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Monday, September 20, 2010

Airlie Beach



Airlie Beach

This is where I live. A great base for exploring the islands that lay just off to the east of us. As I've said Airlie is probably not a destination in it's own right, although it is a great little seaside village with some of the best views you will get anywhere, Airlie exists to provide you easy access to the islands and the treasures of the Great Barrier Reef.


How to make the most of Airlie

Ok this is where the choice thing comes into play. Their are choices in where to stay in Airlie and how to experience the islands. You can choose to stay in luxury or share a dorm in the social heart of Airlie. You can do any number of daytrips or see all the best places over a few days on an overnight cruise. And this is where the confusion starts, too many options.

-Stay in Airlie at the accommodation of your choice and do daytrips to the Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef. Anyone can do this, there are plenty of trips to choose from.

-Base yourself in Airlie and experience an overnight sailing trip. This is my preferred option as you get to see the best place in Australia in the best possible way. All the cruises share similar itineraries as in visiting Whitehaven and snorkeling and diving in the best places. Your choice is the style of travel. A handful of cruises visit the outer GBR and for divers that may be a bonus.
This option is not the best choice for those with young families!!

-Do one or both of the above and throw in a couple of nights on an island resort to go with it.



Airlie Accommodation

Whatever standard of accommodation you desire you can find it at Airlie Beach. From great little backpacker hostels, beautifully kept caravan and camping grounds or top end apartments with stunning views. You can stay at a wonderful B&B or waterfront hotels at a much cheaper rate than anything on the island resorts. I'm going to mention a few favorites, but please don't think that if I don't mention it I don't like it, just a lot to choose from. If you have a particular accommodation house in mind that you'd like my opinion on, sweet, let me know.

-Backpaker Hostels. Bush Village, Backpackers By the Bay, Beaches and Airlie Waterfront are all very good and obviously the well established Magnums is good value centre of town.

-Caravan parks. There are some very good quality van and camping facilities. Adventure Whitsunday probably leads the way despite being a little out of town with Airlie Cove being a good option and Island Gateway being well positioned.

-Good Quality Value Accommodation. Love Sunlit Waters, great views with great value. Whitsunday On The Beach are well positioned as well as Airlie Court being main street behind KC's. The Whitsunday Terraces give great views at reasonable rates. In Cannonvale Club Croc does a good job with Brekkie included.

-B&B's Whitsunday Moorings has always been my favorite with Airlie Waterfront B&B being top notch and good value at Myaura and Island Views B&B. Airlie Organic has a good rep as well.

-More up Market. Golden Orchid drive has some good places with Pinnacles right up there Martinique, Toscana, and Mediterranean offering great views but beware the hill. Great cardio workout if you don't have a vehicle or make friends with a cabbie, Waters Edge at the bottom of the hill isn't a bad optiion to save the legs. Portside, Airlie Beach Hotel and Coral Seas Resort are well placed with position being the key for Coral Seas. Searene, The Summit, Seastar also offer great views.

Around Abel Point side some nice accommodation can be found at Shingley Beach Resort, Marina Shores and The Penninsula Apts.

Towards the southern end of town there is some fine accommodation but views may not be the best with the current construction work, I hesitate to recommend for now but good deals may be done and a lot of accommodation houses do have views over the top of the new marina construction site.  

Just make a note, at peak times of year, Christmas especially, a lot of accommodation houses implement a minimum successive nights stay, makes it hard for those wanting to cruise.         

Eating out

Plenty of choice again, that word keeps popping up. Great seafood at Fish D'vine and Sunday lunch at De Javu cannot be missed. Capers has good quality meals, KC's are good value with an Aussie theme and your Reef and Beef can be found at Shipwrecked Bar and Grill. Hogsbreath Tavern is in the middle of town
and Sushi, Indian Curry, Thai as well as good pub meals can be found. All the major fast food chains are represented bar KFC for now. Cafe's, Deli's and Juice shops are all here, you will not go without we even have some great icecream shops. Would love a Krispy Kreme though lol.



