Where Two World [Heritage Site]s Collide

Our plans for Cairns were possibly the most wishy-washy out of all the places we’d been thus far on our East Coast journey. We had a whole week to psyche ourselves up for our trip into the outback, and what better way to prepare for plus-40oC dry heat than spend a week in cool and rainy Cairns? We were really lucky that the wifi in the hostel was pretty good. Yes, we had to pay for it and if we were only going to be staying there for a couple of nights then I probably wouldn’t have forked out for it, but there you go. Instant internet access is so important these days that it’s quite scary. Anyway, I digress. We had three things sorted – a snorkel trip to the Great Barrier Reef, a skydive and a trip further up north into the Daintree Rainforest and on up to Cape Tribulation.

Cairns is the only place on Planet Earth where you can see two UNESCO World Heritage Sites at the same time. Granted, you are also in the vicinity of a LOT of creatures who can kill you, but how many people can say they’ve seen the Great Barrier Reef from the Daintree Rainforest? I mean, it’s true you can actually see the Reef from Space, but I would imagine that there are far fewer people that can claim they’ve seen that!

Of course, the first thing we had booked was snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef. Due to the fact that I don’t have a GoPro, I have no pictures of this, but rest assured, even in the light drizzle, we got to see some pretty incredible sights under the water. Of course we had to put stinger-suits on, and we got given flippers again, so I was quite happy with the flotation devices we were given. Annoyingly, we also had to wear a life jacket too, but I guess the companies offering trips out into the middle of the ocean have to cover their backs somehow… yes, we had travelled out around an hour and a half from the coast of Cairns before the boat stopped to anchor and we could jump off and see one of the seven natural wonders of the world. (If you want to spend an hour on the internet actually learning stuff instead of an hour scrolling Facebook and watching cat videos, try Googling the Seven Wonders of the World, and seeing how many different lists there are. Seriously, I don’t know where that hour went!) In and amongst the awesomeness of the corals, the beautiful colours, and some pretty fish too, I heard a call of my name from the other end of where we were all snorkelling. Helen had found a Green Sea Turtle! I swam over as quick as my life jacket would allow and then no joke, we swam with this turtle for a good few minutes. Obviously, no touching, but I was that close that if I wanted to, I could have done. So graceful and massive! That’s another thing to cross off the bucket list!

We had a bit of lunch back on the boat and then we had a serious swim ahead of us. The boat had anchored to a buoy 250-metres away from a tiny little island. When I say tiny, there was literally 15-20-metres of sand in the middle of the ocean. No trees, no shade, nothing except a couple of logs that some birds were chilling on. We were told that we had to swim from the boat straight to the island and not to drift because the current was pretty strong. You’ll never guess which current it was… anyone seen Finding Nemo? Yup, it was the EAC, or the East Australian Current. Pretty strong it was and all! On the way, there was of course some awesome marine life to look at. There were these brilliant royal blue starfish that were really quite big just hugging some of the coral, but every time I got distracted by the cool stuff under the water, I found myself drifting. I would look up, see the island in the distance, rotate my body directly to it and start swimming with purpose, long kicks of your legs from your hips, like you’re some kind of mer-person. Then I would look back up again and find that I was swimming to the left of the island. I’d readjust myself and no sooner had I looked up again, I was hardly making any traction and swaying towards the left of the island again. It took a long time for me to get there. But I did. Eventually. Helen and some of our friends were already on the island and could see someone needed some life-guarding assistance and joked that they hoped it wasn’t me! She says that she could see me already, so wasn’t concerned for my well-being… In any case, after a while on the island where we were treated to a bit sunshine, though it was slightly easier to swim back to the boat, it still took me an extra 5-10 minutes! I keep telling you how unfit I am. I should join a gym when I get home.

