Snorkelling

Sailing the Whitsundays

We had booked tickets aboard ‘The Mandrake’ and had to check-in at 8.30 am the following day for a ‘security briefing’. The ‘check-in’ basically consisted of the crew telling us to bring a small bag of clothes, no valuables and no red wine onto the boat… It was a waste of time ‘checking-in’ at 8.30 am because the boat didn’t leave until 2.30pm! We caught up on sleep in the van for a little while before we tested out the public electric BBQs that we’d seen around town for lunch.

Later in the afternoon we made our way towards the marina to find the catamaran and the people we’d be spending the next couple of days with. Our catamaran was pretty small and there were only 13 people on our boat, so a lot smaller than the bigger party boats that hold over 100 people for 3 nights. The majority of the passengers were British apart from two French girls, an Israeli, and an American girl who wouldn’t stop going on about Taylor Swift (!!!!). As soon as we got on the boat, we were shown to our bunks and it came apparent that there’d be very little privacy over the next couple of days… The toilet was so small that you could barely move. Our sleeping quarters were right in the bow of the catamaran and they’d somehow managed to fit 6 bunks in the tiny room. We were putting our belongings onto our bunks when two French girls asked me whether this was all a joke? They were apparently expecting a luxurious catamaran with a beautiful ensuite cabin and an endless supply of champagne… all for $400. They were living in a dream world!

Stole this picture to show you exactly how small it was... We were in the two bunks next to each other at the bottom.

Stole this picture to show you exactly how small it was… We were in the two bunks next to each other at the bottom.

It was so cramped downstairs that we all went to sit on the deck to enjoy the sunset before the anchor went down for the night. It was a really nice evening on the boat and we were served a lovely spaghetti bolognese prepared by Tom, the Mandrake’s deck hand and host (he was also a splitting image of Olympic Swimmer Tom Daley). After dinner we tried for the first time ‘goon’ (what Aussies call box wine) and got to know the other people on the boat.

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I actually slept amazingly well on the first night – perhaps it was the slight rocking of the boat or too much goon? As our bunks were right in the bow of the ship, we were woken up at 5.30am by the captain rising the anchor. We managed to fall back asleep for a little while longer before we were woken up again for breakfast by Tom at 6.30am. The two French girls were rather unimpressed with the breakfast options: cereal, toast, tea and coffee. Maybe they thought Tom was going to rustle up some fresh croissants and a round of espressos for breakfast? They were absolutely miserable and made a point of showing it.

After breakfast and filling up on coffee, the catamaran set sail towards the beautiful Whitehaven beach. The sand was almost white and had a flour like consistency, and it was completely untouched – there were no other footprints on the beach! We spent a couple of hours exploring before we returned to The Mandrake for a spot of snorkelling. The water was ice cold and the stinger suits that we’d been forced to wear (to protect ourselves against box jellyfish) weren’t thick enough. I only managed about 20-30 minutes in the water before I had to go back to the Mandrake, the water was just too damn cold!

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Untouched sand!

Untouched sand!

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Whitehaven Selfie!

Whitehaven Selfie!

We spent the rest of the day sailing around the Whitsunday Islands spotting whales and chatting to our new friends on the deck. For dinner we were served hot dogs and mashed potatoes, and it was probably the best mash I’d had for a very long time. The deck hand couldn’t work out whether the sausages were beef, pork or both, so the young Israeli guy had no choice to eat them because there was no vegetarian option available. Dan, the young Israeli, had just completed his compulsory three years of military service in Israeli and had hopped on a plane as soon as he finished for a holiday.

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On our last day on The Mandrake we were given the option of hiking to a view point or swimming with turtles… naturally everyone wanted the latter. At 7am we’d already eaten breakfast and were getting ready to jump back into the icy water…. there was no need for a coffee pick me up that morning! We found loads of turtles so everyone was pretty happy! When we returned to the boat, it was time to start heading back towards Airlie Beach but the winds were strong. The winds were so strong that the boat stayed tipped on one side for most of the trip back to Airlie Beach and water poured into the decks below. The sea water soaked the two French girls’ stuff: clothes, shoes, makeup, even an iPad. I kind of felt bad for them because they’d obviously been told it was a luxurious sailing holiday and instead it was a budget and cramped catamaran. I kind of felt that they were pretty stupid for not trying trying to make the most of the situation, but instead they were miserable, complained about everything and refused to socialise with the rest of the group. To top it off… as the French girl was getting off the boat she dropped her designer sunglasses into the sea and lost them forever!

