Airlie Beach and ‘The Whitsundays’
Continuing my journey north, the next stop on my itinerary was Airlie Beach. Airlie Beach itself isn’t much. Similar to Noosa, it is one major street along Australia’s beautiful coastline. Most backpackers come here for the Whitsundays. The Whitsundays, according to the infinite wisdom of Wikipedia, “are a collection of continental islands of various sizes off the central coast of Queensland, Australia, situated between just south of Bowen and to the north of Mackay, some 900 kilometres (560 mi) north of Brisbane.”
To see the Whitsundays, most backpackers, myself included, take a 2-day 2-night sailing adventure around the Whitsundays. For my sea going vessel, I chose the boat, Powerplay. Fitting to its name, Powerplay was a catamaran with no sails; so basically, it was a catamaran powerboat. Since the islands are a very popular destination in Australia, there are literally hundreds of boats to choose from. Unfortunately, most were out of my price range, so I wasn’t surprised to find my boat also filled with backpackers.
In the end it didn’t really matter that there were no sails. Apparently, the other ships only use their sails going to and from the island. Since the islands are quite large and you have to cover a lot of distance in 2 days, most ships use their motors to travel to each destination. Otherwise trying to find the right winds would make the trip much longer.
After an awful night sleep at the YHA in Airlie Beach, I arrived to board the boat on Monday morning at 11:30 AM. After a brief safety talk, we set sail. Oh wait, no… we turned on the motors. The cruise intinerary for the next 2 days consisted of mostly snorkel destinations. In fact, we only went on the island once to visit the famous Whitehaven Beach. Luckily my boat was also outfitted for scuba diving and out of the 18 guests onboard I was the only one certified. Other people were diving, but in classes.
Our first destination was a tropical reef in a nice secluded cove off Hook Island. It was $60 to dive. I was initially not planning on diving, but being that I was going to be able to dive with just the dive master, I decided to go for it. I spent the next 40 minutes swimming around some of the most beautiful fish I had ever seen.
After scuba, we powered our way to another secluded cove. The crew cooked us dinner and we ended the night by watching a movie on the projector screen on the back of the boat. I was lucky. The first day we had excellent weather. The seas were calm and the sun was shinning. It was spectacular. Also I am glad that it WASN’T a party boat. I went to bed sober being rocked gently to sleep by the nurturing massage of the ocean.
The second day was the complete opposite. It was cloudy with the occasional rain showers. The seas were also extremely rough and the wind was blowing strong. After a bumpy journey, the first stop was Whitehaven Beach. The beach is famous for being 99.9% silica. That means it is extremely soft and pure white. We relaxed on the beach for 2 hours. As many of you know, I have trouble sitting still, so I spent those two hours jumping in and out of the water with my GoPro trying to take video of the Sting Rays and the Lemon Sharks hugging the coast line.
After Whitehaven, we made our way to 2 new snorkel sites. I didn’t dive since the additional dives were too expensive, but instead I spent my time snorkeling and shooting videos.
That night we went to another cove and had an excellent dinner. The ride to our ‘campsite’ was a ‘bit doggey.’ It was so rough that waves were crashing over the front. Combined with the rain, it forced all of us off the bow into the shelter of the poop deck and inside cabin. After dinner, we watched ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ and all went to bed. Thank god for another relaxing night.
The next morning we woke up at 6 am and powered our way back to port. Luckily no one threw up, but it sure looked like people were going to. The entire journey back we were slammed by waves from the side. Combined with the smell of diesel exhaust, the endless puff of cigarettes, and neoprene wetsuits, it is amazing I didn’t vomit.
Overall I thought it was a positive experience, however I am not sure if it was worth the money I paid. Here are some things that I wish the company had done differently:
1. The Crew – The crew were nice, however, they didn’t seem into it. I would have liked them to be more enthusiastic and social. Though if I had to deal with backpackers 5 days a week, I would be a little jaded too.
2. The Smokers – I am still amazed at how many Europeans smoke. I don’t have a problem with smokers unless it affects me (which it seems to do 90% of the time). Given that the seas were super rough, the smokers (12 people out of 18 onboard) were forced to the stern to smoke. Combined with the rough seas, the smell made me sick. To alleviate the problem I was forced inside most of the time while the boat was moving. I think the company would do themselves good to limit the times when people can smoke. It made traveling quite unpleasant.
3. My Sunglasses – Unfortunately my ‘croakies’ broke. So I had to wear my sunglasses on my head. On a dingy ride back from the shore to the boat, the captain slipped and knocked them off my head. Into the ocean they fell, never to be seen again. The classes were $150 but I bought them when I was 16. I wasn’t so upset about the financial loss, but more so about the nostalgia associated with the glasses. They were with me for highschool, college, and early adulthood. I will miss you Aviators…