Saturday, October 12, 2013

Traveling Teacher Trio's Trip!

I admittedly have become far too slack with my blog writing, and it certainly is time for one.  If I was to elaborate on everything I have done in the last three months, I might as well write a novel.  I will start with now and work backwards with the next few entries, aiming to cover as many important events as possible!  I hope you enjoy!

I am back in Robinvale, after nearly six weeks of sunshine along the east coast.  My most recent adventure was an eight day trip with two girlfriends (and fellow traveling Canadian teachers) up to Airlie Beach and the Whitsunday Islands up in Queensland.  The trip had been a topic of discussion for a few weeks, and one day we finally decided to commit and book the trip.  We all made our way to Airlie Beach on Friday, September 20, although getting to Airlie Beach didn’t quite go as planned… I was to catch a train from the Gold Coast up to the Brisbane airport for an 8am flight, getting me into Mackay at 9:30am.  Ange and Jess were to fly into Mackay from Melbourne around 11am, and the three of us were scheduled to take a limo (we be ballin’) from the Mackay airport to Airlie Beach – champagne, laughs and starting the vacation of the classy way!  

On my early morning train ride, I got a text message from JetStar informing me that my 8am flight was delayed until 12:40pm. Awesome.  I informed the girls, who said no worries – we will just have the limo driver wait…?  The girls called me when they landed just after 11am, and by this time, I had received lovely news via airport intercom that my flight was delayed even further, and was to leave at 2pm. Sweet.  This is when we find out that Mister Limo Driver can’t wait due to a wedding, and the last shuttle bus from the Mackay airport to Airlie Beach was scheduled to leave at 1:30pm. I haven’t boarded a plane yet. My plans had gone from hunky-dory to shit.  At this rate I had two options upon arrival in Mackay.  Pay for a taxi, which was quoted at $200+, or stay in Mackay for a night and catch the 11am shuttle from the airport the next morning.  Naaayyhhh, neither were up my alley.  Wasn’t happy about it, but I just figured I would deal with it when I landed.  Meanwhile, waiting for this delayed plane to show up at the gate for inspections and a refuel, I ended up talking to the lady next to me.  We quickly started chatting about how inconvenient this was, and that our days had been turned over pretty quickly.  Natasha was her name… an absolute gem of a human being.  She asked me where I was heading, and smiled and offered me a ride after I told her Airlie Beach! – What’s up good karma?!  She wouldn’t accept money for petrol, and told me she was happy to have the company.  We got along famously, and she drove me right to the hostel Ange, Jess and I were booked into for the weekend.  WIN!  Vacation begins now.  
Being greeted by Jess and Ange was terrific. It had been months since I had seen Ange, and nearly a year since I had seen Jess.  Regardless of how much you maintain contact with someone, it’s always so great to be with them in person.  The hostel we stayed at was perfect, and the fourth person in our room was a girl named Mallory from Texas!  She fit right in with our little crew, and tagged along for the weekend – and coincidentally was going on the same sailing cruise as the three of us were, leaving on the Sunday!

Over the course of the weekend, we went out, spent time at the beach, and met some seriously incredible people. One night, we went down to the beach.  Jess brought down her ukulele, and has an absolutely incredible voice.  We sat on the grass listening to the waves roll in, while Jess played us a few songs.  

There were a few fire spinners on the beach that were entertaining to watch, and they ended up joining our circle of music and friendship.  There were three younger kids, and young boy and a lady in her late twenties who sat down.  After a few songs, we started talking and sharing names and basic travel stories about what we were doing in Airlie Beach.  The kids were all from families that live on boats! – No kidding.  They travel up and down the east coast of Australia, going from marina to marina, port to port, and live and sleep on their boats.  The one older boy was so well spoken.  He was short and thin, but you could immediately tell he is highly intelligent. He asked me how old I thought he was, and my answer was twelve or thirteen.  He smiled and said he wasn’t offended, but that in fact he was sixteen – then he proceeded to give us a very modest and humble, brief but informative background on who he is and why he is the way he is.  His name is Coen Ashton.  He has Cystic Fibrosis, diabetes, and just received a double lung transplant.  I have put the link to his blog at the bottom of the entry... Please check it out! 

