Sunday, May 28, 2006

Onwards to the Sunshine Coast and the Whitsunday Islands, here I come!

May 28th. Yet another early morning as my bus leaves at 7:20am for Airlie Beach; the next stop on my Ozzie adventures... this is a mere 10 hour journey - reminded me of my South America days except the bus drivers here are slightly more involved with their passengers behaviour! No feet allowed up on the seat, no lying across two seats even if there is no one else there (and if you do, he gets on the microphone and calls you out in front of everyone!), no eating, no drinking any milk products and only liquids from a bottle, not a can, you must stay in your assigned seat ... hmmmn slightly more rules oriented than in SA... love the fact their uniforms are shirt, tie, and the teeny tiniest wee shorts you can imagine, with long woolly socks up to their knees.. anyway i digress!

Arrived into Airlie Beach around 5:30pm. Went to my hostel - was booked into Koala Den by my travel agent - hmmn bit of a dump with the grumpiest folks working the front desk! Airlie is a funny wee town; population is around 3,000, but a ton of folks use this place as the gateway for boat tours to the Whitsunday Islands. Had to confirm my booking for tomorrow - it poured down here today - hope the weather gets ALOT better on this trip as i don't fancy sitting on a boat for three days getting drenched - yuk! Back at the hostel I met two lovely Scottish girls from Galashiels so we had a spot of dinner together then off to pack a small bag for the next three days! Still raining .....not a good sign!

March 29th. Up early again 7:15am to check out and head down to the boat. It's called "The Providence" and definitely reminds me of a baby pirate ship (as Gemma one of my new shipmates described it!). Technically its a classic tall ship rigger(I think..) and our crew are Gareth the captain (and as we would find out later, also the owner!) and Darren, who does pretty much everything else!!! He sails, cooks, takes us snorkeling, slags us off - you name it, he does it! The good thing about this ship is that you get a chance to actually learn a wee bit of sailing, and boy did Darren put us through our paces! Once we were all on board we did the usual introductions - funnily enough, another brillo gang. How lucky am i that this keeps happening! There was Jay from New York, Mike from Liverpool (the posh part thank you very much - more on him later - he is absolutely HILARIOUS!), Steve from Birmingham, Lucy from Leicester, An and Az from London, Edward from Paris and Gemma from Northern Ireland. Oh yes and Luke, from Canada who was officially a volunteer on the ship, so he got a free trip in exchange for helping with dinner, general cleaning etc. He had never done this before but just showed up at the jetty asking if anyone needed help - not a bad way to stretch out your trip, see new stuff and not have to pay for it!

And so to a little bit about the Whitsundays for you folks out there! In 1770, this network of ethereal islands snagged its first tourist when Captain Cook stumbled across its beautiful path..he called it the "epitomy of paradise"; not a bad name actually as it really is gorgeous! The Whitsundays are a group of 74 islands which are mostly uninhabitated and fall within the perameters of the Great Barrier Reef world heritage site. All but four of these islands are either predominantly or completely set up as national parks. Two that we would be visiting are Hook Island, the second largest of the Whitsundays at 53 sq km, with the largest island that bears the groups name, Whitsunday Island itself, coming in at a hefty 109 sq km! On its southeast coast, 6km long Whitehaven Beach is the longest and finest beach, some say in all of Oz, others say in the world! So that in a nutshell is what I'm going to be doing for the next 3 days; sailing, snorkeling and generally hanging around in the sun and sand of these beautiful islands!

Off we set on a bit of a grey day - we were all hoping the gorgeous blue skies would arrive soon! And lucky for us that's exactly what happened. As i mentioned earlier, part of the thing about this trip is that you get to help sail the boat, so right away Darren had us all pitching in, pulling the ropes for the "peak" and the "throat" - some of us being "tailors" gathering the rope in - all technical terms for different parts of the ship. Our first day we sailed from about 9ish till 12:30, up over South Molle island. Had a great lunch here (courtesy of Darren and Luke) then we headed off to a fabulous area between Hook and Whitsunday islands, an amazing place called Coral Gardens, where the corals were so beautiful, really exotic looking but also some that looked like parts of the moon or people's brains (seriously) - crazy stuff and so many colours! Purples, bright greens, pinks, mad! Gareth said where we would snorkel tomorrow would be even more amazing; this time for the types of fish we would see. So def. looking forward to that!

After snorkeling we sailed to our evening resting spot - in Tongue Bay. Had a great BBQ dinner (yup there's a huge BBQ attached to the side of the boat -amazing eh!). After dinner, we sat around chatting.. great time had by all..
then most of us decided to sleep outside under the stars... 'cos it was such a gorgeous evening. The stars were amazing (we all tried to see the Milky Way, Southern Cross - only seen in the southern hemisphere no surprise and is on the Australian flag!) and the sky just looked so twinkly.. this trip was def heading up to be one of the highlights of my time in Oz! A great first day on the boat!

