The White Sands Of The Whitsundays

A glittering sea, lush vegetation and almost pure white sand, it could only mean one thing; we were at Whitehaven beach in the Whitsunday Islands. We’d decided to go there today to avoid another day of hanging around Airlie Beach waiting for the Reef Sleep tour and to see a little bit of the islands as it seems like something you must do while you’re around the area. I have to admit, we weren’t really going to have a look around them at all until we were forced to stay here an extra few days and I’m really glad we got the chance too as I know I’d regret passing them by completely.

On the way
On the way

The day began with us being collected by the Whitsunday Transit courtesy bus at 11 after having a tasty boiled egg and toast breakfast. I really like how the bus drivers here seem genuinely please to see you and always say “hello” and make conservation, it means that you start to day off a lot better rather than feeling like you’re imposing upon them. The bus we were picked up in today had ‘airport transit’ on the side so we initially dismissed it and went to sit on a bench but the friendly bus driver appeared around the corner and told us it was for us. As we were the first pick up, we had the chance to see a tiny bit more of Airlie Beach as we went around collecting other people and it’s surprising how much you walk past and don’t take in normally. At one point we went up quite a steep hill to collect people from a posh looking resort and the view from the top was incredible. You could see the change in colour in the sea from dark blue to a brilliant aquamarine and some of the islands in the distance with boats scattered around in front of them. I think I’d have liked a view like that as in the holiday park we’re a bit out of the way of the sea but then again, I think the walk up there everyday might have killed me.

Off to the beach
Off to the beach

After trawling around the town and visiting various hotel complexes, we were dropped off at the Port of Airlie to check in with Cruise Whitsundays and wait to board the boat. It was surprising how much like an airport it was with the screens and desks and general organisation, especially since this was the company that it was impossible to contact the other day! We paid the rest of the fee and went to sit down at the table with the rest of the passengers but it wasn’t long before I was distracted by the gift shop and the cuddly turtles on display. I don’t know what it is about a cuddly turtle but for some reason I really needed one and so I went off to have a look at the price which turned out to be $16. In UK currency that’s only about £8.60 so it wasn’t too bad however I spent so long debating whether to get one or not, I missed my chance as we needed to get on to the boat. Grrrrr.

Whitehaven Beach
Whitehaven Beach

We were the first ones to get on the ‘Kingfish’ and so had the pick of the seats for a change without all the stress of being at the front (only because you couldn’t sit at the front!) We opted for the back seats and once settled, had all the fun of topping up our sun lotion again. I can see why people risk not putting more on, it’s such a boring thing to do constantly but I think I’d prefer that than ending up as a lobster and having to repeatedly coat myself in aloe vera gel! Soon the boat departed and off we went towards the first of the 3 islands we were going to visit today, Daydream island. As we left the harbour, I noticed a small section of the beach surrounded by netting to prevent the dreaded jellyfish attacking you whilst you’re in the sea. I liked how it was hidden away behind a posh looking complex so nobody else really uses it or knows about it and so has to use the lagoon instead. I like the lagoon, don’t get me wrong, but it’s nowhere near as fun as being in the sea where there’s the chance of seeing some fish rather than just leaves floating past. We picked up speed and passed some birds perched on the markers which looked a bit like UK cormorants but with white fronts to them. They looked quite relaxed drying out their wings but I wasn’t as I didn’t have the right lens on my camera to get a decent photograph on them. Grrrr again.

Having a swim
Having a swim

25 minutes later and after being blown about a bit by the wind, we reached Daydream Island. As the boat pulled into the dock, I noticed the little green head of a turtle pop out of the water near to a couple of mermaid statues but couldn’t watch for long as we were having to go down some stairs to get off the boat. Annoyingly, we had to change onto a different boat called ‘Orca’ to get to Whitehaven Beach and it was already boarding which meant that this time we didn’t have a seating choice. It wasn’t so bad though as we just stayed at the bottom closer to the water perched on storage boxes and got to see everything a little bit lower down. We also had the spray splash back which was lovely and cooling when the weather was so hot although we did miss out on some of the commentary about the islands as the sound of the sea rushing past was quite loud. It only took about half an hour before we reached the next island on the list, Hamilton Island, to drop people off and pick other people up for the beach trip. This island wasn’t what I was expecting at all as it was so built up, it was more like the mainland. I’d read about it in my book and knew that there were quite a few hotels and bars etc there but seeing it in ‘real life’ was a lot different- it even had it’s own airport. It did look nice though with the cockatoos sitting on umbrellas and some of the 15,000 golf carts on the island trundling past and I think I would have liked to have more of an explore of it. Of course there wasn’t time now as we were off again in the direction of Whitsunday island. We’d taken our chance and moved upstairs to sit on proper seats this time and so we were able to listen to the information about the islands we were passing along the way. My favourite was a tiny dumpy looking one called ‘Plum Pudding’ although I can’t help but think that if there are 74 of the Whitsunday Islands, it’s not surprising if there are loads of tiny ones like this.

