The Amazing & Beautiful Whitsundays!

Keeping up with posting is becoming more and more difficult, but I counted up last night & realized I'm now 14 days behind!!! Unacceptable, but it turns out the wifi situation in NZ is just as dodgy as in OZ. Also, since I'm on a tour, a)I'm busier, and b) I have all these new friends! But, apparently I have some readers, so I am pressing on! Besides- Australia was amazing & that must be shared. :)

After an uneventful trip to the awesome Sydney airport & flight, we landed on Hamilton Island, one of the larger & more developed of the Whitsunday Islands. The weather reports were all saying 95% chance of storms, but we had some sun as we waited for the ferry to take us over to Airlie Beach, where we would be based out of for our sailing trip. Sadly, as we ferried over to the next stop, the gorgeous blue sky with white fluffy clouds was overtaken by the horrible, black, scary sky, and by the time we arrived at the port in Airlie there was a steady, grey rain coming down, with no breaks in sight. We cabbed over to our respective accommodations (G&V splurged on one of the nicer hotels, while I was hosteling again!) rather than walking the 15 rainy minutes into town. Luckily, the town is teeny, about 3 blocks long, and everything was easy to find, so we met up at the travel agency I'd been emailing about sailing options. She was great, and fount us a 2-night, 3-day trip that fit all of our needs. We did a bit of shopping in the subsequent downpour, then took refuge for dinner. FYI, my rain-proof jacket is actually more of rain-resistant, as we're G&V's too, so we all had to pull out our ponchos for the next morning. We all stored our big bags at my hostel, and then set out with our newly-purchased overnight totes (which is all you can bring on the boat) to pick up our alcohol for the next couple of nights (no bar on the boat). Loaded down with enough booze for a week (what were we thinking!), we went out to head to the boat. More torrential downpouring at this point, so again we cabbed the 5-minute over to the port. Just as a reminder, I got a 2-hour cab-ride in Thailand for $15 the week prior. This cab ride was $10. Insane, but worth it. Right as we arrived at the little cafe meeting point, Gregg set his bags down, and somehow broke the top of his bottle of tequila. So, we spent the next few minutes trying to salvage the precious Cuervo. Even after all that effort, I don't think anyone had a sip the whole trip, but it was hilarious, all the same.

After a bite to eat & a small wait, we finally met Tommy, our first mate, and got to board our home for the next three days, the mighty Boomerang. This is a gorgeous racing sailboat, called a maxi (I think?), but sadly it didn't have much cover. Luckily the rain had stopped at this point, so we all threw our stuff in the teeny bunks, and headed up on deck for our departure from the harbor. There were about 25 of us on board, and a fairly good mix between couples & singles & nationalities. Everyone turned out to be super nice & chill, perhaps a bit shy as a group at first, but by the end we were all pretty good friends! The trip was really wonderful. The weather held mostly, with overall only small showers bothering us. There wasn't much wind, so no real sailing, and we had to always wear stinger suits when getting in the water, but I actually came to appreciate the suit. You were almost always wet, to some extent, so it actually insulated you & kept you warm. Plus they're damn sexy, right! Hahaha. First night, we docked just before a biggish storm passed over us, so we all huddled under the tarp that covered half the boat & watched the downpour. It was actually pretty cool. Once that stopped, many of us jumped in for a swim in the very salty water, and all hoped one to the turtles would come close enough for us to see. We saw tons from the deck of the boat, but I think only one of us was lucky enough to see one actually in the water. After dinner there was bonding over games of cards, but we all decided to call it a fairly early night because the goal was to be among the first onto Whitehaven beach!

The next morning, after a truly terrible, hot, night of sleep (or lack of sleep, honestly), we headed up a muddy track over a hill to a lookout over the inlet and beach, complete with white swirls of sand. The sun wasn't really out (but no rain!), so we it doesn't come across on photos really, but MAN- that is a pretty beach. Even better down on the extremely fine sand, which was silky smooth & totally white. We frolicked in the fairly rough waves, then went for a walk around to the inlet to look for rays & sharks. No dice (except for a ray I saw from the lookout), but we did run into some harmless jellies around the point. By this time, there were tons of kite surfers setting up, and lots of day trippers on the beach, but even fairly crowded, it was amazing! The sun even peeked out a smidge. All too soon, it was time to move on back to the boat, and to head to a different island for snorkeling!

We suited up again & hopped in, equipped with noodles to help keep us afloat w/out too much work (extremely useful, btw). This was basically my first experience with the Great Barrier Reef, and even if it was just fringing reefs, it was awesome. There were tons of different kinds of corals, and lots of little fish swimming around- many right around us. The visibility was great, and I so wanted to be diving down for a closer look. Snorkels being annoying though, I stayed up on the surface, which frankly was fine. Some of us got boated over to a second bay for a bit deeper snorkeling, where we got to see some great big fish who like to come around as they often get fed by boats. Again, very super cool, and I couldn't wait for my dive the next day. When we got back on board, we moved to yet another spot, and as it started drizzling, a few dedicated water babied hopped in to float around the boat with the noodles & a brewski. It was quite heavenly, I really have to say. Dinner was a partially damp affair, but we had fun telling ghost stories & basically just chatting- like I said it was a really fun group.

The second night was much better as it rained basically the whole night, so it was cooler on board and perhaps calmer water. I also woke up excited to be able to dive again, which almost didn't happen. See, you could sign up for a dive during check-in, prior to boarding, but they also said we could decide on the spot, and since I was worried about my ear as well as the weather, I decided to wait. Well, several others had that idea as well, but unfortunately the dive boat only plans for the # that signs up before-hand. Luckily, because I was already certified, there was room for me, but at least one person didn't get to check it out. They didn't miss too much though, because the rain overnight really stirred the silt on the bottom, and the visibility was kinda terrible. After a strangely rocky start (I was over-breathing as I descended & almost panicked & had to re-surface real quick), I was mostly concentrating on keeping the guides flippers in sight! The corals & fish were similar to what we'd seen the day before, so it was still cool, but just not as good as I was hoping for.

When we got back on the boat there was actually wind, so we hoisted the sails & actually got to sail home in the bright sunshine. It was amazing!!! If you had that kind of weather for the whole trip I can't even imagine what a great time you'd have. The only drawbacks were 1) it was hard as hell to actually raise the sails (I was one of the idiots who volunteered to help wind the winches), and 2) we all had to stay sitting on the high side of the boat, which wasn't the most comfortable position. Comfort didn't seem to be the highest priority on this boat, though, so again, at least we had great company. :)

All in all. A wonderful taste of the Great Barrier Reef & tropics of Queensland. After an evening out with some of the gang from the boat though, it was time to say goodbye, as Gregg & Val had to head back to Sydney the next day, while I was continuing north on a early bus. Though we'd split up more than we'd originally thought, it was sad to think they weren't going to be just a town or so away anymore! Luckily though, I had some new friends from the boat who were going to be around, so I'd have familiar faces around for a bit, at least.

On to the charming Magnetic Island next!

Also, there's no way I can upload all my pics on this terrible connection, so here are a few faves.