Richard's Travels

Tales from the Southern hemisphere

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Whitsunday Islands

Wednesday 29th: Cairns to Townsville

For my final day in Cairns, I'd planned to take a bus trip around the Atherton tablelands and some waterfalls. Unfortunately, that bus trip didn't run on the day I needed to go, so I had to find something else to do. After considering hiring a car on my own and doing the same trip (and deciding it wasn't worth the money), I decided to jump on a bus headed for Airlie beach, but just go as far as Townsville for the night. The only thing notable about the bus journey to Townsville was that we passed through Innisfail, the town destroyed by the recent cyclone. The scale of the destruction was huge; entire fields of banana crops all folded over at the same point, sugar crops ruined and many houses and buildings destroyed. I could see some sort of industrial building with a very tall chimney that was just bent in half!

Thursday 30th: Townsville to Airlie Beach

Today I caught an early bus the rest of the way to Airlie beach. Upon arriving here, I was fairly surprised to learn that there wasn't really a usable beach, despite the name of the place. Although there was actually a beach, like most of the rest of Queensland, the sea is full of jellyfish so you can't go in it. Instead, an artificial lagoon provides the only easy swimming facilities. Airlie beach is a small tourist town, which seems to consist entirely of travel agents, hostels and bars (plus a few small tourist-orientated shops). It is the main departure point for sailing trips to the Whitsunday islands. My day in Airlie beach was spent exploring the town and sorting out everything I'd need for my sailing trip tomorrow.

Friday 31st-Sunday 2nd: Whitsunday Islands

Today I was starting a sailing trip in the Whitsunday Islands. The boat I would be sailing on was Condor, an 80ft racing yacht that has won all of the major races twice. As well as 4 crew members (headed by Captain Kirk!!), there were another 20 or so of us on the trip. We started by gathering at the marina to pick up some last minute drinks and board the vessel. To start with, we left the marina using the boat's engines. Once clear, the sails were raised and we moved onto wind power. This sailing trip took us round some of the islands making up the Whitsunday group. Before long, we anchored at Blue Pearl bay and all jumped onto the tender to go out snorkelling. Although the water wasn't particularly clear, there were a lot of fishes to see. Back on the boat, the dinner was started while we got cracking with the beers. As the night drew to an end, people started figuring out where to sleep. Although the inside of the boat does have enough beds for everyone, saying that they are cramped is abit of an understatement! And as the boat was built primarily for racing rather than taking people on tours, it didn't have anything in the way of air conditioning. This made for quite a hot night! As a result, most people opted for sleeping up on deck (which wasn't comfortable either, but was cooler). I decided to sleep inside, opting for comfort. It was a lot cooler with everyone outside! However, this didn't last as it started raining in the night and everyone came back in, shutting the skylights on the way in!

The second day was spent moving around entirely on the motor, as the wind was virtually non-existent. Early on in the day, the captain made a detour as he spotted fins in the water. We all thought they were dolphins, but he later explained that he wouldn't chase dolphins as they tend to bugger off just as you get there. These were actually pilot whales, which look quite similar to dolphins. They swam with us for some time, right next to us at the front of the boat! Later on in the day we stopped for another snorkelling spot at Mantaray bay (unfortunately no manta rays to be seen - since seeing manta rays in Sydney aquarium I'd wanted to see them in the wild). Once back on the boat, the weather started to turn for the worse, with some rain approaching. Our next stop was Tongue bay, where we went ashore for a walk upto a lookout over Whitehaven beach, probably the most famous part of the Whitsunday islands - a beautiful beach with white sand and clear blue water. The weather wasn't very good at the lookout, so I was a bit dubious about walking down to spend more time on the beach. However, the sun came out as we got closer (for a change!). As the weather had been bad on the boat, noone had bothered to bring stinger suits. But when the sun came out, the water was so nice we went in anyway - noone had seen any jellyfish anyway! The water was crystal clear, and shallow enough to see the stingrays swimming around on the bottom. After stopping for a group photograph, it was back to the boat to head off towards our stopping point for the night. On the way, the captain decided to try and use the wind that was available, and raised the spinnaker sail. It didn't drag us along very quickly, but certainly looked impressive going up! For the night, we were anchoring just off Long Island resort, so that once we'd had dinner, we could go ashore to the pub there, as it was one of the crew's birthdays.

The final day of the sailing trip was just spent travelling back to the marina, with no stops on the way. Once back in Airlie beach, the rest of the day was spent relaxing due to not getting much sleep on the boat, before meeting up with the passengers who were still around for dinner & drinks later in the evening.

Monday 3rd: Airlie Beach to Hervey Bay

As there is really nothing to do in Airlie Beach apart from book whitsundays trips, diving and getting drunk, I didn't really have much to do today. After checking out, I went to the lagoon, but had to spend the time alternating between cover and sun as it kept raining. This was just to pass the time until my night bus to Hervey bay, taking 12 hours! Fortunately it wasn't as bad as I thought and I was able to sleep.


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