A couple days after my skydive, we had a trip up to Cape Tribulation planned, and this was where we’d get a chance to go through the rainforest, go swim in the Daintree River, and go croc-spotting! Unfortunately, Mother Nature had some other ideas in mind for us! We got to the rainforest. Where it rained. We couldn’t go swimming at Josephine Falls or the normal swim spot because the water level was too high and rising rapidly. No bother, we just went to another spot a bit further along. Nu-uh. Not happening here. Normally, the water here is completely still and about knee-level if not lower. Our guide was gobsmacked! The water wasn’t still at all and at least 4-ft. And even though this area was a little bit sheltered, if you got swept up in it, you’d be rushed out into crocodile-infested waters! Not ideal… And the croc-spotting boat-trip? Well, we did go on the trip but apparently due to all the rain, the water temperature was down, so the crocs were out of the water, trying to keep warm under the trees making it close to impossible to find them. We saw lots of bats though.

Okay, so we stopped off for some lunch at this nice little hostel/bar/pub/restaurant in the middle of the rainforest. Since we’re on a bit of a tight schedule, we’re told we can have 45-minutes. After eating, there was a beautiful beach a little further on through the trees that we could go have a look at, but no swimming, because of the numerous things that can kill you. You know, the jellyfish, the other stingers, the crocodiles, the sharks and all the rest of it. Trouble was, as soon as we finished eating, it started chucking it down again. A few people were clever and brought raincoats with them, but I am apparently not one of those people. In fact, my raincoat is about as useful as a chocolate teapot. Another girl decided she was going to walk down to the beach in just her bikini and I thought that was a genius idea, so we went, shivering slightly in the cold rain down to the beach, took a picture and then walked back again. It was a little bit like going to the beach in England to be honest with you. And what with only wearing a bikini, I didn’t have a pocket for Thierry to sit in. So you can have this picture of me grinning like a loon. 

Along the way, there was a boardwalk over what I imagine on any normal day would be a cute little creek. Not today, it was a gushing river maybe six inches below the wooden bridge. When we got back to the bar our guide gathered us all together and let us know a few things. Whilst he had been conducting tours out in the Rainforest for around 15 years, it was only his first solo Cape Tribulation tour with this particular company. He had asked the locals and they all said that their creeks in their gardens had overflowed in the past day or two since they’d had over 300mm of rain overnight. This part of the rainforest normally gets on average 600-800mm rain per year. Almost half that had fallen in less than 24 hours. So he wanted to get in touch with the bosses and find out what the back-up plan was in this kind of situation. Surprise surprise, there isn’t really a plan “B” when the back-up swimming area to the back-up swimming creek to the back-up bit of water was all flooded out. Our guide was brilliant. He used to white-water raft at his last job and he said he wouldn’t even trust himself in the waters that day, let alone let any of us jump in. He even said that when there were warnings, sometimes he would talk to the (National) Park Rangers and work around them, but not today. No chance. Not when apparently Josephine Falls can rise a whole meter in 20-seconds of rainfall. Instead we went to a family-run ice-creamery where they actually grow all of the fruits in their orchards to ensure only the freshest ingredients.

On the way back to Cairns we stopped off at Port Douglas and their world-famous Four Mile Beach, but in the rainy greyness of the day, it didn’t really look all that impressive. I mean… At least I can say that I’ve been there. Just didn’t experience it in all its glory. It just gives me a good excuse to come back to Cairns one day… you listening, Mike?!??

Even though it was pretty much a washout trip to the rainforest, we didn’t actually get to see any of the waterfalls that the rainforest is famous for, so when we got back to Cairns we found ourselves in a Happy Travels shop right next to our hostel. Mostly because the guy in there was bored towards the end of his shift and he stopped us to say hi, but we got chatting and managed to get ourselves booked on to a waterfalls tour through the rainforest a couple days later at a great price too. Also – note to anyone who finds themselves heading up through that part of Australia and who needs a sound guy to help them out with some travel plans, hit me up and I can give you his contact details.

We went to the Babinda Boulders which was gushing water like you’ve never seen before. Not that this is a normal swimming area in the rainy season, but it felt like this rainforest trip was going to be just as much of a washout as the last one… Although on the plus side, you do need water for good waterfalls.

