Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Whitsunday Islands

A couple of days ago I said my goodbyes to Allan, as I have to slowly get moving again. Whilst sailing is fun and efficient, it is not the fastest way of transportation. So after a big clean up in the morning and washing everything I could get my hand on, I left Allan, Huey and Mackay to travel up to Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays I had heard so much about.
Arriving there after a short drive (two hours, nearly neighbours in Australia) I went to one of the hostels that had good reviews and booked in for two night. At the reception I got a load of brochures for boats that go throughout the islands and do at least a bit of diving. I haven't dived in months and really want to do it close to the Great Barrier Reef. The crew I went with frequent the fringe reef and the outer reef would have obviously been a better choice, but as I wanted to see a lot of the islands, too, it was a good choice.
 On Sunday we (three others and me, all the others from the UK) left the hostel to met up at the harbour and get on to our boat. The boat adventure of our choice was called Summer Time, run by skipper and owner Brad, first mate Daniel and deckhand Caity (who also had the most important job of cook). We met up with nine others, three couples (one from France, Italy and Germany) and three others from the UK, Scotland and the US. Daniel greeted us at the marina and trolley'd all our gear down to the boat, whilst we got on. “Summer Time” is a nice timber boat, built in 1945 as a fishing boat and fairly long. All in all we where 16 people on board, which is a nice number.
So for the first day we set of for Whitehaven Beach, pretty much the picture everybody thinks of when they hear the Whitsundays. Brad took us out from Airlie Beach whilst the rest of us got to know each other. We had Chris, Emely, Sophie, Sylus and Cery from the UK, Chrisy from the US, Martin and Kerstin from Germany, Machello and Antonia from Italy and the two French people. Time flew by and we ended up in a Tongue Bay, a bay just on the opposite side of Whitehaven Beach. A map of the Whitsundays on the right.
 After “Summer Time” had anchored Daniel took us around to Whitehaven Beach in “Little Summer”, a dingy, in two groups. Being at the front of the first Zodiac group Sophie and I can probably say we where the first to see the famous beach, and also the wettest. All the spray from the waves was on us and Daniel played a joke on us at the beach where the two of us ended up in the water prior to everyone else. Did a small swim to the white sandy beach and just took in the site of the tropical island. Whilst Daniel was off getting the rest, all of us took heaps of pictures, videos and had swims in the sea. All of us constantly wore stinger suits, as whilst it is still a bit to cold in the water for the infamous Australian jellyfish (box and irukandji) there still might be a straggler here or there that could show up. Nothing of the kind happened, so once the rest of the group had arrived we all took a walk along the beach and had a look at things like stingrays in the shallows of the beach, soldier crabs (being hunted by mentioned stingrays), cone snails and a heap of other stuff. Trekking along the beach Cery found a discarded sting of a sting ray and Daniel enjoyed his music. After a while we all set of up to a lookout from which you can get some of the beast terrestrial pictures of Whitehaven Beach. The only view to beat that one would be from the sky. We hung around the lookout for quite a while, before we headed back down to the other side (back at Tongue Bay) and took “Little Summer” back to “Summer Time”. In the evening a nice meal whilst journeying to Stonehaven and a couple of drinks before bed.
The next day was corral day. For most of the others that meant snorkelling, but for some of us who had their diving certificate it meant scuba diving. Some of the others tried their first dives with Daniel after he had taken all three Germans (Martin, Kerstin and me) down for the dive. Our first dive took place in Mantaray bay. I was forever on the lookout for sharks, but alas, no luck on the first dive. Instead we saw heaps of other fish whilst I tried getting accustomed to diving again, after over a year of not doing so (last time was with Iain and family in Sydney). One of the greatest highlight I had down there all throughout the day was the whales. We didn't see them as they are to large to come in to waters where we were diving, but the sound of their calls reverberated all throughout the times we where down under the water. Whilst Daniel took the beginners down for their first try, us three Germans tried warming up with tea and cookies. Shortly after we where back in, this time on a different portion of the bay. Once again same luck with the sharks, though I'm not giving up jet. Instead lots of coral and fishes again. After we where out Brad and Caity took a dive further out and to what luck both of them see an eagle ray, one of the rays I have only seen one wing of. Brad also caught video of a White Tipped Reef Shark, so damn. 
The next dive was in a different location, between Stonehaven and Resort. Lots of really colourful corals, whose vibrancy has only been surpassed in Egypt for me. Saw some pyjama snails (all guides seem to love those) and a sea cucumber. Once we surfaced that was it for the dives for us. In the meantime most of the rest of the boat had been out snorkelling. We heard (and saw part of) a rescue mission for an osprey. We where on a buoy when someone on the boat spotted a juvenile osprey in the water. A nest was close by, and the parents where making a lot of fuss, so Sylus (being a trained vet) went out with Brad, save the bird from the water and dropped it of at the beach bellow the nest (slicing his leg in the process). We then carried on enjoying water activities, occasionally checking the juvenile. By the time we had to leave the tide was coming in and the bird of prey was in danger of landing back in the water. Sylus went back out with Daniel, caught the osprey (and it didn't put up a fight it was so knackered) and dropped it back of in to the net. One of the parents came down a while after he left and checked up on it and brought some fish. All good we went back to Stonehaven to anchor for the night. No luck with sharks, but interesting bird activity. A good meal again, a bit later night and then some sleep. 
The next day saw us in kayaks, paddling along the beaches and mangroves along Stonehaven. I ended up in a boat with Caity, so I got a more local tour. Daniel took us all, though and showed us stingrays hiding from predators, baby sharks doing the same (though I didn't see any of them -sigh-) and explained a bit about mangroves in general. We spent a while on a rock locking out over the lagoon we where in and then went back to “Summer Time”. Our days on the timber boat were drawing to an end, so we had lunch on board whilst Daniel got the boat ready to leave and Brad set us on a course for Airlie Beach. The sea was nice and calm this time round and we had a beautiful run back to the marina where we docked on and got thing organised for the nightly meet up. All three couple won't be joining us, so we said our goodbyes to them (me totally screwing up and Italian good bye) and went back to the hostel for a shower that lasts longer than one minute and to write most of this blog.

In the evening a long night out with quite a bit of beer and some meagre fish and chips. I should have gone with some chicken parma instead, that dish looked absolutely wonderful. Back in bed at one o'clock getting ready for the trip down south and out of the tropics again.  
Whitsundays, just wow. Especialy Whitehaven Beach. Anybody passing by, deffinetly check out Whitehaven Beach.
Most pictures I made that day can be found here.

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