We woke to our last Whitsundays Sunrise and had a Full English Breakfast before heading out on our kayaks. Once again we spotted turtles poking their heads above the sea level before dipping back down again. We saw sting rays dart about the sea bed in front of us and avoided stepping on them as we settled at the beach for our final hours in the Whitsundays.
I tried my hand at Paddle Boarding and then managed to slice my foot open on a rock whilst hunting for crabs which has ruled me out of trekking for a while. I did find some crabs though!
All in all, the Whitsundays has been one of the best experiences of my travels to date and I’d highly recommend it to anyone. In particular, I cannot recommend Summertime, our vessel, highly enough. The crew, diving, food and hospitality has been second to none and I’d be back in a heartbeat if I had the chance.
Once back on Airlie Beach we met up with our tour group and enjoyed a few last beers before we went our separate ways. It was truly an experience to treasure.
Although me and Hattie had both agreed that diving was a luxury we couldn’t afford, once we arrived at the reef we realised we’d been kidding ourselves. It would have been sacrilegious to come all the way to the Mecca of diving, and just snorkel. We wet-suited up bright and early and I jumped into the first dive.
The coral was as amazing as you’d expect. There was such a diverse range of life that I didn’t know where to look. I’d seen tropical fish before but the reef itself was absolutely incredible. Then came the moment I’d been waiting for as the lead diver motioned towards a large creature about ten metres away.
I’d finally swam with a turtle, a Loggerhead Turtle to be exact, much rarer at shallow depths compared to the Green Turtle. It was a dream come true and I spent the rest of the dive in absolute bliss.
Once we’d surfaced I gave my diving gear to Hattie as she prepared for her Discovery Dive, then headed off for a snorkel. The visibility was much better at these depths and I could easily find the specific things I wanted to see. First up I found a Cinnamon Clownfish, not your typical ‘Nemo’ but a good find all the same.
Afterwards came the Maori Wrasse, a fish that dwarfed all the other and demolished coral with its pneumatic drill of a mouth. I kept a safe distance from this one!
Unfortunately, my second full dive came and went without and major sightings, and I was even more annoyed that the other divers had seen Reef Sharks and Barracudas. I set off again with my snorkel to the deeper parts of the reef in search of another turtle. After an hour of persistence I found what I was looking for.
I dived again and again, swimming alongside it and trying not to lose the Green Turtle. Eventually he went too deep and I lost him in the poor visibility but I’d regained that ecstatic feeling and it remained for the rest of the day.
Once again, we were blessed by an incredible sunset and lay back and enjoyed the view. We definitely enjoyed the best the Whitsundays had to offer.
The morning finally arrived and we headed down to the harbour. The Whitsundays had been our most anticipated place in Australia so needless to say we were pretty excited. On the advice of my former boss, we had decided not to go on the standard booze cruise that most backpackers do and splashed out a little on more of a luxury boat. From the stories we had heard, we were more than happy to pay the little bit extra and actually be able to remember our time in the Whitsundays, rather than return to land with nothing but a massive mind blank and a hangover from hell. From the moment we set off it became apparent the decision was spot on.
Our boat, Summertime, was absolutely stunning. An old Crayfishing boat, she was a decent size for the twelve tourists on board and even came with a hot tub, kayaks, diving equipment and of course, an Eski to keep the ciders cold. However, our first day would spent on Whitehaven Beach, notorious for its white sand and aqua waters.
It was truly the most spectacular beaches I’d ever seen. We swam in the surf for an hour or so, playing with the sting rays and baby sand sharks. We were even fortunate enough to see a giant marble ray which are rare enough as it is, but this one stuck around for a good half hour, completely unfazed by the backpackers surrounding him from all sides.
Afterwards we relaxed on the beach and had some fun taking perspective photos, much like the Salar D’Uyuni in Bolivia, although the use of Vegemite was definitely unique to Australia.
Finally, as the sun began to set, we headed back to the boat and sailed towards our anchoring point amongst the islands. On the way the boat normally has the opportunity to take sunset photos and tonight was different in that regard. However, the sunset we ended up seeing was nothing short of epic. With all the photos we managed to take, you would think that no one put their cameras down. The reality was that it lasted for a full hour and only got better and better as the sun slowly disappeared.
The trip had started by exceeding all expectations we had of it. The Dolphins cruising around the boat as we went to bed only made things more surreal.
We had two days to get South in time for our tour of the Whitsundays and most of the time we’d be driving. However, unlike the outback, we actually had a couple of hours to spare and decided to find a couple of spots sourced from our new best friend: WikiCamps. First up, we headed to Big Crystal Creek in a small national park south of Cairns. Other than the excellent reviews from prior visitors, there wasn’t a lot separating it from the other attractions en route. True to form though, WikiCamps came up with the goods and we found a slice of heaven waiting for us at the end of the dirt track.