Now, bear with me here… there has been a lot of confusion and misinformation about the location of a certain British Pop Star’s music video for his smash hit 1996 single Mysterious Girl. This is a truly terrible song by Peter Andre who is very famous in England and not in (m)any other places, but it’s catchy and I feel somewhat attached to it because my surname is Mistry and I have (half-) seriously told my mother that this monstrosity of a song is going to be the first dance at my wedding. Mostly because I can’t be dealing with having a soppy love song. Anyway, I’m not planning any weddings, so let’s just forget I mentioned it. Right yeah, many places in Australia, Indonesia, and Thailand claim to be the location for the iconic waterfall scenes in this music video. (Click here for a bit of mid-90s nostalgia, or if you’ve never even heard of Peter Andre… you can thank me later.)

Turns out, Millaa Millaa Falls is not where the video was shot. It is, however, the location of a certain Herbal Essences Advert from a few years back. It was funny seeing lots of girls trying to do the hair flick, and being one of the only girls who decided not to get into the cold and kind of murky-looking water, I became something of the group photographer! And I must say that I think I’ve gotten a bit better at taking pictures since I embarked on my travels over a year ago now… 

We stopped off at a few other places of interest, like this cute little baby turtle hangout! The picture isn’t very good, but trust me, there were lots of little turtles swimming about.

We did a few more rainforest bush walks and went tree kangaroo spotting. Having no idea what a tree kangaroo looks like, and only being given the following description, it wasn’t too much of a surprise that we didn’t see one. “You’re looking for these little grey animals that are not really well equipped to live in trees. They tend to fall out of the trees a lot. They look a bit like bears with a big long tail.” We did see some pademelons though, that were really cute little wallaby-type animals, just hiding off in the trees. And a golden orb spider. I think I’m right in saying that the only place on earth you can see one of these particular venomous spiders is the Daintree Rainforest. Can you see it?

In any case, we went off to this crazy massive tree called the Curtain Fig Tree which is a heritage-listed strangler tree, that although kills its host, isn’t technically a parasite. It forms roots down to the ground and doesn’t take nutrients from the host tree’s sap. It was during a talk about the significance of this tree in this part of the rainforest and the Tablelands that Helen spotted a tree kangaroo! It was so far away though, so I couldn’t get a decent picture, but I saw it, and that’s pretty rare! The guide was so happy that he had a whole bus see one that he kept going on about it for the rest of the day.

The last stop on the tour was Crater Lakes National Park where the Freshwater Lake Eacham is actually the basin of a long-dormant volcano. Apparently, a few freshwater crocs hang out there too, but there haven’t been any confirmed sightings yet. I did learn the difference between freshwater and saltwater crocodiles though, and it’s not as simple as it sounds. Freshwater crocs don’t tend to kill people, but will defend themselves if under attack. They’re not quite as big as saltwater crocs and they only live in fresh water. Saltwater crocodiles on the other hand are the complete opposite. They’ll quite happily chill out in fresh water. They’re vicious as anything and can grow up to seven metres long. Not 7-ft. Metric metres. Actually, crocodiles are fascinating creatures. They basically have GPS built in to their brains. There was an exercise carried out in the mid-80s with these “problem crocodiles”. Basically, there was this one town that had some issues with these crocs that liked to hang out near play parks and there were a fair few attacks in a fairly short period of time. So these croc specialists tranquilised and tagged them and put them in some crates, took them all the way across Queensland and released them in a completely different area, nice habitat, river, and all the rest of it. Over the next few weeks, these crocodiles trekked it all across the +1000km and settled back in their old river. Creatures of habit, I guess?

I did jump into this water because it looked beautiful and still. And the sun had come out. It was incredibly deep though, so I stayed quite close to the jetty thing. Great temperature too actually, but I didn’t stay in too long, in an effort to dry off before we had to get back on the bus.

Leaving the rainforest for the second time I was hit by what an amazing part of the world Far North Queensland is. I’ll leave you with these facts, and if you have any questions, fire away.

  1. The Daintree is over 135 million years old, making it tens of millions of years older than the Amazon
  2. There are over 200,000 species of known bugs in the Daintree Rainforest
  3. 1 hectare of land in the Daintree has 1,300 species of tree, whereas the whole of North America and Canada combined only have 120 species
  4. 40% of the world’s butterfly population can be found in the Daintree Rainforest 
  5. You really do have to see it for yourself
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Bungee jump? Not a chance. Jump out of plane? Sure, why not?

