Yet another part of the trip I knew almost nothing about was Whitsundays. All I knew was what Vanessa had told me about it, that we’d be spending 2 days on a boat. Initially I wasn’t too sure about it, being stuck on a boat in shark infested waters for 2 days, probably in shitty sleeping conditions and even shittier food, it didn’t really appeal. Thankfully it was absaloutely nothing like I expected.
We had a short list of things to bring with us, meaning our bags had to stay behind, and armed with a woman’s beach bag (cheapest thing I could find) which would hold my possessions for the next 2 days. Suncream, a hat, my gopro, toothbrush, change of vest, essentially everything I took.
We walked to the harbour and was directed to the group that would be taking a boat named the “Tongarra”. Slowly the group of similarly aged people grew to a total of 24, 21 of which were women. I had stumbled upon every teenage boys dream…2 days on a boat filled from one end to the other with women, I couldn’t believe my luck.
The boat was a catamaran, whatever the hell that meant. However it did ensure that the journey wasn’t as rough as it would have been. Whitsunday’s was the collective name given to boat trips that visited Whitsunday island and the surround area off the coast. Mattresses were laid out in the front so we could lay in the sun as the 2 captains guided us towards the islands. Despite everything being just perfect, there just had to be one thing that would just have to go wrong, and that’s where the rain came in. Me and a few others refused to be moved and remained horizontal along the mattresses at the front despite the brutally sharp rain pelting me in my vest and aviators. The words “I’ve paid for it so I’m going to enjoy it!” came out more than once.
I also had my first real reminder of home on those first few hours on a boat. I think if you’re English, and you meet a fellow countryman, its not really mind-blowing. With such a high population and that you can pretty much find an English person anywhere on your travels, its not so special. But coming from a country of 3 million people, our small little nation of Wales, to me its almost a heart-stopping moment when you realise that the person lives in my country. We were talking away and this girl overhears us speaking and asked if me and Vanessa were Welsh. On finding out we were she pointed to the guy next to her “my boyfriends Welsh”. Straight away I fire into the questions. We asked whereabouts he was from; “Bangor”, the guy lived 15 minutes down the road from us! But it gets even stranger. When we told him we were both from the town of Llangefni, he blew our mind as he said
“my mum used to teach in Llangefni school”
“Who’s your mum?!” It was my old English teacher, the woman who in the first year of secondary school taught me how to act in a Shakespeare play, mad.
Thankfully the rain didn’t last, and as we cruised through the waters blaring music with the slight amount of sun we were now gifted. I sat on the top of the boat watching the horizon wave from side to side, and had my first chance to appreciate the fascinating environment I was in. Seeing these islands; some of considerable sizes, completely inhabited, trees throughout even on the cliff-faces with the mild fog drifting inbetween them, it was quite eerie.
The original plan was to sail for 3 hours then we could drop anchor and find our feet on the vessel, change of plans. The captains wanted to hammer on so that we were directly across from our first destination for our trip, which would save us having to do the extra trip tomorrow. Initially everyone pretty much agreed that would be better anyway, however as the sunlight died and the sea’s got agitated, it wasn’t so relaxing anymore. Rather three quarters of us were sat in the back with pale-white emotionless faces and an expression of “are we fucking there yet?”
We’d started just after 2pm and sailed into the calmer waters of Whitsunday Island at around 7pm, drained, and starving. The location was amazing, the island seemed to to form ¾ of a ring around us, protecting us from the rougher waves and with a full moon shining above, illuminated the spectacular tree-line that surrounded us and the canvas of stars above it. “This is where we’ll see Teradactyles ‘n’ shit”
The food was actually outstanding, considering the guy had the worlds smallest kitchen and my initial assumption that we’d be fed the equivalent of prison food. However it was surprisingly good, helped by the fact that we were so starving we would of eaten anything they threw our way. This experience however has helped create a new pet hate for me.
This system of “everyone help yourself” I am NOT a fan of. Firstly I have to take a smaller portion that what I ACTUALLY want from fear of the people beside you judging, but then you have others who’ll pile on a god damn mountain on their plate. Girls who couldn’t of weighed more than 8 stone with 3 times the size of my portion for a 6ft 4 man, madness, and for a man who likes his food, incredibly frustrating.