I practised my snorkelling whilst Hattie drew the surroundings. One of the couples we had met at a campsite in Townsville had given us a couple of snorkel kits they were about to throw away and I was glad to put them to some use.
After sunning ourselves for a while we headed off to camp. The day after we decided to trust in WikiCamps again and headed to Horseshoe bay, a small beach just a short dive away from our final stop before the Whitsundays Tour at Airlie Beach. The surrounding area was filled with busy caravan parks so we expected the beach to be busy but we rounded the corner and once again found a deserted, white bay.
Once again I headed out for the coral whilst Hattie sunbathed and drew the surroundings. Unfortunately the visibility was a lot poorer and I could barely spot anything but it was good to get some practise in all the same. Little spots like this probably exist in the UK as well but it’s incredible that Australia is absolutely filled with them, particularly North Queensland.
As we left a few buses came and dropped off a huge group of backpackers from what I assume was a local hostel. Although I was glad to have had the beach to ourselves for the majority of the day, it did inspire a little jealousy in me. I was definitely ready for a tour of the Whitsundays with a larger group!
We woke early to make the trip up to our most northern point of Australia on our tour. Daintree National Park is the oldest continually surviving rainforest in the world and offers a host of activities and sights for those who make the journey. Unfortunately, we were arriving at the end of wet season and our hopes of a nice walk in the forest were soon dashed by a combination of torrential rain and an army of mosquitos intent on ruining our trip. We did what we could and enjoyed a lunch by the beach, under cover, as well as Hattie drawing some of the forest, under cover.
We eventually braved the weather and managed a couple of nice walks through the forest, spotting a few spiders and mud crabs. Unfortunately (depending on your perspective) there were no crocodiles in sight and once again, my attempts at fishing were fruitless.
By the end of the two day trip, despite the views on show in Daintree, all we wanted to do was get out of the rain. We packed our bags and headed south in search of some sun.
Finally, we made it to the coast! Two weeks of non-stop driving but we made it to Townsville on the East Coast. Unfortunately, Hattie had left her purse in a truck-stop out in the Red Centre so we were stuck here for a day or so whilst it was hand delivered by road train. The stop was really nice so waiting around was hardly a chore. We had plenty of jobs to do now we were back in civilisation and the rest of the time was spent relaxing on the beach, trying my hand at fishing. As expected, I was as useless as the last time in Brazil and returned to the campervan empty handed.
Having retrieved the purse we continued along the coast to Cairns. In the Outback we had spotted another Spaceship Camper like our own and left a note on the windshield telling them to get in touch if they were going to Cairns as well. Unfortunately they had been going the opposite direction but they told us about a Hostel in Cairns that allows you to park in their car park for a small fee and we seized the opportunity. After the roadside living and lack of hot showers we’d had for the last two weeks, the hostel life was fairly glamorous.
Since the weather was so grim, we only left the hostel for a couple of short walks in the surrounding national parks, both of which were worthwhile but left us damp to say the least.
The only other thing left to do was finally meet some new people and enjoy a few drinks. Since we’d left Melbourne our social life had taken a massive hit and it was good to have some contact with backpackers for a change. For anyone backpacking to Cairns I’d definitely recommend Woolshed. Cheap drinks in a bar as nice as that make for a quality night.
Midway through our trip to Cairns and the nightmare of the Northern Territory well and truly revealed itself. It’s not the lack of petrol stations, drinking water, showers, miles of straight roads with nothing to do or the lack of social interaction with anyone. It all came down to the dreaded fruit fly. You open the car door once you’ve finished your day’s drive, hoping to relax into a chair, cook some dinner and drink some wine by the fire, only for a thousand flies to swarm you so that you can’t see, hear or open your mouth for fear of inhaling them. Even the most simple of tasks become an absolute chore and you find yourself becoming irritable about the most trivial things.
We bought a couple of fly nets for our heads at Ayer’s Rock and they were probably the best $10 dollars we have ever spent; they just about kept us sane.
Ultimately though, we were coming to the end of our trip through the outback and we took some time to reflect. I honestly believe that the outback is something worth braving and I’m truly glad we made he effort. That being said, I think it takes a certain type of person to go through it to the extent that we did, and I wouldn’t recommend the trip to anyone. Unless you’re like me and like the feeling of earning views/spectacles/rewards after an ordeal, then I’d say fly to Uluru and take a weekend trip into the outback instead. That way you get the best of both worlds, without losing your mind in the process.