The roadworks were a pain, although not as bad as expected, still adding to the monotony of driving. The landscape once again transforms with the luscious greens becoming sparser and the views turning more barren, reminiscent of Pride Rock under the Scar leadership.
We did however spot our first Kangaroo in the wild. Decapitated. Not exactly the way we envisaged seeing skippy for the first time. I pictured groups of them, bounding through fields parallel to the highway. The victim of a horrific accident, the stiff body looked to be almost standing as we wheeled past, grimacing. This wouldn't be the last we would see either. Before travelling people would often joke and say "Don't hit a Kangaroo!", including the Van Hire company. These jokes now becoming increasingly real.
After a series of one-night stands with different towns, we flirted with the idea of a longer stay in a new place. Getting up and going every day can take its toll and we felt we deserved our break and Airlie Beach was the place to do it.
Finding a campsite was the norm now and after getting ourselves checked in, we headed out for exploration. We cruised down the meandering road, looking out over a beautiful sea before hitting a small town centre where shops lined each side of the road, standing side by side with restaurants and bars. The clientele, all seemingly young travellers, pottered about with an even more relaxed approach than we had seen anywhere previously on our travels.
As with a lot of the places we've visited, it was easy to navigate the foreign land. With signs to a local car park, free parking and a short walk and we were on the beach.
A snack of cheese slices was enough to satisfy us while we lay on the grass and napped in the sun as the cool sea breeze washed over us.
Thankful for a local restaurant doing a 2 for 1 meal deal, we dined out for what felt like the first time in years. After abusing the free wifi and most probably outstaying our welcome, we headed to Coles supermarket for our treat of the day. After leaving our cups, provided by the campervan company, at Dougies after using them in lieu of wine glasses, we searched the isles excidedly to find some mugs. That night we would have our first cup of Tetley's tea since leaving home. I wasn't overly impressed but after a couple of weeks without the British staple, it would suffice.
"RICHARD!" A scream. "There's something in my ear!!" As I stirred from my slumber, Holly was in a frenzied panic. "There's a fly in my ear, I can hear it". This was definitely just a moment of panic from Holly. After not seeing any spiders, snakes or any other creepy crawlies to scare her shitless, I figured an imaginary one would take their place. Without alarm, I agreed to inspect her ear, using the multi functional iPhone as a torch. As I stared with my dreary eyes into the cavity, expecting a rainbow to emerge more likely than a bug. My heart stopped. There he was, climbing the tiny hairs inside her ear, a small brownish fly. While totally panicking on the inside, but as cool as a cucumber on the outside, I took a break from my inner ear exploration to get a cotton bud for the insect to hitch a ride out of there. He gladly jumped aboard was carried free. For Holly's satisfaction I tried to squash the critter. Lifting my finger from the bud expecting a crime scene, he was gone. Flew away freely into the night.
"He's back in there" Holly kept repeating showing her disbelief of the emancipation of the creature. I ensured Holly it was long gone. A worried head was rested and eventually the ordeal was behind us and we slept.
Awakening free of any passengers lurking in our bonces, a day chilling was planned which unfortunately would be interrupted by loosing our laundry virginity.
Even doing chores out here didn't seem as painful as doing them at home. Bung all your washing in a huge machine. Relax in the sun reading while the wash finishes. Hang it all up in the sun. It didn't feel like a chore or inconvenience. Just taking your time, still enjoying the suns rays warming you as you slowly plod away.
One thing that all this eating, drinking, relaxing and generally enjoying yourself does, is it makes you feel unfit. This was proved as we went for a run in the cool, early evening air along the promenade walk. Steadily bumping along past the extravagant seaside houses, I have ran in worse places, the views only helping us endure the shortness of breath and general aching of bones and joints. A satisfaction on completion, enhanced by a well earned shower, had us ready for the nights free entertainment.
Always grateful of anything complimentary on our travels, we were excited for this one. A sausage party. And no, not the type your thinking of, but a free BBQ and live music, only asking for a small charitable donation.
We enjoyed our 3 (or 4) supersize sausages in bread with an array of sauces and relishes while the musician supplied an excellent rendition of Neil Young's Heart of Gold. With a couple of mouthfuls of Goon, we picked out the miserable couples, the boring ones and the unfriendly guests that seemed to keep themselves to themselves, not even offering a smile in exchange for our friendly british greeting, secretly hoping they weren't thinking the same of us. An early night followed as an early pick up was needed for our tour the following day.
Sitting in the mini bus half asleep, waiting for late arrivals, the excitement of the trip started to build.
After a short bus ride, we were aboard the boat and gliding out of the harbour towards the islands nestled just off the coast. As the guides spurted out facts about the islands, one more than the rest stood out. There is an island that you can rent for about $30 per night. Rent? A full island? Hell yes! With a maximum capacity of 5 persons, this would truly be the stranded on a desert island bucket list option for many people. Time permitting, I would have loved to try that out, our trip today would have to suffice for now.
