The Whitsunday Islands, 6th October
The alarm goes off.
It goes off again 5 minutes later.
15 minutes later we are still in the tent. We have only half an hour left to get ready and pack for the Whitsundays. There is no panic but a subtle rush. We are finally ready and waiting in the said place with two minutes to spare. I need the toilet badly and decide to risk it. I come back and there is still no bus. Nic starts digging through the emails to understand why things aren’t lining up as they should. And I suddenly see the answer in the top right corner of the screen …
Is that the time??? - I ask unbelievingly.
Oh, God! - Nic answers, realising what is going on.
The phone is showing 6:48 - an hour before the said time. We look at each other confused and do the only suitable thing in a situation like this - we look for breakfast. A sandwich and fruit salad later we return to the same place, this time at the right time. There are other people waiting around us - this time we are not mistaken.
We get into the bus and three minutes later arrive at the Marina. Well, we could have easily walked this in the last hour, but breakfast is a priority (right?). We sign a document saying we have no health problems that would get in the way of snorkelling (how could snorkelling be dangerous?) and walk on the pier to the boat. We’re each given a wetsuit and we take our seats.
We are welcomed onboard the Bullet, safety rules are demonstrated and we’re ready to set off. The sun is shining, the ocean is wonderful, the boat is spraying saltwater into our hair, the classics on the sounds system are banging. From time to time we get informed about the islands we pass by - Daydream Island, Whitsunday Islands, Hook Island … It is useful when you know nothing about the place where you are. But I won’t keep you uninformed any longer:
The Whitsunday Islands are an archipelago of 74 islands situated in the centre of the Queensland coast. The island group is named by, not just anybody, but our favourite Captain James Cook. And, of course, typically in his fashion - there is a mistake. In his diaries, Captain Cook wrote that he arrived here on Whitsun - the Sunday 7 weeks after Easter. But! The Captain’s calculation did not take into account the time difference travelled since England and that the day was actually Monday and not Sunday. It would have been quite boring if the Captain was actually right.
The archipelago attracts people with two special beauties. First - the white sands and turquoise waters waiting for people to sunbathe and swim. Second - the islands are part of the Great Barrier Reef, therefore snorkelling in the coral reefs is a must-do. I will prepare you now - this is one of those places where you stand and cannot believe it is not a postcard that has gone through Photoshop first. The beauty here is unimaginable and although our photos are amazing (we are humble, aren’t we) even they can’t show the real picture.
Our first stop is the snorkelling spot (neither of us remembers the name). Fifteen minutes before arrival we get instructed to squeeze ourselves into the wet wetsuits (if they are dry, putting them on is virtually impossible). But as a proud Eastern-European, I refuse to spend this long in something wet while the cold wind is blowing at me from the speed of the boat. Every Bulgarian grandma will confirm I am doing the right thing. Also, it is a bit disgusting to have to stick another layer of skin on top of yours not knowing who was in it before you.
Well, eventually I get over my upbringing and get into the suit. Just in time for a few pictures and snorkel distribution. Do not ask me who those were given to beforehand and how they were cleaned. I consciously chose to ignore that subject in my head. But even so, I start to slightly panic. I have never snorkelled before. I don’t know how it’s done, how things happen … What if something attacks me?
I push those question aside as well with full disregard of safety and get into the small boat. Just in case I appoint Nic the leader of our team of two. The two crew members will also be around us the entire time - he will be on the Zodiac, she - on a paddle board. Nothing to panic about!
Aaaaaaaaaand! We’re in! The water isn’t as cold and the breathing through a snorkel is fairly easy to get used to. I finally relax, just in time to enjoy the experience from beginning to end. I see the reef; I see the corals; I see the fish! The panic is now excitement and adrenalin. I am literally laughing to myself in my snorkel and my butt is dancing happily in the wetsuit.
Of course, the reef isn’t as colourful as we’ve seen in “Finding Nemo”. I don’t mean that the Disney animators overestimated the colours of the Great Barrier Reef - the biggest living organism on Earth, visible from space. Not at all, they have all done diving courses after all. But those incredibly vivid colours that can also be seen in aquariums around the world (which we do not support) nature only achieves in specific conditions, one of the most important elements being cold temperatures. Here we’re not only close the coast but we’re not that deep either. Those views are seen with true diving which requires serious training and physical fitness. Plus (I can’t overlook this detail) the rising temperatures of the Earth and thus the World’s Ocean, kills a great number of the coral - I am sure you have heard about the environmental struggles of the Great Barrier Reef. Although, the need for low temperatures encourages the coral organism to migrate South so not as much is lost from the Reef.