We got through a lot in our week in Cairns, despite the fact it continued to rain. This was where I’d booked to jump out of a plane and I was alternating between excitement and absolutely crapping it. I’d chosen Cairns because you get to see the Great Barrier Reef, the rainforest and the coastline between the two as you hurtle towards the earth at an incredible speed. Granted you don’t get to land on the beach, but then again you also don’t get sand all up yourself! The only thing I was worried about the morning of the jump was the weather. I’d heard stories from a friend of ours who had their jump scheduled for earlier in the week for early morning but due to weather conditions it kept getting put back; they even got in the van on the way to the airport once and had to turn back because conditions became too unstable. She finally did her jump at 3.00pm, but it meant she had a whole day basically on stand-by so she couldn’t really do much of anything else. She was absolutely pumped after though, and I was really looking forward to that feeling!

I had a phone call confirming my skydive time the afternoon before, and my pickup was confirmed to be an hour earlier than I had booked! I guess it gave me less time to freak out in the morning! In the end although I was picked up at about 7.30am, I didn’t jump until 10.00am. This meant that I had the whole afternoon to myself afterwards though, since Helen had planned to go to the cinema with some other friends of ours to go see Rogue One. (Ooooh. I’ve just thought… when I get home, in my jobless and severely jet-lagged state maybe I could finally get around to watching all the Star Wars films… before you ask, yes of course in the order 456, 123, The Force Awakens and then Rogue One. Did you not work out I was a complete nerd yet?)

The lead up to the jump was totally fine. I wasn’t nervous even after we put some extra trousers on, after we watched an instructional video with Chinese subtitles, after we met our tandem skydive instructors, after we got strapped into our outfits, after we hopped into the van, until the GoPro came out and Ray, my instructor dude, asked me how I was feeling. I hadn’t even paid for the video, just pictures but it was an upsell sort of deal, so if you changed your mind, you could just pay them some more money and they would add the video to your USB stick. I hate hearing myself back on tape and I knew that I would not look pretty on video falling from 15,400ft, so I didn’t say anything particularly exciting. Another thing I didn’t do was get Thierry out at any point. We had to make sure our pockets were empty and I was not going to risk dropping him somewhere over the outskirts of Cairns with a close to zero chance of ever finding him! I did manage to take this picture and edit the absolute bejesus out of it!

I hear you screaming “What was it like!!??!?!??” It was completely exhilarating. From the point where you climb into the smallest aeroplane you’ve ever seen, where you don’t even get strapped in all that much, when the door isn’t even fully shut for take-off, when you hear the instructors yelling to each other that we’re going to fly a little further up because there was an awesome break in the clouds, when you emerge through the clouds and notice that the sky is bright blue above them, when you are told to dangle your legs out of the plane, and you have this voice in your ear yelling

“head back, and big smile!”

and you are literally launched from the plane and freefall, it is all just adrenaline-fuelled amazingness. You don’t get time to freak out, because it all happens so quickly. People have asked me how long it was from when you jump out of the plane to landing, and I honestly couldn’t tell you. Like, it could be 50 seconds or 5 minutes, it is so difficult to know. You freefall for quite a while, and during that time you have to arch your back a lot, so there is a good streamlined shape to fall, then after the parachute goes up, you can take your eye-wear off and try make your ears pop, but you can do stupid faces and poses if you want. A few of the Chinese people we had on our plane had written things on their arms and knuckles but I wasn’t sure if you would only see the reverse, like when you take a selfie, and the image you see is backwards? Plus, they all had things like “Crazy Brave Girl 2017” and “Superman 2k17” which I thought was a bit old and not in a cool retro kind of way…

Monsoon on Maggie Island

I’ve always had this picture that there is always beautiful weather in Australia. Obviously, this image has been rudely wiped from my mind, having spent three months living and working in Melbourne, where the city tagline is ‘four seasons in one day’ but that’s fine. Naively, I thought that anything north of Brisbane would be hot all year round. And for the most part, that is true. It’s just that I hadn’t really thought about the fact that it’s a tropical climate. And in the tropics, you get rain. A lot of rain. We saw some of this rain whilst enjoying the sights and wonders of Magnetic Island.

Turns out, transport around the Island is a bit of a mission. There is one public bus service that goes from the north to the south where there are a couple of quaint townships. Up in the north you have Horseshoe Bay and in the south, there’s Nelly Bay which is where the ferry docks for access to and from the Island and where our hostel was. All the rest of it is either National Park, only accessible by 4WD, or complete bushland.

Therefore, the thing to do in Maggie Island, as it’s affectionately coined by locals and backpackers alike, is hire a car to see all the hidden spots around. After the driving on Fraser Island, I was quite happy to drive whatever vehicle (hark at her… suddenly an expert driver!) and so we teamed up with our East Coast shadows, Ella and Flo, and split the cost between four, even though it was only Helen and I doing any driving. The choice was between a ‘Barbie car’ or a 4WD. Since we’d been told that you can’t get around unless you had a car that had some serious suspension and a half-decent engine, we opted for the 4WD. Plus, none of us were particularly fussed about driving around in a little pastel-coloured car that looked like a toy and sounded like it struggled to carry 2 passengers along a flat road, let alone any terrain with an actual gradient! My only regret is that we got an open-top car. It would have been so much more comfortable in the torrential rain with a roof over our heads.

Not that we had much of a choice in the matter. When we got to the car hire company, the guy we met was covering for a friend of his who’d had to “go to the mainland” for something or other. He fumbled his way through the health and safety stuff, and got us to fill out some paperwork, popped out back to grab a set of keys and then told us to follow him out into the open air where the cars were waiting for us. There were two groups at this point and it was literally luck of the draw. Both cars were manual and looked like they’d seen better days. Our only instructions were to make sure we cover the car up at night with the cover they provided in the tiniest boot you ever did see. Also, very nicely, they said that if we return the car re-fuelled up, they’d drop us off at the ferry terminal. So far, so good.

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Picture credit to Helen

On the first day with the car, having picked up our snorkel gear from all over the island (Ella and Flo were staying at a hostel up at the north of the island and we were at the south. For a story about poor customer service in true British style send me a message; I’ll be all too happy to regale you the story!) we checked a map (we didn’t use GPS here!) and headed in the direction of Florence Bay. img_3923We got into our stinger-suits on the beach, flippers and all, and an old man called up to us and waved us a bit further down the stretch of pebble-beach. He looked like a seasoned snorkel-master with his yellow swimming shorts, no sign of a stinger-suit, so we followed his advice, backing out of the water so as not to get sand stuck in our flippers. I tell you something… it is a pain in the butt walking about on sand with flippers on! Helen’s top tip for walking in flippers…? Walk backwards. Once we moved over a bit, we did see some fish and other stuff, but compared to the Whitsundays, visibility was rubbish and it wasn’t really much to write home about. Apart from a baby black tip shark. The water couldn’t have been much more than waist deep and this little dude was swimming about. He didn’t stick around for long though, and neither did we. img_3912

We headed off to another area, on the hunt for rock wallabies. We came armed with some pellet food for them and followed the signs to Arcadia. I pulled up in this weird little layby on the side of the road with some steps going up and in hindsight, I think this may have been a residential driveway, but there we were, debating on whether the road goes that much further or not, we saw this cute little wallaby with a joey in her pouch, just hanging out on the steps. She was a little jumpy, but after a little while she was quite happy to eat from our hands, Thierry included.

img_3931 I was the last one, having taken photos for everyone else, and as I sat down next to her, she bounded off down into the bush. I tried to follow her but she was pretty nimble and had probably eaten her fill. We got back into the car and carried on around the corner where there was a whole carpark full of Barbie cars, what with Arcadia being one of the only places you could actually get to in one of those monstrosities. There were so many people there trying to tempt the wallabies with all sorts of foodstuffs from bananas to carrots. We ventured a little bit further into this little cave type area and there were a group of three girls huddled around not one, but two little rock wallabies and a little joey! We asked if I could just grab a quick picture and then we got on our way to Westpoint, which is THE spot to be for the sunset.img_3944