Then came the obligatory “get to know each other” games which nobody really enjoys, despite there being one particularly funny moment. One of the questions each individual had to answer was “What’s the first thing you do after sex?” to which the majourity of answers were unbelievably dull such as “Call my mum”…bravo. However a Chilean guy next to me stopped the show with the straight faced answer of “I wake her up…”
Nobody was in much of a party mood that night, we were all exhausted, and even the captains suggested we take it easy the first night seeing as we had a long day the next. So our vast alcohol supply would be spared for the next day. I had horrific images of being stuck beneath the boat, cramped in a sweatbox with god knows how many others. The captains said we were more than welcome to do that if we liked, if not, he had mattresses, pillows and blankets for all those who wanted to sleep on the deck under the makeshift tents. The majourity chose the latter.
6 of us comendeared the “top deck” which became known as the VIP deck. I can safely say that is the most comfortable sleep I’ve had in my entire time in Australia. Being rocked like a baby with the sea breeze keeping me cool and listening to the gentle waves slap against the hull of the boat, it was a million times better than what I expected.
To put the cherry on top, we were woken ever so gently with Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s “Somewhere over the rainbow” as we rolled out of bed to see the sun raising over Whitsunday island. Very nice touch
After a quick breakfast the dinghy was deployed, and groups of us were taken at a time from the Tongarra onto the beach of Whitsunday island for our trek to the other side. We navigated through the forrest firstly to the viewpoint which would let us see the famous sand formations of Whitsunday island in the torqouise blue waters. Unfortunately, the weather hadn’t improved much, with thick black clouds up ahead and a high tide which covered the majourity of the sand formations. We were cheated from our moneyshots.
Nevertheless, we made our way down to the beach itself, where we took the obligatory Whitsunday island sign picture, and everyone working together to form the word “Tongarra”. I had a surpringly keen German girl assist me in forming the R, not even waiting for my 1-2-3 before launching herself upon me.
We spent a good few hours on the beach, so thankfully the tide slowly fell back revealing the sand path that lead straight through the ocean. We were even treated to some wildlife, namely a stingray which happily just creased over the top of our feet. The captain that joined us insisted that we should make a circle around it, however again Steve Irwin unwantingly came to mind. Others who ventured further into the water also claimed to see Lemon sharks, which I was quite annoyed I hadn’t seen myself.
Yet again it rained, where initially everyone ran to cover under the nearest poorly vegetated tree. After a while, the majourity of us remembered what we’d said on the boat: “I paid for this holiday and I’m damn well going to enjoy it” so back in the surpringly warm waters we went.
We made our way back to the beach for the dingy to pick us back up, take us back to the Tongarra so we could move on to the next destination. We dropped anchor and got ourselves ready for my first taste of snorkling on this trip. There was abit of an issue, as of the time of year we happened to be on this trip, we were right in the middle of stinging season i.e. deadly jellyfish in the waters. In that case we were strongly suggested that we wore sting suits just incase…so every single person wore one. We also wernt given flippers (which since then I’ve found most places do provide some), for the reason that when people are upright in the water and franticly kicking away, they’d unwittingly damage the coral underneath which took over 200 years to form, fair enough. Frankly I enjoyed the James Bond look in my black swim suit.
I’ve snorkled a bit in the past, and I still wasn’t completely over my fear of perhaps running into a shark, so the thought of jumping into the open blue waters didn’t fill me with confidence. This apprehension was exacerbated when the captains played the “Jaws” soundtrack as we prepared to enter the water. Funny.
My gopro got its money’s worth that day as I was fascinated by each and every fish and coral I saw. They were not fased whatsoever by our presence, particulary not when the captains and other boat fulls of tours threw food in for them. They’d swarm around us without a care in the world. As well as the beautiful corals and smaller fish of all colours of the rainbow, we also shared the water with enormous sunfish and another enormous black fish which im not sure the name of. These were slightly more intimidating to swim with.
We headed back to the boat for our second helping of snorkling further along the sea. Throughout the journey we were told we had a good chance of spotting sea turtles, particularly in where we stayed the night as one of the captains said it was a breeding ground for the turtles. The turtles must have been going through a dry patch as we only spotted the odd one or two poke its head out the water. We were also enticed by the prospect of spotting dolphins. A select few happened to be looking in the right place at the right time to see some fins poking out of the water, one of which was me. I spotted one just before we entered the water for our second stint of snorkling, directly where we were going to snorkel. I played with the thought of not being able to tell whether that fin belonged to a dolphin or a shark.
On our way to the second snorkel spot, over the side of the boat we spotted the very jellyfish that we wore the sting suits for. Enormous brown blobs with what appeared to be hundreds of multi shaped tentacles or whatever the hell you’d call the vicious stinging bastard things. These were the jellyfish to avoid, and we were about to get into the water.
