July 8 – The Great Barrier Reef

We got up in the dark, 6am, to catch the 7am bus to the harbour. We boarded a high speed ship to the Outer Reef, with a stop at Hamilton Island. That’s a resort island where people can fly in or just catch a connection to other tourist attractions like Whitsunday Island or Whitehaven beach (the 3rd most photographed attraction in Australia). On board the ship, we were offered tea and toast aplenty while we sailed from Hamilton Island through Cook Passage, past Whitsunday Island and finally into open water to the Great Barrier Reef. The trip would normally be about 2.5 hrs, but we slowed down many times to watch the humpback whales put on a show for us. Amazing creatures!! So large and so seemingly friendly.

Once we got to the reef, we docked at a large pontoon with 2 stories, including an upper deck for sunning and a private area for a massage. On the main deck there were picnic tables to eat at and a large selection of stinger suits and wetsuits as well as all the equipment we needed for snorkeling on the reef.

I decided to sign up for a massage, which took place after an hour snorkel with Earl and Leon. Ariane and Nick decided to sun themselves in the meantime and took the plunge later. Before all that, we took a 30 min glass bottom boat ride (a sub, but not really submersible) to see the reef. From there, we had a huge buffet lunch sitting on the pontoon deck.

Earl and Ariane had never snorkeled in the ocean or even been on a ship in the ocean, so that was quite novel and exciting for them. Earl went off on his own at first, not realizing what the buddy system was about, but in the end, we managed just fine. We bought an underwater camera as mine was out of commission, so we won’t get the pictures until we have them developed next week. Stay tuned for those.

After 2.5 hrs, a great massage from a lovely Maori lady, and a wonderful cup of hot tea, we were off again on the return voyage. More whales in sight, Leon and I sat on the top deck with a glass of wine, relaxing. The weather had turned a bit with a large grey cloud overhead and a slight shower. The wind had come up, so we experienced some choppy waters. A bit of a roller coaster ride. I didn’t mind it much, but several passengers lost their lunch, keeping the crew quite occupied handing out wet towels, ice chips and barf bags. Lovely! Not my idea of working on a cruise ship. Still, Earl managed to keep his 6 sausages down, but Ariane had to take a Gravol to keep herself together. It’s part of the adventure of the high seas! As we came back into the sheltered waters closer to the islands and the mainland, the seas were once again calm and we were able to watch the sunset. Great, great day!

July 9 – Saturday in Airlie Beach – Leon and I got up and headed for town and the big lagoon for a walk around the Saturday market and a nice brunch overlooking the ocean. Not a bad start to the day. We went back to the camper for our bathing suits, then returned to the lagoon for an hour of sunning and reading. I’ve been reading a novel that my grade 7 English class will have to study. Luckily, it’s fast paced enough to keep my interest. Saturday night was a quiet evening, nothing exciting to report. We had a late dinner, then the kids went off to the hotel next door to use the internet for an hour.

The next morning we left Whitsunday and headed back south to a small campground on the beach in Clairview, about 3 hours away. It’s a beach side community, known for its good fishing and crabbing. Too bad it was no longer crab season. We got there at low tide, so we could see the sand, the rocks, a lot of sandy muck and then the ocean. The kids found hermit crabs and kept busy exploring while I made a nice lunch at the bbq – grilled chicken sandwiches with avocado and left over bean salad. Yummy! After lunch, I did the dishes in the dining/kitchen area while locals played darts as country music played on the radio. This campground had a really homey feeling to it, almost Caribbean in its slow pace and friendly style. Leon and I went for a walk on the beach ourselves and returned to sit by the campfire to have a cool beer. The weather was cooler here – only about 20C with a good wind. We sat and chatted with a nice couple from Melbourne who reminded us how cold it’s been down South. Dinner was chicken stir fry with rice and some grilled garlic shrimp. Another lovely and relaxing day. Once the sun set, it got quite chilly. I’d say no warmer than 5C. We bundled up and slept like angels.

It’s now 10am and we are off on our next adventure, with captain Leon driving our trusty land yacht further south to a town called Seventeen Seventy. The beach there is supposed to be beautiful and we hope to get a campsite on the waterfront.