On the Sunday, we got up early and checked out, then lugged our bags up and over a big hill, then down a treacherous, steep, rocky hill, down to Abell Point Marina.  We took a large ferry over to Hamilton Island - a forty five minute boat ride through some of the clearest, most perfect shades of aqua blue, teal and turquoise water I’ve ever seen.  It was quite mesmerizing, and we were all rather tranquil on the ride over.  There were a few stops along the way, dropping passengers off and picking others up at Daydream Island and at the Hamilton Island airport, before arriving at the Hamilton Island Marina. Hamilton Island is the largest inhabited island of the 74 Whitsunday Islands in Queensland. Hamilton Island is used almost exclusively for tourism, although we did meet one lovely lady named Judy that lives there permanently!  There are roughly 1500 people that live on the island, and the employees all of the island all know each other!  It’s a very small island town, with tourists that come and go in constant waves.  After a day spent at Hamilton Islands renowned beach and resort, Cat’s Eye, we made our way back up and over to the other side of the island where the marina is to meet at the Sunsail office for our sailing trip!

Onboard were Briony, a 25 year old property laywer from Sydney; Jacob and his wife Molly, a married couple from Chicago, Molly is a scientist and Jacob works for Google!; Ange and Jess, my two fellow traveling Canadian teachers; Mallory, a 19 year old marine biology student from Texas, studying in Australia; and our Skipper, Lisa Blair, a 28 year old Australian who is planning to circumnavigate the world! BY HERSELF! I have put her link at the bottom of the entry as well! :) 

Once we established each other’s names, we unpacked the styrofoam eskies of food provided for us, included in our trip fees for us to cook on our boat for the three days out at sea.  We spent the first night at the marina on the boat, and got acquainted with the crew and the boat.  Up Monday morning, fitted for snorkelling gear, and off we went!  We sailed for a few hours until we got to Hook Island, where some of the best snorkelling is amongst the Whitsundays.  

Lisa was such a terrific Skipper.  We anchored offshore and used the dinghy to boat further into the reef and shore to snorkel.  Lisa stayed in the boat while we all toured around the reef floating on the surface of the water enthusiastically with our faces in the water.  Talk about visual stimulation!  Fish and coral of all shapes and sizes!  This section of the reef is not as vibrant as it is further north, but considering this was the first time I had seen coral and heaps of fish, all colours of the rainbow, I was ecstatic!  Lisa had told us that we were highly likely to see sea turtles while snorkelling based on time of year, so that was my main focus!  I’ve been dreaming of that for ages… Lisa stayed in the dinghy to keep a look out and for safety reasons, and yelled “TURTLE!” and pointed in the opposite direction we were swimming!  We all swam as quickly as we could, and the flippers certainly came in handy for speeding through the water!  Some of the best moments of the trip were sharing those experiences with the group.

One morning we got up at 5am to watch the sunrise over Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island.  We spent the night in Turtle Bay anchored amongst other boats in the bay.  We were all keen to get up early and watch the sunrise, since seeing it over Whitehaven Beach was said to be spectacular – and it was.  We all were on the dinghy and heading to the island by about 5:15am, Lisa driving carefully through the reef since the tide was on its way down.  We pulled the boat up on the beach, and trekked the 15minute walk through the bush trail and over to the lookout on the eastern side of Whitsunday Island. The walk up and over was certainly a hike that got your heart rate up, climbing rock stairs along the way.  The sunrise was indeed spectacular, and the sky was clouded perfectly for the occasion, offering enough of a coloured palette without hiding the sun.  As the sun rose, we could see little craters scattered over the beach around where the shallow water pools and waterways between the pools stay full when the tide is out.  These little craters were where the sting rays bury themselves and sink down into the sand!  Lisa told us we would be able to see the sting rays later in the day when we went back over to enjoy the beach.  

