We spent Halloween chilling in a hammock at Agnes Water and the following day checked in for our “Castaway island” overnight experience. We were dropped at a runway in the jungle where our tiny plane was waiting. Our pilot was an incredible man called Bruce who shook us around on the flight over and managed to take an hilarious photo of our reactions when he shut the engine off momentarily mid-flight!
The views were stunning and so was the island when we got there – a picture postcard paradise. Two Canadian guys were running the camp and they had been there 33 days helping Bruce out with the operation. We hiked a few kilometres up through the jungle (which is just like a scene from “Lost”) past a lighthouse and down to the creeks and rock pools on the other side of the island. We walked back and met the other six or so “castaways” including, to my disbelief, a girl who I had worked in America with in summer 2010, and had a catch up over the campfire.
The following morning we explored the beach some more and went sea kayaking and snorkelling. The sea was so gorgeous it was unreal, although it was also sufficiently choppy to flip my kayak on my head whilst I was trying to catch a wave and impress everyone on the shore. Before we left I had a chance to impress everyone (well, I impressed myself) by briefly holding a bearded dragon lizard. Some of those lizards were longer than a skateboard, it was crazy.
Bruce flew us back to the mainland and was up to his antics again, this time allowing the plane to freefall and tilt so that Jodie’s camera (which is almost definitely more valuable to her than I am) slowly floated down the cabin towards her terrified hands. The camera is worth a lot, but her face was priceless.
The next day we had a surf lesson from a cool old hippy – it was the first time Jo has surfed and she managed to stand up. Everyone is so friendly in Australia – anyone who isn’t sticks out like a sore thumb. Take the guy who made my $6 hostel chilli that night – he was so keen for me to have a good meal he grabbed my arm as he handed me the plate and dramatically urged me to “enjoy it!”. Then we did the crazy cost saving thing of getting an overnight coach from Town of 1770, which is the place and location Captain James Cook sailed into to discover Australia. This happened shortly after his ship hit a rock and got a hole in it at Cape Tribulation, which is named after this incident. He ordered his crew to “feather” a sail under the boat and patch it up like a plaster. Had this failed, Australia could well have been French!
Captain Cook also sailed through the Whitsundays and named them, but he got the day wrong as he actually passed through them on a Monday. As it happens, since I have been in Australia I have learnt a whole host of bizarre facts about the place. For instance, in 1973 an Australian frog called Rheobbattrachus Silus was discovered and to this day is the only fauna ever discovered to give birth to live young through its mouth. Equally as bizarre, its entire population died out by 1983 and it is now presumed extinct. Like many of Australia’s creatures, its story makes no sense.
If you are a fan of fascinating animals, then this is the place to be. Rainbow fish and several other fish species are all born female, with only one male in each group. When he dies, the most aggressive female has a sex change and takes his place. In other words, Nemo was a tranny. Equally confusing is the platypus – is it a reptile or a mammal? It is probably more of a mammal but in the late 19th century, when people argued heatedly about classifications, they plumped for reptile. A “monotreme”, it has only one hole for reproduction and excretion, known as the cloaca.
But back to our overnight coach journey. We stopped at Rockhampton at half past midnight and, barring a few hours at Bangkok airport 24 days prior, I was in the tropics for the first time in 8580 days of inhabiting this planet. I can see why people get stuck in Sydney as it has everything you need, but the further north up the east coast we travelled, the more reason I saw to get out of Australia’s biggest city and explore – this country has so much to offer. The immediate news from the tropics was that they had McDonalds but it was closed at midnight and in my (up to that point very limited) experience half the taps in the tropics were broken. My goal was to taste a tropical Milkybar, imagining it would taste like fruit pastilles. I was jolly excited to drive past a Ford garage with a sign that read “Tropical Ford” – so excited I promptly fell asleep.
We arrived after a pretty rough sleep into Airlie Beach and, my God, if it wasn’t the most stunning place I had seen yet. It felt like a James Bond location set, so exotic and paradise-like, like Vietnam meets Italy’s Isle of Capri. No one swims in the sea in Airlie due to stingers (pesky jellyfish) but there are rich people’s boats in the harbour and a beautiful lagoon to swim in.
We checked into Magnum’s, a sensational in-the-rainforest hostel and chatted to the girl in the travel agents about diving on the Whitsundays. It had been my dream to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef but having never dived before I needed guidance as to the best spots. Should I dive here, on the beautiful Whitsundays on the fringing reef and enjoy more unspoilt reef, or wait until the tourist trodden Cairns in the hope of better flora, fauna and reef? I was persuaded to dive on the Whitsundays for my first dive – if I liked it I could always explore the outer barrier reef with sharks and the like another time, but on my budget it was always going to be an inner reef first dive whether off the Whitsundays or Cairns, so it might as well be the former for a reasonable $60. I was rather excited and slightly nervous at the prospect of this new experience, but we still had a night in Airlie Beach before our boat trip across the islands began.