Saturday, October 03, 2015

Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef

This was it. The cream of the crop, the icing on the cake, the cherry on top. Of all the amazing things we had planned on our big Australia adventure, this was the one I was anticipating the most. I had drooled over the iconic Whitehaven beach pictures with its swirled white sand beaches, but had written the trip off as too unrealistic to pull off. And that was the end of that. While planning this trip we hit a wall when it came to the Great Barrier Reef. It was one of those things where we couldn't go to Australia and NOT go to the reef, but Cairns was another 7 1/2 hr drive each way and we were already pushing it with all the driving we had planned. Then there was the issue with being stuck on a boat in the middle of the ocean for 5 hours with a 4 year old who can't seem to sit still for longer than 5 minutes. Plus the day trips out are so expensive. BUT IT'S THE GREAT BARRIER REEF! We went back and forth then after an Aussie missionary recommended the Whitsundays I decided to look into it one more time. What I didn't realize was that the Whitsundays are all part of the Great Barrier Reef, it's categorized as the inner reef, but it's still the reef! I looked into it more, and for the same price as the outer reef tours we would get to take a jet boat through the picturesque Whitsunday Islands to the jaw dropping beautiful Whitehaven beach, which according to TripAdvisor, is the third most beautiful beach in the world. Then end with snorkeling on the reef. Done and done. I was so giddy with excitement, especially as I stalked their tourism instagram account and drooled over their blue skies, clear water and promises of escaping the winter blues. I was convinced that the farther north we went, winter would just melt away. That wasn't the case. We seemed to have this relentless rain cloud that was determined to follow us wherever we went. The forecast for our scheduled day was cold, rainy and high wind alert. I was so grouchy. We debated whether we should put it off another day in hopes of better weather, but in the end we decided to just grin and bear it. These boys in their wet suits alone made it worth it.

The ride out there was like a roller coaster ride. They were kind of freaking us out before we left. Telling us that phase 1 is a calm leisurely cruise and phase 4 is death defying white knuckling, and we would be reaching phase 5. They warned us about a particular patch of rough water called the "devil's washing machine". The name alone is terrifying. He said most captains choose to go around it for good reason, but he was going to take us right through the center of it. I really was so close to bailing out as I had visions of our boat capsizing, but that hour long ride out there ended up being a blast! The waves were so huge and our stomachs dropped as we rose and fell with each wave. We had to wear rain ponchos to avoid getting soaked by all the sea spray, but that didn't help much. We screamed, we laughed, we held on for dear life and thankfully no body puked. Getting there really was half the fun.

This view made it all worth it. We hiked in the cold drizzly rain to this look out point, and although she looks radiant with blue skies and sunshine reflecting off that turquoise water, she had a certain mystical element that just made this moody scene so dreamy.

The sun came out for a brief second, then mother nature hit us full force. As we came off the hill and into the clearing, we were met with gale force winds and rain. Everyone in our group was huddled under what little shelter we could find in the branches as rain pelted us and the sand blew so hard it felt like pins piercing our skins. I was pretty ticked right about then. We had to make our way back to the boat through the eye of the storm. By the time we got to the water the wind had calmed down and we were amazed with two things, how warm the water was and all the sting rays scattered in the bay. We had to be careful where we stepped, but there were fun to watch.

We made it to the beaches of Whitehaven. With 98% silica, it boasts the purest, whitest sand in the entire world. It is so soft to the touch and nothing like any sand I have ever felt. Or seen. It was incredible. I wanted to bottle some of it up. But they warned us against that. Party poopers. They even made us shake everything off before getting on the boat so they could preserve every last grain of sand. They shared all sorts of cool facts about that sand and how it was formed, but of course by now I've forgotten it all. I do remember that they used this sand to clean the Hubble telescope lens and it makes for a pretty good skin exfoliator. The sun peaked out every once in a while, but the biggest difference was that the wind had died down for the most part. We are able to enjoy a picnic and beach day after all, even if we did have to dart for shelter every so often when the rain blew over.

Taking shelter from the rain with this creepy dude. He seriously charged at me when I took this, Kylie and I both jumped and screamed.

Just look at that pristine beach. The amazing thing about it too, was that there was no debris. No sticks, rocks, sea shells, nothing. Just this powder fine white sand for as far as the eye could see. They say in the summer this beach is packed with day trippers, so looking at the glass half full right here.

There were about 25 people in our tour group, and all of them were under 25. We were the only ones with kids, and I was the only one not participating in bikini back flips off the boat or butt shots while jumping in the air. The boys didn't seem to mind the extra attention they got from the ladies. These cute girls especially took to them and they were all squinty eyed smiles whenever they talked to them.

We took another 45 minute rough ride out to the reef. It was a bit anti-climatic, if I do say so myself. When you think of the Great Barrier Reef, you think of clear blue water and colorful tropcial fish, not murky water. The storms had churned up the water so much that the visibility was pretty poor. Maddox and Ryder were pretty freaked out being out in the middle of the ocean with nothing but a pool noodle, and lasted 5 minutes max.

They stepped up their game when they started throwing in chum to attract some big fish, like this huge Maori Wrasse (holding our breaths that it didn't attract sharks).

What an unforgettable experience for these little world travelers. We were chilled to the bone on the wild ride home. All I could think of was how I wanted a long hot shower, which is nonexistent in a camper van. Instead we layered on our matching Bondi Beach sweatshirts and settled in for dinner from a gas station, that was the only place open, and a long night of traveling, Even though the day didn't go exactly as I had dreamed, it was still such an unforgettable experience.


Ali said...

Awesome adventure story there! Love all the words and all the pics. Fortunately, the tougher adventure days do make the better stories once you're home and warm and dry again! All worth it, right?!

Janessa said...

I almost feel like reading a novel. I have to remind myself that this is all real life stuff that my very own sister has done. What a magical adventure! Those wetsuits are killing me!!! The boat ride sounds like a blast, now that everyone survived. I wish I could feel the sand. That beach looks amazing! And your pictures from the look out point are totally mystical. It's too bad the weather wasn't a little nicer and that you weren't able to see more fish on the reef but still, what an incredible, once in a lifetime adventure! You can check that one off your bucket list now.