July 22, 2008

Sailing the Whitsunday Islands

In the nine months we've been traveling, Jared and I have slept in hostels, buses, planes, a tent, a camper van, and a station wagon. Now we can add one more to the list, a sailboat. We just got back from a three day/two night trip through Australia's Whitsunday Islands, off the Great Barrier Reef.

We left for our sailing trip from Airlie Beach, which ironically does not have a beach. And it's just as well, because the ocean north of the Tropic of Capricorn is inhabited by lethal box jellyfish in the summertime, which the Aussies amusingly call "stingers." To make up for Airlie's lack of Beach, the town has a free swimming lagoon. It's basically a man-made swimming pool, but a beautiful one at that. On sunny days, it seems the whole town is sunbathing at the lagoon.

The entire town seemed to be desinged for tourists. We couldn't find a movie theater, but there were hostels and bars aplenty. We stayed at Koala's, which is a hostel chain in Queensland. I probably wouldn't stay there again as it was run-down, loud, and we had our food stolen from the communal fridge, but it seemed like the other main hostels in town were just as bad. There isn't much to do in Airlie outside of partying, but we also had a big night out with our boat when we got back, and it was fun!

For our sailing trip, we chose the Prima, a 47 foot yacht with capacity for twelve passengers plus two crewmembers. The cabin was snug but had plenty of room for everyone. Along for the ride were a German guy, an Irish couple, two Swedish girls, a Dutch girl, and three other Americans. (The four Americans onboard were the most Yanks I'd seen at once since we left the States. American travelers are few and far between here.) Including Steve the Skipper and Andy the deckhand, we really lucked out with this group, and would recommend this boat for anyone who wants more than just a party boat, although we did have some late nights.

The rain came down heavily as we left Airlie Beach and didn't stop for two hours. By then we all donned rain jackets and went on deck. The rain kept us from snorkeling that day, but I was enjoying the novelty of being on a sailboat. (Well, except for when I nearly lost my lunch. Thank goodness for Dramamine.) Jared and I were both surprised to see that the islands were covered in pine trees, not palm trees. Although we were technically in the tropics, the Whitsunday Islands resembled the Pacific Northwest in the rain. That night we anchored in Refuge Bay, settled into our private, cozy room (the size of a closet, or Jared's first New York apartment), and were rocked to sleep by the boat.

The next morning we stopped at Whitehaven Beach, reputedly home to the whitest sand in the world. Apparently it has an almost pure silica content, which NASA used to build the glass lens of the Hubble Space Telescope, just in case you were wondering. The beach is also one of the most photographed beaches in the world.

It had stopped raining for the most part, but the sky was still covered in grey clouds. The beach was gorgeous, but we could all imagine how beautiful the scene would be if the sun was shining. Andy kept us entertained by taking lots of silly photos of us posing on the beach. As luck would have it, the sun finally came out just after we left Whitehaven Beach.

That afternoon we went to two snorkeling sites, in surprisingly chilly water. In the coral reefs, we saw clown fish and a large Hawksbill sea turtle, who let us get really close to him. It was just like Finding Nemo down there - the coral was as good as Fiji. I think our skipper Steve took us to the less visited sites, so we were not complaining.

We finally had a full day of sunshine on the last day of sailing. We took advantage and all laid out on the small deck sunning ourselves. Jared was lucky to get another day of sailing in after the trip ended and it was the sunniest day of them all. Andy, our great deckhand, was taking part in a local yacht club race around some of the islands, and his boat needed extra crew. Jared and four others spent 8 hours racing a 42 foot yacht, and had a blast.

Check out our photos from Airlie Beach and Sailing the Whitsundays.


Anonymous said...

A rough life indeed.

We wish you were here though.


Nomadic Matt said...

tough life you live there lol. I loved the whitsundays....soooooooooo beautiful. you guys must be pretty tan by now with all that sun you are getting!