On 2nd March 2017 we moved on from Magnetic Island to Airlie Beach. Our drive takes us to a less humid area and Martha happily escorts us to Flametree Tourist Village which is run by a British couple who had been working hard to improve the camp site. Staying here feels cooler, there is less wildlife around us and this allows for a better few nights of sleep. The only downside is that we are some distance from the nearest shops and our liquor supply had depleted.
The site help us to plan our next days journey to the Whitsunday Islands. There are so many tours on offer however we choose to do a one day excursion in which we are collected from outside the site at 7am. Thankfully we are the last to get on the coach and the journey to the boat was only about a twenty minute ride. We travelled with Reef Cruises who made sure all the passengers were well fed and watered throughout the day. Our first stop was reached after a 60 minute boat ride. It required us with stinger suits and snorkelling gear in hand to decend onto a small boat that takes us to the a small sandy bay to the south east of Hook Island.
We are given an hour and a half to snorkel. The stinger suits are tight, hot and not particularly nice to manovere into. My fetching look is completed with goggles and a snorkel. I opt to wear a life jacket too. This stops me from the worry of having to ground myself by standing on the reef something I have no desire to do and something which our guides have to remind other over and over again. The reef is lacking colour according to those who have seen it before and through our journey around Australia bleached white pieces of reef have washed ashore. Not being the strongest of swimmers (another reason to wear a life jacket) I swim with caution. Oh and did I mention my other fear, fish. Fish that might nibble my toes. I have no idea where this fear came from except that when I was a child I dug a hole on the beach only to discover a dead fish. Since then fish with faces have not been a favourite thing of mine.
Anyway, I paddle out to the reef. The fish are wonderfully coloured, stripy, spotty, iridescent, large, small, even larger and I appologise to each one I pass. I am invading their territory and after a while of watching some of them dash away from me I realise they are scared of me too. I’m not surprised by this. There are a lot of other snorkellers here with me. I look up to see a woman looking at me and make out the she is saying turtle. I swim (or should I say float) towards her with my head in the water. Beneath me I see the most impressive turtle tucking himself into the reef. He is about arms reach away but I darent touch him after all my fingers are important and who knows what would happen if I patted him. I am previleged to be one of three watching the turtle and after thanking the lady I continue floating along. The reef is mind blowing. It moves in the most incredible way, some opening and closing, showing their internal vivid colours. An hour or so later I leave the water, peel off the wetsuit and dry on the beach in the warmth before rejoining the main boat to be taken to our next stop.
A guide leads us up to the Hill Outlook at the Great Barrier Reef Park. From here there are amazing views over the sparkling white sandy beaches with the bluest of blue waters which vary from an aqua to a deep sumptuous teal blue. Cameras click everywhere trying to capture the moment and obviously I join in too. The colours here are spectacular and after a while of obsorbing our surroundings we walk down to the beach. Exhausted from the paddling earlier I opt to stay on the beach whilst others snorkel once again. From the beach I can see huge Manta Rays swimming, easy to see with their dark scales contrasting against the clear water. Due to timings we are required to walk back across the island to meet up with the boat for the final part of the day.
We are taken to Daydream Island to relax. There are lots of choices of activities including swimming in the pools, having a drink in the pool bar, sitting on the beach, Visiting the three mermaid sculptures and viewing the sea life in the aquarium. We choose the swim in the pool. It is a hot, hot day and I enjoy not having to fear my toes being nibbled. Following this we sit on the beach. The beach is covered in what I think is fossilised coral. I sounds like glass when walked on and the patterns with in are wondrous. After photographing the mermaids we visit the aquarium before making our way back to the boat. On the way we see wallaby or wallaroos, I’m not sure which is which. Once on board the boat we are served Tequilla Sunrise to signal the end of the day and the commence of our journey back to the mainland.
I feel very lucky to have been on this trip. A few weeks after this Cyclone Debbie hit the area. Not only has she destroyed parts of the island which have been closed for the next year but two of the three mermaids were swept away too. In some ways perhaps Cyclone Debbie will have a positive impact on the reef. This has been too commercialised and it may have a chance of recovery from the tourists who accidentally step on it not visiting for a while. Our guides were amazing I have to say, not only did they police the reef area but they provided an alternative to snorkelling by letting customers use a glass bottomed boat instead. When the tours are up and running I would highly recommend joining one and I would suggest a life jacket to stop the temptation of standing up.