Whitsunday Island

Our day trip to Whitsunday Island was an adventure three years in the making.  When I was first researching a trip to Australia (as a far-off dream that I didn’t know would become a reality), I came across a blog post about the paradisiacal island.  I was immediately fixated on the idea of someday going there.  Three years, six plane rides, and eight hours of driving through Queensland later, Vince and I found ourselves waiting at a ferry terminal in Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsundays.

The weather could only be described as foreboding as we made our early morning departure with Cruise Whitsundays.  Dark storm clouds hung low over the port of Airlie, but we found our seats on the top deck, complimentary tea and coffee in hand.

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We were promptly handed itineraries by our guide, Jade, and told that once we disembarked we would have some time on Whitehaven Beach before we would meet back up with her to hike to Hill Inlet.  Then the journey was underway as our boat left the harbor.  We stopped to drop off and pick up passengers at a couple of other islands on our way to Whitsunday Island.  The waves were very rough this morning and many passengers, myself included, struggled with seasickness.  Thankfully, I managed to make it to the Island with my stomach contents intact, and was full of relief when my feet touched the soft silica sand of Whitehaven Beach.

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Vince and I strolled along the shore, and my nausea soon subsided.  Along with this, the sun began to break up the clouds, and the weather instantly went from threatening to perfectly sunny.  It wasn’t long before a Cruise Whitsundays employee tracked us down and told us that it was time for our Hill Inlet hike.  We boarded a small boat with a group of around ten passengers and were ferried to another, even more beautiful beach where we met up with Jade.

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This beach is at the mouth of Hill Inlet, and is distinctive because the swirling sands of the inlet, which are accentuated at low tide, snake around pools of glistening turquoise water.  In order to get from one end of the beach to the other, you have to either wade through the shallow water, or walk along the patterned ridges of stunning sand.  As an ocean lover, I have been to many gorgeous beaches, but this one just might be the most unique.  Jade gave us some time to wander around and explore the area before gathering the group back up for the hike.  We used this time to wade in the warm water and climb the twisted branches of some dead trees along the shoreline.

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When we met back up for the hike, Jade pointed across the inlet to yet another strip of bright white sand, and told us that it had been a filming location for Pirates of the Caribbean 5.  Apparently, the entire cast and crew were flown out, and put up at a six star celebrity resort on a neighboring island.  They also went to the trouble to fly in palm trees since there are no palms on the island, and it needed to look like the Caribbean.  All of this expense was to get about fourteen minutes of footage for the final film.

With that extravagance in mind, we retreated into the forest and took a leisurely hike uphill to the Hill Inlet lookout.  This is the view I had come halfway around the world to see, and at first it seemed like I might not actually see much of it at all.  The lookout deck was crowded with other tour groups, and it was impossible to get up to the railing to look at the view below.  Just as I was starting to get anxious, the other people suddenly cleared out, and we were left with just the small group from our own tour.  I stepped up to the edge of the deck, and what I saw did not disappoint.

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Swirling layers of silica sand journeyed into the welcoming embrace of the island, as turquoise waters shimmered in the afternoon sun.  We could see the shadowy outlines of stingrays near the beach where we had just been, and tiny clusters of people stood on the sands below.  We were able to enjoy the view without the interruption of other tour groups for plenty of time before Jade said we could start hiking back down the hill at out own pace.

At the bottom, we met up with our little boat and were taken back to Whitehaven Beach, where the Cruise Whitsundays crew had lunch waiting for us.  We ate in the shade of some low hanging trees as seagulls and goannas poked around, hoping someone would drop some food.

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After lunch, we donned our stinger suits and went for a quick swim before we met up with the boat once again to go to our snorkel destination.  This was on yet another nearby beach, where the group got a quick rundown on the snorkel gear before we were set free to float around in the shallow waters.  I was eager to get to it, and Vince and I waded in then put on our flippers.  Once underwater, we immediately saw a stingray, which quickly swam away and out of sight.

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We paddled toward the offshore corals, and it wasn’t long before a young sea turtle appeared from the shadows and glided past me.  I hung back to give it some space, but unfortunately another snorkeler chased it and tried to touch it, scaring it away, and leaving me to bemoan the blatant harassment of such a sensitive and beautiful creature.

Vince had drifted away from me during this exchange, so I caught back up with him and resumed my exploration of the corals.  The water was shallow here so we were much closer to them than we had been in Cairns, and we saw some new varieties that we hadn’t in the deeper water.

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There was plenty of time to explore the reef before we had to leave.  When we arrived back at Whitehaven Beach this time, the day tour was at its end.  We were ferried back to the larger boat in small groups, and tea was ready once we were on board.  The ride back to Airlie was a bit calmer than it had been in the morning, and I was much more comfortable.

Once back in Airlie, our adventures for the day were not over.  We drove to a nearby walking track to try to fit in some activity before dark.  The track was supposedly an easy 3 km walk through the forest to a coral bay.  We were losing light quickly as we set out, but were confident that we could make it in time with such a short walk.  What we did not count on, however, was the omnipresent menace of the cane toad.  Cane toads were introduced to Queensland in the hopes that they would kill beetles that were ravaging the sugar cane farms.  As is the case with most such stories, it did not end up going to plan.  Rather than eliminate a pest, the toads quickly became a pest themselves, and have multiplied to obscene magnitudes.  To make matters even worse, they happen to be venomous and secrete a poisonous fluid when threatened.  This is all information that Vince and I learned after we found ourselves in a quickly darkening rainforest surrounded by seemingly fearless toads the size of squirrels.

When we first heard a rustling just off the trail we thought nothing of it.  A few steps later, I was stunned by the site of a voluminous toad sitting directly in the middle of the track.  This was startling at first, but we laughed it off.  We kept walking, but the toads continued to appear.  Eventually we were stopped in our tracks by a massive beast of a toad, that had no intentions of giving way.  It stared us down as we edged our way around it, and sped up our pace.  Our daylight was quickly waning, and eventually we decided to give up and turn around.

It felt as though the malignant toads practically chased us out of the jungle that night.  Once back in the car, we had a good laugh about the ordeal.  We may not have had a successful hike, but we certainly had an off-the-wall experience.  We happily ended our and eventful day with pizza, then retreated to our Airbnb for some much needed rest.

 

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