Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Magnetic Island, Airlie Beach & The Whitsundays

We left Cairns early in the morning on the Greyhound down to Townsville. After very little sleep that night the journey flew by as I slept the whole way. The drop off point in Townsville is actually at the ferry port so we didn't have a long walk or that much of a wait either before our crossing to Magnetic Island. The ferry takes about 20 minutes then we caught a bus down to Base Backpackers, our hostel for the following two nights.

After following the directions to our dorm, Inge and I were delighted by our luck! We had a balcony that was right on the sea front, over looking the water and the cliffs to the side. It was unbelievably warm so we just stayed by the pool for a few hours before dinner. When we booked we received a free dinner and breakfast – the food was incredible! Best hostel food I've had hands down. I got the veggie lasagne and could have happily ate it several times over. That night they had “Boozy Bingo” in the bar. We'd met a couple of people by this point so 5 of us sat round drinking and playing bingo which was a bit of a laugh – none of us won of course.

The next morning again was really warm. We stayed on the beach (no swimming though as its stinger season and we didn't fancy paying for a stinger suit) for a while before buying some stuff for dinner. In the afternoon Inge and I caught the bus to the Forts Walk near Horseshoe bay – north on the island. The others had gone in the morning but we didn't fancy the walk in the heat. This was supposed to be the most common place to see koalas in the wild but we left we low expectations following the crocodile cruise! After only 10 minutes a woman who was walking in front of us had spotted a koala up in the tree! We couldn't believe it: they look so much less friendly than they are portrayed but are seriously fluffy! For the whole of the rest of the walk we only saw one other koala, slightly smaller than the first, but that was very high up in the tree sleeping so it was quite difficult to see it properly. The views from around the walk were really nice and the landscape was completely different to all the other places I've been, much drier so less green and altogether more baron. On the way back we saw the first koala again but this time climbed up the rocks to get some closer photos – it was really cool to see them in the wild.

We left Maggie after two nights and caught the greyhound down the Airlie Beach. Our bus was delayed so we only just made check-in at Nomads. After the rave reviews for Nomads Airlie beach we'd heard, I was a little disappointed. There was nothing wrong with the hostel per say, just not as clean or well organised as Serpent. People clearly didn't always clean up after themselves in the kitchen and no one seemed to bother to check it, the dorms have en suite bathrooms but this meant long waits as the shower only had a curtain so people couldn't use the toilet at the same time. We had an eventful night in the dorm thanks to 3 extremely drunk kiwis so we had an early start the next day on very little sleep. There is a peterpans in Airlie so we went there to confirm dates of greyhounds and our tour of Fraser island. Later in the morning we had a welcome visit from Digby and Stacey – friends from Cairns. They'd spent the last 2 day hitch hiking down. There isn't an awful lot to do in Airlie but its the most popular place to depart for the Whitsundays so we just wandered around the shops and caught up with Digby and Stacey. We went out for a second “goodbye until Sydney” party but to be honest we weren't massively impressed with the night life. The majority of people we've met seem to enjoy Airlie for a night out but we must have hit it badly.

On Saturday we got on board the Atlantic Clipper to start our trip sailing round the Whitsundays. The weather wasn't too bad when we set off- it had been overcast in the morning but the sky had cleared and the sun was shining by the time we set off. On our boat there was 53 passengers and 6 crew. The crew were all pretty lively and friendly which definitely helped as the weather for the rest of the trip was rubbish but they were pretty good at keeping the spirits up. We left in the afternoon and sailed for a couple of hours to reach where we would moor up for the night. Throughout the journey we had our safety briefing and were shown to our cabins. Inge and I were in a cabin together, the bunk had less than 50cm between them and I drew the short straw and got the bottom so I managed to hit my head a good few times. That night we had to get into groups and had random games on the boat – my team won so we got a chocolate bar each. Chocolate here is so expensive its crazy – I miss the cheap 20p supermarket chocolate back home!

The next morning we were woken at 6:30am for breakfast and the boat was already sailing. There was a few people who were worse for wear lets say and sea sickness on top of that didn't make it too enjoyable for a lot of people. We sailed to the main island: Whitsunday which is where the 4th most photographed spot in Australia is, Whitehaven beach. We moored up and were taken over to Tounge beach by smaller boats and there we began the trail to the lookout. It was only a short walk up to the lookout and the view was spectacular. Sadly the weather was pretty rubbish with dark grey skies overhead but still it was clear to see why Whitehaven beach is such a desirable place to go. Perfect white beaches, surrounded by bright blue water made it extremely picturesque. We continued on the trail all the way down to the beach. I couldn't get over how bright the sand was and how fine it was too. We put our stinger suits which were far too big and went in the water. The waves made me want to get surfing as soon as possible! On one side of the beach the water wasn't quite as inviting but when we looked closely we saw a few sting ray and a baby lemon shark just by the edge. We had a couple of hours the chill out on the beach but the rain started early on so people started heading back to the boat early.

By the afternoon we had sailed north to our first snorkelling/diving location. I chose not to dive as after my 3 amazing dives in Cairns I could not justify sending any more money on diving! Still managed to see tonnes of different fish just by snorkelling around though so it was still cool. The Clipper also has a dive board and slide so after a bit of snorkelling we passed the time jumping in until the divers returned. That night more games came out. Firstly the guys dressed up as girls (including the crew which was hilarious) then we had a series of games after that. Everyone got involved and made it good fun – through the day a lot of people seemed to be pretty subdued probably because of the weather. We'd all heard stories of the Clipper being a bit mental so most people that I spoke to were surprised at how tame it was. I think it depends a lot on the group on the boat but to be honest the balance worked out pretty well.

The following morning we were able to go snorkelling/diving again if we wanted. It was almost sunny for the first time since we left Airlie beach so I decided to stay on the top deck and chill out after not having much sleep the night before. I'd talked to the crew quite a lot the previous evening and it was cool to get to know them a bit more. After a few hours we started our journey back to Airlie. We arrived back at around 12pm and with no room as such Inge and I were a bit unsure of what to do until 23:45 when our overnight bus was departing. There was an after party (with free pizza) at Phoenix bar in town but until them we wandered around aimlessly. Darren (one of the crew) was kind enough to let us leave our bags in his van which he conveniently parked next to the bus stop. We each got half a domino's pizza free after spending $5 at the bar which was amazing and by the time we'd finished eating the party started. It was a really good night and so difficult to drag ourselves away to catch the bus but just after 11 we said our goodbyes to everyone we'd met on the boat and headed to catch the Greyhound to the town of 1770.

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