Tues May 30th. Another gorgeous day with blue, blue skies above - yah! We got up early to try and see the sunrise but as the sun was hidden behind the hills we didn't quite manage it! Oh well. Had breakfast then we headed off early (while the tide was still out) to see Whitehaven beach in all its glory (and to try and get there before the crowds, cos this is one of the most popular areas of the Whitsundays!). Wow - absolutely incredible - I'm not really a huge beach fan but this place was just gorgeous.. so huge and vast (that's why we had to get here while the tide was out cos its all covered over later in the day). It is so white - 98% silica and is so fine you can use it to clean your jewellery - we tried it, it really works! absolutely breathtaking! Played footie with Mike for a while (my newly adoptive son - loved this guy - a nut case and fun fun fun - AND is willing to wear a Celtic top cos his pals in Coatbridge gave it to him, even tho' he's a Rangers fan!). Back to the boat around 10:30am (yup its still early folks!) and we headed off to Mantaray Bay for more snorkeling. Fantastic -there was this MASSIVE fish there (and i mean giant), apparantly its a Mari Wasse if you want to look it up. This one is a firm fave on the boat scene, so much so he is called Elvis - after his sneering blue upper lip.. he scared me to death! Some people patted it but i didnt get quite that close! Saw so many different types of fish here ... loved it! Back on board after we said goodbye to Lucy, Steve and Jay who were heading home a day earlier than us - bummer as we had such a good group!

The rest of us sailed on to Blue Pearl Bay - a gorgeous spot where we anchored. Darren took us over to the beach to enjoy the sunset and it really was beautiful! Mike decided to get friendly with the scabbiest wee possum you have ever seen - yuk! After we had all chilled out here, Darren came back to get us and we ate dinner under the stars again.. tonight we slept indoors as it was a little chillier. Check out our berths! More like a coffin but i have to say pretty comfy! Mike had us all in stitches with his renditions of "Donkey... get in ma' belly" and "hey Gepetto, I'm a real, live boy" in his fab falsetto voice. He should DEF become a comedian - we were all cracking up and he was the best entertainment ever! What a star - and only 19 too.. told us some of his funny travel stories which i wont go into here... too funny. Loves his mammy, the Wirral and wants to be a Marine.. what a lovely boy!

May 31st (my daddy's birthday!). Another early morning (6:15am this time!).. not helped by Mike waking us all up with renditions of "Luke - I am your father" from Star Wars - very good i have to say! After breakfast we went snorkeling in Blue Pearl Bay - fantastic coral and fish here! We saw the massive Mari Wrasse Elvis fish again - or at least someone in that family (seriously this thing is over 4ft long, well, at least i think so!).. and so many others; from yellow tails, parrot fish, red emperors, humbugs, and so many more. I'm in danger of becoming a fish geek in trying to remember all the different types we saw. Needless to say, they were all gorgeous!

Back on board then off to Langford Island for a beautiful walk on a sandbar. Perfect day - clear blue skies and so so hot, just had to jump in the water.. yes, throwing caution to the wind and not having our stinger suits (which we typically wear when snorkeling cos there are potentially lotsa jellyfish in the water at this time of the year!). After we had lunch on board, we all hiked up the sails and headed for home, well, Airlie beach to be exact. It was so lovely to be away from everything for the last few days - so quiet and peaceful.. well, apart from Mike! Funniest thing happened - as you know, we all took shots at hoisting the sails when Darren asked. So this last time I said i'd do the "tongue" sail.. only thing was as i was huffing and puffing pulling it up (its pretty heavy this one compared to the "peak" sail) Mike kept making me laugh and shouting "get your back into it, donkey" in his fake Shrek voice.. which of course made me convulse in laughter (ok maybe you had to be there!) and therefore, not be pulling as i should. Darren got mad at Mike and shouted (we don't think he was joking!) "Hey, this is serious business, matey!" Mike and I couldn't control ourselves from giggling like school kids.. but deep down Mike was dreadfully upset (right Mike!). Hahahaha. Later on after Edward got a shot at sailing the boat from the Captain's wheel, I knew Mike really wanted to try it (check out how well he did!). So I mouthed to Darren "ask Mike if he wants a go". He, of course, pretended not to understand me then when he did, he said "you ask him". Boys huh! So then finally he said very sarcastically "does anyone else want to sail the ship!" and of course Mike jumped at the chance...hilarious really! Then of course he decided he needed a real sailors name - Capt. Gepetto or Capt. Donkey......anyway we all had such a laugh .. and very sad to say goodbye to "The Providence".. A huge compliment from Capn' Gareth - said it was one of the most relaxing sails he had done in years so thanked all of us!

Everyone was meeting for drinks later that night but i had to head off for my overnight bus to Hervey Bay to begin my next three day trip tomorrow morning to Fraser Island. Yup - no rest for the wicked I have to say... and yup, another 10 hour bus journey for me! Thoroughly enjoyed Whitsunday Islands trip - gorgeous time!!!


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