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Airlie Beach, Whitsunday Islands (and Vegemite)

sunny 27 °C

On Tuesday I arrived into Airlie Beach for an overnight at Magnums. The difference between here and Magnetic Island couldn’t have been greater. Everything is much cheaper and competition is sky high to attract backpackers so everyone from the local smoothie shop to Dominos are doing special deals aimed at tourists. It made a nice change to Magnetic where there was very little choice and everything was over priced. It’s definitely got a more tourist feel to it, which is a good and a bad thing. The ‘schoolies’ who are on their break are everywhere to be seen – teenagers running wild. It all made me feel very old at 27! Anyway I got a nice Thai meal for dinner, got my clothes wash done and took it easy for the night. The hostel itself is not as nice as their other chain on Magnetic - there are no swimming pools, I was just getting used to that! I booked a double room and it was like a shoebox but it did the job. The whole hostel itself reminds me a lot like Camp Crystal Lake from the original Friday the 13th – a bit too much actually.

The next day I was down at the dock by 11.30am, complete with my box of ‘goon’. It’s a very cheap wine substitute in a box that everyone drinks on these trips over here. Apparently it’s made from fish and eggs, two ingredients I am not generally keen on but hey when in Rome. A 4 litre box cost me just 17 dollars – bear in mind that 1 glass in a bar is at least 7 dollars and you’ve got a very good deal! There are plenty of options available for the Whitsunday Islands tours. I had originally been booked to go with Avatar but unfortunately it was double booked last minute so I opted for Powerplay – a slightly more expensive trip but I did not want to be stuck with a load of 18 year olds screaming ‘Spring break!’ for 2 full days. One of the tours here is actually called ‘Spank Me’.

Anyway, I couldn’t have made a better decision. The boat itself was almost brand new, plenty of room for the 18 passengers + 4 crew and it had a Jacuzzi! Sold. The group I travelled with were probably the best bunch of people I have ever gone on a tour with. There wasn’t one person I didn’t get on with. Most of them ranged in their mid twenties to early thirties and there was one couple in their early 50s who we christened the mammy and daddy of the boat. Nationalities were dominantly Americans, English and Irish but there were some Welsh, Canadian, Italian, Swiss and French as well. I have to add the Americans were great banter – we were all constantly taking the piss out of their accents and general Republican type things but they took it very well to be fair.

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The tour consisted of a number of stops for sightseeing, snorkling, scuba diving and a trip to Whitehaven beach – a beach that is closer to paradise than any other place I have seen before. The photographs do no justice to how stunning it really is. The sand there is officially the finest and most impressive in the world. There are strict laws against anyone who takes any with them and the only company that are allowed are NASA who used it to build the Hubble Telescope! We spent a couple of hours there playing about, swimming, taking in the sights and messing about.

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After getting my Padi cert it would have been a shame not to do a dive so I did two – one at Luncheon Bay and another at Manta Ray Bay. They were much better than Alma Bay on Magnetic but the visibility still wasn’t that great. Still, I got see a huge turtle up close (Dude!) and a giant fish that I cannot remember the name of, but they go through a natural sex change from female to male in order to mate with the dominant female once the dominant male dies. Bizarre but interesting.

One downside about tours in Australia is that they like to punish you if you are late back onto a bus/boat or don’t follow the general rules they set. The punishment on both tours I’ve been on so far involves being forced to eat a spoon of vegemite (also known as Bovril). In the case of this tour, if you didn’t sign back onto the boat when getting back on board from a scuba or snorkel you would be punished and made to eat it. I had been dreading this and on the second day I did forget to sign in – nooo! There was not getting out of it. It was disgusting. Mingin! Rotten. Not happy! I can’t believe people actually eat this. I hope I don’t get it again…

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Vegemite aside, we were very well fed throughout the trip, the crew were highly entertaining and both nights involved plenty of goon, laughs and some drinking games for good measure. I have to say I was very sad to leave. That night, 8 of us met up at Beaches for an after party along with groups from the other boats - we got jugs of free beer/cider and wine! It would be rude to say no so a good night of drinking was had before we ended up at Paddy Shenannigans (lol) for dancing and singing.

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Today I checked out of my hostel at 10am but have to hang around until 7pm with nowhere to go as my bus isn’t until then. Thankfully there's a cheap 24 hour wireless internet connection for 10 dollars next door to my hostel - time to catch up on lots of Apprentice episodes, write this and upload pics! The bus later is overnight at about 14 hours – I'm not looking forward to it. However it’ll get me to Hervey Bay, my next destination where I have a 3 day jeep safari on Fraser Island.

Update on my travel plans for 2011
FYI I've changed my plans around a little for next year - nothing is 100% concrete yet but this is what it is starting to look like. I'm off to Asia in Jan/Feb to visit Thailand/Cambodia/Laos/Vietnam/China and I have a travel buddy! Carly, one of the girls I met through Liz, who I met through Aidan is coming with me so I'm thrilled. Didn't fancy doing Asia alone. We've a lot to see over 8 weeks but will make it work, I can't wait. After that I'm passing Australia so a token Sydney visit for a week is a given, especially as it's Mardi Gras and I've heard a lot of great things. I then spend 3 weeks in New Zealand, 2 weeks in Fiji and finally a week in LA (3 days LA, 3 days San Diego I'm thinking). I will be home end of April and most likely back to work in May. I got a good price on a round the world ticket for all those stops - just under 2,000 Euro (in comparison my return ticket just to Sydney was 1,400!).

Posted by mattld 00:28 Archived in Australia

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