After a relaxing sunbathe and splash in the Airlie Beach lagoon, we wandered through what is essentially a tropical paradise, bar the road works on the high street, enjoyed some live music and went to sleep excited for the adventure ahead.
The next day we repacked our bags as zipped rucksacks are not allowed on True Blue Sailing cruises. We stocked up on alcohol and headed to Able Point (although I was unable to point whilst carrying our crate of beer!) Another rule on the boat was no shoes on-board so we stepped barefoot onto the mighty New Horizon and set sail into a beautiful evening. Accommodation was rather spacious for a boat and the food was delicious throughout the two night trip. We anchored up at Hook Passage for the first night and partied in perhaps the most beautiful location I’ve ever known.
Needless to say, everyone was rather delicate the next day when we set sail for the breath-taking Tongue Bay. We dropped anchor a little way off the shore due to shallow coastal waters and took a dinghy with an outboard motor to the beach, where we walked to the lookout spot, home of perhaps the most iconic view of the Whitsundays and the second most photographed spot in Australia after Sydney’s harbour. It is also where aboriginal Ngaro children used to play and belief was that a giant serpent snake once slithered through the area, dropping 74 eggs which became the Whitsunday islands. They are, of course, a long-ago flooded mountain range.
We put on stinger suits and swam between the most beautiful sand islands off Whitehaven Beach; a large ray swam rather spectacularly but dauntingly right next to us – beautiful creatures but not to be taken lightly; they are, of course, what took out Steve Irwin.
Our next destination was Luncheon Bay, where most people got ready to snorkel but I, for the first time in my life, was about to go diving! Storm, the dive instructor (real name!), was an awesome guy who gave us a briefing that left me nervous but confident. There are two basic skills to scuba diving: breathing out through the nose and pushing your mask against your forehead to clear it of water, and equalising by pinching your nose and blowing as if to blow through your nose, to adjust your ear pressure. We were also advised to watch out for the super big and super friendly George, a Mauri Bass meaning he, like Nemo and the rainbow fish, was born female and is a transgender fish (presumably he used to be Georgina) – when he dies, the most aggressive female in the group will have a sex change and become the new George.
I was pretty nervous about diving, especially when Storm and the four of us diving got to the beach in all our dive gear – mask, flippers, regulator and oxygen tank. Going underwater and knowing that you will not be coming up to breathe for twenty minutes was a very hard concept to get my head around for the first time. Underwater breathing is so freaky and initially very hard but as soon as we got down I calmed and my breathing improved by itself. Panicking is the worst thing you can do diving and most things can be resolved without having to go back to the surface. Almost straightway, George swam by and everything felt awesome! He was so big and I stroked him as he followed us for the entire 20 minutes – I later found that the crew in the boat circling above us were chucking down food to encourage the fish to swim with us, a trick which certainly worked! Diving was everything I had imagined and more, especially somewhere that beautiful. There was a whole new world down there to discover and it’s such a buzz to float, glide and explore in three dimensions rather than traverse flat ground in two as normal. Our trip took us in a large circle and we saw so many gorgeous fish and Great Barrier Reef coral.
By the time we re-emerged at the surface I was so pumped by the experience and high on life. I went snorkelling with Jodes who was genuinely scared of the fish and nearly cried when the crew member through fish food at her to attract more fish, bless her. We anchored up at Stonehaven that night and had a nice talk from the crew explaining where we had been so far. Storm persuaded me to go diving again the next morning – quite frankly, I didn’t need much persuading; the next day was to be my half birthday so it made a nice present to myself!
Again, in the morning we were all a bit fragile after being on the beers the night before but I discovered that diving is the best hangover cure bar none. The last stop on the trip was where I did my second dive, right after breakfast. This time, just two of us went with Storm and it was so much better as I was much more confident. We even did the proper backwards roll off the boat and pressed the button on our regulators to sink – so sick compared to wading in from the beach the previous day. The reef was much more colourful in this spot, especially in the shallows where the light shone through and illuminated it spectacularly. There were less fish but some very pretty ones nonetheless as well as balloon fish, a massive sea cucumber which we picked up and of course plenty of lush coral. There were also plenty of jellyfish in the area to dodge, but they were harmless mostly as it’s only the fingernail sized transparent ones you can’t see that get you.
Once the sensational 28 minute dive was over we went paddle boarding, which involves standing on a sort of surfboard and using a six foot paddle to steer. Once you get used to it it’s a lot of fun although needless to say I fell in a couple of times before I got to that point – whilst everyone was watching from the boat! The New Horizon was equipped with a dive board so we jumped off that several times and made some hilarious videos of it. As we headed back to Airlie Beach, no one on the boat wanted the trip to end. It was only 9am and I had already had the best half birthday ever.
Next time – tropical waterfalls in the Atherton Tablelands