Thursday, July 21, 2005

Airlie Beach


Airlie Beach
Originally uploaded by scottydadog.
I'm afraid I need to retract what I said in an earlier post about Oz beaches being so good. It's certainly true of the beaches around Sydney and the Central Coast...but someone was having a laugh when they named Airlie Beach! It does have an inshore lagoon area with some sand but I think it should be renamed Airlie No-Beach in order to comply with trade descriptions...

The major redeeming feature is the fact it *is* the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands. Daytrips abound to the various islands in the group, many of which have resorts developed on them. I decided to visit a few, ranging from the very good (Daydream Island; great meals and hot spas!) to merely good (Hamilton Island; very dated architecture but the most fun place to hire a golf buggy :-D). The highlight of course would be returning to Whitehaven Beach on a beautiful sunny day for a swim, an Oz BBQ and a game of frisbee on that amazing white sand - if only every day was like that!

Further out from the Whitsunday Islands lies the Great Barrier Reef itself. Floating pontoons are moored next to coral reefs, reached by high speed catamarans in about 2hrs from Airlie Beach. From these pontoons you can snorkel in (fairly) unspoiled reef amongst a myriad of colourful tropical fish. In addition glass-bottomed boats and semi-submersibles staffed by marine biologists give excellent insights into the reef and the ecosystems. This was where I decided to try my first scuba dive - and it was phenomenal! Seeing the reef, clams and fish so close, and not having to worry about breathing, was amazing and is recommended to everyone. The dive itself was about 40mins and after this time I felt I was quite ready to return to dry land, where I admit I felt a bit disoriented for a while, but the experience was certainly worth it.

Next will be a return to Sydney before flying home again - bah! :-(

Friday, July 08, 2005

Sailing the Whitsunday Islands

Arr shipmates, thar be booty for tha takin round thar islands, arr! Took a tall ship cruise around the fabulous Whitsunday Islands, setting out from Airlie Beach. Great fun was had by all pretending to be pirates for the 3 day / 2 night onboard trip. The crew soon got fed up with our pirate talk no doubt, and I think they were also fed up with our excessive alcohol consumption from the "bar", such as it was (a locked esky!). Not that *I* was drinking to excess of course - but the large collection of Irish backpackers certainly did, so I felt obliged to prove the staying power of the Scots :-).

The Whitsundays themselves are breathtaking, and the heritage-listed sailing ship we were on was undoubtedly the best way to see them. The first day saw everyone gripping on for dear life as the ship rolled from side to side and waves washed over the decks. Snorkelling on the first day was phenomenal - hitting the water from the boat as opposed to off a beach means you see the reef unspoiled and so much closer. The food onboard was excellent and plentiful, the drink flowed well (amongst the Irish!) and we saw the most amazing sunset over the islands. The view of the night sky stars was unsurpassed, a clear night with no light pollution for miles around.

Day two looked promising at daybreak (a well-positioned porthole above my bunk ensured I was always first awake) but by the time breakfast was finished the rain had set in for the day. We made for Whitsunday Island and arrived at Hill Inlet in a haze of drizzle. The inlet overlooks the famous Whitehaven Beach, which was awesome to see and run along, even in the rain. It's certainly worth a return visit in better weather!

Day three saw the weather break for the better and we trekked across from Dugong Beach to Sawmill Beach, splashed in the Coral Sea and soaked up some rays. After another fab lunch we set the 3 sails and blasted back to the mainland with yours truly at the helm for a while - and yes, we *did* make it back ashore safely!

I'll be relaxing around Airlie (which doesn't have a beach really) and the Whitsundays for about another week before heading down to Hervey Bay and Fraser Island.....

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Cassowary, an Oz icon


Cassowary, an Oz icon
Originally uploaded by scottydadog.
A cassowary is a very large flightless bird found only in a small section of North Queensland. A protected species with an estimated 1500 left in the wild, it contributes to maintaining the rainforest but eating fruit from trees and later excreting the seeds ready for germination. This is the dispersal method nature uses to ensure certain species of plants and trees continue to survive hence if the cassowary becomes extinct then important parts of the rainforest ecological system will begin to fail too...

The cassowary itself sort of resembles an overgrown bush turkey and stands an impressive 1.8 metres high. I managed to see this fine specimen here up close and *very* personal indeed....Whilst heading to the beach and Cape Trib we developed a keen interest in each other. In the spirit of friendship to all God's creatures I was prepared to give it a clap, jump on it's back and shout "Giddy Up" in a Bernie Clifton sort of way, however a warning shout that they bite hard from a local stopped me continuing. Realising I was now well within biting range I thought I'd do well to leg it, only to be informed that turning my back on it was also unwise. Wheeling back round to face it's impressively long reaching neck and sharp beak, I was next advised not to make sudden movements, i.e. running. My slow backpeddaling was no doubt enjoyed by both the locals and the cassowary alike, leaving me a mite unsure if I had just been punk'd, Oz style.....but at least I survived to head off to Airlie Beach and the Whitsunday coast! :-D

Cairns 2


Cairns 2
Originally uploaded by scottydadog.
What a scorcher of a day! After the previous days being very warm but overcast, today was very *very* warm and filled with dazzling sunshine! Cairns unfortunately doesn't really have any beach to speak of, only mudflats which may attract crocodiles according to the very occasional warning signs. Instead there is an inshore lagoon area constructed which has a sandy beach slope into a large pool and loads of well-kept grass all around for lazing about on. So of course I felt obliged to do what any self-respecting Brit abroad would do - getting myself sunburned to a cute shade of bright pink......and thats after a token application of the factor 30 too!

Cape Tribulation


Cape Tribulation
Originally uploaded by scottydadog.
Took a day trip away from Cairns and headed up north to Cape Tribulation, which is a couple of hours drive away. It takes a bit of getting used to for me but Aussies think nothing of a 2 hour drive to get to the beach. I guess if Ayr or Portabello beaches were a bit nicer and the weather in Scotland a bit warmer then perhaps we wouldn't mind driving for hours to reach a beautifully secluded, unspoilt and fairly deserted expanse of clear white sand and gorgeous clear blue sea. Instead we get amusement arcades, fairground rides and masses of pink lobsters in Speedos packed beneath stone promenades...

In addition we went crocodile hunting along the Daintree River (saw 2 adults about 5 metres in size and a couple of smaller ones about 3 years old) but I let them go after catching them Steve Irwin style ;-).

Next we visited Mosman Gorge with a great waterfall and a cool swingbridge going across a section of the falls, very Indiana Jones!

Green Island


Green Island
Originally uploaded by scottydadog.
Took a trip out to the Gt Barrier Reef - a National Park called Green Island. Photo should show the cat used for the 45 min journey out to the Coral Sea island which was a great place to try snorkelling for the first time.

Snorkelling was great - I had been swimming out for ages before I suddenly noticed a few fish, then realised they were all around me! It was such a great feeling to understand how the ocean was teaming with life and yet was still so shallow. Most of the coral around the island appeared to be dead but there were a few really colourful growths that the even more colourful fish would hide inside. Sights like this make the plane journey worthwhile!