Waiting for my 1am bus was a bit of an experience. I arrived at the bus stop shortly after midnight, in the dark, only to hear a violent argument between some Aborigines in the park. One woman in particular was screaming something about “not f***ing you” and wailing about her baby. I felt rather helpless, not knowing what to do, and was glad not to be alone at the bus stop. The blatant and extreme segregation and related social problems Australia is still experiencing were quite a shock to me and not something I was really expecting. Definitely something to read about.
Eventually the bus driver turned up to check everyone in and I was lucky enough to grab two seats for myself, not that it was particularly comfortable for a 10-hour ride but it was better than nothing! I slept some, ate some, and kept an eye out for kangaroos but no luck. Once in Airlie Beach, I braved the scorching sun and walked from the transit centre to the YHA I was booked into. There, I met the lovely Slovenian Nika whom I ended up spending quite a lot of time with over the next few days, and Hillary, an amazing 70-year old backpacker travelling Australia and the world, all the while still supporting her hometown football team, Chelsea FC.
My first afternoon was spent recovering and lazing by the lagoon before enjoying delicious barramundi and chips on the beach. Not much to report there! The following morning, however, I went to the doctor’s, following a noticeable and nearly unbearable increase in headaches. For those of you who know me, you’ll know I’ve suffered from migraines for the past 8 years, on a roughly bimonthly basis. Well, unfortunately, since the beginning of this trip, I’ve been getting them weekly, and recently, I have at least some pain most days. Now, migraines turn out to be a neurological disease that is not curable. They may stop occurring at a certain stage in life but overall it’s a question of pain/lifestyle management and backpacking certainly isn’t the best way to prevent them. Regular sleeping and eating patterns, no stress, no physical strain, some sort of routine, regular exercise, a healthy and balanced diet, vitamins and supplements – these are not easy to achieve when living out of a backpack, being entirely self-reliant, and moving on to a new place every few days.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, the doctor I saw in Airlie Beach seems to think I (also?) suffer from some sort of nerve damage or entrapment. He explained a lot of things, immediately ordered blood tests and prescribed two new medications to try to narrow down the options. It was a relief to meet someone interested in my apparently puzzling condition but also a little overwhelming to know it may be various different things. For now, I’m trying to keep a detailed diary of everything and will make sure I take it to my GP back in London on my return, in the hope of being referred to a neurologist.
So, after spending around $350 on my health, it was time to spend roughly the same again on what turned out to be one of the best things I have ever done in my entire life: flying over the Great Barrier Reef and Whitsunday islands. This is something I’d booked back in July and one of the things I’d been looking forward to the most on this trip. Yet, there were a few ups and downs before it all worked out! I called up to confirm my flight the day before only to be told I was the only one booked in and they need a minimum of 4 people. I called back later and still there were only 3 people booked in. Eventually, they called me to say it was all going ahead as they’d had a couple more bookings – phew!
Then, I had to get a bus to get there, which was late. I waited and waited and waited with a local fisherman whom I could NOT understand so nodded and smiled a lot until finally the bus arrived. At the air strip, as I was paying the rather large sum of money this extravagance cost, they announced that we wouldn’t in fact be landing at Whitehaven beach – THE main site people visit in the area – due to adverse (windy) weather conditions. I was starting to think this was all a very bad idea and a bit of a waste of money but then things started to look up.
Our lovely pilot Lee asked if there were any solo travellers and, when I slowly put my hand up, he informed me I’d be in the copilot seat. WOOHOO! From then on out, my adrenaline levels were soaring. Off we went, in our tiny seaplane, zooming down the runway and up into the air. We flew out, over the streams of red algae in the sea, to the Great Barrier Reef where I was rendered utterly speechless (it takes a lot to shut me up). The hundreds of reefs and varying tones of blue were just too beautiful to describe. I even saw the Heart Reef, made famous particularly by French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand. Writing this now still gives me goosebumps.
After a few laps, flying almost perpendicular to the sea and performing a crazy touch landing (sea-ing?) over the Reef, we made our way back towards the Whitsundays where we saw the whitest beach in the world from the sky (98% silica) and Hill Inlet where swirls of turquoise water blend into fine white sand banks. We then landed in Chance Bay, right behind Whitehaven beach, which was deserted apart from us. Not a bad place to crack open the champers!
The next day, I was still in awe at my flight and seeing it all from above, but pulled myself together enough to visit the weekly market where I indulged in a spot of shopping and especially enjoyed the $1 juicy mangoes! I was lucky enough to spend most of the day with Nika, one of the sweetest people I know, before her and Hillary set off on a 4-day sailing adventure.
My sailing adventure was a one-day affair on the Sunday, aboard the Derwent Hunter, a tallship built in Tasmania in circa 1925, which played an important part in Australia’s navy history and circumnavigated the country several times. It was quite amazing to hear all about the ship’s history and still be able to sail her. On board, I met two lovely Norwegian sisters, Kristin and Mariannne. Together, we snorkeled with turtles and jellyfish and various other fish but sadly the visibility wasn’t great due to the big tides following the super moon. I also walked all the way down the Langford Island sand bank, pretending I was in Pirates of the Caribbean. A great day overall and lots of yummy food!
Followed by more yummy food back in town: my new dorm buddy and I went for an Australia game-tasting platter which consisted of kangaroo, crocodile, emu and buffalo. Kangaroo was definitely the best, basically like a good steak, followed by buffalo. Crocodile was weird, a strange mixture between fish and chicken, a little chewy, and emu in sausage form was just a bit weird.
My final day in Airlie was spent mooching around the town, swimming in the lagoon, eating fresh prawns, and waiting for my insane 18-hour bus to Noosa. More on that later as this post is already much too long!