The boat ride worsened and started to feel a bit more like a fair ground ride as we leaped over the waves and crashed back down into the ocean. Standing and holding on for dear life, I was pleased I didn't get that quesy feeling which sadly, inflicted Holly.
Sancuary came for Holly at last as we arrived at our first destination of the day. The pristine beach of White Haven on Whitsunday Island. Gently rocking just offshore we headed to the paradise via a smaller boat, with the show offs amongst the group deciding to swim to dry land.
On the beach we nestled our feet in the warm sands, as white as flour and with a similar texture, it was unlike any beach I have been on before. Despite the cloudy weather, we were able to sit and enjoy the moment. We didn't need anything, no books, music or alcohol. Just ourselves and our own company, huddled together watching the world go by. With a number of boats peppering the sea shore, they provided the foreground for the masterpiece of a view.
After a typical Aussie BBQ, shared with a wild Iguana who seemed intent on following us about, we headed to our second destination. A lookout a short distance away.
Thanks to my lack of research and undeniable ignorance, I expected the view to be of the beach we had just occupied. Anticipating something similar to that of Rex's lookout, no doubt a spectacular scene awaited us. We hurried up the sandy path, barley visible in the forest, our flip flops flapping as we galloped following signs to our viewpoint.
Without concentration, we rounded a corner and a wall of astonishment stopped me dead as the vista was revealed. That recurring feeling, wonder, amazement, stupefying beauty, the familiar but always welcome emotions turning wide mouthed gawping into excited grins. The swirling white sands caressing the spectrum of blues of the sea giving us the postcard picture everyone except me expected. Staring down the clear blue waters enabled the marine life to become visible with stingrays darting down the natural curves of the sea. Our time was short lived as we needed to head off within 5 minutes of arrival due to low tides dictating our departure time. Dissapointed at not having longer and feeling like time was wasted with photos and not absorbing the experience, we headed back to the vessel decidedly upbeat, still in shock and awe.
Next stop was a bay near the lookout where we had the chance to snorkel the reef, part of the inner Great Barrier Reef we have all heard of. Despite my entire lack of aquatic ability, I was determined to not let it hold me back. Shoulders back and head held high, snorkel on, Vaseline on my tash and flippers attached I confidently crouched at the ships rear ready to dive in for the chance of a lifetime.
Still waiting. Sitting now. Dipping my feet in. Still here. Slowly, edging one bum cheek off the overhang, nervously clinging to the handrail, scared to engulf myself in the tropical abyss. A crew member, noticing my trepidation, approached with sympathetic eyes and a look of slight condescension. Yes, that's right, I was going to be using a foam floatation device. So fucking what.
As my confidence grew in the water, so did my exploratory skills. The beautiful colourful coral, with every inch bringing a fantasy of colours and detail and an allure drawing me near, having to stop myself from reaching out and touching it. The coral, after all, is alive, and touching, standing on, sitting on and stealing is forbidden. A full colour pallet of fish whooshed past our eyes, grazing our skin and enticing us further in investigation. After a short break to sort out Holly's mask, her pea sized head seemingly not suitable for adult masks, we were back under water twisting and turning our heads to sea all the life around us.
"What the hell is that!" Mumbled holly through her snorkel, her eyes alight with shock and wonder through her child's mask. Zorro, part of the crew, was throwing food infront of us, as fish lept up from under to devour the treats laid out. "Fuck off!" She screeched, drawing the attention of the young kids on the trip.
Fear and fatigued started to set in for me. Never being one comfortable in water and sensing some sort of panic coming, we headed back for a slightly earlier finish to the snorkel. Back aboard the ship we fed the fish, stroking them as they slowly broke the surface of the water to dine on our BBQ left overs.
The boat back was as rough as the journey out, with Holly's face a shade of green similar to some of the fish we had just seen, dry land was welcomed by both of us and a slow walk home along the now familiar boardwalk eased our seasick legs.
With new neighbours on our campsite, we were pleasantly surprised when one of them just wandered over and started to chat to us. As what I can only describe as from the older generation, the affable chap discussed our itinerary and offered advice on where to go and where to avoid. As per our travelling orders, we were to follow his advice.
A quick supply run to the local shops, we bumped into a group of Germans we had met on the boat that day, along with their campervan, and we were invited in for a tour. The three of them had a 6 berth monster of a home, giving them a double bed each. The shower, toilet and full size fridge didn't take up too much room as we all seemed to fit in their dining area and hallway. Discussing travel plans in front of there oven and full size TV, our envious grimace was only eased by the gregarious nature of these three young men. We no longer saw Germans as boring, unfriendly, dull, straight-laced sausage and sauerkraut eating twats, but as a jovial kind we would gladly encounter more of on our trip.
Airlie Beach had everything we hoped for and more. A wonderful town, a relaxing stay, with a spectacular day trip to top it all off. Wunderbar