Arrived into Hamilton Island on Monday 19th Dec where we took a $50 half hour ferry one way to Airlie Beach on the mainland. To travel to any other Whitsunday island costs half the price but to and from the only island with an airport they sting you for every penny. After hearing so much about the beauty of the Whitsundays it was a little disappointing that Airlie Beach reminded me of Faliraki. A typical holiday resort full of tourists drinking from 10 in the morning. Don’t get me wrong I love Faliraki, so much so that I worked four summers there in my early twenties. I love Ibiza too which I visited for the first time this summer only to go back 5 weeks later because I loved it so much. It’s not that I don’t like these places it’s just that I was expecting something else. I expected to be stunned by its beauty, by white sands and clear blue waters. Palm trees and an eternal sunset. Not a row of dilapidated bars and a swimming pool by the ocean because you can’t swim in the sea due to all the ‘stingers’, or jellyfish as we know them. They do leave bottles of vinegar for you on the shore of the beach though if you do decide to go for a swim and get stung… Or you can just rely on a drunk backpacker to stumble past and piss on you if needs be.
Anyway we stayed at Base hostel for one night. Rooms and facilities were nice enough and we were due to stay again on Friday but the staff were so unhelpful and unfriendly we cancelled the booking. It’s the first place I’ve been to in Australia where you feel like a burden to those that are serving you. Now it feels like England! We went out for a meal that night to a restaurant called Sorrento, overlooking the harbour. Tommy asked the waiter whether the prawns in the pasta came whole as he was considering ordering it. “I don’t know mate, they’re just f*****g prawns” The service in this town is outstanding. Backpackers serving backpackers. I want to leave. They are worse than students. All stoned with no common sense. The worst is the eternal backpacker who believes his way of life is far better than everyones elses and never wants ‘roots’. You can guarantee he will have a small chin beard, will be attempting to grow dreadlocks, have a white cotton long sleeve shirt undone to the chest and carry a guitar on which he will play Guns ‘n’ Roses Sweet Child Of Mine long into the night! Three things you can 100% guarantee you will see in any town abroad; an Irish bar, someone in a Celtic top and a w****r with a guitar.
Tuesday morning I woke to find Tommy had been up all night with food poisoning. Bloody prawns! After a trip to the pharmacy we headed back down to the harbour, gave a cursed look in the direction of Sorrento restaurant and waited to board our boat. We were joining the Emperors Wings sailing boat for a 3 day 3 night scuba diving trip around the Whitsunday islands and out to the outer barrier reef. Initially I was dubious. The twin room we had booked turned out to be a small double top bunk bed in a shared cabin with 3 ‘cheery’ swiss. Did I mind sharing a bed with a sweaty Scotsman with the runs? Well you don’t really have much choice. Then why ask the question?!
The trip was actually really great. On the way to the outer reef we did a small stop off at Whitehaven beach which is renowned as the most beautiful of all the 72 islands. It was very pretty but not amazing, nor the best beach I’ve ever been on. I think Ibiza has comparatively beautiful beaches and water. The way the beach curves out into the bay at low tide creating a shallow lagoon filled with baby sharks however was quite special. Over the 3 days Tommy and I did 8 dives each, just beginner dives but up to 12 metres in depth where we saw turtles, huge shoals of giant parrot fish (my highlight), nemo’s, cuttlefish and an array of other fish and coral and starfish and sea stuff. Swimming along the outer edges of the ‘stepping stones’ which lay on the very edge of the outer reef was spectacular. The strong currents swept you along the reef and the coral cliffs disappeared below you into the dark blue depths. The weather on the surface was incredibly choppy and unstable but the feeling of serenity and calm under the water was wonderful. I have always been afraid of staring into the depths of the ocean if I have ever been unable to see the bottom. Here I felt no fear. Steady breathing, a sense of calm. On the final dive of the second day as I stood on the back deck in my wetsuit, tanks strapped to my back, flippers and mask in hand about to board the small diving boat to carry us further into the reef our instructor asked “Is anyone afraid of sharks?” Any answer to this question was irrelevant at this stage but instead of fear I felt a nervous excitement. The small boat took us out to another part of the reef and we somersaulted back into the water. Quickly we deflated our jackets and descended to the ocean floor equalising every metre or so. We sat on the bottom, 12 metres down, instructed to stay as still as we could while our instructor tried to attract sharks by bashing a small inflated bag. Slow steady breathing. Boom boom boom. Don’t move. Boom boom boom. I could hear the jaws theme in my head. Boom boom boom. Quiet. Really was amazing seeing a white tip reef shark emerge from the darkness, investigate from a distance then swim back into the dark. Even more amazing how calm and natural it felt down there. Brilliant. I have decided that before I go home I will obtain my Padi diving qualification. Is something I could and will do a lot more of. The 3 hour journey back from the outer reef to the islands was probably the choppiest I’ve ever experienced on a boat. The captain loved it. The half a dozen people at the back being sick didn’t. You could sit on the front of the catamaran as we sailed rising and falling into the huge waves splashing over the boat. It was like an extreme rollercoater ride. Great fun for those with good sea legs. So overall it was a great trip, the food was good, accommodation tight but what can you expect on a boat. Perhaps it just shouldn’t be advertised as a twin room. The crew were helpful and enthusiastic. And it didn’t surprise me one bit when on the 2nd night one of the diving instructors pulled out a guitar! I was however surprised not to find an Irish bar embedded in the outer reef or a turtle in a Celtic top. A trip I can highly recommend if you ever visit this side of Australia. www.whitsundaydive.com.au
On Friday we returned to Airlie Beach where got a ferry to Long Island resort. The only island with a hostel on it. We stayed here for one night and was great value for the price. It is a resort right on the beach with relatively good facilities, a couple of pools, a spa, tennis courts, an awful gym. Why have a room full of broken machines and call it a gym? Stupid. It is a 3 star resort but could be much nicer with a little care and attention. Although for $76 you can’t really complain. And with wallabies freely roaming the island as you lay in a hammock overlooking the beach its quite a nice experience. In the morning after a good night’s sleep and a quick check of my fantasy football teams and Facebook, we boarded the ferry back to Hamilton Island airport, $60 this time bastards! Now I’m sitting on the flight to Sydney where I will spend 9 nights over Christmas and New Year. So tomorrow we will be enjoying a bbq on bondi beach. Life is tough… Big love