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.            

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