Daytrips.

Ok break these up into 2 main groups, Islands and Great Barrier Reef. We'll do the GBR first because it is easy.

GBR

2 choices for the outer reef daytrips from Airlie Beach. Fantasea which are a very well established Whitsunday Company will take you to their pontoon "Reefworld" at Hardy Reef.
Cruise Whitsundays have been here around 5 years and offer their pontoon at Knuckle Reef for their GBR experience. Both operators have pontoons with slippery dips woohoo as well as glass bottom boats and semi subs. Diving and snorkeling as well as scenic flights are all available. Both are good operators, pick a day with the less wind for this one. Similar in price.

Island daytrips.

These again can be broken up into 2 main categories. Resort islands or those without the resorts.
No second prizes for my favorite here. Get a daytrip that does Whitehaven Beach (make sure it does Hill Inlet) as well as snorkeling preferably at the north end of Hook Island in Mantaray or Luncheon Bay. Boats like Reefjet and Whitehaven Xpress as well as companies like Ocean Rafting do this very well. The bigger companies Fantasea and CW do this trip but Fantasea is a poor choice and while Camira with CW is a good day you don't get Hill Inlet and the snorkeling is very ordinary in front of Hook Island Resort.
For those less mobile Voyager can somtimes be a good choice with Daydream offering their Living Reef Lagoon as a great substitute for a snorkel.
A quick mention for Maxi Ragamuffin and Domino as 2 of the best island day sailing trips.
Cruise Whitsundays does various resort island hoppers while Fantasea services Hamilton Island if a resort visit is a must for you.

Scenic Flights.

Well these are my favourites. Air Whitsundays does a great flight out over the islands and the Great Barrier Reef showing you the beautiful Heart Reef. You can choose to land and spend a couple of hours snorkeling in relative privacy with a semi sub and sundeck ther for you and max 8 other people, yeah feels pretty special. Chopper flights in Robinson or Bell helicopters can be done, a little more expensive but unbelievable.

Other stuff you should consider.

Airlie Beach offers a great diversity in activities with Skydiving heading the list. great way to see the islands before they kick you out of the plane. Whitsunday Jetski Tours offers a great tour for the thrill seekers with an open water ride around the islands. Tiger Moth Aerobatic flights and of course all matters of water activites can be found here.



Overnight Cruises.

Again these could be broken into 2 categories. Skippered cruises and bareboat charters. Not being a huge fan of bareboats unless you are or have a good sailor or 2 among your group I generally recommend skippered cruises. I may touch on bareboats later in the blog I've heard some great things over the radio over the years and that may help explain my hesitation in recommending them.
OK I personally think this is the best way to experience The Whitsundays. You can spend up to 6 days exploring the Whitsunday Islands and Great Barrier Reef and all the little nooks and crannies that they hide. Whether you are young or young at heart there is a cruise here to suit you. You can choose from a top line white boat or a traditional sail all the way to experiencing the power of a full blown maxi racing yacht.
Boats like Pacific Sunrise suit most with fine dining and great atmosphere in a very casual setting, Whitsunday Magic does the same. Descarada is a different experience being a motor cruiser with very low numbers. At the other end of the spectrum we have Atlantic Clipper which offers a great value cruise for the younger brigade that don't mind bigger numbers and a very social atmosphere. Maxis like Broomstick, Condor and Hammer offer a very good value alternative without the trimmings.
Dvivng can be catered for with some great spots for the experienced and less so.
A great way to see the best place in Australia. contact me and we'll see if we can't help you find the best option for you.










Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Whitsundays: What do I do? Whitsunday Islands, Airlie Beach, Great Barrier Reef. aagghh


Intro

This is a beautiful place and I mean it when I say one of the best if not the nicest place in Australia. We have everything here you could want in a tropical holiday destination and the best of it is available to all budgets. I think the special places lay on the islands without the resorts, so make sure whatever you do or wherever you stay you see some of them.
Where you stay to experience The Whitsundays is up to you, I'll try to point out the benefits and pitfalls of each and I will be honest, but remember, that is my opinion and other people will differ from it, thankfully, that is why we have the diversity we have here. If this helps you decide on the best way for you to see the best place in Australia, I'll be happy.