Sadly this spot didn’t impress as much as the first, namely as very few fish were seen, and an uncomprehensible number of jellyfish. According to the captain (Rollie), these particular jellyfish (small pulsating purple ones) wernt capable of stinging you, and to prove that fact he even held one in his hand and offered each of us in turn to touch it, which I politely declined. Despite that fact it still didn’t ease my nerves when I came within inches of the vile creatures every minute I was in the water. I had been dropped in a minefield of jellyfish, so naturally, I didn’t particularly enjoy the experience, but it was an experience nonetheless.
A few people never got into the water the whole trip, which really im sort of mystified by. I understand if someone if apprehensive to get in the water being as there are jellyfish and sharks in the waters etc. However I don’t understand why you’d pay a considerable amount of money just to sit on the boat while everyone else is doing the activity which consists of over half the trip. Why come on the tour in the first place?
Now comes the time where the sunsets over the ocean and we slowly delve into the boat party atmosphere. One problem with this sort of excursion made itself clear at this point. You might have the best tour, the best staff, everything at the highest level…however you can’t choose the people you’re with, its sort of a lucky dip. My point being, if you happen to find that some in the group are the most annoying people you’ve ever met, then you’re stuck with them in a confined space for 2 whole days, with no escape…and that’s exactly what happened.
There was one English girl in particular who I’m pretty sure turned ¾ of the boat against her with her god damn irritating mannerism. For example, upon arriving at our first overnight stop, she walked to the front of the boat and at the top of her voice screamed “KA-KAA KA-KAA”. This became a recurring theme. Her normal voice could be heard in the middle of a thunderstorm, and repeatidly raised it in order to get the attention of the group several times. One such example went something like “OKAY EVERYBODY LISTEN, we’re all going to play a game called “Lip-sync battle”. You all have 10 minutes to put yourself into groups and choose a song. ARE YOU ALL EXCITED?!”…the entire group responded with absaloute silence. One could safely assume that she’d never drank before, as only after what must of been a maximum of 4 cans of cider, and after her hyperactive phase a couple of hours later she’d fallen asleep next to those who were still partying. One last point about this horrendous woman was something I took note of before we’d even got onto the boat: “I don’t eat white fish, I don’t eat soy, I don’t eat nuts, I don’t eat shellfish” etc etc etc. The way she carried on you would of thought she was allergic to fucking fresh air. Fussy eaters are one of my biggest annoyances in this world, and frankly in my opinion when you’re travelling, you can’t afford to be too picky, take what you’re given.
There seemed a clear divide between the group where 5-6 English girls were having a full on 12 year olds disco on one side of the back deck, the rest made up of Germans, Chilaens, an Israeli, a Swede and us Welsh looked on with a facepalming expression of “Jesus Christ”. One girl (baring in mind this was a boat full of majourity women and men in relationships) walked around the boat, in the middle of the pitch black night in her bikini. Even rising herself onto the diving board on the back and dancing to which only strippers could relate to, it was increadibly weird.
That night we yet again comedeared the VIP deck and yet again I slept like a baby. However this time our sleep wasn’t interrupted as softly as the day before. This time the soundtrack of choice was that Russian guy that sings “TROOOOOO LOLOLOOOO”, amusing nonetheless.
For our final day the sun decided to come out properly at long last, to where each and every one of us found our own space on the deck and lay there basking in the sun and absorbing the beautiful surroundings as we were taken back to port. During this time I refelected on how I imagined my time on the boat and how it actually unfolded. I never thought I was interested in any sort of life on a boat, frankly the deep blue scares the living shit out of me, and being on a boat during a storm would probably come close to my worst nightmare. However my time on the Tongarra lit a fire that ever since has only gotten greater. Before I was petrified of going anywhere near the sea, now I didn’t want to be anywhere else. It reignited a feeling of amazement I remember as a kid when snorkeling seeing an octopus in Majorca, and how fascinatied I was that not only id seen one with my own eyes, but I was swimming beside it. It made me want to see more things that fascinated me and to push my boundries. I find spending time on a boat increadibly relaxing, particularly when you’re in a furnace of a country like Australia, to cruise through the ocean with a strong sea breeze as you slowly rock from side to side, for me it couldn’t be more relaxing.
We arrived back in the port to be given an emotional farewell hug by both the captains, and we all went our separate ways, still not used to the feeling of dry land as we slowly swayed from side to side.
We had 2 more days to spend in Airlee Beach where we’d left from, which we spent with the Swedish girl we befriended on the Tongarra (Emelie) and a few of the Swedish, Dutch and Swiss guys we’d met on Fraser island, bonding just as how we had before, under the strong influence of alcohol.
Next stop, and Vanessa’s last stop, Cairns.