Whitsundays


Whitsundays

Skipper Joseph

Skipper Joseph

The Whitsundays are a group of islands and reefs on the Sunshine coast of Queensland, about 700 kilometers north of Brisbane.   The Great Barrier Reef starts here and extends 1700 km north to the Torres Straits between York Peninsula and New Guinea.

Airlie Beach

We took the all-night Sunlander train from Maryborough north to Proserpine, a quaint little town which is a center for sugar cane processing.  The area of the Sunshine coast is tropical with miles and miles of sugar cane fields and banana plantations, and a padocks with Brahma beef cattle.The Sunlander is on old train that dates from the ’40’s, but Queensland Rail is inaugurating a new service Sunshine Coastal in October ’14 with modern trains and improved trackbeds. We took a commuter bus from the town of Proserpine to Airlie Beach, one of several picturesque towns and resorts along the coast with marinas for sailboats, catamarans, yachts, fishing vessels, and luxury party boats which cater to tourists who want to sail to the islands offshore.

A very helpful woman, Michelle,  at the information center arranged a two night stay at a nice apartment in the hills looking out over the coast and Whitsunday Island about 10 kilometers from the beach.

Airlie Beach was a modest size tourist town with shops, bars, restaurants, hotels and backpacker hostels.  Traffic is very light through town making it a pleasant place to wander and stroll along the beach. Because of jellies offshore, the city built salt water lagoons for swimming and sunbathing.

Sunny Waters

Sunlight Waters apartment

Sunlight Waters apartment

Whitsunday Island from our balcony

Whitsunday Island from our balcony

We had a day to explore Airlie Beach and arrange a one day dive the next day.  Airlie Beach downtown is mostly for tourists, day trippers, back packers.  Several restaurants, souvenir shops, and convenience stores just a few meters from the beach.  The weather was blistering hot, so we spent most of our tie in the shade of gum trees along the lagoon, a fresh water swimming pool.  Swimmers were cautioned not to enter the water because of pesky jellyfish.

The Illusions

At the dive shop at the marina, where I arranged a dive the owner told a sad tale of how diving and boating had suffered the last few years with the economic downturn and doubling the price of gas.  He sent me to the old city marina to meet the crew of the Illusiona, captain Joseph, and first mate Naomi.  The Illusions, a catamaran that caters to divers, snorkelers, and day trippers.

Skipper Joseph and first mate Naomi

Skipper Joseph and first mate Naomi

Joseph, is a Portugese-American from Woodland CA, who served two combat tours in Vietnam in 1967 – 1969.  He took two R&R’s to Australia where he met his first wife.  He left the service after ten years and returned to Australia to become a dive instructor.  He runs a modest operation without no office, but generates business from referrals from dive shops and the local tourist centre which booked our apartment for two nights in Airlie Beach.

Naomi raising sail as we depart

Naomi raising sail as we depart

Skipper Joseph at the helm

Skipper Joseph at the helm

I boarded a catamaran early the next morning and we launched at 8 AM for a two hour trip to Hopman Island.  I was surprised that only one another certified diver was on the manifest, a young Dane, Rasmus, who had just finished a work/study semester at an Auckland hospital.  Rasmus is a bright fellow, a bio-medical engineer who served a combat tour in Afghanistan with Danish armed forces in 2007.

Danish Mate, Rasmus

Danish Mate, Rasmus

Rasmus and I hit it off immediately and teamed up as dive ‘buddies’ which means when check out each other’s equipment and gear before diving and stay close together under water.

Hopman Island

Luxury day sailer

Luxury day sailer

When we anchored off Hopman Island, Naomi, Rasmus, boarded a dingy and plunged backward into the water.  Naomi had cautioned us that currents had created murky conditions.  Our visibility was only about 5 meters through a faint greenish haze stirred up from the bottom. Nevertheless, we swam through narrow caverns and under coral mounds where the walls were only inches from us.  We carefully navigated through the passages,  occasionally hearing ‘pings’ when our tanks brushed the coral.

Naomi preparing dinghy for our dive

Naomi preparing dinghy for our dive

After our dive, we snorkeled near a sandy beach while Naomi took first-time divers for their orientation dive.  A squall came up, so I stayed in the water, snorkeling around coral and spotting colorful topical fish including parrotfish, and schools of zebra fish.

Sunbathers on Illusion's deck

Sunbathers on Illusion’s deck

Emerald greed Coral Sea

Emerald greed Coral Sea

After a quick lunch onboard, we sailed a half hour to Langford Reef along a narrow strip of beach between two bays.   Visibility was much clearer and we saw many colorful tropical fish and coral in shades of pink, bronze, yellow, and red.  I dove down to brush my fingers over soft corral, anemones, and spongy tubular coral with delicate fronds.

Naomi lowering sails as we return to Airline Beach

Naomi lowering sails as we return to Airline Beach

Returning to Airlie Beach

Returning to Airlie Beach

Crew and diving mates on the dock

Crew and diving mates on the dock

Joseph, Rasmus and I bonded during out trip; we all had military service and had spirited discussions about politics and traveling.  Rasmus and I agreed to stay in touch and exchanged email addresses.  We might see each other again when we travel to Denmark this summer.

Mates on the Illusion

Mates on the Illusion

Next:  Kookaburra, kangaroos, cockatoos, and fur-headed flying foxes on the Atherton tableland

* * * * *

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4 responses to “Whitsundays

  1. “Really?: ‘Emerald Green Coral Sea’?” —I’ll tell you what “GREEN” looks like! —It’s me: in West Fargo, ND: since we’re slated to have another blizzard blowing in at about 10 or 12 p.m., and they just called-off all schools for tomorrow! —I LONG to have a ‘blistering hot day’ in which I could ‘spend much of my day in the shade of gum trees by the lagoon’! Seriously: it sounds like a fabulous trip for both of you! Vance and I will be in California (Sonoma/Napa area and northern shores mid-March, and look forward to seeing you in September: to hear more of your exciting travels!) Michele (nee: Gaffaney) and Vance Vannote

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    • Wonderful to hear from you Michele, thanks for dropping by. Before we left, we were watching weather reports in the Midwest and East. We’d spent most of our lives in both places and are familiar with those nasty blizzards and cold temperatures. But they’ll pass and you’ll have a delightful spring and summer.
      Please let us know when you’re in CA. Monterey’s a great place to visit and we have exciting plans for the WHS ’62 reunion.
      Stay tuned, more posts coming; leaving tomorrow for 3-day diving trip on the GBR.

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    • Great to hear from you. We’re loving our time in Australia,
      visiting the tropics in Queensland and now in semi-arid agricultural area in South Australia. Lots of good posts coming, but busy seeing everything. On to Perth tomorrow to see WA for the first time. Read lots of good things about the area.

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