Already this trip seems like it was an eternity ago even though it was only in January that I was sailing the Whitsundays. Since my next big trip is coming up in a couple of weeks, I thought that I ought to get this one blogged. Man alive, I loved this part of my big New Zealand/Australia trip.
This was my second time traveling to Australia. The first time I spent the majority of the time in Melbourne and then flew up to Brisbane, finishing the trip by driving down to Sydney and flying home. This time around, I wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef, or at least a part of it. I had eight days of my trip to plan something fun while traveling with my friends Dayle and Adrian who live in Brisbane. At first eight days seemed like a long time but we quickly realised, that it wasn’t. They decided that the best way to experience the Reef was to do an overnight sailing trip in the Whitsundays. We tried doing some research which proved difficult with us being in completely different timezones and settled on buying flights to Airlie Beach with the idea that from there, we would figure it all out. I love traveling by the seat of your pants!
The night before we left for the coast, we were at the Woodford Folk Festival. We piled into the rental car after the big fire ceremony and drove to Dayle and Adrian’s apartment in Brissy. From there, we repacked our cases, got a couple of hours of sleep and before we knew it, we were driving to the airport all set for a completely new adventure. Airlie Beach is about halfway up the coast between Brisbane and Cairns and the closest airport there is Proserpine. The flight was about 1 hour 45 minutes. We really had not researched much, although we did have our Lonely Planet Guide in-hand and basically had no plans for what would happen after we landed. We collected our luggage and then figured out just how to get to Airlie Beach since Proserpine is about a 35 minute drive from the town. There are many options for getting to Airlie including taxis and buses. Most people seemed to know what they were doing or had pre-purchased their bus tickets. We got lucky in that there were three empty seats on the bus. We paid $15 each and hopped on, telling the driver that we wanted to get off somewhere downtown.
Since it was midday, we thought that when we arrived in Airlie Beach, we would find a hotel room (hello nap time! That Woodford tuckered us out!) and then plan to go on a sailing trip the next day. The bus dropped us off on the main strip of Airlie and right in front of a tourist information store. Dayle and I walked in, told the woman that we were looking for an overnight tour and minutes later we ended up getting booked on a sailboat that was leaving in two hours. It was a little wild from there: we had to pay for our tickets (only about $325 AU each for three days and two nights on a boat!), walk down the street to the boat’s actual tour spot, return to the original tourist information place to pack bags and then walk to the harbour to meet the crew. We honestly had no idea what we were getting into.
I had never been on a sailboat before, let alone slept on one so I had no idea what to expect for this trip. Since there were twenty-eight tourists on the boat, you are no allowed to bring big cases. We had to pack small bags of clothes to bring and we left the rest of our things at the tourist information store. I was initially hesitant to do this. Since I was traveling for over three weeks I had a lot of things with me, let alone camera equipment. I managed to pack most of my camera gear and a few outfits and necessities. When you book an overnight sailing trip, the excursions and meals are included and you just have to bring any alcohol. We stopped at the store on the way to the harbour and got some Goon, which is basically gross boxed wine that people love to drink in Australia. (We opted for the “rose” version.)
The boat we were on was called the British Defender and had a crew of three: Liam the captain, Louise and a young hot thing whose name was Dave (I feel that his job was to be there to show off his muscles for any single lady tourists). We all got aboard the boat and were assigned our bunks. Mine was right beside the kitchen on the bottom and Dayle & Adrian were above me. We were asked about any dietary needs and were told what our route would be. We strapped out bags in and were told to go up on deck.
We basically sailed the entire first day before getting to Whitehaven Beach which is on the eastern side of Whitsunday Island. At first I was pretty nervous on the boat. I couldn’t believe how much it tipped (and therefore worried that my precious camera would be laying across the boat after we settled!). The crew asked for volunteers to do various rope things but I preferred watching it all happen instead. 🙂 At times it was really windy and rough and I swore that I would be the one person to fall overboard but alas, there were no casualties.
Being out on the open water was awesome. I love the ocean and one day need to live beside it somewhere in this wild world. The landscape was also very cool. The greenery and random rocks totally made me think of LOST.
Out of the twenty-eight tourists on the boat, I am pretty sure that we were basically the oldest ones at the ripe age of thirty-two. The majority of the guests were backpackers in their early twenties and everyone was from a different country. It was cool to talk to them and to hear about where they were coming from and where they were heading after this lag of the trip. I quickly realised that if you are backpacking in Australia, there is a normal route in how to do it.
We docked on the first night near Whitehaven Beach and watched the sunset while drinking that delicious Goon. Everything felt a bit surreal. I had just spent six days camping at a folk festival and here I was, sitting on a boat in the Great Barrier Reef. Life is pretty incredible sometimes.
