Australia 4: Whitsundays (Airlie Beach)

Upon arriving in Airlie Beach we made our way to X Base – a camping site associated with Nomads backpackers. It cost 40 AUD (£24) per car per night in powered spot, which totalled at 13 dollars each (£7.80). Airlie had more character than Townsville – cuter and more personable – but I was surprised by how abrupt staff could be and missed the customer service from the UK. Perhaps being in a Westernised country made me also expect the same westernised standards of customer service whereas here it felt like an effort to be nice. Anyway, Airlie Beach is more often than not visited as the base to do a tour of the Whitsundays, so we wouldn’t be spending too much time here.

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After speaking to a couple of tour operators we booked a 2 day/2 night Whitsunday Sailing tour with New Horizon (True Blue Sailing company) at 310 AUD each (£186). As there were 6 of us we managed to get a discount, plus they were the last spots so I think we got a pretty good deal. I spent the rest of the afternoon walking round the Marina and the Lagoon before we all headed back to our cars to make dinner; egg fried sticky rice. We then spent the remainder of the evening having drinks at The Shed and playing giant beer pong.

The next morning we went to puck up alcohol for the Whitsundays before making a slap-dash sandwich lunch by the side of the road after checking out of X Base and finding a parking spot for the next few days. We then headed to the harbour where we clambered aboard our sailing boat – with alcohol in tow – and sailed out to Hook Bay. We spent a couple of hours sitting on board the boat, sipping (or glugging) ciders in the sun, the beautiful still waters surrounding us. Once we arrived at Hook Bay we put our Stinger suits on and dove in for a swim – it was so refreshing and so peaceful as the sun slowly began to go down.

Dinner was hake with mash and home made slaw, after which all 20 of us sat on the deck playing drinking games and chatting until the early hours with the sun setting and moon rising behind the mountainous island. I think I went to bed around 1/2am; our cabin (the boat was made up of a deck, saloon and kitchen, with the cabins underneath) was below deck and I shared a double bed with Tiia, getting a pretty good nights sleep despite the heat and gentle rocking of the boat.

We were up at 6:30am for breakfast, singing and guitar playing for Tiia’s birthday, then we set sail to the Whitsundays, out to whitehaven beach. Once we were nearby we had to take a speedboat to the island, where we then walked to Hill Inlet lookout; without a doubt one of the best views I have seen on my travels so far.

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We then walked to Whitehaven beach where the sand consists of 98% pure silica, which gives it a bright white colour. I think it might even be the purest in the world and it can ruin your phone if you drop it in the sand. It was so flat, white and soft (and vast!) Closed off from everything else, it literally felt like this other world, some baron land almost. Again we were required to wear stinger suits for the water due to the time of year, although all the stingrays I saw mainly swam together and would inherently swim away from you if you even came near them. Still, considering the trip would have to end if someone was stung as they would have to go straight to hospital, it didn’t seem worth chancing it.

 

The morning was spent swimming in the clear turquoise water, skipping along the sand, creating pyramids on the sand, and taking in the purity.

Back on the speedboat around midday, we were back on our sailing boat to have a lunch of pasta and salad. to sailing boat. We sailed for an hour to another spot, Caves Cove, where we spent the afternoon diving, snorkelling, paddle boarding and throwing ourselves off the giant inflatable slide. Having already done scuba diving twice on my travels – and once already in Australia – I decided to give diving a miss and instead went snorkelling. This was the snorkelling trip where I saw the biggest fish I have ever seen. I spent most of the time swirling around and exploring, at times floating peacefully still on the surface of the water while I took it all in that I probably looked dead. At one point during my reverie, my hair swooshed past me and scared the life out of me and making me laugh at my own stupidity.

Back on the sailing boat I then took the inflatable slide into water for paddle boarding – something I have never tried before and struggled with the balance (something I find difficult with the simplest thing of walking), falling off into the water a total of 3 times (once twice in a row) but eventually managed to get my balance enough to paddle standing, knees bent slightly for stability. At one point me, Tiia and Jeske all stood perfectly still on our paddle boards, gazing at the most spectacular white sun peeping behind the island, sending a ray of white light across the water and casting us into complete silhouettes. Still water, still people, still minds. It completely took my breath away.

Back on the boat we had dinner of spag bowl followed by drinking games, with the most common phrase of the night being to wave and smile while saying “vaffanculo”, which is Italian for F*** Off. Pleasant evening, as I’m sure you can imagine. I sloped off at one point and joined the crew round the back of the deck where one of the other passengers was playing her guitar, slipping me into a perfectly peaceful reverie before heading to bed for the night.

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We were again up at 6:30am for breakfast and an early morning snorkel to wake me up, where I finally got to find nemo. It was super colf but refreshing. We then headed back on board for some relaxing in the sun before setting back towards the mainland with a hot dog for lunch. We were dropped off at different pier, where we had to get a shuttle bus back to centre of Airlie.

 

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Here we spent some time talking to different tour operators before booking our Fraser Island trip with Pippies at 330 AUD each (£200) for a week later; we didn’t have many options left at this point as we were reaching their summer peak period. Matthieu, Umberto, Tiia and I then decided to head off in our Campervan that afternoon to spend the night somewhere different while Toby and Rasmus chose to stay in Airlie one more night. I spent the journey still on a high from the really good crew (with the best diving briefing I have ever witnessed – may only be 3 in total, but still!), amazing weather, and most peaceful, beautiful setting.

 

LS.

 

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