and set off. It was a family business and the crew were very good, they had their patter well honed, almost slick enough to be American. For example, when we got underway we were told it was time to ‘kick the tyres and light the fires…there’s 1000 horses down below that want to get going’. Good lines. The skipper was fairly laid back and had perfected the knack of steering the ship with only his toes on the calm waters, as this picture shows:

Our laid back skipper

We were lucky with the weather, the sea was dead flat and the sun shone brightly all day. Our first stop was to snorkel at a reef, the islands are on the inner edge of the Great Barrier Reef so my snorkelling expectations were high. We weren’t disappointed; we’ve all seen the spectacular colours and manifold species of coral and fish on tv documentaries. This was just like that, only you were actually there, and it was all happening in five or six foot of water. We saw big pastel coloured parrotfish, angel fish, giant wrass, and profuse other types of bright and perfectly formed marine life. We all swam about for 40 minutes or so, in the watery wonderland, exploring the reef’s crevices and maze like formations. It was quite a spectacle and Candice Marie said it was the best snorkelling she’d done, despite the shark infested waters and possible jellyfish she stayed in for quite a while before getting out due to the…yes you guessed it, cold.

The snorkelling was just the precursor to the highlight of the trip. We next moored up at another beach and did a short walk through the dry forest canopy up to a look out point called Hill Inlet. One of the crew along the route told us  how he came here fifteen years ago, and decided to move here based on views like that we were about to see. The best view in Australia he said as we neared the lookout. Until that point there had been no view from amongst the trees but the lookout platform appeared and overlooked the bay below. He was absolutely right; this was one of, if not the best, view I’ve ever seen anywhere.

View from Hook Island

two bathers, not sure how they got there.

One of many small islands

I’m too deficient in superlatives to do it justice, but hopefully the pictures  will give an idea of the natural perfection of this place.  A hundred shades of blue interspersed with wind and tide blown sand, set in an unspoilt wilderness. The pictures only partially portray the beauty, it was breathtaking. Everyone there just stood and drank it all in for as long as possible, trying to etch it into the memory for future recollection. I could have stayed there for hours, but when you’re on a tour there is always a tight schedule. It’s a place you don’t forget though, it’s as if mother nature has chosen this out of the way location to pull out all the stops and show off to the max. Just to prove what grandeur she’s capable of, if left undisturbed by us humans, amazing. For me getting to places like this is the essence of travelling, they really make a trip.

Panoramic view from Hill Inlet (click on pic and scroll left/right)

A sea plane on Whitehaven beach.

After Hill Inlet we went on to Whitehaven beach where our crew cooked up a BBQ, very tasty it was. We stayed at the beach for a couple of hours, swimming in the azure waters and soaking up the sun, and no doubt some UV rays as well. We had snuck in a flask of red wine which as you can imagine was consumed with ease, with one of our number purchasing further measures from the boat crew. Need I say more.

Out in the bay a whale was spotted, but too far out to get a proper look. Dangerous jellyfish occupy these waters for much of the year but luckily not at the moment. Sharks are best not thought about, otherwise you’d never get in the water at all.

While on the boat the crew performed a neat trick. As we rounded a small island with a rocky peak they whistled out and help up a small fish from the back of the boat.

Offerings to the eagles

A few seconds later a sea eagle had taken off from the island and was heading towards the boat. As it got closer they threw the fish up and the eagle swooped down and grabbed it, taking it back off to its nest on the island.

Sea eagle going for the fish

Sea eagles seem quite common on the coast, but that doesn’t make them any less impressive.

Beach view

Spot the grounded boat, or tinnie as the locals call them.

Looking a right pair of wallys in our hats.

The beach we stopped for lunch on.

Later on we motored back through more islands eventually arriving back at Airlie beach. It had been a great day on the water and all on board were tired but happy. The crew encouraged us all to put in a review on the trip advisor website. A bold move as that website often ends up advising where you shouldn’t go, based on other travellers negative reviews. However getting glowing reviews on their site is probably the best publicity possible, and it is of course free. All in all good day, and a highlight of the trip so far.

The map below shows Hill Inlet where the panoramic shots were taken.

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3 Responses to “Wandering the Whitsundays”

  1. Carolann says:

    Hi again, Another interesting read……and superb picces…..Can I come and join you both lolxx

  2. Julie says:

    Very Jealous – Whitehaven is lovely! Pics look fabulous

  3. mum says:

    Fantastic read yet again and the beaches look amaaazing.

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