Sunday, 24 March 2013

Airlie Beach & Whitsundays 12th – 18th March

Our first glimpse of the ''Whitsundays'' was as we came over a hill top from the small town Prosepine. Crystal blue waters, tropical islands in the distance, bright clear blue sky and recent shipwrecks from the bad weather a month ago. All that escaped our minds was WOW! Nothing could prepare us for the sheer tropical humidity either. We were sweating by the time we walked from the bus stop to Magnums, our accommodation. Airlie Beach is a small town but extremely busy for the size of it. A town this small anywhere else in Oz would be considered a one horse town but here it is a different story. The first impression of Airlie Beach is it is backpackers central and super super chilled out. Everyone is friendly and helpful. It is merely a stepping stone to the Whitsunday Islands and should definitely be a stop off for anyone travelling in Oz.

Magnums is a little gem. It is set in a tropical back yard off the main strip and amazingly quiet. The rooms are very basic but that is all you need especially when you have the sunny weather and natural beauty outdoors. For once we planned it right and we were here to experience the Whitsundays at the right time when it was not cyclonic weather, which is what it has been for the last month according to the locals! Excellent!

 Airlie Beach
 Airlie Beach
 Airlie Beach

For the first 2 days we decided to chill out as we have 6 days here. It was meant to be 3 but somehow our relocation camper van we were driving back to Brisbane was allocated to someone else. Long story short we managed to get another relocation deal after a painful negotiation but the camper van would only be available 3 days later, thus giving us 6 days in Airlie beach. We lazed about at the lovely artificial lagoon most afternoons. Water being cool and inviting under the hot sun.

We decided we wanted to check out the islands so we took a wonder down the small strip, mainly all tourism companies with their best day trips and overnight sailing deals to the Islands. We can say their so called deals are outright expensive. Day trip for one person was coming in at a minimum of $120 while the cheapest overnight sailing trip was closing in at $310 each! Most of the touring companies we went into to ask about the island trips went straight for the expensive in our case but a deal in theirs! Most were very unaccommodating for budget travellers and pretty much had that expression of '' that is the price – take it or leave it''.

After being bombarded with all the different options and ridiculously priced packages we decided to find something else that would be cheaper that these touring companies were not telling us. And we did! At one of the touring companies while standing and looking at loads of brochures we found one right at the bottom for camping on the islands. The transfer to the island is per person and ranges from $60 to $120. The amount of time you spend camping on the island does not matter, you just need to pay national parks fees of $5 per person per night. If you don't have any camping gear, gear is provided, everything from a tent, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, cutlery, gas burner, free water (as much as!) and snorkelling gear for $40 for the first night, then $20 per night there after. Stinger suits are hired separately ($5 per day). Cheap deal in our opinion! So that was it we were going camping. Upon booking we heard the skipper of the boat was not taking his boat too far due to the tail end of a cyclone going to hit the islands soon. He claimed he was more concerned about the waters and wind. But we got the impression that they perhaps did not want to take us out further. Oh well so we decided to get to South Molle Island to a place called Sandy Beach for $60 return each. So that was it we were all booked and looking forward to a bit of camping on the islands.

The day arrived for our camping. We managed to move one nights accommodation to our last night so we could fit in 2 days camping on the island. Armed with our backpack and a small cooler bag of food for 2 days we caught the bus to Shute Harbour. We were met by a chilled out guy called Phil, who was taking us out to our island and still in the process of obtaining his skipper's licence. They had been delayed taking another lot of people out to another island for camping. We got started on our journey with Phil our Kiwi guide and the Ozzie skipper. Finally we got onto the boat with all our stuff and camping gear. The boat ride was not long at all and soon we were on our own island, deserted beach with Mount Jeffreys overlooking our little bay.

 Shute Harbour

 Just been dropped off on the beach! Waving good-bye to our boat...

Sandy Bay as the name suggests is not sandy. 70% of it is coral washed up on shore. It should be renamed Coral Bay. The sand appeared only when the tide went right down. We pitched our tent and set up camp. No showers, no surprise there but plenty of ocean :) We took a walk to the end of the beach where there were some rocks to try out some snorkelling. We got on our stinger suits – our onesies! It was quite funny. Stinger suits are required due to the box jelly fish in the waters. The signs of warning are everywhere. See the pic for the interesting facts! Snorkel gear on and we ventured into the water. Unfortunately there was zero visibility! We still had a paddle and swim about. A bit disappointing for the snorkel but we lazed on the beach in the sun for a bit.

 Camping gear...
 Camping spot! 
 Sandy Bay! South Molle Island

Our stinger suit onesies!

We had been told that South Molle island has some amazing walking tracks that provide some breath taking views. We set off at about 5pm for a 8.5km return walk to Spion Kop. Clearly the path has not been walked on in ages as not even 300m on the track we came across this massive spider web right across our path. No spider, but we figured there would be more spider webs. Dave found a long stick and cleared the first web out of our way. Less than 10 meters and another spider web, not as big as the first but still in our way. We certainly weren't going to take any chances of just walking through them as we all know Australia has the biggest this, the most poisonous that, most deadliest this etc etc.... So Dave walked ahead of me waving his long stick or in this case we joked about it being his ''wand'' like something out of Harry Potter or my knight in shining armour! The walk up the mountain was easy going, the path had been cleared in such a way that it was not a too difficult walk – only the spider webs were our obstacles and definitely not for those that suffer from arachnophobia! It was amazing how the vegetation on the island changed as we walked. Apart form the small incline at the start with the trees and spiders, the first 1.5km was tall waist-high green grass, blowing about in the strong gusts of wind, and hundreds and hundreds of Cyclades dotted everywhere. The views across the other side of the islands looking directly at Whitehaven Islands was as described to us ''breathtaking''! Once we reached the highest point we started to descend into pretty much a humid tropical jungle, small streams flowing down the mountain, tropical plants, beautiful colourful butterflies, even more spider webs some with small spiders that had yellow and black stripes (getting goosebumps typing this out) and plenty yellow crested cockatoos! Can't seem to go anywhere in Oz without finding them squawking in the tree tops. What a complete scenery change! As we made our way through the jungle and out towards our final 1.5km to Spion Kop the sun was starting to set but we were met with a full rainbow over Whitehaven Island. We don't want to leave this place ever – we started talking about starting our own camping touring company too just so we could stay in this tropical paradise! The sunset itself was spectacular, brilliant oranges and pinks illuminated the few clouds in the sky with the odd blue sky poking out in the background. It was a moment that will be remembered forever for the both of us. I don't think we will ever forget the view of a full rainbow on one side of the island and the sunset on the other. This is what made Whitsundays so magical for us. We love this place!
 South Molle walk - view was amazing

