Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Hold onto your lettuce!

After an unforgettable three days with The Rock Tour, it was time for our final week down under. For this, we were heading further up the east coast to Mackay. As we exited the airport and hopped into a taxi we had no idea where our bed was for the night. Normally Jo and I like to have something booked to tide us over but time was against us. Our first choice was to stay in a hostel in the heart of Mackay called Gecko's. Sadly they were fully booked but they recommended a motel called Cool Palms. After a quick phone call we had somewhere sorted. The lady on the other end offered to pick us up as it was too far to carry all our luggage. Once there we were reminded of the motel we stayed in near Ballarat in '08 where we panned for gold. However, this time we weren't greeted with a loaf of bread and a pint of milk...! We dropped off our bags and headed out. We jumped onto the free tour bus that takes you to all the important places in Mackay. We decided to get off at the marina and have a wander around.
The next stop was the main town. There isn't that much to see in Mackay but it does have a good choice of restaurants. With it being my birthday, we thought it would be nice to treat ourselves to a meal in the evening. After much deliberating we ended up booking a table at a Mexican called Montezuma's. We finished looking around the shops and headed back for a much needed shower. The room had air conditioning which was nice, even if it did sound like it was about to take off! Once ready we both laughed as it looked as if we had been there for a week. All of our luggage was spread about the room giving it the 'make yourselves at home' look - one thing you can't do when backpacking! Jo booked a taxi to the restaurant as we remembered it was quite a walk. The meal was gorgeous. I had enchiladas and Jo had tortilla chips with her favourite side, guacamole  (for a change). We then shared a chocolate sundae to tide us over, yummy!
With such a filling meal weighing us down, we continued our plan to 'stroll' back to the motel and help burn some of it off...two hours and a scenic tour later we were back, oops! I still don't know to this day how far we actually walked. What I do know is that once you pass Macca's three times and nearly wade through a random marsh it's time to get a taxi. But with the two of us being tight as snare drums we needed to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Even if the light is a random off licence pointing us around the corner!! Anyway, it was a nice way to finish off the evening and it made it a birthday to remember.
The following day was another chill out day. We wandered to the tourist information to book some bits for the next few days. One of the guys Jo worked with in Brisbane recommended a company called Fantasea. They offer different tours around the Whitsundays and Great Barrier Reef. We ended up choosing a package consisting of three trips rolled into two days. The lady was very helpful and also sorted out our Greyhound bus to Airlie Beach which is the gateway to the Whitsundays.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the remaining parts of Mackay.
Mackay is currently undergoing work near the river. We did manage to find the start of the boardwalk amongst all the scaffolding and machinery. It weaved around the river and took us away from the town. Halfway through the walk Jo read a sign warning walkers about crazy magpies. Jo's friend Lloyd was attacked by a murder of magpies (maybe that's where they get their collective name from). He said they swooped down while he was out riding his bike. He had to abandon his bike and take cover. Sounds crazy but we weren't going to be victims of this fiasco. We both grabbed ourselves a stick each just as a deterrent. Luckily we didn't get attacked, but we did enjoy the walk which eventually looped back to our motel. A pizza and a film finished the day off nicely.
As we jumped on the Greyhound the following day we looked forward to seeing more of the north than we did last time. A hostel named Magnums was going to be our place for the night, as it was a recommendation from a friend on The Rock Tour. Before we booked the room we were aware it had an en suite which sounded flash. It was far from flash. There were ten beds and only one shower - we weren't looking forward to the following morning! We decided to get some fresh air and see what Airlie had to offer. We came to the conclusion it was like a smaller version of Surfers Paradise but without the high-risers.
That night in the dorm was very hot. Even though it states that all rooms are air conditioned our particular room was like a sweat box. We had to keep nipping out just to cool off! It was a hard night's sleep made worse the next morning by having to wait for eight people to shower before we even got a look in. Jo decided that night showers were the way forward! The rest of that day was spent killing time along the one and only road that is Airlie. With our tour being over the next two days, we decided to have one last chill out day...
6am was wake up time the following morning. The bus was to pick us up from just outside the hostel at 7am. Today was the day to visit two main attractions in the Whitsundays - Hamilton Island and Whitehaven Beach. Our tour company, Fantasea, are located about 20 minutes out of Airlie at Shute Harbour. As we got off the bus we could see our boat in the distance.
As we entered the vessell we grabbed ourselves some complimentary toast for breakfast. Food was part of the package giving us one less thing to worry about. The first stop was Hamilton Island. Out of all the islands it is the second biggest inhabited one. The first one being Whitsunday Island, which was also on the agenda that day. The journey only took 30 minutes which would have been OK if it wasn't for the ups 'n' downs - Jo went a bit white! After stepping off at Hamilton we could see why it was so popular. Everything was in pristine condition with the whole island looking like a massive holiday resort. It may not appeal to some people, but we felt like celebs for the day.