About to snorkel!

About to snorkel!

A Humphead Maori Wrasse!

A Humphead Maori Wrasse!

So many fish... I hated them flapping against me.

So many fish… I hated them flapping against me.

A turtle!

A turtle!

More turtles!

More turtles!

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Magnetic Island, Australia

We hit the road early the next day because we had quite a few kms to go until we reached Townsville for Magnetic Island. Joanne’s boyfriend lived in Townsville and we parked our camper at his house and then walked to the ferry terminal to get the boat over to Magnetic Island. We had originally wanted to our van over to the island but it was over $100 for the ferry ticket alone plus a camping permit etc, so we just decided to go on foot.

One of my mum’s friends had told me about Magnetic Island before I left for this trip and she had told me it was one of her favourite places in Australia and a must see. I can totally understand why she called it paradise as it had some stunningly beautiful beaches and hikes.

We’d booked a couple of nights at the Base Hostel on Magnetic Island. The hostel was HUGE and was essentially just made of loads of beach huts along the beach that they’d stuffed with as many bunk beds as they could find. When we walked in our 6-bed dorm, we were greeted with the stench of smelly boys, socks and unwashed clothes. It seemed that some of the people in our dorm had been staying there for a VERY long time. The room was absolutely tiny and barely had enough room for 6 bunk beds let alone everyone’s luggage, and it only had ONE plug socket for the entire room. After being in Asia and getting used to having your own lamp and plug for your bunk, the facilities were incredibly basic and the hostel was very overpriced. We got out of the room pretty damp quick and walked to the nearest supermarket and bottle shop. We bought some food to make fish tacos and sat on the beach having a beer whilst the sun went down.

The huts at the hostel!

The huts at the hostel!

The hostel’s kitchen facilities were a bit of a joke. It looked promising when we walked in as there were 16 hobs, but quickly found out only about 5 of them actually worked. The hostel was very poorly maintained and I’d recommend staying elsewhere on Magnetic Island in the future.

We met two English guys from our dorm and they’d just come from working on a zucchini farm and were blowing off some steam as they’d just been fired. The guys told us how they’d never worked so hard in their lives and never in such terrible conditions… The farm owner was this awful woman who’d scream abuse at them all day long. One of the boys actually seemed quite traumatised by the way she treated him. They’d been working on the farm to do the 3 months of required farm work to secure their 2nd year visa when they were fired! To rub salt in the wound the bitchy farm owner only signed them for 18 days of farm work instead of the 80 or so that they’d worked.Naturally they were rather pissed off with the situation and were annoyed that there was no governing body that they could complain to. Apparently from next year the Australian government is going to automatically issue 2 year working holiday visas to stop backpacker exploitation on farms. The boys told us how they were forced to pay $200 in rent a week to live in a 16-bed cockroach infested corrugated iron shed. When they initially applied for the job, the farm owner had told them there was free wifi, TV room, free food, clean showers and kitchen… it was all a lie. One of the boys told us how he had to walk 15 minutes up a hill to get ONE bar of mobile reception, let alone an internet connection. They were completely cut off from the world in the bush.

The barbie car!

The barbie car!

The next morning we woke up early to do some exploring! You could hire these Barbie cars for the day to drive around the island but they were incredibly expensive, so we just decided to get the bus and walk on foot instead. We were only wearing flip flops and had to walk down a huge hill on rocky terrain for about 15 minutes to get to this beach that was meant to be a fantastic spot for snorkelling. We put on our silly stinger suits (to protect us against the dangerous box jelly fish) and ran straight into the water to spot some cool stuff. We spent a good half an hour snorkelling but it wasn’t spectacular and we soon realised that we were covered in this funny grey/black oil, so we decided to get out.
Magnetic Island wasn’t turning out to be the paradise that I’d imagined.

Snorkelling on Alma Beach!

Snorkelling on Alma Beach!

