Published: December 15th 2011December 10th 2011
True to form, I'm in reception at 7am, wondering if there's been a cancellation. There hasn't. I've now got it in my head that I need to do something - whether it be scenic flight, helicopter trip or full on sailing tour, despite the fact that there's not enough time and really I should just get on the road. The weather however is due to be gorgeous for the next few days so I'm more than tempted to sail off into the sunset.
The tour booker must have sensed this too as she suggested a two day, overnight trip, leaving at 8.30am, for the heavily discounted price of AUD300, some AUD 200 more than I wanted to spend. However, after 10 minutes' contemplation, I'm sold, and I sprint off to a) strip my bed, b) pack an overnight bag, c) pack my valuables to be locked in reception, d) collect my boarding pass from down the road, e) get to the port, all before 8am. Not enough time, so I'm running around like a headless chicken. Still, one emergency taxi later and I'm there, ready to set sail with 13 others, 11 girls, two boys and 3 crew - Nelson (no, honestly, that was the captain's name), Liv and Tony.
We're sailing on Siska, a racing boat that has been crewed by no less than Prince Charles in the past. It's a beautiful boat and I'm already thinking I made the right decision. Bunk bed chosen (or rather tiny cubby hole where I'll sleep chosen), we have the safety talk and then it's to sea!
We sailed to a place not far from the ultimate in luxury Hayman Island, where it can cost upwards of AUD 5000 per night to stay (and where the girls I met in Margaret River had worked). The staff of the hotel were setting up tables and chairs on the little sandbank where we moored, and no doubt getting the champagne on ice. We set off snorkelling in our stinger suits - stunning, all in one lycra wetsuits, I looked a sight - and swam with turtles. Huge turtles, who let you dive up and down with them as they leisurely made their way to and from the seabed.
Back on the boat, and it was off to another snorkelling site, Michaelmas Cay, this time deeper and more beautiful, with corals the colours of the rainbow and fish to match. A whole day sailing and snorkelling - I couldn't have been happier. The time came to fetch me out of the water and with all the grace of a fairy elephant, two much skinnier girls had to haul me onto the rib. Not a pleasant sight for anyone and I'm sure they're still nursing pulled muscles now...
We moored in a bay for the night, and ate even more lovely food as prepared by Tony (I've never eaten so well this entire trip as on this boat), and sat under the stars and moon chatting. All nations are represented on this boat - Austrian, Swiss, German, Canadian, Northern Irish, Scottish... I made another lot of lovely friends, and it was a lovely civilised, non rowdy bunch, which made for a great trip.
Sleeping was vile however - too hot, and too crowded, it's hard to believe the boat was only at half capacity. I'd hate to think what it would be like with 23 on board. Still, no seasickness as the waters were so calm, and by 6am, most of us were up and about, taking in the sunrise.
We headed to Whitehaven beach, where we were advised not to take any electricals with us as the sand is so fine - 98% silica - that we'd wreck anything not fully protected. Of course we all took our cameras but wrapped them in a few sealed plastic bags first. I ducked out of the obligatory group bikini photos that were taken but took lots of stunning photos of the beach. The sand felt like snow under your feet - the waters so clear and warm that it was paradise. The tide came in to take most of the sandbank away but that was no bad thing - it was so hot we just wanted to sit in the water anyway (despite having to wear the dreaded stinger suits again). Lemon sharks and stingrays were all around, playing in the water. A definite 'must do' and somewhere I'd love to go back to again.
Back on the boat and it was lunch then sailing time. Everyone mucked in to get the sails hoisted and with the clouds coming over, it made for some great sailing conditions. We motored off towards Airlie, earlier than expected given the wind that was taking our sails, so we sailed a few more islands on the way back first. I'll miss the friends and crew I made on this boat - and took some valuable advice from Tony regarding my lack of self confidence. You lot might find it hard to believe from such a motormouth that I'm severely lacking in self confidence and always have been - I just talk so much to overcome it! Hopefully the rest of this trip will only help to build it back up again.
I hit the road after we got back to Airlie - figured I could make it to Mackay for a night's sleep. I did - but the backpackers looked rough and the other motels looked worse. I drove on - through torrential rain, thunder and lightening, and in the dark. Never been so frightened in all my life - the thought of breaking down was freaking me out, but needed to get to Rockhampton before the hostels closed. Sadly, that's exactly what didn't happen, and I found myself checking into an AUD 120 a night hotel. A night of luxury as opposed to a night of sleeping in the car. However what was even more funny is that after weeks of sleeping in rooms with other people, this hotel room by myself was scary. It wasn't even a luxurious hotel room as it turns out - I've stayed in cleaner hostels. So I barracaded myself in and hoped to God I got at least a couple of hours' sleep. If I think I've driven a lot today (6+hours), there's worse to come tomorrow...