Boats, birds, beaches, beautiful blues, bears, beer, and bed bugs

On Sunday we embarked on a Whitsundays Islands cruise – a three day,  two night trip on a boat around what is considered to be one of the best places in Australia to visit. 74 islands in clear blue waters offering stunning beaches and idyllic settings.

Our vessel was a smallish sailboat with a motor, and was called C.V. Whitehaven. It had a crew of 3 serving 24 of of us, doing the sailing 
and providing the meals. I must admit it looked really small when I first saw it, but it had just enough room for everyone. The group was young but multi- cultural: Swedes, Norwegians, Italians, Swiss, French, Germans, Irish and English. So to the trip…

Leaving Airlee at 1pm, we set off in the direction of a group of  islands in the distance. Weather is calm and very sunny, which considering recent poor weather is very good luck for us. It isn’t too long before we reach our first stop – a small area in which we are to do some snorkelling. I’ve snorkelled briefly before in a small enclosed area in Orlando, but nothing like this, in a coral area.

Sexily dressed in my stinger suit (for protection against the deadly jellyfish that give you four minutes to live once stung) and yellow flippers, I swim out from the boat. Glancing down through my goggles, I see…nothing. Not exactly overwhelmed at the moment…wait! Wow! Look at that – coral! Suddenly I see all sorts of life down there, just a few feet from my body. There are browns, yellows, a bit of blue and in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Some look like sticks poking up, some like round rocks, others wave as the current sways them from side to side. It may not be the Great Barrier Reef, but for my first coral experience it’s pretty breath-taking. Then I notice the fish swimming around, darting on and out of the coral. All fairly small, all 
untouchable as I glide past. It’s another world down here.

After exploring the area and being delighted at its inhabitants, I go back to the boat where coffee, biscuits and cake are waiting for us. A while later, after a period of chilling and watching the sun slowly drop, we arrive at our overnight point. We anchor in a small bay and the crew put out dinner. I chat to a few people around me, but soon become a little tired of talking about travelling all the time. There’s only so many times I can repeat my three month travel itinary before I get bored! I’m actually more than happy right now just staring at the wonderful scenery out there, thinking of someone special and contemplating the future.

As darkness takes a firm grip, the beers start to flow. Not just on our boat either – there’s a party boat not too far away from us in full flow. Here, we’re a little more sedated, but eventually a few games break out. But the real entertainment occurs when they turn out the lights – and the heavens appear.

Spectacular. Not even Norway matched this. Above me right now you can 
see a trillion stars. The Milky Way is clear to see, drifting slowly across. Half the universe seems to be within touching distance. Being in the southern hemisphere, you see a different set of stars than back home. As a bit of an astronomer myself, it all looks alien until I see Orion. And then I see something that reminds me I’m down under: an upside down Plough! Cool – the Great Bear turned on its head.

Eventually it’s time to bed, and I retire to the top bunk of a crowded cabin of five women. I barely have enough room to turn and it’s very stuffy. Great. What’s worse, is that I keep feeling mosquitoes on me. Damn things. I resort to covering myself up with a sheet…but still I feel them. That must mean that they’re not mossies…so that means….bed bugs!!!!!! I’m up out of bed and brushing myself down before you can say a swear word. Ugggh. Others are also up and in distress. We put the light on and I examine my pillow. Small critters are roaming around. Ugghhh * 10000! No decision to be thought about: I’m sleeping on deck tonight!!!

6am: dawn is underway and I’m awake. Not the best of night’s sleep, but at least I was not troubled by bugs! We have breakfast at 7 and soon we’re underway again. Our next destination is Whitehaven Beach – the fourth most photographed spot in Oz and one of the best beaches in the world. We land on a shingle beach behind it and trek through some trees to an outlook up a hill. Woah – now that really is a beach! White sand sweeps in front of us, meeting crystal-clear waters. With the green islands in the distance and yachts floating lazily in the midground, it’s certainly a photo opportunity!