In my stinger suit looking incredibly cool
In my stinger suit looking incredibly cool

We passed a fancy looking resort complex where Oprah Winfrey and Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have stayed in the past and everyone had a look over to see if they could see anybody famous. I was still watching the planes coming in to land on what is the shortest runway in Australia so wasn’t too bothered but it was interesting to see Ringo Starr’s house poking out of the trees. Perhaps not as interesting as another small island we passed which was privately owned by a cattle farmer who lives in Rockhampton. It seemed strange that a cattle farmer would spend a fortune on an island all the way up here until we learnt that he sold his beef to McDonalds and it all made sense. I’d like an island like that but his was quite close to the other islands so you’d be surrounded by people paddle boarding and on jet skis all the time. I think I’d prefer to be a little further out but not too far in case a rogue turtle attacked.

Getting ready to swim again
Getting ready to swim again

It was nice to hear a little bit about the history of the islands although the amount of times I’ve heard the name ‘Captain Cook’, is absolutely mental. He only got to name one this time though instead of sailing through naming everything and this was Pentecost island in the Lindeman group. The group was owned by Club Med but that’s now been sold on to somebody else who is apparently going to knock everything down and spend £200 million redoing it all which seems a bit of a waste of time. They seem such nice islands that building them all up so it’s more like the mainland and anywhere else you can visit quite easily seems ridiculous. Maybe if it was a more eco-friendly complex it would be great but something really touristy again might ruin the whole atmosphere. Of course I never saw it beforehand but I do think that with them being part of a marine national park, they should stay natural and barely populated. Back when we were passing Hamilton Island, we were shown building work and told that it was the last bit of real estate available in the Whitsunday islands as they don’t want them being taken over which is how it should be I think. Anyway, the Pentecost island was named after the Christian festival like the Whitsunday Islands but what’s great about it is that on it’s side it looks like a gorilla. Of course, everybody had to have a look with their head on their right shoulder so I can’t imagine how weird it’ll have looked to passing boats.

DCIM101GOPROAs we were nearing the island, we went downstairs to collect our stinger suits to ensure we weren’t stung by any jellyfish. Irukundji and box jellyfish inhabit the area so you don’t want to risk anything! Rather than head back to the seats, we stood and watched out for turtles as we’d passed Turtle Bay and apparently there are quite a few at the moment but nothing popped out of the water at that moment. As we turned to corner and saw Whitehaven beach, what initially shocked me to begin with was how busy it was. There were boats everywhere and even two sea planes parked up just a bit further down. At that moment, a little green head appeared, a turtle, but it bobbed away as if it was just looking to see who it was.

Climbing out of the boat, down the ramp and onto the white sands, I was amazed at how fine the sand actually was. Made up of 98% silica, it looks a lot like the sand you’d find in an egg timer and due to it reflecting so much of the light and heat from the sun back up, it wasn’t hot to walk on at all. It’s thought that the sand didn’t actually originate on the island and it is instead the result of it drifting through currents over millions of years and that’s quite cool to think about. We took off our shoes and wandered down the beach trying to find somewhere to sit in amongst all the people whilst still being in the shade. It was quite a challenge as there seemed to be people lurking everywhere but eventually we found ourselves a nice little tree and put our things down next to it. I have to admit, I was really quite surprised at how busy the beach was as you’re led to believe that it’s a little piece of paradise with barely anybody around and yet there were hundreds around us all laughing and shouting to each other. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world as you still had an amazing view down the rest of the beach but the noise of the constant helicopters overhead whirring away did get annoying after a while. It wasn’t horrendous but for a place you expect to be quite peaceful, it wasn’t at all.

