Scuba, Squids, Squabbling and Sun at the Whitsundays

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In order to get to Airlie beach we had to catch two Greyhounds. Not the dogs – but red buses. It would take something like 17 hours, but luckily we had company in the form of Ste and Joanne from Fraser. The main topic of conversation seemed to be the types, names, and levels of boats available to tour the Whitsunday islands. See there are your cheap and nasty booze boats, which offer basically 48 hours with little other than drinking and party games – sleeping wherever you can (if you do sleep that is). Then there are adventure boats where you go snorkelling, diving and explore the Whitsunday islands. Finally there are luxury ones which are posh boats with all the mod-cons, hotel-like beds and great sunbathing decks. We plumped for somewhere in between adventure and luxury on a boat called Powerplay.

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Our friends having booked late, ended up with the one boat left: Spank Me (you can probably guess which type of boat this was from the name). They were apprehensive about their lot but everyone was looking forward to three days in the sun. They had an extra day before it started too, so could get over this overnight bus.

Overnight Greyhound buses are just the same as the daytime ones mind. Just the added task of planning your sleeping strategy (upright in a chair). I went for staying up until midnight then hoping I’d be knackered enough to pass out. It worked.

Our hostel on Airlie beach was basically inside a jungle, kinda cool but meant there were plenty of screeching birds to keep us awake during our quick power nap after we arrived at 5AM.

We spent the rest of the day in a bar, first up catching up with Don and Eleanor before they got on their luxury boat, then listening to a live singer crucify Ronan Keating songs.

The next day it’s hot, boiling in fact which is a good sign for the boat but not for the half an hour we needed to get there. I’m sweaty and frustrated by the time we walk to the pier, just right for meeting new people!

Out of the corner of my eye I spot the long hair of a familiar American – and recognise Colin from our Fraser trip. Then get chatting to the rest of our deck mates. Tom and George came with matching Hawaiian shirts ready to mimic ‘on a boat’ by the Lonely Island – a theme for the trip. Danny and Stanny (Luke), two Northerners making their way down from Queensland to Melbourne in a roasting oven of a camper van, three Dutch girls (two of them sisters), plus a contingent of Swiss and Swedes. A good mix of nice fun people, especially when we’d be stuck on a boat together for 3 days.

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Our crew for this adventure: Jesse (from Alaska) and our Aussie captain Eugene shepherd us onto the boat and take our shoes. It’s boiling below deck but Kelly and I are lucky to have an air conditioned room so we sneak down there and shove our gear on the bed. There are a few other rooms but Colin and the 4 Brits have to sleep in the communal area on the kitchen tables so I’m glad we booked early and got a room first.

There we’re off at sea. The motion of the ocean brings about a commotion in my stomach but I don’t feel sick – just dehydrated I deduce. Once settled the ride is sweet, sunny and windy with a beautiful coastline. The boat is actually a catamaran so it jumps over waves on the way to our first destination, Jessie puts on some music – no Justin Bieber please – the boys request. First up Justin Bieber, the cad.

Today would be a big day for us, especially Kelly. We had signed up for scuba diving, Kelly especially nervous as she has a fear of going under water – mainly because of her contact lens I think she says.

Our deadpan instructor goes through the hand signals with us – OK, Up, slow down, something’s wrong, SHARK, etc.

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Then we’re kitted up and into the water. I found I went through four phases:
1. Ok let’s do this, hope I don’t embarrass myself… Or get the bends
2. Ow! Ow! It’s hurts so much why would anybody do this?
3. Oh it’s fine, wow this is cool down here
4. Ok I’m bored a bit now let’s go up – ooh a turtle

The ow phase was mainly the pressure in my ears – not helped by the instructor confusing me and signalling to go up then asking why I went up. You told me too. Ok well go down then. So I did and he signalled again, mmm sort it out mate. Everybody was a bit all over the place at this point.

Once we were underwater it’s a cool view, breathing was difficult as short sharp breaths don’t seem to fill my lungs adequately but it became easier as I went on. It’s difficult to describe the beauty of a motionless seabed when you’re down there though. We hovered half a metre above a massive sea turtle and got close up to the reef. Definitely doing this again I think, and once out Kelly was more exhilarated than me.

