Palm Cove – Thursday 20th November. Today was our last full day in the tropical North, so we decided to take a break from doing anything and instead relax and spend time on the beach and poolside.
After breakfast we walked across the road and found a spot on the beach, under the shade of a tree, and stayed there for the morning. Because of the danger of jellyfish and sea crocodiles at this time of the year, there was a section of the beach sectioned off for safe swimming, a large barrier extending out to sea protecting the public from the menaces of the sea. This area was also patrolled by a lifeguard, who ensured no one misbehaved and used the area safely. We remained there until lunchtime before returning back to the apartment for some food and spent the afternoon by the pool.
Whilst relaxing in the pool, we got chatting to a retired couple from St Albans, who were over visiting family in Sydney, but had come to Palm Cove for a break from their grandchildren. They had also just been to see The Rolling Stones, who were on tour in Australia and loved them.
For dinner, we found a Thai restaurant and although I enjoyed the food, Tina wasn’t so keen. Back to the hotel for an early night as we had a long drive the next day.
Palm Cove/Airlie Beach – Friday 21st November. After checking out, we loaded the car and set off on the journey for the next stage of our Australian adventure, heading south. Ahead of us was a 650km (405 miles) drive to Airlie Beach. We drove into Cairns and stopped for petrol before joining the A1 Bruce Highway, which runs southwards through Queensland. For the first couple of hours the scenery was lovely, the tree covered mountains to the right looking spectacular. We had a couple of breaks from driving including a place that the hotel manager had recommended, Frozen Mango, then eventually stopped for lunch just outside Townsville, about half way to our destination.
By then it was around. 2pm so we pressed on, this time driving through pretty uninteresting countryside. The main crops grown throughout this part of Queensland was sugar cane, with railway tracks running parallel to the road for hundreds of kilometers, which are used to carry the trains hauling the sugar plants off for processing. As for wildlife, we saw plenty of dead things in the side of the road, but was fortunate to see a wallaby sitting close to the edge of the roadside, waiting to be run over, I guess. Other than that, we only saw cattle looking very sad, munching on very dry grassland.
We eventually got within 100km of Airlie Beach so pulled into a petrol station to fill up and have a wee. Just as we came out the station was invaded by a coach load of teenagers; we timed that visit just right as all of them headed for the loos. Little did we know that the encounter wasn’t going to be the last we had of teenagers whilst in Queensland.
We finally reached the coastal town and after a few wrong turns finally found the hotel and checked in. On checking in we were informed by Pete, the hotel manager, that it was the start of ‘schoolies’ and the town was about to be invaded by school leavers. It seemed that in Australia, there is an annual event where all the kids leaving school after their exams descend on the coastal resorts for some ‘relaxation’. And when I say relaxation I mean booze, sex and loud music. Tina remarked it could be a good time to get some earplugs. The Best Western was a bit out of the way of the towns shops, bars and restaurant but of good quality and the pool area lovely.
We decided that enough driving had been done so we walked in to the main part of Airlie Beach, not realising it was good mile or so. Fortunately it had cooled down a bit so was not too uncomfortable. We found a bar and grill and a table outside and ordered our food only to find it didn’t have half the items on the menu. It seemed they were about to close the restaurant for 10 days and were running stock down. Great. We managed to order some food they did have left after enjoying a nice meal. Whilst we sat, we observed the start of the arrival of the schoolies, all wearing coloured lanyards with their photos on, showing that the event was fairly well organised and under some sort of control, certainly early on. The time was still early so we browsed some shops before making the long walk back, stating that a taxi might have been a better idea.
Airlie Beach – Saturday 22nd November. I woke early and popped to the local supermarket for some milk whilst Tina slept. On the way back I went in to reception to speak to Pete for advice on things to do in the area. He suggested booking a trip on a tall ship, the Derwent Hunter, so after speaking to Tina we agreed it would be a good way to see the Whitsunday Islands.
We wanted a chill out day after the long drive the previous day so walked back into the main part of town, bought some prezzies, sat on the beach and generally relaxed in the warm sunshine. By this time the town was starting to fill up with schoolies; there were hundreds of them, but all seemed well behaved…at this stage. We walked to the Airlie Beach lagoon and paddled in the cool water before getting some lunch in a nice cafe in the town. More prezzie hunting before we decided to get a taxi back to the hotel and use the pool facilities at the hotel. We drove back later for a meal; earlier than normal as we weren’t sure how easy it would be to get a table with some many kids around.
Airlie Beach – Sunday 23rd November. An early start for the boat trip; 7am on a Sunday morning was not the time we’d expected to be up on holiday but with the coach pick up shortly after that time we had to breakfast early. We were taken to the quayside and soon were boarding the ship, a small tall ship built in 1946. As we boarded we had to remove our footwear so as to not mark the decking. This was fine but we’d specially bought Tina some white soled flip-flops the previous day.
The crew were young and enthusiastic and soon made us feel at home. There were only 25 guests sailing so the boat didn’t seem crowded and there was plenty of places to sit and enjoy the scenery as we sailed out of port. As we crossed the bay towards the Whitsunday Islands were were given a talk by the captain, a young guy, about the history of the tall ship followed by a safety briefing on snorkelling. I managed to let the ships cook, Jade, know that I needed gluten free diet and sue said it was fine and could accommodate. Great.
As the ship sailed on we were treated to some beautiful scenery, although we weren’t able to see any of the famous beaches at that point. We arrived at our first snorkelling destination after a couple of hours and boarded a small dingy to cross over to the sandbank. We were told there was a good chance we’d see turtles and even swim with them and sure enough someone had spotted one as we crossed. We did some snorkelling and spotted more turtles; the waters were not as clear as the were seen further north but the reefs were still full of fish. After an hour or so we moved off to our second spot; Black Island, and did some more snorkelling. The coral there was more colourful and had an abundance of various types of fish, it was really an honour to experience this wonder under the sea.
We sat on the beach for a while before returning to the ship for some lunch, a really good spread. The ship then slowly headed back to port, not before getting a talk on the fish and other creatures we might have seen. There had been an official photographer with us during the day so it will be great to see the pictures he’d taken, including lots under water.
As we neared port, the wind picked up so we were able to unfurl the sails to get the boat to do what it was designed to do…sail. I helped pull up the sheets and soon we were under the power of the wind and it felt such a wonderful way of spending an afternoon, slowly crossing the bay towards land.
Eventually we arrived back in port and disembarked and were taken back to the hotel where we freshened up before driving to Airlie Beach for some dinner. The schoolies seemed a bit rowdier tonight, clearly incapable of holding it together after 24 hours of drinking. We grabbed an ice cream then sat by the beach for a while before driving back to the hotel for drinks on the balcony.
The hike from the hotel to Airlie Beach restaurants included this hill
A room with a view – Mango House Resort
Selfie – Airlie Beach
The Derwent Hunter, our tall ship for the day
Black Island, Whitsunday National Park