Since the tide was going down, we had to make a move back to the dinghy to get back over the reef before low tide.  We all hiked back up and over the island, and started climbing back into the dinghy when I realized – ohhh shit, my clutch (which had my phone in it) and my camera bag were still at the lookout!  I was so embarrassed and disappointed with myself.  I am never “that person” who forgets things or inconveniences a group, and absolutely hated the feeling of it – especially knowing that I was going to have to haul myself up and over that island at a pace I was not happy about – I’m certainly not as in shape as I should be!  Everyone was so understanding, and I totally understood when Lisa said I had better run, but that she would have to take the group over and then come back – and that if the tide was too low for her to come in – I was stuck… So off I went, as fast as I could, jogging, running, walking, panting, nearly dying at times it felt like! Plus I was fuming that I had been so absent minded.  I just needed to get it, since other traveling groups would be heading there after the tide went back up, and I didn’t want to risk it not being there later in the day when we went back.  I made it to the look out, scooped up my things, quickly admired the sunrise at its most recent stage, and headed back up the path!  Heading down the last portion of the trail, some more steep rock steps, I could hear the boat in the distance, wondering if I was in fact stuck here for a few hours without anything but my camera and my phone – without any service this far out – no water, and we hadn’t eaten yet.  I sat on the beach, watched everyone from a distance climb onto the sailboat, and watched Lisa come back across the water.  When she reached the reef, she turned the dinghy around and guided the small yellow boat backwards through the reef, as to see where she could drive through without damaging the coral below.  I felt like a twat, and she could see that feeling all over my cherry red, exhausted face.  She cut me off when I started to apologize and told me it’s fine – much worse has happened and to just let it go.  I enjoyed my own personal tour back over the reef, talking to Lisa along the way.  She is so interesting, and knowledgeable when it comes to the sea and sailing. 

Low tide was at 7:10am, so around 10:30am, it was back high enough for us to go back over to the island and walk a different path over to Whitehaven Beach.  B r e a t h t a k i n g doesn’t even describe Whitehaven Beach.  Every shade of aqua marine, turquoise and teal that you can imagine, surrounded and accented with fine white silica sand.  The sand is so unique, since it stays cool, but is so reflective.  As the tide rises and falls, the look of the beach changes, hiding or exposing the white sand.  We walked through areas where there are pools of water with sting rays swimming around us.  Some were the size of a pizza, with some larger ones perhaps as big as a crokinole board.  Ange and I spent an hour or so walking and talking, and I truly enjoyed every minute of her company.  It’s so nice to experience a new place with a great friend.  We were all thrilled to be on this particular beach, since it’s such an iconic beach in the Whitsundays.

The rest of the day was fantastic, spotting sea turtles as they came up for air, and dancing on the boat with music blaring.  We sailed around to Tongue Bay for the rest of the day and anchored there for the night.  We took the dinghy in to a small private beach for a few drinks, and enjoyed a barbecue dinner that I cooked!  Over the course of my time with Jess and Ange, I learned to play a few cords on the ukulele and can even play the whole song “I’m Yours” by Jason Miraz! It may not be the most popular song, but at least I can say I can play a song!

The sailing trip was hard to say goodbye to, having had such a great time.  Even after docking the boat, we all spent the last few hours together on Hamilton Island again, at the same resort we hung around at prior to leaving four days earlier.  Ange, Jess, Mallory and I took the ferry back to Airlie beach on the Wednesday evening, and had a reasonably low keyed night. 

Something I love about Australia, and I am sure I have mentioned it before, is that the high majority of public parks have free barbecue facilities.  It is a common understanding that you clean up your messes and this understanding is very well respected by everyone.  Mallory left early Thursday morning, and we were back to our traveling teacher trio.  The three of us used one of these barbecues on the Thursday night, and grilled up some sausages.  We had some snags and veggies for dinner, and enjoyed a few drinks by the water before getting ready to go out for the night.  Airlie Beach introduced us to two Italian brothers, Filippo and Simone that night.  We ended up meeting up with them again at the lagoon on the Friday afternoon, and they cooked us a barbecue that night!  Over the course of the afternoon and evening with these two, our faces all hurt from laughing.  They’re honestly two of the most lovely guys I’ve come across in ages, and I’m still in touch with them.  They’re both diving instructors, recently back in Australia for their second year, after spending time in Bali.

Saturday came around too quickly, and the trip was over.  The girls’ flight out of Mackay was just after 5pm and mine was just after 7pm – but we all had to take the 1pm Grey Hound to Mackay.  I wasn’t too twisted about it, and we just sat and visited and reflected on the trip over a drink before Ange and Jess caught their flight.  Until next time, eh ladies? J

I’m going to cut this here.  I needed to get some news out onto my blog and I will start a new entry now.  I still have heaps to talk about, and I don’t reckon it will be in any particular order!


PS – On September 29, Kinley turned ONE!  Biggest hugs and kisses sent her way, as always. Xx

PSS - I couldn't select only a few pictures, so please scroll down and enjoy a heap of extras! 

PSSS - This is the link for Coen! – we were all beyond inspired and touched by this young man’s story.  We were all lost for words when it came time for him to go to his boat for the night.  This is the link for Lisa! She is another extremely inspiring woman! 

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