Between Yeppoon and Airlie Beach, we stopped for one night in Mackay – this was only a rest stop however and we did not get to look around the town.
Arriving in Airlie Beach was exciting, maybe due to the fact that it was the first place since Noosa that had a holiday feel to it. Driving over a cliff side with stunning views of the bright blue Whitsundays water and into the bustling town centre gave us a great first impression of this place; maybe wrongly so.
Our caravan park was a 15-20 minute walk away from the centre of Airlie Beach and we therefore did not get to explore properly until the next day. What we found on closer inspection was a place that has all the foundations and promise of an amazing beachside destination, with no real spark. Airlie Beach was filled with boarded up hostels, bars and shops and unfortunately had a bit of a run-down feel to it. Add that to the circle of unwashed, rough sleeping hippies that seem to have plonked themselves across any green space they can find and you’re left with a sense of disappointment. There’s a great public pool which is unfortunately closed after it was damaged in the most recent cyclone, some pretty boutiques (if only there were more) and a great boardwalk which takes you all the way over to the marina. I’m not sure whether the closed down buildings were due to it being winter and therefore the perfect time to renovate, or whether they were also damaged in the cyclone, but the town seemed like a Byron Bay that had let itself go.
That being said we did have fun exploring the interesting shops that were open for business, and our caravan park had a great daily bird feeding event where wild parrots were literally all over you trying to get to their dinner. However what occupied us the most was the fact that the real reason we were here was to sail to Whitsundays; a sight that I’ve been googling in envy for years.
We decided to do a day tour to the Whitsundays with a company called Ocean Rafting, the only company that has boats that can sail along the famous swirling sands. As someone who gets very motion sick on boats, this was a great option for me because Ocean Rafting’s big yellow inflatable speed boats go so fast that they negate the usual swaying that normally gets me feeling queasy. The journey to and from the Whitsundays Islands was so fun in itself; just get ready to get wet!
Once out in the reef (the Whitsundays group is also part of the Great Barrier Reef), we first anchored up for an hour of snorkelling. Unfortunately due to the most recent cyclone, the Whitsundays area has been absolutely battered and this can be seen both under and above water. The islands were covered in fallen trees and debris while the sea was so cloudy due to sediment it was almost impossible to see what little clumps of coral were left. While this was a little disappointing, it was also pretty insane to see how much devastation the cyclone had had first hand. Being from the UK where the worst we have to worry about is a bit of thunder every now and then, I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated just how much damage a cyclone can do. Seeing the effects first hand of the power of nature is kind of exciting in a paradoxical, twisted kind of way. Thankfully the coral reef is set to recover, it just may take a few years.
From here we headed to the biggest of the Whitsundays islands (conveniently called Whitsunday Island) where we disembarked to complete a bush walk up to a viewpoint that overlooks the famous swirling sands. This view might just be one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. The contrast of the bright white sand and the blue water makes for a hugely impressive sight and we have spent countless hours marvelling about it ever since! Our boat actually anchored to pick us back up on the swirling sands and we got to walk across the beach and through the shallow warm waters which allowed us to see the amazing view up close.
The white silica sand here is said to be the purest in the world, with NASA apparently using some of it in their telescopes. I have to say it was the most beautiful sand we have seen yet; and that’s in comparison to Cambodia and Thailand, which have some beautiful beaches.
As if our day couldn’t get better, we then headed around the island a little more and stationed ourselves on Whitehaven Beach, the most famous beach of the Whitsundays and as the Lonely Planet speculates, has the potential of being the finest beach in the entire world. Here we spent two blissful hours sunbathing, eating lunch and marvelling at our surroundings. I couldn’t stop running my hands through the sand!
As we headed back from our amazing day, there was such a sense of elation and wonder; the type of feeling you can only get when you know that you’ve experienced something incredible. This is something you without a doubt have to do if you visit Australia; no excuses. It is up there in my top 5 experiences on this trip and I honestly don’t know whether much can beat it.