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Archive for the ‘Whitsundays’ Category

After almost five months in Australia, having sneakily avoided winter, I’m settling back into London life. When I think about my most recent travel adventure, I suppose I was able to see quite a lot of Australia, but really, I didn’t see half of it. This is one big country. I passed through five of Australia’s eight states and territories, saw cities, the ocean and the outback and I left thousands of miles uncovered. But what I did see, I’ll never forget.

I loved wandering through Darling Harbour or taking the ferry to Manly Beach in Sydney, exploring the great cafés and night spots in Melbourne, and hitting some of the fantastic museums in Canberra.

In the Northern Territory, I got a taste of what I’ve always imagined to be ‘real’ Australia (not that the cities are any less real) in the Outback. I walked around Ayers Rock and ran under its waterfalls after the rain, trekked through the Valley of the Winds in Kata Tjuta, and hiked around the rim of Kings Canyon. I drove past herds of wild camels, slowly backed away from a Western Brown Snake (one of the deadliest in the world), and evicted various lethal spiders that had found their way indoors.

On the coast, I got to see some music legends at the Byron Bay Bluesfest before heading up to the Whitsundays for a spot of sailing among these beautiful islands. I walked across pure white sand on Whitehaven Beach, and went snorkeling around the most amazing reef I’ve ever seen. The Great Barrier Reef isn’t world famous for nothing after all.

And finally I got to explore the famous Fraser Island – the largest sand island in the world, with its stunning freshwater lakes and abundant dingo population.

My list of Australian memories could go on, but the list of things I still want to see is even longer. It is almost impossible to really convey how fantastically huge and diverse this country is. I’m glad I got to see what I did, and I can’t wait for my chance to see more. The plane ride has never been more worthwhile.

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After my days on the Hammer, it was onto the bus for a 13-hour drive down Australia’s East Coast. After watching The Green Mile on the bus television, I did my best to get my dream on, but it’s not the easiest in a cramped upright seat. Oh well. Arriving at about 6 in the morning in Hervey Bay, I got picked up by the Palace Adventures hostel van and taken to check in. Two hours later I was sitting in the lounge room listening to the most painful government safety video. Ever. I was headed to Fraser Island that morning on a three-day camping trip to the largest sand island in the world. I tried my best to listen about dingoes, camping, cooking and driving on dunes, but if I’m honest, I was dozing off… Hey, what can I say, no sleep and a poorly shot film doesn’t help with the whole staying awake thing.

After that, me and all the other backpackers were split into groups to go into the 4×4s. Then we were told about our chores for the morning. Go to the garage. Pick up the 4×4s. Inspect them. Pack the camping gear. Go to the supermarket and plan our meals. Fun. Times… Or…….

After we got our safety lesson, a man came in and gave us another option. I was way too tired to know what was going on and getting out of the morning chores sounded good so I raised my hand…and volunteered to jump out of a plane. Ummm what?

I’d always wanted to go skydiving, but it’s an expensive adventure and I never felt like I could justify the cost. But on this particular morning, I had less than a week left in Australia, and no time to lose. So there I was sitting there with my hand up taking one of four spots to get into a plane and fly over one of the most beautiful scenes

I didn’t really have any time to think about any fears I might have, which is probably best anyway. I got into the tiniest tin can of a plane with my instructor and one other jumping couple. Then before I knew it, a door was opened, a massive gush of wind hit my face, and two people were falling out of the plane.

A voice in my ear was saying “right, okay, left leg over, right leg over, cross your arms, let’s go!” Thank GOODNESS I had no time to pause (the man tightly strapped to my back wasn’t exactly going to stop moving no matter what I did) otherwise who knows what would have happened. But what did happen. Was amazing.

That first second of panic quickly passed on to sheer joy and excitement. It was unreal, and hard to describe, but now I can say that I jumped out of a plane, AND I got to skip the morning chores. Success.

Next, it was off to Fraser Island for three days of camping and swimming in rivers. I was starting to get used to this whole not showering thing,..

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Okay, it sounds gross. Five days, no shower, no soap. Definitely no sugar coating on this one – I was…dirty. Why, you ask, did I go five days without washing? One day, okay sure, two days starts to get a little if-fy. Five?

Let me explain. In those less-than-clean days, I went sailing on a professional racing yacht, traveled hundreds of miles on an overnight bus, jumped out of a plane, and slept on an island covered in dingos. Not much time for showering.

After landing at Proserpine Airport, I grabbed my bags and boarded the bus to Magnums Backpackers. On the way, for the one and only time while I was in Australia, I passed a group of wild kangaroos! It was early and I was tired, but wild kangaroos in Australia, it would seem, are harder to come by than you’d first expect so I was pretty happy. During my one night at Magnums I took what I already knew would be my last shower for days. I did my best to appreciate every drop of soap, promise.

The next morning started Day One of what we’ll call the Back to Nature Period. It began on a boat. A 75 foot Maxi boat to be precise, called Hammer, that competed in a lot of huge racing events including the famous Sydney to Hobart races. I packed on board with a group of like-minded backpackers ready to finally see part of the Great Barrier Reef in the Whitsundays.

Unfortunately it didn’t start off exactly as planned since the first day was spent cowering in the pouring rain cutting through the waves. Luckily the sky cleared up enough for us to check out Whitsunday Island though, and its amazing beach. The sand here is pristine. Apparently, it’s so pure (98% silica) it was used to make the lenses for the Hubble Space Telescope. Other than that use, it’s illegal to take the sand away from the beach as the whole area is protected. Pretty neat, huh? Oh yea, and I went swimming in the ocean, naturally, as my shower-substitute for the day.

Then it was more cold and more rain, but as backpackers do, we kept in good spirits. The good thing about rain is it makes for great sunsets. Our skipper hung a canopy over the boom to create a shelter and a group of us slept on deck since 20+ people cramped into a very small indoor space makes for one hot, uncomfortable night.

Day Two, it was time to don the snorkels and flippers (and all-in-one stinger suits) and check out why this Barrier Reef is such a big deal. It’s true that I wasn’t at the outer reef, but this place is pretty fantastic. I’ve never seen such huge coral formations, full of colour and ENORMOUS fish and clams! It was truly breathtaking. After stopping at a couple of different spots around the islands and swimming around as much as possible since, of course, this was my ’shower’ for the day, we raced another boat into harbour. And won. Oh yeah.

The Whitsundays were stunning, it was the perfect start to my Back to Nature days.

Next it was on to the overnight bus (after a bit of a deodorant application) and on to Hervey Bay where my morning plans were scuppered by a persuasive man with a parachute on his back…

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