How to do The Whitsundays ???

Here we go, how do we describe this place. OK depending on who you ask there are 72-96 different Whitsunday Islands (maybe more on an ebb tide hehe) but the consensus lately is we settle on 74, 8 with resorts on them.

The Whitsunday Islands are situated very close to each other and the mainland  and are easily accessible from the mainland at Airlie Beach. Airlie Beach is about a 2 hour drive north of Mackay or 3 hours south of Townsville.

On the other side (East) of the islands lays the Great Barrier Reef in all it's glory.

To get here you have a few choices.

As we have mentioned you can drive The Bruce Hwy along Eastern Qld.

You can fly into either Whitsunday Coast (Proserpine) Airport on the mainland or Hamilton Island Airport on Hamilton Island itself. You don't have to stay at Hamilton island if you fly into there, you do have transfers connecting you to other resort islands as well as Airlie Beach.

You can also boat it up if you have your own and there is a small craft airport at Airlie Beach itself if you have your own plane. Nice joint if you like it and have the money you can build your own house there and fly your plane into the hanger under it, hey you can do just about anything in The Whitsundays.

Airlie Beach.

Airlie Beach is a relative new comer in terms of Nth. Queensland towns, while there has been a little settlement around the area since the turn of the 20th century it is only the last 40 years that have seen the substantial change into the tourism gem that we have today. It's maturity continues while hopefully maintaining the village atmosphere that is unuiqely Airlie. The main street is 800 metres long and a very social setting. Enjoy a drink and a good meal as well as the vibe Airlie provides, its a great place to relax after a hard days exploring.

Now here is what to expect, not much of a beach, although on a high tide the main beach at Airlie does have a nice sandy strip and generally flat water, nice for a sunbake. We don't get any surf here due to that large lump of coral called The Great Barrier Reef so leave the boards on the roofrack. There is a nice beach, within a good walk along the foreshore boardwalk, called Canonvale Beach. Look at the island 500metres offshore on a high tide, then walk out to it 6 hours later on the low tide. that might tell you that we get some decent tides here. It is all that movement of the water that helps create the right conditions for the coral to thrive on the islands and Great Barrier Reef. Some people don't like it, they're the ones stuck on the island when the tide returns lol, but that is the way it is. No surf, big tides don't come here looking for Bondi.

Why come to Airlie Beach then??

Easy. Airlie Beach is the "Gateway to The Whitsunday Islands". It is why Airlie exists. Depending on where you stay you get tremendous views out to The Whitsunday Islands and the beautiful aqua, turquoise coloured seas. Hayman Island sits just 15 nautical miles to the east of Airlie so it is the perfect spot to explore the The Whitsunday Islands from. You have the choice of a myriad of daytrips to the islands, both resort islands and the nicer ones that maintain the serenity that mother nature had the foresight to instill in them. You can choose to cruise The Whitsunday Islands for1 night, maybe sail The Whitsundays for 2 nights or even better cruise Whitsundays Waters for up to 6 nights. these cruises take you to all of the best spots the islands have and some will take you out to the Great barrier Reef as well. Do it on a budget or in style the choice is yours.

 And that is the thing about Airlie "choice". Choose a bed for under $20 p/night or stay in 6 star accommodation. Choose a budget daytrip to a beautiful spot, or take a bubble helicopter out to the Great Barrier Reef. Cruise on a backpacker special or take a more comfy approach on a boat that will have as good a menu as you can find anyhwere. Choice. We will have a page dedicated to Airlie and everything about it shortly.



Whitsunday Island Resorts
As we have mentioned we have 8 island resorts here. Some very big, some very limited in numbers. We have backpacker resorts all the way up to 5star plus. We have resorts that cater for families or those who want a romantic escape without the interuptions kids can provide. We have islands that you can fly into from most East Coast capitols and some that are only accessible via chopper. Some are like a mini city and some are very laid back. All are with close proximity of each other and the mainland , but you will feel a million miles from anywhere.