I choose my favourite coral. And then another one. And another one. We point to each and every fish we see. We see an Amnemonemomne. If you have gaps in your Disney films and aren’t familiar with Nemo’s quotes - I mean an Anemone - the corals that are homes to clownfish. Unfortunately, Marlin and Nemo were absent today. Nemo must be in school. We see so much that the definition “child’s joy” isn’t enough to describe our feelings. It is more than that. It is the happiness of something so pure and wild that your mind can’t comprehend it. I don’t want to worry the crew but from time to time I just lay still to observe and take in everything. There is nothing to be scared of. I just need to look.
I climb back onto the boat unwillingly. I want to stay in the water. To see more. To feel more. What would it be like in the truly colourful Reef? My body is trying to pull me out of the dream with shivering and cold. And I try to memorise everything. Okay, it might be cold but it will not ruin my experience; the most amazing activity from our honeymoon to this point. I want to feel the romance for as long as I can.
We leave. But the next location will allow me to savour the memories for longer. We pass different islands here and there and head to a bay full of yachts. They show us the one that belongs to Chris Hemsworth (also knows as Thor in the Marvel films). Well, if this bay is a good choice for him then it will do for us too. We anchor down and walk onto Whitehaven beach - the White Haven. I don’t know what we’re running from but this is a good place to stop.
The archipelago sands are some of the whitest on the continent. It isn’t quite clear how they have got here but is believed that the ocean currents have brought them here from Esperance (on the Southwestern coast), which are believed to be the clearest and whitest sands in the world - with no impurities or colour undertones. And the clarity of the floor is the clarity of the water. Transparent, turquoise, unreal.
We will be here for 2 whole hours. We chill and burn in the sun (hm?). And the water temperature is perfect (I’m starting to rethink my opinions on ocean beach days). We lay down, walk around, paddle board, swim. We do nothing more and certainly nothing less!
Lunch is served back on board, further into the ocean. The vegan options, specially put aside, is more than disappointing but we have no intentions to care. Nothing can ruin our perfect day.
We stop at Hill Inlet and trek the short path to the lookout on the top. Somebody asked us when we got back to Europe “which was the most surprising view?”; the WOW view. Well, this is it! Could such beauty actually exist not just on a postcard? And could it be even better?!? White and blue - wonderful apart, unforgettable together. 98.9% pure sand. We see everything in a time of low tide which makes the infusion from bright white to vivid turquoise unique. In some places it is a slight gradient; in others - a clear border and deep contract. Waves of colours are playing in front of us. Only the pretty sailing boats, swaying down there, remind us that this place belongs to Earth and not a foreign planet.
And to round up the picture we get down to walk on the beach. To dig our toes into the sands. To confirm that there really is water here and not just a mirage. I don’t know if anywhere in the world there is a beach more perfect than this one (even Lucky Bay isn’t as beautiful, but about that, we will speak in due time). Now I definitely do not want to leave. Not at all! But I expect that there are other Australian beauties that are expecting to impress us. Okay, fine, we won’t stay!
Without a watch or a phone, or any other type of technology we quickly try to find the group that we separated from. Not that it will be a great disappointment if the Bullet leaves without us and we have to stay on the Islands forever. But we have agreed we’re not staying. And so we’re on the way back. The day’s end is in sight and we start to surrender to the tiredness. The limbs are getting heavy, the eyes are sleepy, the burns are starting to hurt. But that doesn’t matter. The day and the weather were absolutely perfect for everything organised. We can literally not expect anything more.
The blue waters are still in front of us. The sun is still shining. We end the day with happiness, films and pizza. Some time will pass before we can have a more perfect day than today.
And what happened to the clocks in the morning and why we woke up an hour earlier we still don’t know to this day. Someone said that time changed to day-light-saving, but the state of Queensland doesn’t change the time. And aren’t the phones connected to a world clock, why did they get confused? We do not know … We can only be happy that we were an hour early, not late!
Vassya (and Nic)