The two main tourist attractions when travelling up the East Coast are arguably Fraser Island and the Whitsundays. It was the Whitsundays which brought us to our next stop; Airlie Beach. Our coach arrived around 6 am after a long journey from Agnes Waters. We would be boarding our boat and starting our tour later that day. We went to check our backpacks into the hostel seeing as we had about 6 hours to kill before heading towards paradise. Our boat only allowed us to take a small bag for the 2 nights. We left our main bags in the hostel storage and kept our prepacked rucksacks with us ready to set sail. We found an outdoor bar to sit and watch the Olympics until the time came to start our adventure.
Whitehaven Beach has been voted the best beach in Australia as well as in the World. Therefore, it is definitely a destination for the bucket list. Known for its turquoise water and pristine white sand, Whitehaven Beach truly is paradise. The tour company which would be taking us around the 74 islands was called ‘Sailing Whitsundays‘. Our tour featured a 2-day, 2-night sailing trip where we would be sleeping on board the boat ‘Boomerang’. Despite there being so many tours to chose from we liked the sound of living onboard the boat. It was a proper sailing boat, where the guests could choose to help sail between stops. This also meant that it was a lot faster than some of the other boats and a lot of fun in the windy conditions.
The weather for our tour wasn’t very good. With strong winds, grey skies and rain. However, due to the nature of the sailing boat, it added an entirely different experience. Instead of a gentle journey into the islands, we almost flew across the water. Hanging on to the railing tightly with our legs over the side of the boat as the other side travelled almost perpendicular to the water. As I looked over my shoulder I could see the ocean below me. Sea water sprayed up from the boat, drenching all of us more than the rain was. We were told by the Captain that it was the fastest he’d ever sailed the Boomerang before.
Our first stop was to a sheltered bay, by this time it was getting late so we stayed on the boat and got to know the other people on board. We had dinner and some goon before going to bed ready for our first full day exploring paradise. Our beds on the boat were very basic, more like a shelf. Every time I went to sit up I would hit my head on the ceiling which was only a few inches from my face when laid down. Also, it rained throughout the night and a small window next to the bed had been left open, covering us in rain and sea spray during the night.
The following morning we were woken up at 7 am, our breakfast already made and set up for us. After peanut butter and coffee I was ready to set sail and discover our first stop. Our first sail of the day would take us to Whitehaven Beach; the famous postcard-worthy beach of my dreams. As we skimmed across the ocean we saw our first glimpse of blue sky since setting sail from Airlie Beach.
We stopped just off the shore and got a motorboat to the Island. From here we had to go on a short bush walk to reach the popular viewpoint. On a clear day, this is the perfect spot to watch the crystal clear turquoise water constantly move and change shade. Unfortunately, our view wasn’t quite so spectacular, hindered by the layer of grey clouds blocking the sun. After getting our pictures and group shots we carried on down to the beach itself.
The sand is the purest you will ever find in the World. With 99% silicone content it was so soft and white, the only time sand from this beach was allowed to be taken was for the Hubble telescope. We marvelled at the setting, swimming in the sea while looking out for jellyfish, stingrays and lemon sharks. The crew on our boat also told us of the sand’s exfoliating qualities so some of us sat scrubbing ourselves with the sand on the edge of the water.
Snorkelling in the Whitsundays
After around an hour, we headed back to the boat. From here we moved on to another bay called the ‘fishbowl’. This was a popular spot for snorkelling with shallow healthy reefs boasting lots of colourful fish and coral. The Great Barrier Reef goes as far South as Bundaberg meaning this underwater ecosystem is part of the GBR. We spent about an hour chasing colourful fish, finding Nemo and admiring our first glimpse of one of the World’s natural wonders.
Then we got back on the boat for lunch; we definitely didn’t go hungry the whole time we were on the boat! After eating more than enough food we were given the option to either go in for a second snorkel or sail onto our next stop where we would be sleeping that night. Not wanting to get wet and cold for the second time we all decided to head to the next stop where we could make a dent on our 5 litre bags of goon. It turns out sailing, experiencing paradise and snorkelling is tiring – we were all in bed by 11 pm.
Another 7 am wake up and coffee set us up for our final morning in the Whitsundays. Before it was time to head back to the marina we were back in our snorkel masks and stinger suits. The bay we slept in happened to be a popular spot for turtles. So without even having to sail anywhere, we were in the perfect place to swim with these graceful creatures.
After an unsuccessful start, I noticed a green/brown shell in the distance. Breaking away from the rest of the group I slowly followed the turtle. It turns out they are really fast when swimming. Eventually, I caught up and floated just inches away from this wild animal. I quickly beckoned Sam over. Everyone else realised what was going on and the elusive turtle dived deeper than the visibility allowed us to see. A few more turtles were spotted but we never got as close to any of the others.
Leaving the Whitsundays
Early afternoon came and it was time for our final journey on board the Boomerang. On the way back we had one final lucky experience, a close-up humpback whale. As it was whale season we had been keeping an eye on the horizon looking for their telltale splash. It was as if the whale knew we were heading back and spent about 15 minutes following the boat and waving its huge fin at us. We eventually got back to the harbour marking the end of our tour of the Whitsundays. For the following few days, we had time to explore Airlie Beach.
The first thing we wanted to do when we got back was get checked into our hostel and have a shower. The boat only had a small shower which required sitting on the toilet and had a time limit of 2 minutes per person, we hadn’t showered since arriving in Airlie Beach. After washing ourselves and all of our clothes it was time to get ready for the Whitsundays after party. That night we were reunited with some of the people from our boat as well as loads of the people from our Fraser Island trip. We got through all the free drink on offer and watched some of the drinking games before walking down the main strip to see what else was happening. We ended up buying a cheap bottle of wine and smuggling it back to our dorm.
The following day we went out for breakfast with our friends before they boarded their boat to the Whitsundays. After saying our goodbyes and arranging to meet up in Magnetic Island we went off to explore some of the shops and things to do around Airlie.
We had decided to try and save money until we got to Magnetic Island, meaning all of the tourist trips were off the cards. This wasn’t much of a problem seeing as most of the water sports had been rescheduled due to the weather. We ended up spending the remainder of the day at a bar watching Usain Bolt do his 100m sprint on a big screen. We spent the evening back at the bar with more of the people from the Whitsundays trips and our Fraser Island trip.
When the Ground Shakes
The following day was uneventful, after lunch, we headed back to our dorm to get changed. While in the room we noticed the windows were rattling and the ground shaking. Everyone outside seemed to freeze where they were and all we could hear was a rumble. About a minute later everything went back to normal. It turns out we had experienced our first ever earthquake, which after a quick google I found out reached a magnitude of 5.8.
Our final night saw us back at the same bar before heading to the bottle-o for another cheap bottle of wine. The next morning it was time to go on up to Townsville and on the ferry to Magnetic Island.