I had a couple days to relax in Airlie Beach prior to the sailing tour since the original tour I wanted to book at an earlier date was full. I used this downtime to finally Skype people from home and to mail postcards. I stayed at Backpackers by the Bay which was a 5 minute walk from the town center. Coincidentally, I bumped into two of my English hostelmates from Eva’s Backpackers in Sydney. The hostel had a very chill and relaxing atmosphere unlike the other hostels in town which attracts the rowdier bunch. The shower stalls had life sized pictures of shirtless men on the wall so you get to choose which guy you want to see when you shower, haha. My only complaint is the soft mattress and pillow; the mattress was so thin that I can feel the bed frame when I sleep on it. The commercial area in Airlie Beach is more concentrated than Hervey Bay. There seems to be less shops, but more tourists than Hervey Bay. I spent the first two days to unwind a bit as I waited to board the Avatar 2 day 2 night sail. The main attraction here is the man made lagoon and the beach. I learned about the hike trail up to the mountains that overlooks Airlie Beach a bit too late so I did not get a chance to partake in the hike. Like Hervey Bay, Airlie Beach serves as the gateway to a major attraction; in this case, it is the Whitsunday Islands and more specifically, the Whitehaven Beach with sand made up of 98% silica.
Avatar 2D2N Sailing Tour
After hearing stories about Avatar being a party boat where people tend to strip down and skinny dip every night, I felt uneasy about boarding the boat. ‘What have I signed up for?’ I asked myself – a naked party boat. Thankfully, my group was not too wild for me to handle. Actually, I was surprised that my group had a handful of travelers in the late 20s age range. The morning of the 26th, I went to the office for a quick briefing before boarding the vessel at the Marina that early afternoon. The trip has no set itinerary other than a short hike to the Whitehaven beach. We had our shoes collected before climbing into the catamaran; typical Aussie style to walk around barefooted. Actually another hostemate from Eva’s Backpackers was on the same tour. I did not recognize her, but she told me she recognized my voice (not sure if that is a good thing…). I was assigned to sleep in the ‘cabin or room’ on the left wing; it was really just a hole you climb into. I was stoked to be sleeping in this tiny compartment as I have told people that I would really like to sleep in a small cozy coffin-like space because it more or less makes me feel safe than claustrophobic. Benefits of being short was exemplified on this tour. The sleeping space was just long enough for my toes to be roughly 5 inches away from the wall and the toilet door frame almost touched my head. Despite the lack of ventilation, sleeping in a hole is not too shabby. For the first day, we sailed to the end of the Whitsunday Islands and had our first snorkel. At first, I was going to hold back on the snorkel since I still do not know how to swim. However, everyone was ushered into the water since most of this trip would take place on the vessel and this one of the few opportunities to be off the boat. I had given the crew a heads up for being a non-swimmer and told other people on the boat about my situation so they can be on the lookout for me. The water here is so much more calming that the whale shark tour since we were much closer to shore. Everyone was so considerate and had stayed by me in the beginning and kept an eye on me the whole time. It was a bit challenging to ‘swim’ with the two noodles I insisted to bring with me. I kept asking people if I was moving because it felt like I was not propelling anywhere; everyone replied saying, “Yes, you are just moving very slowly”. After snorkeling, we sailed (where I did a bit of the steering) over to Tongue Bay, the entrance to Whitehaven Beach to dock for the night. Unfortunately, the sky was cloudy so we could not stargaze nor expect to see the sunrise the next day since we did not dock by a good view of the rise of dawn.
The first activity of the day was to make our way to Whitehaven beach. Just our luck, it rained the night before and the sky still did not clear out completely when we landed. As part of the tradition, boys and girls separately stood behind the Whitehaven beach sign for a pseudo nude pose. We proceeded to the lookout of the beach. The picturesque view was just like the images we have seen online. The sand was still damp when we arrived; if only I was able to experience walking on the dry floury silica sand. Silica is a good skin exfoliator. I rubbed the sand all over my body and I did feel my skin being softer afterwards. Two more snorkeling opportunities were scheduled for the day. The first one was supposed to be the best spot to see the coral and fishies. I participated in the first one and was amazed by all the colorful fishes and coral I saw. Unlike the first day, I was more comfortable floating on the noodle and concentrated more on looking for wildlife than staying afloat. I opted out of the last snorkel spot since the current was more unsettling and the waves were bigger. The few people that did snorkel in the last one said I did not miss out on much so that was reassuring. Afterwards we sailed back to a location 20 minutes away from Airlie Bay. I was quite annoyed over the fact that this could have easily been a 2 day 1 night trip since we could have sailed back to the dock that second evening.
If I can redo this trip, I would either go for day tour of the Whitehaven beach on a sunny day or find a 2 day 1 night tour to save myself some money. I did enjoy the crew and the folks I spent the trip with, but it would have been nice for better weather and for better prices.