FEBRUARY PART 2
The Whitsunday adventure started in earnest with a morning walk through the rainforest of Whitehaven Bay. Back on the beach, the recent cyclone had wreaked havoc. The sand was lined with all sorts of debris from the sea, mainly a load of leaves. I renamed it ‘The Great Barrier Leaf’. See what I did there? Anyway, this bay was where we launched the stand-up paddle boards. I was really looking forward to having a go as it’s something I’ve wanted to try for a long time. Looking very fetching in our protective stinger suits (oh yeah, there is a particular type of jellyfish out there that is deadly but of course, that’s not unusual in Australia, is it?) we headed out. It was easier than I thought, but the waters we were on were very calm. I’d be off more than on in waters with surf! So confident was I, that I was riding with my sunnies on. Needless to say, there’s a very cool stingray cruising around Whitehaven Bay with a rather nice pair of expensive Electric sunnies right now. Not good. On the upside, I get to shop for a new pair!
Shortly after the SUP session, we set sail for Whitsunday Island. I have a little note book that was given to me as a gift before I left. It’s full of handwritten inspirational quotes and sayings and is very special. Some of the pages were left blank so I can get other people to add their favourites. I spotted one on a hippy bus back in Byron Bay that I added myself. It says:
“To err is human. To moo, bovine”.
The reason I’m telling you about this is because an American friend, Becca, recently added a quote that is bang on for how I feel about Whitsunday Island.
“The feelings for which you cannot find the words to describe, are the best feelings”.
We had so much fun down on the beach. Tristan took some awesome pictures, and it was here that we got the one and only group shot. If a picture speaks a thousand words, then surely these offerings must.
Everyone was buzzing as we headed back to the boat for lunch. We had shared a truly breath taking experience. After lunch, again an awesome feast prepared by Craig, we sailed to another bay to snorkel. That’s the good life right there.
I’ve never properly snorkelled before, so to do it for the first time at the Whitsundays was special. In a similar vain, it was like when I went to my first ever cricket match which happened to be England V Australia IN Australia for The Ashes. Going straight in at the top!
To get to the ‘launch spot’ Luke provided us with what was essentially a professional lilo! He threw it in the water and we all jumped on. I was given the task of driver. A feat that is achieved by ingeniously dropping the ‘sea-doo’ in to the water behind the lilo and operating it like an outboard motor. It took a little while to get used to, but once I had it under control we set sail for the marker.
Snorkelling really took my breath away. Is that an oxymoron? Haha! This is gonna sound real stupid but this is what I thought the first time I dipped my begoggled face, horizontally into the Pacific Ocean. It’s like looking at the ocean in 3D! When you’re swimming, surfing, sailing or in one man’s case walking on water it’s a very one dimensional surface. It’s just a sea of blue, literally. Once you don the snorkelling gear and push your face through that one dimension, eyes wide open with a blind faith in the rubber and plastic encompassing them, you feast upon another world. The coral is stretched out as far as you can see. The different heights and colours adding to the sensation of flying above another land inhabited by the most colourful life forms on the planet. They dart in and out as quick as a flash. Schools of fish swim past, having all been to the same deep sea department store for the latest designer stripes or spots. They stop off every now and then for a quick bite on the coral. It must be like living in a world where trees are French fries. Nyom nyom! If you get your ears under and listen, you can hear the sound of fish eating the world beneath their fins!
After floating around in total captivation, I decided to have a go with the sea-doo doing what it was made for. What an awesome bit of kit!! It’s snorkelling for lazy people, just hold on, pull the throttle and GO! It really comes in to it’s own when you spot something, like a reef shark, and you can easily catch up with it just by squeezing your finger. I think me and Andy pretty much hogged the thing for the whole time! It was even better for him as for some reason he has the underwater breathing properties of a fish! With the seadoo taking the strain from the body, he was able to stay down there even longer. Very impressive!
Ilse and Sylvia eventually decided they had seen enough and needed a rest. Luke had been hovering around with the little dingy ready to take anyone back, but he’d gone back to the boat. I had the seadoo at the time, so we created a train with Ilse holding my legs and Sylvia to hers. It was slow going but we got back to the boat. The ocean became very murky the further out we got, and the horrible square jellyfish were everywhere. These ones were harmless, but when you touch them you feel them go all the way down your body as you swim by! They are pretty solid little buggers.
Back on the boat Luke announced we were to set sail for a spot to sleep. About 20 minutes into the journey, the world around us changed. The sky grew ominously grey. To the east we could see huge rain clouds delivering their contents back into the Pacific. To the north, we could see the same! There were 2 storms around us. The yacht, a catamaran, was listing wildly as the waters surrendered to the wind. Then all hell broke loose! The 2 storms converged above us in no time. Luke had been taking full advantage of the winds and had the sails up. Craig was out, attempting to pull them in but as the storm had built so quickly he was struggling. Luke turned to me and asked if I would please go and help! Now that was some adrenalin right there. It was a 50 year storm, and there I was in just my boardies, my body being pounded by rain falling at what felt like 100mph, holding on to a rope and heaving with all my might to pull in the sails. Eventually, we won and the sail was down. I asked Luke about the sails afterwards. If we were unable to pull them down, not only would the boat have been in serious trouble, but the sails would no doubt have ripped at a cost of $50,000 each! Ouch.
On the last day of the experience we started with an early morning snorkel during which I spotted at least 10 parrot fish! We stopped off at a sandbar where me and Andy went for a ride in the see-thru kayak. It made me feel a bit sick rocking around and looking down at the coral so I jumped out for a snorkel. This proved to be one of the highlights of the 3 days. We were surrounded by Loggerhead turtles. I nearly swallowed the ocean when I spotted the first one. He was swimming directly towards me, and I momentarily forgot I was underwater as my inside voice became my outside voice calling the others over to see it!! We swam with them for ages, it was incredible.
