We woke up bright and early August 16th and took a quick flight from Sydney up to Hamilton Island, which is part of the fabulous Whitsunday Islands. As we flew in, my excitement quickly grew as I saw the absolutely amazing aqua waters, white sand, and islands everywhere! When we landed, we were SO relieved and ecstatic to find that the weather was warm, humid, and tropical. After all the time we spent bundled up for the beginning of our trip, this was a VERY welcome change!
Hamilton Island is actually an extremely luxurious place where the cheapest hotels you can get will run you $200-300 and they are top of the line accommodations! We instead hopped a ferry over to the mainland and stayed overnight in Airlie Beach, a really cute little beach area where a lot of ships and ferries dock. I had been working the past few weeks with an Australian travel agent named Libby who was a HUGE HUGE help to us with booking our two day Whitsunday cruise, our overnight stay, and she actually drove us around the town! As we got off our ferry to Airlie Beach, Libby was waiting there for us and took us in her car to check in for our cruise and then she dropped us off at the place we’d stay for the night.
She booked us at this INCREDIBLY cute bed & breakfast called “Whitsunday Moorings”, I highly recommend it! It was this adorable little place with really beautiful gardens, nature, tiny parrots hanging out in the trees, and the place overlooked the marina. The little old man who ran the place was very hospitable and at night he put candles out on our porch for us in case Julie and I wanted to have a little romantic night!—hahah!! Seriously, though, we kind of laughed about how this cute little place was SO PERFECT for couples. In the morning, we woke up to a mini US flag sitting on the table outside with a two placesettings out for breakfast. I have to say it was a pretty AMAZING breakfast, especially at a B&B! We got a fresh fruit platter, orange juice, bread and spreads, and we actually got to “order” what we wanted to eat! We both chose the “mystery” omelet (which he told us would be “daring” to order!) and were somewhat nervous about what we’d end up getting, but in the end it was FABULOUS! What was interesting was that he had this sweet and sour type sauce on the side of the omelet that surprisingly tasted really good!
After a good breakfast, it was time to catch our two-day Whitsunday Islands cruise. We were actually pretty sad to only spend one night at that B&B as we both really loved Airlie Beach and that adorable B&B and would have loved to stay a whole week!
Libby came and picked us up and brought us to the dock where we boarded our somewhat small boat (named “Powerplay”) that we would be calling “home” for the next two days. As we got on the boat, we were told we would have to lose our shoes/sandals and wouldn’t get them back for the duration of the time we’d be on board! Ugh . . . I tried my hardest to keep my germaphobe mind off the fact that we’d be sharing very small quarters with 18 other people barefoot for the whole trip. So . . . if you saw the size of this boat, you’d really wonder how in the world there would be room for 20 people to sleep on it! But once we got a look at the rooms, it was clear there was absolutely NO room for anything other than sleeping! Julie and I were actually RRRREALLY lucky with our room, because we happened to book this trip pretty last minute and they had dropped the price of an individual/private room (they obviously were trying to sell it out), so that’s what we booked . . . and WOW, thank goodness we got our room to ourselves! There were only two private rooms on board (two people in each), and then the rest of the people were stuck sharing 4 per room (in the two 4-person rooms on board), and the remainder actually had to sleep in the kitchen on cushions that were placed over the tables and ledges by the windows! Yikes, SO GLAD that wasn’t us!!—We sure lucked out!
One of the reasons we chose this particular boat/cruise is that we would be able to do some scuba diving along the way on the trip. Strangely enough, nobody else on the boat was doing scuba (which the instructor said was VERY RARE), but that was good for Julie and I because it meant we’d get more individual attention.
As we cruised around the islands, everybody lounged and suntanned out on the front of the boat, and we stopped along the way to spot whales diving in and out of the water. We also made other stops to do small hikes on some of the islands, and we also docked at one point to watch for huge turtles to surface (and we saw one close up, hurray!)
The first time we stopped at a site for snorkeling/scuba, Julie and I started out doing some snorkeling along the shore, spotting some really cool fish and coral. The waters were PRETTY cold, though, and the thin wetsuits they gave us didn’t offer a whole lot of warmth unfortunately. The next site, the instructor said we could do some scuba driving. The rest of the group went snorkeling and onto the beach to look around.
Now . . . let me explain what the process is to get certified for scuba diving: Normally, to get certified for scuba, you first have to do some coursework—either online or in-class. I did mine online, where I read a lot about scuba and then had to take many tests after each section. This method was pretty time-consuming, taking well over 10 hours over the week to complete! Julie did hers
in-class and knocked it all out in one afternoon. Next, you do one dive in a swimming pool with an instructor and they run you through different drills such as taking your mask off underwater and putting it back on, learning to breath with the regulator in your mouth, etc. Finally, you need to do four more dives in the ocean, each one where you run through different drills underwater and above water to get acclimated to the equipment, emergency procedures, and just breathing underwater in general. WELL… it was suggested to us (in the US) to take a “referral scuba course” since we had a really limited amount of time before we left for Australia. The referral course meant we did ONLY the coursework and the one pool dive. This way, when you go on your vacation, you can work on your ocean dives in that location rather than wasting your time on your trip in a classroom or swimming pool.
WELL . . . now that we were in Australia, we discovered this actually worked against us. Why? Well, since we weren’t already certified, the first dive we did had to include a bunch of those underwater drills. So . . . we basically spent the whole time on our knees at the bottom of the ocean doing tests and drills . . . and no, there weren’t even any fish around!! When we were done I was kind of bummed because I wanted to swim around a little underwater, but I ended up going back to the boat right away because I was shivering like crazy from the cold water, and I REALLY had to go to the bathroom!! At this point, I really
wanted to join the rest of the group at the beach because we were at the famous “Whitehaven beach” area where the sand is PURE WHITE and is actually made of pure silica! They said that the hubble telescope is made of this sand, and it’s rumored that there is a $4,000 fine if you get caught taking even the smallest bit of sand! Well, long story short, the guy said THERE WASN’T TIME!!—and wouldn’t let us go to shore!! Meanwhile, we find out they took ALL the group pictures on shore while we were underwater —which meant the “group shots” for our whole trip included everybody EXCEPT Julie and I! In addition, apparently the area closer to shore where everybody else was snorkeling was REALLY colorful, some people saw a sting ray (which I sooooo wanted to see!!) and they also heard whales underwater!!
So basically by doing the one scuba dive, not only did we NOT see anything, we missed out on probably one of the most exciting beaches and snorkeling areas. What a HUGE disappointment! 🙁
The last night on board, we had a great time socializing with everybody after a nice dinner, drinking, playing games, and chatting away. A lot of the other travelers in the group were from Ireland, then the others were from Canada, the UK, and Italy… and Julie and I ended up being the only Americans, which was surprising. What was also surprising was to find that probably half of the group didn’t even bring any alcoholic drinks on board, despite the fact the majority of them were all in the “drinking party age group” of 20-25. Hmmmm.
We docked the final day (August 19) back in Airlie Beach and were happy to be reunited with our SHOES! Libby picked us up and took us to a car rental place, as we were planning to drive up north that day to the Cairns area.
Overall, the Whitsunday Islands is a place I HIGHLY recommend, as it is a gorgeous, tropical area with white sand beaches, whale watching, scuba diving and snorkeling, and much, much more!
To see all the photos from Airlie Beach and the Whitsunday Islands, click here: