Whilst in Australia I booked a boat trip to take in the awe that is the Whitsunday Islands.
We flew from Sydney to Hamilton Island and then got a ferry over to Airlie island where the wet season had decended and monsoon rain was all around us. We checked into a hostel called Base X and enquired as to what there was to do on the island, the response, ‘drink’. Not one to not do what I am told, we went off to check out the local bars and find some food. The receptionist wasnt wrong in her advice, apart from the marina, Airlee is a strip of clubs, bars and shops with the occasional massage salon thrown in. Airlee is a holiday resort so the buildings are not built up here so are a little easier to absorb. Unless you wanted to shop or get a massage all there was to do was drink, an example set well by many of the other holiday makers and locals.
So we began our afternoon of drinking in the rain, thankfully it was warm but it didn’t stop the odd shiver once we were completely soaked through. The only time we stopped to have a breather was to either get into dry clothes or to eat. Upon returning to our room to get changed we found a full ‘after party’ being held in our dorm, about 15 people all milling around drinking the dreaded ‘Goon’, see my post on Sydney for more about this drink. Girls had their heads being held back whilst their ‘friend’ poured the fishy wine down their throats. Personally I couldn’t think of anything worse,neither could the girl judging by her gagging reaction post downing the drink.
Despite Airlie being small it hosts its fair share of clubs, many of which offer free entrance for those prepared to part-take in a wet t-shirt competition. This seemed somewhat pointless given the monsoon soaking everyone through to their skids. Throwing a bucket of water over me really wouldn’t have made any difference, my t-shirt was already clinging to my ribs and proverbial smuggled peanuts. So no entering for me, maybe they had better luck with the jelly wrestling, also on offer. Clearly people are wild here, I was expecting to see signs for foam parties any minute but it seems Airlie hasn’t reached that level of class yet, I have every faith they will get there once they have surpassed the bar brawls and neanderthal entertainment. It is the perfect setting for, an even more dire,version of Road Trip.
Unfortunately I didn’t partake in the jelly wrestling however, had I stumbled upon this after the tenth hour of drinking, I may well have done. For anything seems like a good idea after your tenth hour of drinking….Instead we opted for yet more food and ended up in an African club where you bought a ticket for $10 and got five free drinks, not bad given I was drinking bourbon and usually this is around $7-10 per drink so I was rather happy.
My friend, who has been a resident in Sydney for 5 years, was telling me all about how men do not chase women in Australia and that they still consider women to be the lesser sex. This doesn’t surprise me given that the country seems behind in a few areas, not just club entertainment, but I hadn’t particuarly noticed that men do not chase women, maybe thats because I had seen my fair share of Aussie men chasing English and European women, maybe it is all Ok when chasing a bit of strange. Who knows but this might explain why English women sense a bit of hostility from some Australian women, we are stealing all their men!
I digress, we ended our night around 2am and climbed into our bunks. Never a good place to lay your head when you have a belly full of beer for fear of stepping on the complete stranger sleeping below you as you make a desperate run for the loo several times through the night. However I think I needlessly worried as the girl below me was passed out in some Goon coma and would have barely noticed had I used her face as the ladder.
Despite is being a monsoon the day prior I had spent most of the time, in between slurping drinks, praying that it would be sunny for the time on the boat. My prayers, I am glad to say, were answered.
Feeling a slight worse for ware we headed for breakfast, bought 30 tins of cider and headed for the boat.
We waited at the harbour and as we did so I could feel panic rising slowly within me, there were far too many people to all be in one boat, suffering slight claustrophobia and wielding a hangover this didn’t sit comfortably with me as I didn’t fancy having to clamber over 20 people to be sick, to ultimately end up vomiting on clamber number 21. Judging by the boat it couldn’t hold the masses that waited impatiently on shore. Much to my relief it turned out that half of these people were waiting for another boat.
We boarded our vessel and got an induction from the crew. We had a skipper and two female crew. Charlie told us the rules of the boat, where to brush our hair, that we couldn’t go in the water if we had drank 8 hours before, where to be sick and how to take a 1 minute shower. The shower was a small cubicle which consisted of a tiny toilet, a sink which also moon lighted as a shower. There was a button to flush the chain and a button to drain the shower. Compact wasn’t the word.
Our cabin was hotter than Anandita Tamuly eyes after she rubbed chilli in them celebrating eating 51 chillies in 2 minutes. It was like hell itself! Needless to say we agreed with the crew when they said try to stay up top as much as possible, I went below deck for all of two minutes and had to hang onto my head as my hangover took a surge for the worst – thankfully my head wasn’t the only thing I managed to hold onto and my breakfast remained firmly in place.