We rolled into Agnes Water and Seventeen Seventy around 4:30pm to find 2 beautiful caravan parks, on the beach, as advertised. Of course, both were full and even the off the beach site had no vacancy. We were left with no other choice than to drive another 123km south to the closest campsite we could find in Miara, north of Bundaberg. It is on the waterfront, but at the meeting of a river and the ocean, so we really don’t have a beachfront site. Of course, it was dark by the time we rolled in so we haven’t really looked around. So we ended up driving from 10am to 6pm, with not much to show but another van full of groceries and a lot of road kill spottings along the way. At least we saw 2 live wallabies cross the road as we arrived at this campsite.

We’ve had a bit of bad luck on this trip. Not only did our flights get cancelled, resulting in extra costs to us for the new flights, then we lost the 1st day of camper rental as we arrived a day later, add to that the extra 2 days we are using the camper as we moved our return flights back two days and now, to add to all these costs, we’ve had the windshield hit twice with flying gravel. The first hit happened last week on the way up North. I thought it might even not be noticed and was debating whether to mention it to the rental office. But now, we have a huge chip caused by another gravel hit, so it’s impossible to hide the damage this time. I can only imagine what that will cost when the rental company fixes or replaces the windshield. Really bad luck!

We’ve decided to get up early and leave here by 8am so we can make it to the Sunshine Coast and the surf beaches by mid-day. With any luck, we will find a nice campsite across from or on the beach. And then we can spend 3 nights camping there until we leave on Friday. We still want to get at least one session of surfing in and possibly visit the Australia Zoo – Steve Irwin’s place, before we fly home. Time for bed. Tomorrow’s another busy day on Sesame Street, err… in Queensland.

July 12 – We drove what seemed forever to the beachfront campground of Coolum. Thank goodness we are finally at the beach! After lunch, Leon and I walked along the gorgeous shore for 2 hours. At least 6 kms! Leon found the surf lessons and signed everyone (except me) for a lesson in the morning. The surf is roaring behind me as I write this. I think I’ll sleep well tonight. We cooked a lovely dinner at the camp kitchen, met a few nice people there, from France, from Bairnsdale, from Ballarat… Ariane put on some music from her computer and put on a show for us as we sang along. I probably had too much wine, but we all had a good, relaxed time – just what I had hoped for in a family vacation.

July 13 – Surfing day for the kids and Leon. I decided to be the paparazzi. Up by 8:30am, breakfast and a coffee to go. We walked over to the beach parking where the surf instructor met us. All in all, the kids had a good time. Ariane hurt her finger within 5 minutes and suffered through it. Nick had a real knack for surfing and managed to get up on his board several times. Earl and Leon did alright. After 2 hours, Leon didn’t want to leave. It reminded me of a child whose parents have said it’s time to go home after a good beach day and he wistfully looks at the water again, hoping for a just another 5 minutes. The total count for injuries was a few scraped knees and feet and one sprained finger. Not bad. Leon had enquired about surfing again tomorrow, but I am not sure how stiff he will feel in the morning.

As for me, I decided the afternoon was mine to spend reading on the beach and to go for another long walk. Leon joined me for the reading then made his way to the beachfront bar where he waited while I spent the next hour enjoying a long, long walk. It seems Leon doesn’t like walking and only goes along to keep me company, so he was happy to wait for me with a newspaper and a beer. After all that walking on the gritty sand, I ended up with a huge blister under my heel. It seems you just can’t win. I either get no exercise or I am sore from trying to get in shape… My consolation is that I joined Leon for a nice cool glass of cider at the bar overlooking the ocean and the late day surfers.

We’ve just returned and I’ve had a nice hot shower and done my hair for the first time in days. The older 2 have gone to Macca’s to check the internet and we are waiting for the to return to go out for a nice Italian dinner they have offered to buy us in return for the many expenses of this holiday. By the way, we broke another 2 things on the camper yesterday. First Leon found the bucket all smashed, probably by the luggage we stored under the camper. Then he pulled on the door, trying to close it, not realizing I had put the hook on to keep it from closing in the wind. The hook broke! So, yet another expense awaits me when I return this camper. It’s been a very, very expense holiday… Tomorrow’s plans are not made yet. We considered the zoo if the weather is overcast, but at this point, everyone seems happy to just hang around the beach, maybe try more surfing or just relax and wander around or read. Last day of holidays coming up.

PS, check in a few days for all the pics.  It’s too hard to post up pictures with a slow connection and I have to get them from Ariane’s camera anyway since my camera was a bust…