Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Whitsunday Magic Onboard the "Alexander Stewart"

The Whitsunday Islands was a place that Aussies in Melbourne told me about and I hadn't really thought much about them since, but now I'm here, I think I could retire here with a luxury yacht at my beck and call!  The island group is called the Whitsundays, and are the most well known and largest in the area I believe.  Whitsunday Island, Hook, Hayman, Daydream, then the Molle Islands (North, South, East and Mid) and some other smaller ones make up the group.  Captain Cook sailed through in 1770 and named only one small island - Pentecost - and also got the date wrong or something like that, it wasn't actually Whitsunday, so they should be called Monday Islands, so the story goes anyhow....

The local, indigenous Australians were called Jnaru, and didn't much like the original white settlers here, so there are stories of ships being burnt and people murdered, etc. but also many thousands of years history including rock art on the islands before the white settlers arrived of course.  There are no aboriginals left on the islands these days, only 6 star resorts! 

The islands are "continental islands" meaning they were once part of the mainland, but were cut off during ice ages by melted polar ice cap water which entered the area and flooded the rivers and valleys, causing only the mountain tops to stick out.  Also interestingly the Great Barrier Reef guards this area (in fact it shelters the East of Australia from the Capricorn Coast right up to half way out in the ocean towards Papua New Guinea) so each of these continental islands has some amazing treasure, in terms of marine life, living around the edge of it.  Coral is a living organism and is considered an animal not a plant, and the islands just teem with life on the coral reef that surrounds them.  The beaches are entirely made up of dead/broken bits of coral like this below, it tickles like mad walking on it! P1070420 P1070421

Anyroads, after much debate and almost driving out of the area without seeing it, we decided to book on a tall ship sailing cruise on the Alexander Stewart.  It was an "eco-friendly" cruise of 2 nights/3 days (the nights were on board).  The three crew; Geoff the Skipper, Andy the Deckhand and Zam the Hostess, were really good at looking after us, and it was a really nice bit of luxury after camping - just to have someone else cook and wash up for you!

Anyway this boat:


It was handbuilt by three generations of one family and took 17 years to build (I read the construction notes onboard!).  It is considered the largest cold-moulded hull in the Southern Hemisphere, and is designed after a famous ship that the first person ever sailed solo around the world in (Joseph Slocum).  It was also designed to go to the Antarctic if ever required.  It had a beautiful raised flat upper deck done out in Australian timber (Tasmanian Oak I think?) which we spent most of our 3 days lying on and watching the islands go by on.

...and for two people who had never been sailing before (and never shown much interest in it!) it was absolutely brilliant and just what we were after.  We got to have a go at hauling the sails up (actually raising the throat up the mast was mine & Em's job) and cruised around on our first day under wind power alone.  P1070255 We snorkelled at Bluepearl Bay on Hayman Island (the 6 star celebrity resort type place where apparently the servants all have to travel around underground so as not to be seen going to/from work by the celebs - if you are to believe the locals that is!); at which place the tropical fish life around the coral was amazing, and the people watching on the beach was pretty good too!  We got to see the resident Humpback Mauri Wrass, which is a beast of a fish about 1.5 metres long and pretty ugly.  He has lips like Mick Jagger and changes sex halfway through his life.  He swam underneath us whilst we were snorkelling and then the crew fed him from the dingy and he came right up to the surface and made a loud burp noise as he went for the food.

We moored in a quiet smooth water bay off of Hook Island overnight and slept on the boat, not very comfy in the cabin as the beds were made for 5'9" people I believe.  I would have loved to sleep on the deck as it was a cloudless night, but the dew came down pretty heavy so was glad I didnt have the option I guess.



Next day we motored (no wind) to Whitehaven Beach.  One of the top 4 most photographed places in Australia and voted one of the best beaches in the world.  Pretty stunning stuff:


The lookout was stupidly busy and cramped, so we went down to the beach for a look-see, saw sting rays and a small shark and squeaked in the squeaky white silica sand - it gets dumped there from a deep trench just out of the bay and is the purest form of silica apparently.  You can clean jewellery with it supposedly.   The boat then took us round to a less busy stretch and we chilled (or rather got sunburnt - it's a notorious place for it) there for 2-3 hours before heading to a different smooth water sheltered bay for our last night on board.  Saw dolphins on the way back, but they are getting boring!!!  Got a glimpse of a turtle near the boat.  No whales though sadly.  Did get a mess around on the dingy to make up for no whales:  P1070402






On our last day we went to Langford Island which is basically a sandbar that appears at low tide and is surrounded by coral again, but the Hawksbill turtles love it here, so we got to snorkel with them - actually swimming along with them was a very peaceful thing to do, they didnt seem to mind at all!  And just poke around on the exposed rocks at low tide.  P1070442 Sadly it all had to come to an end and we were back on dry land at Airlie Beach again in the afternoon. 

Neither of us will forget the time we had at the Whitsundays; for the sailing, the snorkelling, the people on the boat (a good mix of Europeans and the superb crew)P1070388,






the marine life (this picture does it no justice at all - but I don't have a waterproof camera!),


and the experience overall:


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