 One of the spider webs.
Love this motion shot - it was incredibly windy on the one side of the island.
 The view towards the other side of the island.
 Some of the variety of spiders we found enroute!
Hmmm bright colours are not good - right?

The faces we come up with after a few attempts of no no and look at the lens! :)

 Sunset near Spion Kop.

The sun disappeared pretty quickly and soon darkness was creeping in a bit too fast for our liking and we still needed to get back to camp which was 4.2km away! Out came the headlamps and torches and we set off into the dark jungle... We were so glad we cleared the spider webs out the way as it made the walk back that much quicker and then round the next few curves and in the dense trees we heard a huge squuaaawk squuaaawk yes you may have a guessed birds a huge flock of Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, we really think these birds represent the voice of birds for Oz as most places we have been if you hear the Squuuuaaawk its a big white and sulphur crested cockatoo in a tree probably biting the branches off!
Next we were dodging some huge frogs on our path. There must have been at least one frog every 2 meters and dead centre in the middle of the path looking at you and only when you nudged them did they even think of moving. Dave was expecting one to jump into me while walking and probably hoping for me to squeal something terrible! It would have been funny but there was no way those frogs were coming anywhere near me – remember the whole Australia has the biggest, deadliest, most poisonous – yeah that made me ensure a frog was not going to jump into me! At the end of our dark jungle trek before heading out into the open grass our lights caught a glimpse of another massive spider web just off our path, with the most ugliest, deadliest, nasty looking spider EVER! It almost had the skeleton shape shell like a crab with a few markings. Urrgh! Dave urged me to take a picture, with me trembling going what if it can jump... We eventually got a photo and we keep looking at it only to have the hairs on the backs of our necks stand on end and tingles go through our spines. Check the photo – maybe you might get a similar sensation??

 This is the spider we were talking about! Still raises the hairs on the backs of our necks! We checked it out and we seem to think its an Orb-Weaving spider and is described as low risk and non-aggressive. Only thing there is 109 different species of the Orb.
 Massive frogs!
At last we made it back to our camp at about 8pm it was pitch dark but warm and it felt good to be back looking at lights in the distance of boats made us feel as if we were not completely alone . Great walk – interesting in the dark too! After a much needed steak and some red wine we headed for bed as the wind was starting to pick up a bit. We were woken at 1 or 2 in the morning to the wind, our tent cover flapping wildly and pretty much almost half the tent being lifted by the wind. Any stronger and we would have been blown away with the tent. The rest of the night we listened to the howling wind. The next morning the wind was still blowing strong so we decided to go back to the mainland and arrange a snorkelling tour to part of the Great Barrier Reef. Yes we decided to cough up the cash for the tour but we figured that this was a once in a liftime opportunity and why the hell not.

We opted for an Ocean Rafting tour, $120 each for a full day tour, two snorkels near Hook Island and lunch on Whithaven beach. The tour was the best day out. The Ocean Rafting guys were fun and full of humour. It was almost as if they were experiencing the tour for the first time. They spun the boat round in circles, hitting their own wake from the outboard motor managing to get most of us airborn off our seats and in a combination of laughter and thrilled screams.

The snorkelling was fantastic, plenty of fish and some huge 50odd kg ones swimming round us. The biggest highlight for the both of us was swimming with a turtle, something that we both wanted to experience. Such graceful creatures.

 Shev underwater poses!
Dave underwater poses!

There was one guy who was just high on life itself always making sure everyone was smiling and having fun and basically a big kid himself. When we got to Hills Inlet to view the Whithaven tidal sands he told of us ''you got a headache you take a pill, you got a cold you take a pill, you give the doctor your mind and money and you take a pill, me I'm from New Zealand I've never taken a pill, maybe the recreational ones hahaha''.
Hills Inlet was something else, beautiful crystal blue and turquoise water with white sands swirling in the water. Just simply natural beauty. We had lunch at Whithaven beach while trying to chase off the somewhat brave seagulls diving down boldly in an attempt to get food off your plate. Some people managed to loose some of their lunch too! What a fantastic day out.

 Hills Inlet - Swirling tides and sands

 Dave and the guy high on life trying to get in close to a small shark.

It turned out our last night in Airlie Beach happened to be St Paddy's day. There were a few people donning the St Paddy's day outfits and hats. We had a few drinks at Magnums bar while a live band was pumping out some great tunes. We wanted to have a party but since we had 450km to drive to Rockhampton the next day we called it an early night.

Whitsundays was one of the best places we have been to in Oz. What an amazing bit of magical paradise! Ozzies you are one lucky bunch to have something so spectacular at your doorstep.

Here is one of the highlights of our trip we hope to get a few more great videos like this one! It is with OceanRafting in Airlie Beach a great day out with a good crowd.

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