The drive to Westpoint was eventful. It was one of the roads that we’d been warned about. When we first got onto the road, it didn’t seem all that bad, we were zooming along at the national speed limit, no dramas, as they say in Aussie-land. Then the road just ends. There’s a sign that says something along the lines of “4WD only past this point” and it turns into a dirt track. Still good, a few minor bumps here and there. Then the bumps turn into signposted dips with a 10km/h limit and then there are craters in the road. It transpires that the quality of the seats varied quite considerably from driver to front passenger to backseat. I was more than happy in the driver’s seat! The rest of the girls though… well, it was always going to be a bumpy ride. One good thing though, Flo had checked out how long it was supposed to take, and then tagged on an extra 20 minutes just so we wouldn’t be late, so whilst we were gearing up for an hour-long drive, we made it in little over 35 minutes!

When we got there, the sky looked ominous but beautiful. It was a hundred versions of grey, from murky lilac to gun metal and everything in between, but then it broke with a streak of bright blue and a band of white light on the horizon where we could see the sun dipping away. We used this as the background for some epic ‘jumping in the sand’ silhouette pictures. Very artistic. Problem was, that by the time I got Thierry out of his precious little bag in my handbag, the parting in the clouds got smaller and smaller but the heavens literally opened and we got drenched. So, you get to see us, but not him.img_4024

We called it a day when the rain wouldn’t let up, and jumped into our car. You know, that open-top car I was talking about? Yeah, there was already a pool of rainwater in the backseat, but we were only getting more wet, so we just got on with it. Helen took this drive because she struggled with her back on the way there, and successfully manoeuvred us from Westpoint, along the road with the potholes the size of small ponds, through the bat-filled trees in the dimming light. The rain was relentless. Photo-taking opportunities were minimal! Sitting in the front seat, we at least had the windscreen to protect us from the worst of it, and I was incredibly grateful.

We had heard there was a fantastic Mexican restaurant up in Horseshoe Bay, so we drove the girls back to their hostel to put some dry clothes on and then set off in search of some jalapeños and copious amounts of melted cheese. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be though, because just as the rain cleared up and we got back into the car, just as we were leaving the carpark, we heard a yell from behind us. Some friends of ours had just returned from the town only to find that everything was closed! It wasn’t even 7:30 yet, but whether it was due to the rain or just the fact that they don’t get much business, all of the eateries around town closed super-early. All they had for us to eat at the hostel was pizza and cheesy garlic bread, so at least we got our cheese-fix in!

Needless to say, it was a quiet night, but that’s fine because we had a fairly early start in the morning, to go right on back to that hostel again to the animal sanctuary; it was finally time to get that all-important picture with a koala. To tell you the truth, I’ve never been much of an animal lover. It may have something to do with my allergies, or as I discovered out in Laos over a year ago (wow…that’s gone fast!) that I’m kind of a bit scared of animals. I popped a couple of antihistamines, just in case I started getting a tickly nose and red streaming eyes complete with a sneezing fit when I had a koala attached to me, because that would make a disgusting picture, and it wouldn’t be too pleasant for the koala either.

It turns out though, that I managed to put away my dislike for animals for the morning, so I could hold and get pictures with a whole bunch of the little critters. Having said that, the snake was a pretty long one, and there were a few reptiles that I decided against holding. My personal favourite was the red-tailed black cockatoo, who likes to give a little kiss provided you’re holding a seed between your lips! He also gets his crest up when he’s having fun or if he likes you, and check this out! I was the only one in the group who he did that for. This could mean one of a few things:

  1. He fancied the smell of my pheromones
  2. He kinda liked me
  3. He likes shirts, and I was wearing a ¾ length one

Either way, I kinda liked him too.

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The rest of the morning was spent traipsing back and forth across the island with all our luggage in tow, dropping it and our friends at the ferry terminal and getting the car back in time to catch our ferry. And guess what? It rained again. One thing that I can attest to now is that I genuinely am now happy to drive any type of car, dodgy gearbox and all, and I have a new-found love of driving barefoot. You see, whilst it had rained a lot, it was still pretty warm so we lived in out flip flops. I can’t tell you how dangerous it is to drive in wet slippery flip flops. So much easier to go without. Plus, it all adds to the experience… after all, if you’re careful, a bit of wet weather never hurt anyone before.