I will get a page for each of the island resorts as we get further into the blog.

So why stay on an island??

Well there is a special feel you get knowimg you're on an island, I suppose it is that island perspective or just "the vibe" to borrow a quote from a great Aussie movie. whatever the island experience you're after The Whitsundays will be able to provide it for you.

Downsides to islands, they can be expensive and you are locked into certain companies for daytrips. Generally speaking Airlie does have a far greater range and cheaper than the island resorts, why? Island politics I suppose with preferred suppliers.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Whitsundays a different slant on history

History Whitsundays

A Land Before People

My story begins 30,000-50,000 years ago, just before the Whitsundays first human inhabitants arrived. It's not quite the place we see now, but the similarities are there. My story will progress through the ages. It's a different sort of story, about the change of Australia though my eyes. The story starts in an area you might call The Whitsundays. The landscape then looked a bit different. It's an ancient, rugged landscape shaped by the upheaval of a growing earth scarred by volcanic activity and moulded by the elements. I'm standing at the site of present day Airlie Beach and all around me I see inland mountains not huge, but worn over time. I look to the east, and for the next sixty kilometers the undulating landscape continues. I notice a volcanic plug (the remnants of an anciet volcano where the softer outer rock has eroded, leaving the solidified core of harder rock exposed). It looks different, but also familiar; it's a dry, arid enviroment that is around 200 kilometers from the east coast of terra australis (a southern land mass unchartered). At this time in history the northern polar ice cap expanded half way down present day Canada and much of the worlds water was locked up in the polar caps, resulting in lower sea levels than today. The air was a bit cooler back then.


Global Warming

I'm still hanging around Airlie (I reckon this place will kick off one day). It's now 18,000 years ago and things will start to change over the next few millenia; the coast that was 200 kilometers away started to creep towards my bushshack and those mountains to the east are a hard walk through the soggy gullies and valleys. I get a great 360-degree look at rainforest in the valleys and some sort of pine trees on the rocky slopes. I don't know what started this change, but I said to the missus when them fellas up north discovered fire that something was going to change. Wouldn't you know it, they start moving into places with fire and the ice caps began melting, and I wake up one morning only 8,000 or maybe 10,000 years ago and my bushshack now has water views. Those mountains to the east seem to be floating on the most beautiful body of water I have ever seen. The waters that support those islands are teaming with life of all sizes, shapes, and colours, the land around me has also transformed into some sort of tropical oasis supporting an ever increasing diversity of flora and fauna. What else could I do, but grab the missus and sit on the verandah to watch the view change over the next few thousand years.

Bloody Tourists

As time went on, I never tired of that view (it's about 6,000 years ago now and thankfully the waters have leveled out). I've not only got water views, but I'm absolute beach front (there goes the rates!). I've thanked all my gods for the views and serinity every day, but suddenly out of the blue, people started arriving. To start with, it was only a few who seemed to have a look and move on, but the missus warned me that they would not find anywhere nicer than this; and they would be back. As usual, she was right and we now have neighbours! The Ngaro's are a family and my new neighbors, and within 2000 years they will have spread througout the region and prospered. They were in their element with all the game and seafood they could eat. One Ngaro family member, and my next door neighbour, Billy, was a family elder and a very smart man. He explained to me the importance of the family maintaining this beautiful enviroment and managing their resources so their kids and further generations would continue to thrive. Billy explained to me that this philosophy had been passed down the generations before him. In the meantime, his family had spread and diversified to the islands and became master navigators, much more adept to the ocean than himself. I went fishing with Billy once; bloody three pieces of bark whipped together with a bit of vine and a tree branch carved into a paddle (all assembled in a couple of minutes). He gave the paddle to me with a laugh, but it was funny how very safe i felt. He showed me how his family made fish traps in tidal bays and how they had decorated caves with stories of their adventures; he even showed me a quarry on an island where his family mined beautiful black volcanic rock that had a nice sharp edge and made good tools. He told me they used this rock for thousands of years and how they utilized different islands for different things. He showed me one island where he went to hunt pigeon and one beach where he hunted turtles and dugongs. Wallabies and timber for paddles were found in a different little bay. He also told me that some of his more ocean going relatives had noticed something about 95 kilometers from shore. There there seemed to be some sort of massive growth underwater which supported huge amounts of sea life. This was the Great Barrier Reef in it's infancy (the reef is only around 8,000 years old). On another of Billys trips, I saw what I thought were some of Billy's rellies in a different sort of boat. Unlike our three-piece bark canoe this was an outrigger type vessel. When I pointed this out to Billy, who had taken notice long before I, he said they weren't direct kin of his. They were island dwelling people. When I asked why he wasn't chasing them from the area, he explained to me that his family doesn't own the land, but that he and his family were part of it. They are the custodians of it, and the island was for all to enjoy. He had no problem with people sharing this place with him; smart man that Billy.