Having departed for our first snorkel and dive site it became apparent we were not the only ones nursing a chronic hangover as 50% of the boat turned green or passed out asleep. Nothing a plunge into the cold water wouldn’t solve.
Our first site was a small bay which we got taken to on the small motorised dingy. My friend was a certified diver so he went into a separate group but I was more than happy just snorkeling. They tell you to buddy up so I ended up with a 19 year old girl who was super lovely, inquisitive and super naive, but then who isn’t at 19. However it was like being with a 2 year old having to navigate the perpetual asking of ‘why’.
My first snorkel was great, I have snorkeled before but just off shore, this was fully kitted out in stinger suits, snorkel mask and fins. We jumped in the water off the back of the dingy and off we went. You don’t notice from the surface but as soon as you put your face in the water you soon realise you are surrounded by 100’s of fish. It was, without a shadow of doubt, amazing. The water temperature was 28 degrees although it didn’t feel like it in places. We saw hundreds of fish, striped ones, big red ones, bright ones and plenty of coral and reef.
Having never snorkeled this deep before everyone had similar fears, sharks, jelly fish and sting rays. However the biggest things we should have been worried about was the jellies, apparently the ones the size of your small fingernail are the most poisonous. Why is it everything tiny wants to kill you – its like they all suffer from ‘small being’ syndrome. I am small therefore I must unleash pure evil unto all those around me.
Sharks on the other hand are nothing to worry about, you hear this a lot in Australia despite media in the UK sensationalizing all attacks. Apparently only a few attacks happen per year across the whole of Australia. Sharks don’t even like the taste of human flesh so they might bite you once but wouldn’t come back for a second helping, clearly we have eau de vermin to them. If you have watched any nature programmes, like me, you will know many attacks are on surfers and this is because the surf board, from above, looks like a seal to the shark. If you are swimming amongst them, particuarlly below the surface diving, they just assume you to be aquatic and nothing to be bothered with.
Never the less, Niave girl still believed Jaws to be some documentary, insisting sharks are a risk, torturing herself with her logic which baffled me. Personally I try not to think about it, the same with the spiders, don’t think about it until you are faced with it, as chances are you won’t see either.
The crew are great with providing slide shows of fish you might see, local knowledge, giving you peanut butter for batfish to eat off your feet and providing food throughout the day. I was saddened to learn that the Dutch went to the Whitsundays years ago and decided to begin to populate these islands, after time they decided they didn’t like the aboriginals and killed them all. As such aboriginals now will not return to these islands due to them considering them cursed. This seemed to be the case in many areas of Australia, signs of the white man coming in and railroading anything sacred in place of their own ‘naffer’ culture. It is the one side of Australia I didn’t enjoy and more than anything due to the fact I knew this was down to our ancestors.
Our first night on the boat was spent drinking and generally getting to know everyone. I met some amazing people from Wensleydale who didn’t disappoint with the Northern humour that I so love. My whole family is from ‘up north’ so it has a warm familiarity about it. One of the lads had woken with his foot swollen with no recollection of how, the goon strikes again, so he couldn’t partake in any of the snorkeling. He had sent his mother a text to let her know and to say if you don’t hear back from me it is because I am dead. His mother replied ‘fuck off you are not dying cause we will have to have your body flown home then’ classic, no messing, dark humour.
My mothers school friends, whom we all still know, have a similar humour. They drove to the moors once in the middle of the night to where one of the friends live, which of course is extremely remote, and bricked up his front door. Random, clever, well executed and something we will laugh about for years.
The second morning was filled with much the same, morning snorkel, food, chatting and enjoying the amazing scenery. Island after island covered in beautiful rain forest. Butterflies were floating about in the middle of the sea miles away from any islands getting blown in all directions from the coastal breeze. With no real urgency to get anywhere other than to surf the heat front.
In the afternoon we headed into Whitehaven, nominated the most beautiful beach in the world and it didn’t disappoint. We had to walk through the rain forest for some time which was breathtaking in itself but the humidity made movement all that more difficult. Matt got obsessed with trying to find a snake and tasked us with finding one, which I am sad to say we didn’t. Right out of nowhere we were out at a look out point overlooking the beach. It was the most stunning scenary I have ever seen.