Codie and the prawn
Codie and the prawn

At this stage, the sun was beating down hard and the sparkling sea water was looking very inviting so after making sure that all our things looked secure made our way to it. To begin with, neither of us wore the stinger suits as we’d been told by the boat captain that the winds and currents which bring them in, hadn’t arrived yet and that they hadn’t seen any so we should be alright. I was feeling quite brave by not wearing one but I started to feel what felt like stinging on my sides and my legs and quickly got out to get the suit. I didn’t want to be attacked by those tiny little jellyfish! I’m pretty sure that what I felt, and Codie, was the mosquito bites we’d got reacting to the salt water but there was no point risking it so we both put them on. It was quite a challenge getting into them as they were so, so tight and we had to do it in the water so as not to fill them with sand. When we finally got mine on, I felt as though I was being squeezed really, really hard however I can imagine it was a much preferable feeling to being stung so I was more than happy with that! As we swam around and floated over the waves, fish circled us in the crystal clear water and I kept my fingers crossed that a turtle would appear next to us. It didn’t but I did get to see Codie bobbing around with his goggles on trying to keep up with the fish and that was quite amusing. At one point there was a group of seagulls fighting over a ginormous prawn overhead but they managed to drop it in the sea and lost it. He went down to get it for them and threw it back and off they flew, squawking away and happy to have regained their tasty snack. I don’t think he was quite as happy though as he really hates seafood so having to touch it probably wasn’t the best thing in the world!

Getting ready to leave
Getting ready to leave

After a lovely and refreshing swim, we left the cool water and headed back to sit on our towels to dry off. I liked that we were sitting by the little tree as it meant that we had somewhere to hang our wet things and stop them being coated in a scratchy layer of sand. Despite the helicopter noise, it was really relaxing to lie down on the sand and listen to the sound of the waves on the shore though I was quite distracted by the seagulls waddling around and a couple of crows who had decided to raid some peoples’ things. They seemed to know what they wanted and really had a good go at finding it but were chased away as soon as they started to actually take thins out of the bags. Naughty crows. I don’t know what so many people seem to dislike them so much; if you take the time to watch them, they’re actually very interesting birds that don’t always lurk around death and graveyards. Sometimes what they want isn’t to hang around churches and graveyards, it’s a sandwich! Other than the bird watching, I also enjoyed watching people walk past on the sand as being 98% meant that it wasn’t like normal sand. It squeaked. Everyone just seemed to be so delighted with it that they spent ages just walking up and down, squeaking as much as possible. It was a really weird thing to hear but it really was a lot of fun and I enjoyed stomping around just as much as they did, as did Codie. Following a few photos of us on the beach and some of the happy seagulls wandering about, we led back down to soak up the sun and made the most of being in such an beautiful place.

So many scones
So many scones

A few hours later and it was time to get back on the boat and head back to the mainland. As you can imagine we were both feeling quite hungry now and so discovering that there was a complimentary selection of fresh fruit, tea and scones with jam and cream was amazing. Unfortunately we’d been some of the last people to board the boat and so had had to sit outside on the floor but with the wind blowing through our hair and the sun slowly starting to sink above us, I think it was much better than being inside and even more so when we acquired some scones. It was so nice to have something “British” even though we’ve not really been away that long and we ended up getting more. Well, I ended up looking like a pig and going back for more for the both of us though on the photos, it really does look like I was about to demolish them. To be honest, they were so damn tasty, I think I could have done! Eventually we passed Hamilton Island and Daydream Island before making it back to Airlie Beach and clambering off the boat and back on the bus to our tee-pee. On the way back, the gentle rocking of the boat had made it incredibly difficult not to fall asleep so I was more than happy to get back, have tea and get into bed. Of course it wasn’t quite as straight forward as that as Codie accidentally managed to lock the tent with the key inside but by unpegging it all, got it back in about 5 minutes. It really doesn’t seem the most secure thing in the world if he was able to do that but for a$35 for both of us a night and with it being a tent and all, I’m not quite sure what we expected!

Munch munch munch
Munch munch munch

Today has been such a lovely day and it has been amazing to see the Whitsunday islands and set foot on one of them. I can see why they’re a must do activity for being travelling up or down the east coast as they are absolutely stunning and so, so green. We’re going to be passing through them again when we do our reef trip in a few days so we’ll get another glimpse of them then and I’m really looking forward to that. I’m not entirely sure that I’d enjoy 2 or 3 solid days drifting around them as they landscape isn’t so different so without exploring them, it seems as though it might get a bit dull in the end. However, floating past and hearing about their history, is an incredible experience and I’d recommend it to anybody.

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