Later that evening we hung out in the hostel’s and the island’s only bar (apparently) and it was full of lots of random drunk old Australian men drinking in the bar all night. They were getting very rowdy and picking fights with people all the time. It seemed that the bar attracted more locals than people actually staying at the hostel.

All in all Magnetic Island wasn’t as amazing or as beautiful as I’d imagined. I guess after being in the paradisiac islands of Thailand and Indonesia, it didn’t exactly wow me. It was a cute little island but nothing to write home about! We were excited to get back to the mainland and head on our way.

Diving the Great Barrier Reef

Once we’d finally decided to leave Cairns, we only had a couple of days left to do everything we’d planned: dive the Great Barrier Reef,jump off waterfalls at the Atherton Tablelands and visit the Daintree National Park. Unfortunately the weather in Cairns hadn’t improved since we’d arrived… every day was grey and wet. There didn’t seem much point going to the Atherton Tablelands if it was going to be cold and wet the entire time. The weather forecast didn’t show any signs of improving for the next week or two. We knew we couldn’t leave Cairns without diving the Great Barrier Reef, so we decided to do a dive come rain or shine. We managed to find a good deal with a dive boat that went to the outer reef for $100 with lunch, snacks, drinks, snorkelling gear and a dive, and an additional $20 for each dive after that.

We had to be at the dive terminal for ‘check-in’ at 7.30am which meant getting up and leaving Joanne’s house very early for the first bus into the city. It was a cold and grey morning and the weather forecast didn’t show any signs of improving. Once we got to the boat we were given all our dive equipment to set up. We were the only 2 certified divers on the boat and the other 100 people would be spending the day snorkelling above the reef at the different dive sites. It was soon clear that it was going to be a very rocky day on the boat as the staff were handing out free natural motion sickness pills. When we arrived at the first dive site it was raining heavily and the sea was so rough that people were already throwing up.

We put our wetsuits and BCDs on and walked over to the back of the boat to get into the water, but it was pretty difficult because there were waves breaking onto the back of the boat. It was so choppy that the dive master told us to descend as soon as we entered the water because staying on the surface was too difficult. With a huge leap I plunged into the water and emptied my BCD to descend, and after going down a few metres under the surface the sea was calm. It was pretty cool looking up at the waves breaking on the surface above us, and yet it was so strange that everything was calm just a few metres down. We went down 12-15 metres and took in the beauty. Lots of people had told us that if you’d done a dive in Thailand and on the Gilis in Indonesia that you wouldn’t find the Great Barrier Reef that special. How wrong they were! The Great Barrier Reef was spectacular! The coral was more vibrant, diverse and alive than anything we’d seen before. We were very lucky indeed.

Clown Fish!

Clown Fish!

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Pointing at something amazing, obviously

Pointing at something amazing, obviously

We returned to the surface for a spot of lunch before going on the next dive. The dive master told us it was much better to be underwater than on the boat and he was right. The boat was rocking like crazy. I felt sorry for the people that were attempting to snorkel – the sea was so rough that they couldn’t see anything. We then went to another dive site, suited up and jumped in the water for a second site. We didn’t really see anything more than at the first site, but we did spot a huge turtle! There were also quite a few caves and swim throughs at this dive site but for some reason my BCD kept filling up with air. It filled up with so much air that I began floating up towards the top of the cave and I had to grab onto the cave to stop myself banging my head on the sharp edges. Kyle realised what was going on and pulled the emergency release valve on the back of my BCD to empty the air out. 🙂

Kyle with the turtle

Kyle with the turtle

Sea cucumber!

Sea cucumber!

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When we returned to the boat, I realised that I had a nasty cut on my leg from the reef. As reef cuts are known to get infected very quickly, the dive master made me go to the first aider on board to get my cut cleaned up. I was really exhausted by this point so decided to have a nap in the cabin upstairs whilst Kyle went on the final dive. Apparently 80% of the snorkellers on the boat hadn’t ventured out into the water because of the poor conditions – they basically just paid to sit on a boat all day throwing up.

Once Kyle returned from his final dive, the boat headed back to Cairns and the crew provided some entertainment. The chef got his guitar out and began singing and making up songs about various passengers on the boat. There were people running to the toilets to be sick every couple of minutes. It was only when we arrived back at the port in Cairns that the sky cleared and the sun began to shine.

