Sunday, November 27, 2011

Airlie Beach and The Whitsundays, Queensland


I recently spent four days at Airlie Beach on the Whitsunday Coast in Queensland.  The Whitsunday Islands are one of the many gateways to The Great Barrier Reef.

Tim and I stayed at The Boathouse Apartments at Port of Airlie.  These apartments are relatively new (~6 months old): 

 

The locals liken the external appearance of The Boathouse to a jail, but inside they are fabulous.  This is the view of the marina from our balcony:



It was hard work having breakfast every day looking at this view, but someone's got to do it ;)  The Boathouse is situated just a 5 minute walk from town, and unlike some of the resorts at Airlie Beach, it is situated on the flat, so there are no steep hills to get to town.

There were two bedrooms in our apartment, this one being the main bedroom overlooking the marina: 



 
The apartment came fully equipped, including with a digital television with Foxtel:



They have planted gardens with tropical plants at The Boathouse to enhance its amenity, including this gorgeous frangipane tree:



A short walk from The Boathouse takes you to Airlie Beach itself.  This is a view of Airlie Point, where The Whitsunday Sailing Club has its home:



Airlie Beach is a small town which is an ideal base to access The Whitsunday Islands and The Great Barrier Reef.  Tim and I did a day trip to South Molle Island and Whitehaven Beach.  We took our trip with Cruise Whitsundays, who pick you up from your accommodation and take you to Able Point Marina, from where their cruises leave.  There are also a number of other tour operators in the area.

Here is our first glimpse of South Molle Island from the ferry: 



As you walk up the pier towards the island, there is a sign advertising the daily fish feeding activity at South Molle, complete with friendly seagulls:


Just inside the resort is a display of shells and corals from The Great Barrier Reef:



 
Although the sky was looking ominous by this stage, Tim and I decided to spend our 3 hours on the island by taking one of the many bush walks on South Molle.  (South Molle is all about the bush walks - its emphasis is on nature, not luxury.)  We chose an 8km return walk to Sandy Bay.  This was perhaps a little ambitious in retrospect (it took us a little longer than the 2 hours return that the island receptionist quoted us), but we made it in plenty of time to get back, escape the heavy rain that pelted down just after our return, and savour a cold drink and the cool breeze.

The start of all of the South Molle bush walks takes you through the golf course, which is planted with palm trees:



The walk then leads you into eucalyptus forest, with the odd glimpse across the water:



Can you see the two birds in the photo below:



The birds are very well camouflaged, and the standing bird eyed us up and down evilly.  We thought that the birds were nesting, so on the way through, we took a slightly perilous detour down a leafy ledge, but on the way back, Tim scared them off - and there was no nest.  They were just being bossy!

The eucalyptus forest, which has beautiful brown butterflies fluttering through at various points, is the most prevalent terrain on the island:




Just when you think the forest will never end, you break out into the open and catch a glimpse of the island water supply and a road that runs past it:




and catch a glimpse of the ocean surrounding the island as you tramp through open grassland:



 
I spotted these feathers on the grassland track:


 
The grassland gives way to country which is thickly lined with grass trees, commonly known as blackboys:


Just as we were contemplating having to cut our walk short before we reached Sandy Bay due to time constraints, we spotted our goal just around the bend:



Hooray!  We took the Ngara Sea Trail to Sandy Bay:


Here is the beach at Sandy Bay, with the ominous sky overhead:



The beach is lined with coral and shell fragments of all shapes and sizes:



 
Unfortunately we could not stay long because of time constraints, so after a quick look around, some photos and a much needed drink of water, we turned around and headed back to South Molle resort.  The way back starts with a challenging uphill stretch that is not for the faint-hearted!   After some huffing and puffing from me, the ground levelled out, and we made it back just in time to beat the incoming rain.


From South Molle, we caught a ferry to Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island, which is a remote beach comprising of white silica sand:


To get to and from the beach from our ferry, we had to climb into a motorised boat known as a trencher - no easy feat in the choppy seas that day.  Once at Whitehaven, we donned stinger suits and swam in the warm, crystal clear blue waters surrounding the beach.  The island has no shops or other human artifices other than bathroom facilities, so the only real reason to come here is to swim and to marvel at its natural beauty.  

The next day, the weather had thankfully improved, and we went on a day cruise to Hardy Reef, one of the reefs making up The Great Barrier Reef, with Fantasea.  As with our other day cruise, the tour company provided transfers to and from our accommodation to the tour departure point.  This time, we left from Shute Harbour, just outside Airlie Beach:

 



On the way, we stopped at the luxurious Hamilton Island resort to pick up  more passengers:



Here is our first glimpse of the reef pontoon, looking very lonely in the vast expanse of blue sea:


On arrival, we took a 20 minute trip in a semi-submersible boat, where the reef could be viewed from the transparent windows in the sides of the boat:



You can see coral and fish (not pictured) while receiving an informative talk from a staff member about the wildlife being viewed:



You can also see fish from an underwater viewing chamber in the pontoon:



The highlight of the day, however, was snorkelling over the reef.  The price of the tour includes flipper, stinger suit, mask, snorkel and life jacket hire.  I had never snorkelled before, so was a little scared of doing it, but after I got the hang of breathing through the snorkel, I really enjoyed it.  Snorkelling allows you to get close to the fish and the reef.  The fish totally ignore you as you swim past, as if you were a normal part of the underwater landscape.   My favourite fish were the colourful parrot fish, which were abundant in the area in which I snorkelled. The water is also very clear and warm (26 degrees Celsius), so swimming is a pleasant experience.

If you go, take note of the stinger and cyclone seasons.  The stingers are avoided by wearing a stinger suit when swimming in the ocean or swimming in the Airlie Beach Lagoon instead, but you can't avoid the cyclones.

Having been born and raised in Queensland, but never previously having been to The Whitsundays or The Great Barrier Reef, I loved this trip, and would go back again in a heartbeat if this were possible. It is truly a beautiful part of the world, where the pace of life is very different to my every day, and I was reluctant to leave.

Boathouse Apartments by Outrigger                      
33 Port Drive Port of Airlie    
Airlie Beach, QLD 4802                                   
Ph: +61 7 4841 4100          

5 comments:

Johanna GGG said...

hard to know which blog to comment on - your trip looks great - fantastic photos - no wonder you wanted to stay up there - it is a place I would love to visit one day

cquek said...

wonderful photos.

OneCraftyFox said...

Oh, wow! This looks fantastic!! In some ways reminds me of St. Lucia, where I really wanted to stay, lol.

What a wonderful vacation you had!!

cquek said...

great vacation, i want to tag along too.

Kayte said...

No words, this is just all beautiful at Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays...has to be one of your best vacations ever from the looks of it all. Fun to see, thanks for sharing.