After our chilled session we were off back to the boat and back to our final snorkel spot. This was my favourite swim, myself and a couple of the people I had met of the boat decided to be snorkel buddies. Niave girl came with us but she soon jumped back out of the water at the sight of a jelly fish. So off we went and within minutes we were swimming with a turtle. It was one of the coolest things I have ever had to experience. He was gliding along with us and would often take a pause to take a look at us and he was within touching distance. A real beauty.
You are supposed to keep to your buddies but that isn’t always possible when your head is in the water and you are off following marine life. When I came up for air I realised I was both on my own and in quite deep water so I turned back to head for the boat. The water was really deep here and very murky which, despite all my logic, freaked me out just a little so I proceeded with caution when I noticed something very large and dark coming towards me. I had a little moment and popped up out of the water thinking shiiiiit. I remembered the facts, sharks are not dangerous and besides which it could be a dugon so I braved it and started to snorkel again and I was faced with a HUGE turtle, he was around half the size of me and was casually bobbing in front of my goggles. I was now cursing my camera which moments early had taken its final picture, I clicked away anyway in the hope that I may be lucky in one being taken. It was magnificent, he, the sex is noted by whether they have a tail or not, glided along with such grace and so carefree. I followed him until I could feel the temperature drop and I knew I was back in the deep, so I surfaced and signaled for the boat.
Turtles eat jelly fish, so not only are they awesome but they also eat the little creatures that cause us harm. If we ate the same amount of jellyfish we would be seriously ill or dead, however the turtle some how processes this poison and as well as getting a good meal they get seriously high at the same time. The reason the turtles on ‘Finding nemo’ are portrayed as stoners, or a little ‘peace man’ is because that is exactly how they are from munching all the jellies. They are just riding the seas in a drugged up haze. Not a bad life.
Talking of ‘Finding Nemo’ the true version of this story would be….. Nemos mum would die, correctly as per the film, Nemos dad, Merlin, would take the mantle of looking after him. However, in doing so, Nemos dad would change sex and become the mother as anemone fish can do this. Nemo would then be left as the dominant male in the family and therefore he would mate with his new mother, who was once his dad. Well there is gratitude for you! Clearly these little clown fish are dedicated to procreation beyond the expected realms. I can see why Walt Disney Pictures decided to take the story down a different route, although I can imagine there is some version of the truth out there. Instead of Nemo does dallas it is Nemo the does incest….
On our last night on the boat lots of drinking games took place, randomly, mainly with dice as this seems to be a traditional gaming in Germany. It was a little bit different but required far too much brain power given the amount of booze consumed. The little group I had joined, who I affectionately named ‘The Rum Diaries’ had ran out of mixer and were hardcoring it up with neat Rum.
The skies were unbelievably clear without light pollution and we all were able to absorb the night sky as we had never seen it before. There seemed to be a zillion more stars per inch of the sky, like someone had got angry with pots of glitter. We saw tons of shooting stars and viewed the milky way in all its glory. It was something rather special.
All in all this was a wonderful trip and one I would highly recommend. You can go and snorkel the reef from Cairns but I am glad I managed to see all these different islands via a boat, it was so much more special.
We departed the boat exchanging digits with our new found friends and left for our flight home. We flew from Proserpine to Brisbane and Brisbane back to Sydney. Our flight attendant, a male, gave out the safety instructions in a way in which makes me think he should teach every single flight attendant in the world and they should all execute his hilarious sketch. He did karate chops, cheeky hand actions, flash gordon arm movements all with facial expressions to suit. Meaning, for the first time ever, I actually watched the entire demonstration.
On our flight back from Brisbane we got stuck with a nutjob from hell. She took it upon herself to instantly divulge her life story before our butts touched the seat whilst she intoxicated us with her alcohol breath. All the while saying we could of course, let her know if she was talking too much but then talking over any kind of response. She was, categorically, batshit mental. I thankfully had the barrier of my friend and feigned sleep but that didn’t stop her grabbing at me or poking me. She told us so many stories, all of which sounded a little off the wall to be true including the one where she was a model for Fosters. Upon leaving the flight she asked if we were on Facebook to which we both shook our heads, she shrugged, got up and promptly walked over to a guy listening to music and pulled his head phones out of his ears and popped them into her own crazy ones. A guy sat behind us pipped up saying ‘I want whatever she is on’ to which we all chuckles, one absolute crackpot.
A trip, despite the token crazy lady on the journey home, that will go down as one of my highlight. If you get the chance do it, it is something you will not regret.