After the fun and excitement of Fraser Island it was back to the road again and the next stop was The Whitsunday Islands about another 5 hours up the coast. The Whitsundays area is a collection of around 74 beautiful islands with exotic white beaches and also the start of the Great Barrier Reef. I was excited to be going both sailing and diving, however a pressing lads reunion awaited me in Sydney. I was looking forward to meeting up with Stevie D, Gary and Rich. I had not seen Rich in about 9 years or so since he emigrated to Australia to find pastures new! Gary I had not seen since Honduras last year and Stevie D I had not seen since staying at his apartment in Melbourne when I first arrived on the shores of Australia. Unfortunately the day before arrival, the athletic Stevie D had injured himself in a tennis match during the warm up to the Melbourne Open and his inflamed ankle could not let him travel. Down side was that his antics would be sorely missed, seeing as he was the party organizer and it was also his birthday. The up side was that I now had a hotel room to myself. something that I had not enjoyed since leaving his place in early January. No more snoring and being woken up in the middle of the night by fellow dorm mates!!
We hit Sydney by starting off in the oldest pub in Sydney – The Fortune of War which was on the Rocks by the harbour, a glorious and stylish way to start the proceedings!! Things went steadily down hill; after that as we hit Kings Cross which is renowned for its hedonistic party atmosphere intertwined with less salubrious ladies of the night. We managed to find a nice spot however in some more upmarket joints and party the night away till the very early hours. It was great to see everyone again and I joined the O`Donnell Clan (Trish’s family who were over on holiday) for a very enjoyable curry in Balmain on Sunday evening.
I flew bay to Hervey Bay to continue my travels up the coast and eventually hit Arlie Beach (the main base for The Whitsundays) on Tuesday morning only to find a number of Fraser Island revelers getting off the boats after their trips. Of course a few celebratory beers were enjoyed that night and after some sad farewells the next day, I booked my trip for the Saturday. My trip was a 3 night and 4 day Sail and Cruise round the islands.
The Whitsundays Islands are the true jewels in the Barrier Reef and are a very special part of Australia. Centrally located on the Queensland Coast 150km north of Mackay and 300km south of Townsville yet right in the heart of the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef. I looked forward to boarding my boat – The Pacific Star and to experience it with a new bunch of excited tourists. Our boat was a 75ft Catamaran, which had the added luxury of air con which needed it in our small cabins in the hull! We were greeted by the skipper (Shane) and the 3 crew – Rachael (the cook), Ross and Natasha (the Dive Masters). Their were around 20 of us on board ranging this time from Germans, Canadians, French and Brits.
This was primarily a dive boat and we set sail at 7.30pm to find the Barrier Reef and to explore only 5 or 6 of the 74 islands. Our first stop was to make it close to Whitehaven Beach for our first tour on Sunday morning. Whitehaven Beach is the most famous spot on the Whitsundays. The crystal clear aqua waters and pristine silica sand of Whitehaven stretch over seven kilometres along Whitsunday Island , the largest of the 74 islands in the Whitsundays. It defines nature at its best and provides the greatest sense of relaxation and escape. As soon as you arrive it’s easy to see why it is the one of the most photographed beaches in Australia and has been named Queensland ’s Most Beautiful Beach. At the northern end of Whitehaven Beach is Hill Inlet, a stunning cove where the tide shifts the sand and water to create a beautiful fusion of golden colours.
We spent around 4 hours on the beach bathing in the waters, walking around and kick around of footie on the way. It was soon time to leave and to get on to the one of the real reasons I came on the boat: to dive the Great Barrier Reef! We headed for a secluded spot called Bait Reef. I was the first time that I had dived in about a year and it was soon apparent that I had forgotten all that I had learnt when I had completed my Advance Open Water course!! Once I jumped in (after all the proper safety checks of course i was like riding a bike again!!) we descended around 20 meters and although the vis was not great there was plenty to see – Grey Reef Sharks, Napoleon Wrasse, Angelfish and Barracuda. The best was yet to come though, as were finishing the dive we ascended to be greeted by 5 Manta Rays swimming by us feeding in a “V” formation. One of the best things that I have seen in my short diving career. Russ our DM was almost jumping out the water in joy!!
After the excitement of that dive it was onto our next dive which was a night dive around the corner in Luncheon Bay. A night dive is one of the most exhilarating dives you can do as the only light provided is yours and your buddies torchlights. We donned our Stinger suits once again (a legal requirement as the Box and Blue Jelly fish were streaming down the coast) and dived in not knowing what to expect. We came across 2 Grey Reef Sharks that seemed to like swimming around my fins for a couple of minutes before then being harassed by big black Trevelly`s (almost a metre long) that were out hunting using our torchlight as guides for their next prey!! Another truly amazing dive and one of the first times I had dived with sharks.
The next couple of days were spent in around Hamilton Island, snorkeling the Barrier, sun bathing and getting to know the my fellow deck hands, having a few beers and playing some cards. The snorkelling there was great with the colours of the fish and coral so vibrant in the ocean. It was good to see the coral so healthy after stories of pollution and neglect over the past few years. We were also so lucky with the weather, as not less than a week ago boats had to come in from the islands due to the cyclone that had been ripping the coast apart all the way down from Cairns. The Whitsundays is a truly beautiful experience with a number of boats you can choose from according to your preference of activities from diving, actual sailing (on tall ships and racing vessels) to all out party boats. The highlight had to be the diving and Whitehaven Beach, things that will hold long in my memory.