51. THE WHITSUNDAY ISLANDS & HEART OF THE G.B.R. ABOVE & BELOW....
After taking out an additional comprehensive insurance cover post purchasing the van, L has tried ever since and at every occasion, to use his ‘CIL travel discount saver card’ a perk that came with the policy. However up until now, no one had even heard of L’s chosen insurance company or their CIL travel discount saver card, let alone offered a discount on an admission price when L produced the thing from his wallet…and so the CIL travel discount card had become the running joke. L enjoyed speculating how much discount the CIL would achieve when we were buying tickets or admissions for something, all the while anticipating from the card’s 100% fail rate, that it would, like all other previous times, be a big fat $0. I enjoyed reminding L that out of all the insurance companies he could have chosen who also offer discount cards, he’d quite clearly chosen a bogus company with a joke discount card. Having said all this, we were both in for a welcome surprise. Perhaps tiring of being the butt of all jokes, the CIL was about to come up trumps…
The lady in the tourist information centre spent over 40 minutes talking L and I through the wall of leaflets dedicated to experiencing what they all claimed would be ‘the best’ Whitsunday Islands experience: From a single day’s sailing to multiple days onboard anything from tall ships to speed boats, to catamarans. We then negotiated our way through dozens more leaflets advertising the best of the G.B.R beyond, with various options by boat, plane or helicopter.
We left the information centre really parched (despite not having done all the talking), mentally exhausted (yet enlightened) and carrying armfuls of leaflets. With the absence of any official ‘free camp’ areas in the region we checked into a campsite. Naturally of all the campsites to choose from we unknowingly chose the only one which had been run as a nudist park for the last 24 years! Luckily for us, a very recent change of ownership just hadn’t gotten around to removing the nudist signs but now requested that campers keep their clothes on. This was welcome news because the thought of seeing the ‘long termers’ who appeared to live there, walking around in their birthday suits, was making me wince.
After much deliberation we decided to splash out on a flight with Air Whitsunday. From the 5 packages they offer we opted for their 2nd best because it included landing at the outer reef for snorkelling as well as the scenic flight over the Whitsunday Islands. This was when, in a sort of round about way, we got lucky… The luck started when CIL surprised the pair of us and secured a 10% discount on the price, this amounted to quite a saving in itself considering the price wasn’t cheap in the first place. More luck arrived the day before our trip, when we received a phone call offering a free upgrade to Air Whitsunday’s top package! The upgrade included a longer scenic flight over more of the whitsunday islands including the Hill Inlet which turned out to be breath taking, and an extra water landing to spend time enjoying fizz on Whitehaven beach (voted in the worlds top 10 beaches). We accepted.
At the time I’d been amazed and quite impressed at just how lightning fast L had reacted when our captain had asked if anyone would be interested to sit up front as co pilot. This was until we landed at Whitehaven beach and L confessed how he happened to already have his hand in the air blocking the sun from his face, and so found he only needed to raise his hand a couple more inches and call out in order to secure position of co pilot. That explained that.
Our flight over the Whitsunday Islands in the little plane, a 1952 De Havilland Beaver, was fantastic. Co pilot L discovered that the little plane had quite a history: having originally been built in Canada, it had been owned by the company for 25 years where it was converted into a sea plane and previous to this, it had been used for reconnaissance missions during the Vietnam war. Rather alarmingly co pilot L also discovered that our pilot was only 24, which made him the youngest person on board! With neither L or myself having been on a sea plane before, we both found the prospect of landing on the water super exciting. After taxing across the shallows to the Whitehaven beach we all stepped off the float of the plane and pitched up on the sand. The fizz was popped and the cheese and biscuits were out. It would seem that we’d attracted the attention of a handful on onlookers… A flock of seagulls were eyeing up the cheese and crackers and before he knew it, L had been dive bombed and lost the cheese from his cracker. Whilst myself and the other 4 passengers found this hilarious, L was not impressed but he wasn’t to be the only seagull victim of the day. Two minutes later another passenger also lost her cheese and cracker.
We took off from Whitehaven, co pilot L still oblivious as to which direction we were flying and we headed out to the reef. Then came the news nobody wanted to hear: the wind speed had picked up too much and therefore we wouldn’t be landing at the reef for our snorkelling. I exchanged a deflated expression with the co pilot. Granted we’d got the upgrade of the beach and extra flight time over the Whitsundays and L had been sat in as co pilot for it all, but snorkelling at the heart of the Great Barrier Reef had been super important to the pair of us. We tried to not let it spoil the flight back from the reef, after all the scenery was just amazing.
This was when the luck ‘in a round about way’ came into play. We were informed that because we hadn’t been able to land at the reef for snorkelling we wouldn’t be charged for the trip, and instead we could re-arrange to go out again, on our original package at no extra cost. We booked for Saturday. The luck continued when we received a familiar phone call the night before the trip, another free upgrade. We accepted and before we knew it L and I were up in the air again in a welcomed deja vu, only this time I’d bagged co pilot. It was a slightly bigger plane this time round (a Cessna Caravan). We had the same pilot (still the youngest person on the flight) and a new group of 4 passengers: 1 international rock star who’d just finished the last of his 5 gigs in Aus, and 3 American co workers from a philanthropist funded company, who’d just attended a conference about world wide coral reef conservation. We were an eclectic mix and it was great.
This time round the conditions were perfect for landing at the Reef. We jumped off the plane onto a small glass bottom boat, our 24 year old pilot became our 24 year old boat captain and we spent the next hour snorkelling in the most amazing underwater world. We saw a mega amount of brightly coloured clams; a handful of monster Maori Wrasse hiding under a huge coral shelf; a humongous mystery fish (possibly a Potato Cod) which shocked the life out of me when it popped out from a crevasse, disappearing as quickly as it had emerged; and finally a reef shark which swam directly underneath L, which he somehow failed to see!
The Whitehaven beach stop off was on the return from the reef this time around, again the seagulls made an appearance, this time chasing one of the Americans down the beach. When it comes to laughs, that topped them all.
After a quick tidy up in the back, the Crampervan welcomed on board our first guest passenger! Sitting on the back seats this afternoon was Greger Andersson from Swedish Metal band Pain, who we’d offered a lift back into town from the airfield after our flight. We ended grabbing lunch together at a cafe in town and what had been an awesome day ended after L and I took a refreshing swim in the Airlie beach lagoon followed by and a sunset drive back to our newly non-nudist campsite. Tomorrow we would be continuing North up the coast and we were about to stumble across some work…
Check out the link below to watch a 2 min mash up of our underwater GoPro footage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xf4SoWCVUb4&index=5&list=PLuI9DtVkPsvZk6DIXuo5X_Izp76NFJ1OX