Whitsundays Sailing, Whitehaven Beach, Wonderful Life

The journey to Airlie Beach was a really long one. It was a night bus situation with a few hours waiting around at Hervey Bay. Of course, you can choose to stop off at other places along the way, but when you’re on a budget and a time limit, you tend to get a lovely travel agent to sort your itinerary out for you. It’s a good thing that we did too, because that’s how we came across Ella and Flo, Tim and Tess and so many others, that if I list them all, 1) I might forget someone important, 2) I’d be here all day and 3) I haven’t actually asked these people if I can use their names yet!

The best part about that journey was that the wifi on the bus was really very good, so I could upload a whole bunch of photos with Thierry in them. This means that I can then write at my own pace and as soon as I have another decent wifi connection, I can just format a page and post it. Genius! The only flaw here? It’s so difficult to find the time to write properly! I can’t type on a bus. It makes me feel queasy.

Okay, so we checked in at the hostel in Airlie Beach super-early because we arrived before breakfast! Even better than that? We managed to all get a room together. There were another couple of girls who were booked on a later bus, but their room was just down the hall. We spent the day by the lagoon. Anywhere north of Brisbane has such a large population of stingers in the sea that it is inadvisable to swim. This is why there are so many man-made swimming pool areas, most of which have a pretty name like a lagoon. In the evening, we had enough people to make a half decent dinner and pick up enough stuff for breakfast too. When we did all the calculations, we ended up spending $3 each for two meals. A nice rotisserie chicken and veggies, tomato-based pasta and salad, plus breakfast cereals, milk and OJ. Not bad, if I may say so myself.

Our Whitsundays sailing trip was due to start on Australia Day, which is 26th January. For this reason, we were slightly concerned that the bottleshop wouldn’t be open in the morning for us to pick up some booze before we got on the boat. Rest assured, this is Australia we’re talking about. Of course the bottle’o was open! What wasn’t quite so forthcoming were the taxis that apparently turn up all the time. There is only one taxi service in Airlie. Can you believe that? They’ve got a proper monopoly on the town. Like, Uber doesn’t even get a look in! Eventually, after re-calling the taxi service and then flat out hailing taxis from the taxi rank, we eventually managed to pick one up. The lady was so lovely! She radioed immediately to send more cars to where we’d been waiting, because there was quite a queue of people by this point. Panic over, we got to the designated meeting place with time to spare.

Next up, this little lady turned up out of nowhere and started fitting us for our stinger suits. She disappeared just as quickly as she appeared. Then our skipper arrived to take us to our home for the next 2 nights. The skipper was a character. I was playing music from my phone for a while and he just took a selfie: brilliant dude. In fact, the whole crew was just great. The host was a tiny little chick. She was only 20. To be fair, the deckhand was only 20 as well, but he’d been doing the job a few years and did not come across as a 20 year-old at all! We had a bit of a safety briefing as soon as we got on to the boat, but it was such a jam-packed trip, that the adventures started straight away.

It started with a group effort to put the sail up so we could actually travel with speed. Then we had a bit of a light lunch, just sandwiches to get us a little bit of energy for our first snorkel of the trip. Now, I’m perfectly capable of swimming. I just don’t like water getting in my eyes. Or up my nose. Or on my face in general, really. I’ve been snorkelling before, in Cambodia and Phuket, but I couldn’t get the hang of breathing through my mouth at the time. This time we were told to make sure the snorkel mask wasn’t on too tight, because the pressure of the water would stick it to your face in any case. Unfortunately, mine was definitely too loose. If I didn’t have water in the mask, then it was in the snorkel mouthpiece.  Flo tried to help me out, but I was panicking like crazy. To be perfectly honest, I’m not quite sure how I didn’t end up cutting myself up on the coral in the way the Flo did. Bless her, she was in pain for days after.