I have a swim in my stinger suit, sunbathe, take a walk and a few photos. Maybe not idyllic, but pretty close to, I reckon. The sand is 99% pure and is so white it reflects the sun, so never gets hot. It’s beautiful, swimming in clear water with small fish. All it needs is palm trees and a bar and it would be perfect.

We have lunch, and have a few bits left over, which gives the skipper an idea. “Can anyone whistle?”
There’s an island to our port side which he reckons a sea eagle lives who will come if called for food. Yeah, right. Someone whistles loudly in the right direction. Nothing. Suddenly a big white bird swoops above us! Cool. We throw some food out and it dives down to collect it from the water. We’re feeding a sea eagle!

Next stop is more snorkelling, but this time with bigger fish, apparently. We jump in and swim a bit nearer shore. I feel a slight sting on my wrist where the stinger suit doesn’t cover. Errrr…does that mean I have four minutes left to live? Crap. Nah, sure I’ll be fine. I hope. I continue on but panic again when I think I see a jellyfish on my peripheral vision. Calm down, Andy! Least there’s no sharks.

In a minute, I’m suddenly surrounded by thousands of brightly coloured 
fish. Most are as big as my hand, and there are so many of them that you can reach out and almost grab one. One of the crew is on the dinghy beside us, throwing food into the water to encourage them. He wants to attract one in particular…and here it comes! I put my face in the water to see and encounter this huge thin fish just inches away. It’s as big as my plasma tv!!! We can reach out and touch him too – smooth and just a little slimy. They all start off as female before the biggest turns into a male, apparently. Who’s the daddy?

More relaxing sailing, this time with the motor off and sails blowing as the wind picks up. We get given the choice of another snorkel or swim, or a beach sunset. The latter wins hard down, so we take the dinghy to a small beach and face west. While waiting for the sun to dip, I stroll along the beach to look through all debris left by the sea. It’s mostly shells, like a mass graveyard for the smallest of creatures. I pick a tiny but perfectly-formed pretty shell for Alli and head back to my towel.

The colours are beautiful. Maybe not as good as Norway, but very golden. I watch my shadow stretch towards infinity on the sand before fading. Soon, the dingjy picks us up again, but not before we see an old friend strangely missing recently: the moon. A wonderful waxing crescent hovering above the tall masts of the boats docked nearby. We stop for the night and have spag bol. I have two helpings. I chat to one of the English girls who turns out to be from Milton Keynes. At last – someone else over thirty! We have a good talk before noticing the moon crashing down towards the horizon. Despite the crescent, you can clearly see the outline of the rest of the moon. Stunning. Minutes later, it’s gone.

Night is upon us now, and this time we’re the noisy boat for a while as drinking games begin. The wind picks up, tossing the boat around. Soon, it’s time to go to bed, and I decide to go up on deck again. Wrapped in my fleece and blanket, I’m warm, despite the wind. Stars are scattered above me, light years away; like I am from home, I think to myself, as I fall asleep.

The morning starts again with breakfast at 7am. I’m tired and a little stiff, as it got a bit cold and uncomfortable a few hours into the night. Things improve, however, as we see a turtle pop up a few times by the side of the boat. I lay back and relax for the rest of the journey back to the marina, content in watching the sea and islands scroll past. I yearn for a long shower, a comfy bed and some space, but right now I’d happily trade them all in for the tranquility of this moment.

The afternoon back in Airlee is spent washing clothes, meeting a bunch of lads torching the hair of coconuts with my deodorant (don’t ask) and chilling by the lagoon. The lagoon is safe to swim in so I go for a dip before sunbathing on the edge. Listening to some relaxing tunes and daydreaming, I don’t think I could be more relaxed. I shower and change to head out to Beaches, a local bar where we planned to meet with everyone who was on the boat today. I drink probably too many beers on an empty stomach, but join in the silly 
Yeeeehaw! drinking game. Grabbing a pizza later, I return fortified 
for a pint or two more. Gradually, we all go our separate ways, saying 
goodbyes to people we may never see again.

A great couple days, and probably the highlight of my trip so far. 
Tomorrow, I continue up north, but leave Airlee with some fantastic 

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