Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Airlie Beach & Whitsunday Adventurer Review

Warning, the blog you are about to read is highly descriptive.

After a grueling 14 hour bus ride we arrived in Airlie Beach – the launching pad for our Whitsunday sailing tour. The weather was starting to be sporadically rainy and we were hoping it would clear up for our tour. Our prayers definitely went unanswered and we were treated to the single worst adventure we have had since leaving Canada.
Airlie is your standard beach/harbour town with small cafes and even smaller shops along the Esplanade and Lagoon. The “Lagoon” is simply a fancy outdoor pool for the public to use because the open water is full of sharks, riptides, and jellyfish. We stayed in an X Base hostel and were very impressed with the size of the room, bathroom and bed.

The real meat of this story is our Whitsunday Islands sailing tour aboard the Whitsunday Adventurer. Our tour was set to depart at 1:30 in the afternoon and the weather had gone from a steady drizzle to torrential downpours in 60 min intervals. After checking out of the hostel and having nothing better to do we headed to the marina and lurked while the earlier departures loaded up. We should have trusted our nerves about the weather but figured that as long as they were sending boats out it must be nicer in the islands. It turns out that they will send you out in anything as long as the coast guard doesn’t recall the boats and they can keep your premiums.

Jeff is holding Whitehaven sand which was shipped and used to make the Hubble telescope. Super fine sand.

I have a huge amount of venom to spit about this tour because it was one of the most recommended places to go in all of Australia as well as the most expensive tour we have gone on. I think that the tour operators have a lot to learn about customer service, safety and tour management before the Whitsundays end up on my list of places to visit again.
Meeting the other ten passengers and the two person crew we were relieved that we would be traveling in good company. Our first leg of the trip was to speed out to a cyclone approved bay and hide out. There was some mild turbulence and we arrived as the sun was going down to spend the evening inside because of the weather.
Jess and I settled in to our accommodation (on the kitchen table) and slept soundly until 5:30am when the crew was up and getting ready to head to the famous Whitehaven Beach. This is where the tour should have stopped because the weather was crap and getting worse.
You can see by the photos how bad the water visibility was.

 We devoured our breakfast and set out. The design of the catamaran may be sufficient for gentle island sailing but is not meant to hit the open water under power of the gerbil or whatever they had running the engines. The passengers fled to the back deck under the cover of tarps as it was the most stable part of the boat and you could convince yourself that you weren’t getting that wet. As we bounced along in 2-3 meter waves everyone was looking green and my stomach was doing some back flips with my breakfast. Neither Jess nor I are prone to motion sickness but the unrelenting pounding of the boat finally loosened Jess’s breakfast and she launched it into the (soon to be well used) puke garbage at the back. I meanwhile was choking on bile and doing the thousand yard stare to try to keep my own breaky down. I didn’t earn a single brownie point for being the consoling husband as I merely looked at her and the puke dripping on her shirt and decided that this tour had officially became an “Everyman for himself – Hunger Games” and that we probably all weren’t coming back. The Argentineans were terrified for their lives and everyone else wasn’t far behind. After an eternity of pain we arrived at Whitehaven Beach and donned our wetsuits as a survival method to keep warm in the rain. We were abandoned on shore with a radio and told that we could find safety from the wind on the other side of some rocks. This was one of many lies that we heard from the crew. There was nowhere out of the wind and after shuffling around on the beach we called for rescue. You could see that Whitehaven Beach would be very nice in reasonable weather but probably not worth the expense of an overnight trip and maybe worth a day tour.
Following the disappointing morning we headed somewhere nearby for some snorkeling. We figured that this would be OK as it doesn’t matter that it is raining because you will be wet anyways. It turns out that the rain had stirred up the water so that the visibility was barely on the far side of our diving masks. Our skipper told us that it usually takes about three weeks for it to clear up… thanks for that! After our snorkel we had a great hot meal of nachos. I had worked up an appetite shivering and we eventually decided that the combination of shivering and projectile motion sickness is the Whitsunday Diet (TM Pending). I inhaled a good portion of the Nachos not thinking that this could be my last meal. After the snack two hardy adventurers braved the water again and tried to snorkel for a bit. Once they were fished out of the increasing swell we started heading to where we were staying for the night or our salty graves, we weren’t quite sure. The boat started its now constant bounce like a Mexican low rider car with 3 – 5 meter hydraulics. I was sitting just inside the door clinging on to the kitchen table for dear life and staring at the camera 10 feet away and thinking that we should get this on film, it’s like a sea rodeo. It was actually so violent that I couldn’t get to the camera so you’ll have to imagine being in a washing machine. The giant beads of sweat had started again and I was trying to focus on anything other than the nachos slowly crawling up my throat. To distract me the TV mounted on the wall behind me decided it had had enough and flew off the wall landing on my kidneys. This was the TV that cracked the dam and I was back at the trusty garbage can turning myself inside out. One of the French Canadians was spewing in a garbage bag inside and getting her friend to take photos for a souvenir or her autopsy, we weren’t totally sure. By this time it was dark and we were about 1.5 hours past the time we were told we’d be safe, more lies. Finally we made it! We ate our meal quietly then forced everyone to go to bed because we were ready to hit the table for some shut eye. Sleep was hard to come by as the boat was still rocking and the Skipper was in and out after tending to another boat that was taking on water… safety first with this outfit.
In the morning we pooled our remaining anti- nausea tablets and loaded up. The waves had finally abated to the point that we could head back.