The fish were incredible though; so bright and colourful, and the coral was pretty awesome too. Helen and Flo went swimming off into the distance and I just bobbed about with my noodle (or woggle for the Brits – you know, that long, thin flotation device you used to have at swimming lessons when you were a kid?). We had anchored the boat a little way out, and then the deckhand took us out group by group in the little inflatable motorboat.

Back on the boat, we got a platter of cheese and crackers. Snorkelling makes you hungry! Then we had a bit of a sail to get to Whitsunday Island. The highlight of anyone’s Whitsunday trip. This is a world-famous beach and it’s so easy to understand why. The sand is made of pure silica. Something funky and geography-related happened hundreds of millions of years ago and silica has been pumping out of the earth’s crust and washing over to Whitehaven Beach. On that first evening, we just did the boardwalk to the viewpoint and watched the sun set over the softly swirled silica. Depending on the exact position of the sun, and the way in which the sand is moved by the gently currents, it is said that you never get the same image twice of Whitehaven Beach. img_3652

The true magic was for the following morning when we got up early and were the first people down to the beach.  We had a bit of a talk about the wildlife in the area and the uses for the silica – which included tooth-brushing and hair-washing, general exfoliation and I tried nail-buffing! Oh my goodness, my nails were in such good condition the following morning! Turns out, NASA uses the silica from Whitehaven Beach for the lenses in their telescopes because it makes the clearest glass on earth. I was sitting in that sand you know… so one day, there might be a single grain that could make up parts of a space camera that touched my butt! How cool is that?! Actually, in all seriousness, I don’t know if that’s strictly true. All the National Parks in Australia have a rule that you don’t add or subtract anything from them. That means you cannot take away a piece of coral that has swept up onto the shore, any more than you can leave a plastic bottle lying on the beach. Either NASA has a unique arrangement with UNESCO, or they’ve taken all the silica they’re allowed to and once their space reserves are up, tough luck. I would find out and let you know, but all my research efforts haven’t enlightened me so far. All I know for sure is that part of the Hubble Telescope is made from Whitehaven’s silica.

Once we had our fill of the white sands of Whitehaven that evening, we headed back for our first night on the boat. Our host had made us up a great dinner of Spaghetti Bolognese, we had a drink each and settled down out on the deck to watch the stars as we fell asleep, ready for a bright and early start in the morning. Australia is one of the best places in the world to see the night sky. We saw the Milky Way from Fraser Island; the first star you tend to see as the sun goes down this time of year is actually Venus, it’s just beautiful. It really is a shame that you can’t capture the magic with an iPhone camera. Instead, the images are seared onto my brain forevermore.

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Helen makes her debut in this picture!
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Stuff that the ocean washes up is really pretty.
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Thierry tries his hand at jumping in the sand… just when the sun went away.

After our morning dip at the most beautiful beach in the world, we set sail for another couple of snorkel spots. My snorkelling skills were now becoming a little better. I was definitely much more confident and happy to go my own way. The coral was great, but the fish were the incredible part. We met an Australian Groper called George. He’s about three metres in length, but calm and docile, wouldn’t hurt a fly… or plankton. He apparently started out as Georgina, but the way that Australian Gropers live is that they are all born female and then the most “manly” fish changes its biology to become the alpha male of the group. Then He-She has a family of wives waiting for him to spread his seed, so to speak. Weird, but if that’s what floats your boat… (sorry!! I couldn’t resisit!).

Our final night on the boat was a much more entertaining one. We had enough drinks to go around, played some games and talked for hours. I wanted to sleep in the cabin because although the stars were amazing, I found it really cold and not all that comfortable out on deck. I had totally lucked out too, because Helen wanted to stay out, and I think we managed to get the biggest bed! The following morning we got up at a leisurely pace and arrived back to Airlie Beach around 9am. We shared a taxi back to the hostel with some new friends of ours and checked back into the hostel, reuniting with our big luggage, looking forward to another night in Airlie. We had the boat’s after-party at the bar downstairs from our room, so it wasn’t like we had to go far. Plus we got discounted food and drinks, so all in all it was a great night out to end a great sailing experience with our little East Coast family. And the fun wasn’t over yet, because we were on the same Greyhound bus off to Magnetic Island the following day, and the adventure continues.