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Back on the boat we head to a cove for the night, get in the jacuzzi and turn on the underwater blue lights. Which attracts squid, and Eugene proceeds to get a fishing line and teach us how to toss it out and catch them. I managed to get one after ten minutes of trying before I passed the line over to Colin who nailed three in three attempts. Elated that I caught a squid but aware there were better fisherman (squidders?) than I, I sat down to chat with Ronnie, a young Swiss who came to Australia to learn English (I know I pointed that out too). We actually discussed the nuances between Swiss German and, well, German German. Meanwhile in the end the boat caught 40-odd squid, so tomorrow we’d be eating heartily.

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6AM and Eugene bangs on his tunes and we wake to Smells like teen spirit. Too early for that. But snorkelling refreshes me and after my scuba session I’ve come over all adventurous and manage to chase 3 turtles with my GoPro. Now I love snorkelling but flippers and my feet are deadly enemies, mainly as I can’t go 10 minutes without taking 3 layers of skin off. I know – wear smaller or bigger sizes. I TRIED THAT. So every time I go snorkelling or a-scubering I am resigned to the outcome of a week of awkward walking and plasters.

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The best of the Whitsundays has to be Whithaven beach. But it’s hot, when we arrive at midday like end of the world hot, and we cake ourselves in factor 50 sun cream to head out, missing the first shuttle ashore. When we get there Jessie wants to take a group photo, but Eugene (being the boss) had told everyone not to bother about that guff and head inland. Which is disappointing as I’d like a group shot. Not to be undone we all get one, once we’re at Whitehaven beach on our GoPros.

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All the other people from boats and cruises, and I mean a lot of people, turn up wearing their stinger suits. Stinger suits are what you’re supposed to wear when in the water to avoid jellyfish like Irukanji or box Jellyfish. Our group goes all blasé about it and we bundle into the water, just short of the shore. Nothing happened though with Jelly fish, it was the sun that got most of us.

The big group of us have a great afternoon in the sea, chatting about the frosty relationship between Eugene and Jessie. It’s their first tour together and Eugene is being a bit of an a-hole to Jessie, who in turn is just trying to give us the best trip possible. The more comical aspect of the bubbling frictions is Eugene’s insistence to put his own music on, which every now agrees (away from the boat) is awful and not what we want to hear.

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At our next cove this bubbles over when Eugene asks Jessie to moor up and the buoy says – do not moor, so a small squabble ensues. Handbags. Eugene is however a fully trained chef (as well as a sea captain) so dinner of steak and our squid is excellent. Fresh squid is so tender and not at all rubbery – like eating a fishy butter.

The underwater lights back on and the boat is surrounded by Irukandji! Which are beautiful but deadly as something like 5 stings would kill you, I’m told by Colin before he catches a tiger squid in 2 seconds flat.

Before chatting to Danny all night about Ibiza, I call the family back home. Mum, Ness and Mike have gone round to Iain’s for a late Xmas dinner. We’re at sea so 3G is sketchy and a lot of the time I can’t hear very well but I’m sure we made them jealous with tales of boats and squid catching.

6AM we rise again for the final journey back to Airlie. We head to a snorkelling cove but given the state of my feet I don’t fancy going in. Marouse (one of the Dutchies) asks how long she’s got to snorkel and is told – loads of time. So she swims out only for Eugene to tell her to come back literally 1 minute later. Pretty sure he amused himself with that one bars on the wry smirk he had. Bit of a tool.

Our journey back across the bay is choppy, and we all sit with our legs dangling off the front. After every big wave follows a massive drop like a rollercoaster so the boat whoops with every one.

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Back on dry land we have a few hours to kill before an epic over night journey to Cairns, followed by an 8AM snorkelling trip to the Great Barrier Reef. I don’t get much sleep on the bus this time, which isn’t cool, and the hotel staff in Cairns seem to be confused about our early arrival even though we cleared it with them. Even less cool, but we get our room albeit without a working aircon.

8AM we’re up for the boat, and our luck has finally run out. Enroute it coughs, splutters and the engine dies. So we bundle onto a dodgy glass bottom boat to Fitzroy island. Here the Snorkelling is fun but it’s not on the Great Barrier Reef (the point in coming to Cairns), so we head home disappointed.

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A bit of a sad end to our Queensland extravaganza but hey, at least we have an excuse to come back now.

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