What The

Time had been travelling along pretty well. The Ngaro's and I had enjoyed the last few thousand years and I was finally understanding what Billy meant when he talked about being part of the land. Billy, his family, the missus and myself, were heading down the beach for a picnic a couple of hundred years ago, when the most amazing sight betook us and sent Billy and his kin into a real spin. Before us was a vessel of the size and shape I had never seen before. It carried many men with huge sails that pulled it through the ocean. I was excited to see such a grand vessel and I asked Billy what he thought. His answer alarmed me; he told me that his cousins down south mentioned the big ship and the aftermath of its arrivial. This worried Billy greatly. He feared that these people didn't want to share the land with his family, but that they would want the Ngaro to leave and they would claim the land for themselves. What worried him the most was the question: "Who would look after the land if he and his family were not here?" I tried to reason with Billy and tell him these strangers wouldn't simply take the land and that he should trust these men, and treat them as he would treat anyone else. Eventually Billy understood what I was saying and we decided to greet the visitors...

G'day

Billy and I jumped into the canoe and went out to greet the visitors. When we reached the vessel these strangers seemed a little reluctant to let us aboard. Soon a fair and eloquently dressed man (with what seemed to be some sort of animal on his head) introduced himself from the top deck as Leiutenant James Cook. Billy and I looked at each other, and, not knowing what else to say to this gentleman, I led the charge with a "G'day Jimmy" and then proceeded to introduce Billy and myself. Although a little taken back by our familiarity, Jimmy eventually opened up to us and indeed proved to be a good bloke. He said he could use a hand with navigating around the islands. Apparently he didn't like looking at the coral through the bottom of his boat! I jumped at the opportunity, but Billy declined. I'm not sure why, it just didn't feel good to him. I remember Jimmy showing me his ships log and making a notation in reference to the superb anchorage this area would make. I noticed the page in Jimmys diary had "Sunday the third of June 1770" written on the top. This was to be a special Sunday; Whit Sunday and thats what he said he would call this beautiful place: "The Whitsundays". After all the comotion, I quietly mentioned it was Monday, but he muttered something about datelines and how Whitmonday just didn't sound right. Later, we spent a little time cruising the islands and I showed him some different passages Billy had shown me. He recorded everything in detailed map form. Jimmy named an island to the south east of what is now known as Hamilton Island, he called it Pentecost Island. We also sailed past a familiar rock formation which was the volcanic plug I used to admire many thousands of years ago. The island this plug was on was on the east of what Jimmy named The Whitsunday Passage, this island was to become known as Whitsunday Island. Anyway, Jimmy said he had to sail up the coast and later towards The Sandwich Islands. He asked if the missus and I would like to leave with him... I must admit, I may have come across in an offensive manner, such was the haste of my declining Jimmy's offer. We weren't going anywhere! As he dropped me off at home, I mentioned to be careful of those hard playing Polynesian fellas, but he seemed to take no heed to my advice (I later found out that he indeed played with our Polynesian brothers, but not the entertaining game he was looking for).




Work In Progress