Back at the marina we said our emotional goodbyes and I headed to the bus stop for my connection to Cairns. Another Greyhound redeye special! But, not before a truly memorable time was made even more so by the news that Tottenham had BEATEN AC Milan at the San Siro! Have I slipped into an alternative reality?? Almost, although I hit the real world with a thump as I checked my wallet and realised I was down to my last $50 from the $300 borrowed from Claudia and still no PIN. Oops.
The bus left Airlie at 8.10pm, Claudia came to say goodbye. My time in Australia is fast coming to an end so I don’t expect to see Claudia again. Not in this part of the world anyway. I arrived in Cairns feeling pretty shell shocked. The bus ride lasted a gruelling 10 hours and I had pretty much zero sleep. They played a film, Taken, but it got stuck halfway through so I never did find out if he got his daughter back!
Cairns provided some good party action, following the relative calm of my northern Queensland experience so far. One particular place had the classic ‘beer pong’ going on. For those who don’t know, you bounce a ping pong ball from one end of a long table to the other and attempt to land it in your opponents drink, in which case they have to down it. You start with 9 drinks in a triangle and the idea is to get rid of all of your opponents before they land in all of yours. Well, ultimately the idea is getting drunk! Anyway, the reason for this convoluted explanation is just so you get the joke coming up. The drink of choice on this occasion was an Aussie energy drink called MOTHER, mixed with something else. The marketing of this particular game was genius “Get your balls in your mates Mother”, screamed the poster! Why, those crazy Aussies!!
In the previous blog, I mentioned how things were set to get ‘interesting’ with Caroline from the Rainbow Beach video store. Back before I set off on the Whitsunday trip I penned an email to her. I had a crazy notion that, being a local she might have some contacts with a 4×4 and maybe they would be willing to rent it to me and maybe she would be willing to accompany me on the trip as she has been to the island many times before and maybe, just maybe, I would get to see Fraser Island after all. Well, I received a reply whilst in Cairns. She was in! Caroline writes for the local paper so was able to blag a cracking deal with her friend at the 4×4 centre. This involved writing a story about Fraser Island, kind of a tourist in her own country style, in turn for a hefty discount on the hire. Result!!
Meanwhile, time was ticking. My flight from Sydney to Auckland was just over 1 week and 3,000km away! I already decided I wanted to stop off with Cathy Arbuckle and her family on the way back as I only spent a few hours with them during the first visit. Now, I had the added bonus of a Fraser Island escapade. The only way this kind of mission would be possible is if I had my own wheels. I headed to McDonalds for some free wifi, my aim; to find a relocation deal from Cairns to Sydney. I got lucky. VERY lucky. The lottery of the relocation deal does not offer good odds on getting exactly what you want. I was ready to accept relocating something to Brisbane and then taking an internal flight to Sydney, but there was no need. The first website I looked at, http://www.standbyrelocations.com had a campervan that needed to be in Sydney 3 days before my flight. It was available for collection from the Cairns depot the next day and carried a nominal fee of $1 per day! Too good to be true, but I got on the phone and checked it was still available. It was! It all went so smoothly that I found myself double checking my email confirmation, just to be sure that this was for real! The agent on the phone was brilliant and explained I had 5 days to get the camper to Sydney, although I did have an option to extend that by 2 days with a discounted ‘hire’ price of $75 per extra day. Total cost, $155 for 7 days. I checked the normal hire price out online, $1800 for the same period. Sweet! The extension offer meant that my planned stop-offs would now be possible, although it would require a barn storming first stint of 1,700km within the first 24hrs. I guess there’s some maths in there somewhere, but the reality was I drove for 20hrs during the first 24hrs of picking the camper up.
I don’t mean I drove 20hrs straight, but I left Cairns at 10am Sunday morning and arrived 1,700km later in Rainbow Beach at 10am Monday. There was plenty on the road to keep me occupied, along with the three fill ups!
This was the period when I witnessed the devastation left by tropical cyclone Yasi that had hit the area only weeks earlier. I was in the safety of the Sunshine Coast whilst northern Queensland was battered by the brute force of nature. After the flooding in Queensland that affected an area the size of the UK, Cyclone Yasi would have taken out the UK and most of mainland Europe with it’s mass. As it hit land around Mission Beach, the winds reached speeds of 285kph and eventually caused over $800 million in losses. As my bus from Airlie had been the overnight service, the destruction was shielded by darkness. Now, it was very apparent.
Along the way I realised the Aussies have a very interesting way of promoting road safety. During one particularly long and boring section where, for a period of around 4 hours during the night I didn’t see one other living thing apart from trees or pass one other vehicle, the road signs were talking to me! “YOUR EYES ARE SHOT MATE” they screamed. “DON’T SLEEP AND DRIVE” was a wise suggestion. “ARE WE THERE YET?” made me chuckle. One of my favourites “SPEEDING WHILST OVERTAKING IS ILLEGAL”. My logical brain kicked out the conclusion that speeding whilst not overtaking must be ok then? But the ones that really set me off were directed at my passenger. This is ONE man and his bag. I had no passenger. “IS YOUR DRIVER ALERT?” I looked toward the empty seat next to me and said “what do you think?” Straining my eyes as wide open as I could! “KEEP YOUR DRIVER ALERT WHILST PLAYING GAMES”. “Hmm” I said to the vacant seat “that one could be tricky”. Well, it gave me some entertainment anyway and, even though I was alone it kind of worked and helped me on my merry way to Rainbow Beach, Caroline and a Fraser Island adventure!