The best way to get around the island is in a golf buggy. It cost about $50 for a couple of hours. We liked the sound of it but thought we would just stick to walking.
The majority of buggies were zooming up the hill to go to the lookout or to Catseye Beach. We went to the latter. To access the beach you had to walk through the entrance to the main resort. Just as we arrived there were a number of people stood around which looked like a film crew. We had in fact walked into the middle of a film set. There wasn't much happening but we managed to squeeze past during a break!
Catseye beach was glorious. There were less than 10 people on the beach making it seem more exotic and special. There were a few people snorkelling in the sea and some guests just chilling out on sun loungers. Jo and I took in the great view before we heeded towards the lookout.
As we reached the lookout, which is called One Tree Hill (just for Jen), we were greeted with a fantastic view out to sea. We were so fortunate with the weather as it made Hamilton Island look very tropical. We could see more islands in the distance which we worked out were Long Island and Daydream Island. You would need a lot of time if you wanted to see all 74 of them...!
Hamilton Island truly is a gorgeous destination. There is plenty to do for couples and even kids. Just from looking around we gathered that most of the accommodation was probably holiday homes belonging to rich Aussies who escape here once in a while. They too have golf buggies. But with breathtaking scenery and friendly locals who can blame them?!
Before boarding the boat I quickly squeezed into my hula dress for a quick pic!
The next stop was Whitehaven Beach. Due to a few heavy winds it was going to take over an hour to get there. Jo didn't look too happy after the journey in. Before we left shore a big buffet was put on downstairs for everyone. It was pretty impressive and filled both our empty tummies. After we finished Jo and I sat upstairs for some fresh air. While we were sitting some guy came up the stairs with a plate full of food. A big gust later and he lost half his salad. Gutted!
The journey to Whitehaven Beach may have taken longer than scheduled but it was worth it. Just as we stepped off the boat we could see the white sand stretching for miles up the beach. Alongside it was the clearest water I have ever seen which proved popular with everyone.
The sand is 98% pure silica, which is so pure it can be used to make glass! The beach is located on Whitsunday Island which is the biggest of all the islands making Hamilton Island the second. Lots of different tour companies offer trips there by boat or even plane. There was one plane which we watched take off from the water like something from James Bond! During our time, I made the most of the luscious water and had a rewarding swim.
Along the beach numerous activities were taking place including volleyball and cricket. Jo and I enjoyed a nice walk whilst taking it all in and grabbing some last pics.
Both islands proved to be a lovely day out. Our favourite was Hamilton Island and we said how we would love to go back there one time and book a room at the resort! 
The next day was all about the Great Barrier Reef. Again, we were picked up from our hostel at 7am and dropped off at Shute Harbour. We both noticed how windy it was compared to the day before but didn't think much more about it. About 10 minutes later one of the crew approached us to say that it was too windy and the tour was no more. As you can guess, Jo and I were pretty gutted. They offered to take people to Hamilton Island free of charge but we decided to get our refund and head back to Airlie Beach. We both grabbed a coffee and discussed what we should do with the day as it would seem a waste to just do nothing. After popping into a travel agent we decided to see another one of the Whitsunday Islands - Daydream Island. It seemed the best choice and it gave us a chance to get the most out of being at Airlie Beach. The ferry was leaving from the harbour at midday and would take 30 minutes. With the wind being quite strong the ride over was quite choppy making the island look dramatic.
It is a really small island but, like Hamilton, there are golf buggies to help you get a round. Again, we agreed to walk especially as we did the forest walk which was anti buggies! The walk lasted 20 minutes and looped around to a coral beach called Lovers Cove, cute. 
There were only a few people there which made it more welcoming for us. It looked like snorkelling was the thing to do there. I hired two kits from the beach and we were ready to go. Previous to us coming up to Airlie Beach I bought a case for my camera to help take photos underwater. The water was lovely and clear and the case proved to be a very good buy...!

We spent about an hour in the water snorkelling and testing out the camera. It has got us excited about eventually snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef...third time lucky!
We spent the rest of that day just relaxing by the pool and getting out last photos. The mermaid statues on Mermaid Beach are there to tell the story of when they lured Captain Cook's ships when he was heading north through the Whitsundays.
The two days after that were spent travelling back to Brisbane before heading back to sunny England. All we have now is to look forward to the 40 hour journey home...!

So there you have it - Our year down under. We both have enjoyed every single second over here and it has been a pleasure to share it with friends and family at home. It is one big tick off the bucket list and we now have to get back into our normal lives and plan for our wedding next year...! 



Jenny said...

I have really enjoyed reading all of your blogs :-) It sounds like you have had an amazing year. xxxx

Jean and Geoff said...

We also would like to tell you how much we have enjoyed your regular stories of your travels! We appreciate the amount of time and effort involved, and it has been nice to know that you have been keeping us in mind!
It's lovely to have you home!
Love from us both, Gran & Gramp