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Thursday 18 Apr 2013
Airlie Beach, Australia

Jumping on, diving in and flying over paradise

After a more comfortable than expected night on Boomerang, we were woken fairly early by the crew so that we could get over to the beach before too many day-trippers arrived.  The dinghy dropped us off in small groups on the island, where we followed a trail into the trees and up the a series of viewing platforms.  Each one gave us a wider view of the swirling white sands of Whitehaven Beach.  The sand here is made of pure quartz, incredibly fine, which comes from a deposit in the ocean just off the island.  In fact, the sand is so fine and pure that it has been used by NASA to make satellite telescope lenses.  As the river runs out into the sea, it creates huge swirling patterns in the sand which give the beach its distinctive shape.  The sand is bright white and it reflects the sun's heat, so it doesn't get too hot to walk on, though it's almost impossible to look at without sunglasses.  According to a recent poll it was voted the 4th most popular proposal site in the world (after the Eiffel Tower, the Venetian Gondolas and Central Park's horse buggies).  Again, who knows if that's really true, but it was certainly a little piece of paradise.

We walked on through the trees until the jungle boardwalk opened out onto the beach itself and we headed straight over to the sea.  Unfortunately, paradise has a flaw here: Stingers! More specifically, box jellyfish and another smaller but equally nasty relative.  This means that during certain months of the year it is necessary to wear (oh so attractive) stinger suits to go swimming off the Queensland coast.  At least we all looked equally silly as we waded out for a swim.  The water was beautifully warm but shallow for a long way out so we ended up standing around and chatting rather than actually swimming much, but it was such a beautiful place that nobody really minded.  Back on the beach we had time to sunbathe, before spending 15 very silly minutes trying to get 8 people jumping into the air at the same time.  Lots of giggles and accusations at the person who jumped too soon or too slowly.

Back on board Boomerang, we motored up to a beautiful cove an hour or so from Whitehaven and went snorkelling.  Surprisingly, there was nobody on the trip who had or knew how to use a GoPro, so I had to work it out with the tried and tested method of just pushing buttons until I found the right sequence.  Helpfully the user manual has to be downloaded and I had no way to do that until we got back to Airlie Beach.  With no screen on the back, it took a little practice until I worked out how to frame things properly, but once I got comfortable with it, the GoPro gave me some great video clips of people jumping and somersaulting off the boat.

We headed off to our next mooring, a bay where we would be snorkeling the next day.  Dinner tonight was a huge spaghetti bolognese with some gf pasta especially for me.  We drank the rest of our beers and watched another beautiful sunset.  It was tough, but someone had to do it!

Next morning dawned bright and blue skied and we snorkelled just off the boat.  The reef was clearer nearer to the beach but there were huge schools of yellow snappers and sergeant fish around the coral bommies further out.  The boat crew threw out handfuls of fishfood to attract the fish, in particular looking for an enormous Maori bumpheaded wrasse.  I was in the water when the female arrived and was surprised by her size.  The next thing I knew, the male appeared from underneath me and I could hardly believe my eyes - he was easily a metre long and very solid, covered in a pattern of blue wavy lines which give it the Maori name.  He's been coming to greet snorkel boats here for the last three years so didn't seem remotely perturbed by the number of bodies in the water trying to stroke him.

It took about 2 hours to get back to Airlie Beach from here, during which time the inevitable happened and the toilets broke.  Being surrounded by water but not being allowed to use the toilet has to be a new marker on the torture scale.  It certainly helped to empty the boat quickly when we finally reached the harbour!   I walked back to the YHA with a German girl called Maike and spent the afternoon relaxing before meeting the group again for a night out.  It was a fun couple of days but such a shame there was no wind to sail by.  It would have been quite exhiliarating to let the sails fill and see what a boat like that could really do.

I decided to stay on an extra day in Airlie and treat myself to a scenic flight over the Whitsundays and the Outer Barrier Reef in a sea plane.  There was an option to land on the sea and snorkel for a few hours, but I decided not to pay the extra as I had just been snorkelling for two days - in hindsight, I really wish I had done it as the reef was so beautiful from above.  We flew out over the luxury Hayman Island resort and out Hook Reef.  The reef is slightly raised which creates an enormous lagoon inside which is actually a few feet above sea level, though it is hard to spot this from above.  However, it creates a very strange phenomenon of waterfalls running off one end of the reef.  Waterfalls. Out in the middle of the ocean! One of the most common images of the Whitsundays is a heart shaped reef. This is actually a very tiny reef in the Hook Reef lagoon, only 17m across, which is a little like looking for something the size of a tennis ball in the middle of a rugby pitch.  It is very beautiful and our pilot made several passes over it so we could all see it clearly.  We then went for our sea landing.  The weather was so calm and the sea so clear that it was like landing on glass.  The horizon was almost invisible in the reflection of fluffy clouds on the sea's perfect surface.  We ran along the surface for a minute and then took off again and headed back towards the islands.

We flew over a number of smaller islands - emerald jewels in the stunning azure sea - before reaching Whitehaven island and passing over the swirling sands that I was jumping on just two days before.  It was brilliant to see the view from above after being on the beach already.  An hour's flight seemed to vanish in no time at all and before I knew it we were bck on the tarmac.  As I waited for my bus back into town, a bride in a stunning white dress arrived with her father and bridesmaids, ready to be flown out to Whitehaven Beach for her wedding.  Looks like it is not just a popular place for proposals...

If anyone is heading to Airlie Beach, I would recommend a flight with Air Whitsundays, but make sure you add in time to snorkel too! 



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