After breakfast, we were given stinger suits and told that we were heading to the beach. I had heard about the stingers but did not realise that it was such a serious thing. Stinger season runs from November until about May. During that time, the stingers are around because the water is so warm. Stingers, like Box Jellyfish are lethal if they sting you so that is why it’s crucial that you wear a stinger suit.
We piled in a small dingy boat that then took us to Whitehaven Beach. It was nice to be on land and man, that beach is gorgeous. The sand here is 98% silica which make it super white. Liam warned us about this and told us not to bring any expensive cameras because the sand would stick to everything. Luckily, Dayle has the super cool waterproof Canon Powershot D20, so we were able to take photos. The sand was incredibly exfoliating plus it cleans up silver jewellery quite nicely.
After spending a couple of hours hanging on the beach, we went back to the boat for lunch. The afternoon was then spent doing what I was there to do – snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef. I love snorkelling. I love being in water. I love seeing the wild world that lives down there. The best snorkelling that I had done before this was in Tobago a number of years ago. The waters here did not disappoint. The colours and variety in the coral was incredible. And the fish blew me away, especially the Parrot fish. I love them so much and could have stayed here until my entire body was pruned.
The next stop on our tour was Tongue Bay and an incredible lookout that is part of the Whitsunday Island National Park. Again, we were taken to shore on a small dingy and from there we hiked up a trail to the lookout.
We were told that that view is the third most photographed location in Australia, after the Sydney Opera House and Uluru, and I can see why. It was seriously breathtaking. The colours in the water were unreal. From the lookout you could see big stingrays in the water and mountains in the distance. I could have filled my memory card with photos just from here.
The second night had another gorgeous sunset, this time from Blue Pearl Bay. This bay is located at Hayman Island which is the most Northern island of the Whitsundays. Looking out you saw basically nothing on the horizon.
On our last morning after breakfast, we snorkelled. The coral and fish blew me away yet again. This time we saw a jellyfish that initially made us nervous but he was a slow-moving passive guy.
We got back to Airlie Beach around noon and did it ever feel great to be on real land again. As much as I loved being on the sailboat, it was nice to not be in constant swaying motion. We were also looking forward to laying in real beds and having hot showers while blasting air conditioning.
We headed back to the tourist information place to get our luggage and book a hotel. The woman quickly got us a room with space to sleep plenty plus wifi for only $150 AU. Hello luxury! We definitely felt like ballers. The Whitsunday Terraces is located just off of the main strip in Airlie Beach and up a steep hill. It had a kitchenette, separate bedroom plus two additional single beds and a balcony where a beautiful cockatoo visited us.
Upon arriving, our cases literally exploded and we all took turns having half hour long showers (I’m exaggerating on the length – I promise!). Adrian being the good man that he is, went down to a store and came back with some bubbly and cheese and we had a little feast. That night, everyone who had been on the tour was invited to go to a bar downtown where they would have free pitchers of beer for us. I thought that it was a sweet gesture and it was nice to hang out again with our fellow sailors. Liam had said he would come but he was a no show, which was probably a good thing.
The next morning, we had breakfast at a cute cafe that was about five minutes from the Whitsundays Terraces. Breakfast is my favourite and I love eating like this – a little of everything, hold the meat.
All in all, this lag of my trip was an incredible experience. If you ever get the chance to sail the Whitsundays, do it. It should definitely be on everyone’s list of goals in life.
Tips for Sailing the Whitsundays
• Do not forget the sunscreen! Traveling in January meant that we were in the heat of the summer. The sun belts down on you when in the middle of the water so lather up, constantly.
• If you experience motion sickness, pick up some medication before hitting the water. There are pharmacies in Airlie Beach that can help you out. I picked up some ginger pills just in case but was happy to say that I did not need them.
• The food on the British Defender was great! They worked with my (mostly) lacto-ovo vegetarian diet. There was a girl who was gluten-free and had allergies to a number of other things and they were able to accommodate that.
• Label your Goon bag! There was definitely some Goon stealing happening on board. Everyone’s drinks goes into one cooler so you want to make sure that you label yours to avoid any disappointment later.
• There will be partiers! But you’re on a sailboat with young traveling people so what else can you expect?! This isn’t a five-star hotel, this is an adventure.
• You will be out of your comfort zone, sleeping in an open boat with a bunch of strangers and being woken to Louise pounding on a pot. But go with it, everyone else is in the same boat (literally!).
• Showering does not exist, well it sort of does. There were three bathrooms on the boat. The sink had a facet that pulled out and you can then use it to shower yourself. Seriously though, why bother?! You’re on the boat for two night and are spending a lot of time in the ocean. You’re not here to be fashionable or to be primped up. Let loose, get a little dirty and wear that outfit two days in a row. No one will even notice.
• Airlie Beach is a great little beach town to stay in if you are planning on doing the Whitsundays. There are a bunch of hotels and hostels and everything seemed to be in walking distance.