Whitsundays and the Reef

Ocean breeze.  You know the smell. The one that makes you feel like a little kid when you finally roll up to the beach.

That was last week.  I went with a group of friends (15 of us in all, wow!) to a tour of the East Coast of Australia.  We fly into Mackay (pronounced in Australian to finish with an I sound, we discover at the airport) and are instantly greeted by the smell of the ocean and warm weather.  The weather in Melbourne the past few weeks has slowly degraded and seems to rain all the time; I personally no longer believe there is a 12 year drought in Victoria. But I digress, we are instantly greeted by warm weather, sunshine, and that great smell.  We hop onto a Greyhound bus, first stop is Airlie Beach, our passageway to the Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef.

Airlie Beach is a quintessential beach town, situated between beautiful beach and small mountain ridges and lined with palm trees its difficult to believe the warning signs of impending death via jellyfish and/or crocodile. Death by over-relaxation seems more likely. The plan is to get on a sail boat the following day, so we spend an afternoon relaxing, playing in the man-made lagoon (safe from the animals) and soaking the sun. Glorious. The next day we get up and work our way to our boat check-in. We gather last minute supplies and head off to the boat. Our ship is the Mandrake, our skipper, John, and our assistant Annie. We set off for a quick tour of the Whitsunday Islands.

We spend the first afternoon motoring to a bay where we’ll be staying the night. We hang out all afternoon, swimming, listening to music, and chatting. The next day we wake up to a surprisingly rocky boat on our way to the famous Whitehaven Beach.  We arrive at the bay of the Whitehaven Beach and dingy to shore.  A short trek finds us on the lookout – wow.  This is absolutely gorgeous, the water is amazingly blue, the sand amazingly white.  Best of all it looks so natural, you know tourist after tourist has set foot on this beautiful beach, but somehow it still looks pristine. We spend the morning goofing around on the beach, playing football in the ocean (an activity we do with surprisingy frequency — and it certainly gives away our nationality…). (If you look at my pictures, it should be obvious which beach I’m referring to). On our way back to the dingy  we are meeted by a crarb army, there are thousands of these small crabs coming out of their burrowed holes and making a run for the new low-tide water line, it’s pretty wild.

We’re soon at our snorkelling location for the afternoon. I could only find one fin that tould fit on my foot, there seemed to be almost exclusively small fins which doesn’t work well for our group. It was fun to be snorkelling again, their was tons of corral and plenty of fish. Unfortunately the water was pretty hazy so pictures were so-so, and also the reef wasn’t the typical nearly artificially ridiculous colors, but it was still fun. We finally got to do some sailing that afternoon and the next morning before we were back on dry land.

We grabbed our rental cars and stuffed our faces (it’s hard work relaxing at sea..) before heading off North.  We hustled our way up to Cairns, an 8+ hour drive, where we showed up still in time to clean up and enjoy a bit of the night life before continuing on North again the next day.  We work our way up to Port Douglas, perhaps the most touristy town I have ever been in.  Port Douglas consists of exclusively hotels and overpriced restaurants. But, I won’t complain for a second because it’s got a beautiful beach and our hostel was roughly a stonethrow away. We relax on the beach for an afternoon and do the usual (see: eat, football…). A fantastic sand castle was made — I napped instead.  Our last full day and we were off to explore the rainforest to the north.

Our first stop of the day was a crocodile tour –  we can’t go to Australia and not see crocodiles! We leave from this small town, the Daintree Village. This town is absolutely stuck in time — the tourists come and go but the town apparently stays the same.  I asked a store clerk how big the town was.. “Let me put it to you like this; our local school has 9 kids in it.” .. Wow, life moves a little differently here.  We’re off on our tour and see several crocodiles, some cool birds, and plenty of trees.  We push on north to Cape Tribulation and the heart of the rainforest. We see the beach of cape tribulation and decide the best way to explore the rain forest is to push on and find our own hiking path. The road soon turns to dirt — now we’re getting somewhere, and we push on until we round a bend and a sign that says “4WD Only past this point”. I look around the corner to see a creek several feet deep — we decide not to push the luck of our small SUV. We park and walk back to a trail spotted on the way. Mike screeches as he sees a huge bird ahead — a cassowary — and sprints off after it.

A cassowary is like a wild turkey.  Only it’s HUGE, the thing was massive, it could have been as big as a person.  The bird took off running into the bush, clearly uncomfortable with what had just happened.  When Mike comes back someone takes the pleasure of informing the group that the bird is deadly, apparently it jumps up and will use its talons to claw ones chest — glad we know that now..  We find the desired trail and head off into the rainforest, it eventually lets us out at a beach. We wander down the beach until it ends at another stream inlet — we do however find some freshly fallen coconuts and bring them back to our hostel as prizes of the day. Our adventure wraps up here as the afternoon is getting late and we have a drive ahead of us back to Port Douglas.

The next day we round up the troops and head back to Cairns where we catch our flight to Melbourne.  The trip we agree, was definitely, definitely, a success.

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