Happy to have survived…

Upon reaching shore I was thinking that the company would be apologetic that we had been sent knowingly into bad weather. Nope! We were told that even though there were no more boats being sent out it was perfectly legal and we had traveled to all of our tour destinations so as far as they were concerned we could consider ourselves happily serviced. This is where the mutiny began and we came together to see if there was something to be worked out. Whitsunday Catamaran took our information with the promise that they would contact the owner and discuss our situation. I don’t know about the other passengers but we were refunded a small portion of the fee as a result of me being the victim of the flying TV. All in all it was a horrible couple of days followed by some additional horrible customer service.
 If anyone is dreaming of the Whitsundays we would recommend you move your dream north to Cairns for some Great Barrier Reef adventures or south to Noosa for some relaxing beach time.            

Monday, 29 April 2013

Rainbow Beach & Fraser Island

Our next stop was Rainbow Beach and Fraser Island. Rainbow Beach is a tired little beach town with a couple hostels, cafes and not much else. We were booked for a couple nights at the hostel running our Tag-Along-Tour on Fraser Island and were so grossed out by the state of the room that we ended up booking at a motel across the street for our return journey.
Rainbow Beach derives it name from the sediment in the sand. I think “rainbow” is stretching it a bit and they could have just called it Sediment Beach. We hiked from the hostel to the start of the rainbow and lurked around the sand dunes there to pass some time.

After a couple days we were ready to get over to Fraser Island for our 4 X 4 adventure. Our tour had 4 vehicles with 8 people per vehicle. Drivers would alternate so that everyone could get a chance behind the wheel. Jess doesn’t drive standard so she elected to be a cheerleader. Our Car 4 Team was easily the best car to be in. We were the last car in the group and enjoyed watching the cars in front of us get stuck and mercilessly hounded them and our guide with radio chatter and bad jokes. Our guide Jimmy did humor us by keeping an eye out for our lost flip-flop. I ended up driving for just over an hour and got to experience some legitimate 4 X 4ing and racing down the beach/highway. I struggled with the shifter on the left but we made it without incident.
Our accommodation was a permanent campsite hosted by the mysterious Cinnamon. The tents were tiny and the mats were as thin as tissue paper.

On the bright side we took a lot of sleeping medicine, ('Goon': cheap boxed wine). To keep refuse to a minimum we just took the insert out of the box. Once you are done you can just re-inflate the bladder and have a comfy pillow. Neither of us slept well and at four in the morning some of the other campers were screaming “You eat the horse meat!!!” we think they were French and watched them struggle with the simplest of tasks. 
In between the drinking hours and during the driving hours we did visit some inland streams and lakes and spotted some of the local Dingoes.  Fraser Island has the largest population of wild Dingoes. No babies were harmed in the making of this vacation.
Eli Creek. AKA: Hangover Creek was a great place to stop. You walk up a short ramp to the start of the creek & jump in for a lazy float to the end. Very cold at first but so refreshing. This water was so clean that we actually filled up our drinking water canteen here.

Lake Wabby: The deepest lake on the island.

Champagne Pools: Another great invigorating dip. The waters are protected by the rocks, but every once in a while a large wave will crash in and stir up the waters causing many bubbles to surround you – like the bubbles of champagne. 

One of our truck mates told  Jess that I looked like a child because I was all decked out in my sun protective gear even in the water.

Indian Head: We all walked bare foot up to this lookout – the Aussie way.

Our last day started with a little excitement as our tour was pulled over by the Police and breathalyser tests were administered to the drivers. Two out of the three of them had to stop driving as the residual Goon was still seeping out of them. It seemed like a setup because the Policeman and Jimmy were on friendly terms and he neglected to test Jimmy.  

Overall we recommend a day trip to experience driving on a beach highway. There is no need to stay the night unless you plan on drinking way too much and potentially sleeping with snakes and mice – which yes, did happen in another group’s tent…probably the French.