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Gili Air, Gili Islands

After 2 days on crazy Gili T we wanted to see what the other islands were like and took a boat over to Gili Air. The difference between Gili Air and Gili T was very apparent when we arrived at the port. Gone were the hundreds of restaurants, bars, clubs, pubs and dive operators that lined the sea front in Gili T, and in its place were a few restaurants, green fields and little thatched roof huts. Gili Air seemed to be untouched by mass tourism – chickens and cows roam freely in the streets, and on our first day we only saw 5 other tourists! However, tourism has brought some developments/improvements to Gili Air such as a cash point and fresh running water… before that you could only have salt water showers!!

When we arrived at the port we found a horse-drawn carriage and went to the other side of the island to look for accommodation (luckily it wasn’t raining this time) and we found a cute little place with thatched roof bungalows close to the beach. The bungalow was really cute and I loved the fact that the bathroom was outdoors! It was pretty cool to shower under the stars as cliché as that sounds.

Inside the bungalow!

Inside the bungalow!

The outdoor shower!

The outdoor shower!

After settling into our bungalow we walked to the beach and spent the afternoon relaxing… we were the only ones on the beach! We stayed for sunset…

Sunset at Gili Air

Sunset at Gili Air

I was really starting to like Gili Air…

The following morning we cycled to the otherside of the island to do a bit of snorkelling. We swam 100-150m from the shore to the reef and spent a couple of hours spotting turtles, lobster, eels, puffer fish, some brightly coloured coral and some other beautiful fish. It was really quite special. We felt like we were on a desert island.

Shark Bay – Koh Tao

With my PADI Open Water Certification complete, we decided to rent dirt bikes and check out the island. I was a little worried about renting them because you have to put your passport down as collateral. You hear horror stories of people returning bikes with a minor scratch and the rental company wanting 16,000 baht (about 300 pounds) for the damage! You either pay it or risk losing your passport. Add to that Thailand being number one place for passport theft, you can understand why I was a little concerned.

Kyle and Marc decided to take a risk though and handed over their passports as collateral. It seemed so dodgy as the rental guy just slipped the passports into his rucksack and away we went! I was a little scared of riding around on a dirt bike if I’m honest, my last go on motor vehicle put a prompt end to my hand modelling career and the millions these babies could have earned (lol). Plus, the roads were so dodgy!! If my mum was here and Thailand was Lambeth Council, she’d be on the phone 24 hours a day! Anyway we took it slow and drove all around the island taking in the spectacular views.

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We went to some beaches and then made a stop at Shark Bay, where we were told there was a 90% chance of swimming with reef sharks. We got to the beach without any snorkelling gear though and the dive shop on the beach wanted 150 baht to rent them for the day plus a deposit of 1000 baht each! It was insane really but I guess you’re more likely to walk off with them if it’s only 150 baht to rent (3 quid). Anyway we didn’t have 3000 baht on us, but then this lady who worked at our dive resort was there and let us borrow her stuff.

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Snorkelling gear in hand, we swam past the safety buoys and to the rough location of the sharks and waited until we saw one. I saw the first shark and I was actually a little scared – I could hear the Jaws music in my head. It’s quite funny that I was scared because the shark was probably only a metre long! Over the course of an hour, we spotted about 10 sharks! Sometimes you could tell the shark was curious and would swim in your direction, and other times you could tell it was scared. It was so much fun.

After an hour or so, we got out and got back on the dirt bikes to find somewhere to eat. We stopped at this restaurant with amazing views over Shark Bay and took in the view over the best pad thai I’ve ever tasted. I know it sounds ridiculous given that pad thai is just fried veg and noodles, but the seasoning and quality was spot on. It was simply delicious washed down with some ice tea. Nom nom nom.

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We spent the evening watching our resort’s fire show on the beach. The people running the fire show made a huge skipping rope and set it alight and dumb drunk English people (always the bloody English) gave it their best shop. A couple of them managed a few skips, but the majority of the people we saw tripped on the rope and got burnt. I’m not quite sure what possessed these crazy people to do it really. We met this Australian guy on the beach who decided to take his chance at the skip of fire a few nights previous and had come away with a nasty nasty burn on his shoulder. He was all bandaged up – it was not pretty at all.

Manu xxx