We left Brisbane on the first of six Greyhound bus trips and headed north to Noosa. Noosa is our favourite beach/resort destination because of the beauty of the area and the ability to enjoy affordable activities at your leisure. This was our second trip to Noosa and the weather was much better this time allowing us to get nekkid.
We were a little disappointed with our accommodation, at Noosa Flashpackers, because the staff lost our reservation and then sent us across the street in to a very dated motel. The room and furnishings were as old as us and had that delightful musty smell that comes free with aging property. We were unhappy with the room and asked to be moved but were told we had to stay there despite the fact we had booked months in advance. They happily booked other customers into other available rooms while we were left to rot across the street… not the best customer service!

Despite the accommodation the area we were staying was great. To access the main shopping, dining and beach area we could navigate a National Park or take the hostel shuttle 1.5km into “town”.
The National Park is criss-crossed with hiking trails that run through a tropical forest/jungle. It also has a coastal walk that runs along one of the best long boarding surf spots in the world as well as an unofficial nude beach. We decided that you do not get too many opportunities to strip down and swim in the ocean so we went for it and hit the beach in our birthday suits.

Check out the beauty of a local behind Jeff.

The boring non-nude beach is still worth a visit if you are interested in sunning or surfing. We decided to dust off some of our new found surf skills from Surf Camp and rented a surf board and a stand up paddle board. It turns out that we actually learned something and could hang with some of the local tribe.
There are some great restaurants as well as eclectic shops to browse if you are not a beach goer. It is an expensive area but in our minds well worth it.    

The older man behind Jeff was out longer than anyone catching waves. Cool dude.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Brisbane & The Australia Zoo

The first stop on our East Coast trip was Brisbane and the Australia Zoo. It was a quick flight from Melbourne and we ended up in a great hostel on the edge of the city centre – Brisbane City YHA. Brisbane has a river running through the city centre with a great pathway system that allowed us easy access to the city and the recreational lagoon area.
The rooftop view from our hostel & the main elevator.

Along the way we stopped in the art museum (GOMA), and checked out a market near the lagoon. There were some affordable restaurants in nearby places that our hostel guide recommended, namely Caxton Street and the Barracks. They were pretty lively the nights we were there due to footie matches going on.

One of the days we booked a tour to visit the Australia Zoo, home of the Crocodile Hunter. It started as a Crocodile sanctuary that the Irwin family has expanded to include more traditional zoo exhibits.

It was a very interactive Zoo where you could pet Koalas and Kangaroos. Jess, as usual, was in love with the Koalas. The Kangaroos, despite being cute, are always a little scary as they look like they are always on the brink of losing it and tearing you up. The highlight of the Zoo was the “Crocodile Show” that ran for around an hour. It is in a mini Gladiator arena where they entertain the crowd with birds and eventually have the Crocs come out and hand feed them. It was pretty jaw dropping to see how fast they could attack and how far they could get out of the water to snap something up. If you visit the Zoo and do not see the show, chances are you will be a little disappointed with the Croc area alone because it is hard to see them in the enclosures and they more or less do a log impersonation the whole time.
 A Cassowary - a large flightless bird from the rainforest

We enjoyed Brisbane and the Australia Zoo – next stop Noosa!

Melbourne Part 2

Catching up on the blog again – bare with us as we update our final pictures and stories.

After successfully completing half of our Great Australian Tour we had a couple more days to regroup in Melbourne before setting off for our journey up the East coast.
Neal and Laura allowed us to stay with them and we were treated to a special guest from the beginning of our trip in New Zealand our pet… Derek!
Derek, Neal, and I quickly fell into our old routine of juvenile jokes and general shenanigans culminating in a nightly paper airplane contest launching from the Shannon’s 18th floor apartment. Derek, being the nerd that he is, had the most successful plane that landed over a block away. There was also a pant wettingly funny incident when a plane did a kamikaze run into the stomach of a pedestrian heading to work in the morning.

To pass the time during the day we fuelled up on my favourite food (hot dogs from Snag Stand) and headed out to explore the city using the Melbourne Bike Share.
The Bike Share was great because you can buy a helmet at 7-11 for 5 bucks and grab any bike from the racks around town. As long as you dock the bike every thirty minutes there is no charge. Our tiny biker gang, reunited after our scooter trip on Waiheke NZ, visited the Botanic Gardens then rode along the Yarra River. Jess and Laura took the bikes out on another day and were stopped by a reporter to ask their opinion on using the Bike Share. They are officially famous now.
Yarra River

We went for a bunch of great meals and had a couple big nights out. As always the time flew by and we were off again – to later return for our final round of Melbourne fun.