What a holiday… How do I begin to describe the best holiday of my life. A holiday that included snorkelling on the great barrier reef, visiting the 3rd most beautiful beach in the world, the oldest rainforest in the world, the wildest white water rafting in Australia and New Zealand, encountering crocodiles, snakes and some of the most gobsmackingly beautiful scenery you can imagine. Well I suppose itâ€™s always good to start at the beginning.
My flatmate Wayne had just spent 4 weeks in the UK and had decided to spend 10 days exploring the east coast of Australia. He bought over with him 2 friends from the UK, Isabelle and Mike, who are just brilliant. Two more funny and friendly people you couldnâ€™t hope to meet.
They flew in to Brisbane, hired a car and met me a Ballina Byron airport. Jetlagged, but still lively we drove through the surprisingly green countryside (which, like Tasmania, reminded me of home) to our accommodation. The apartment we stayed in was elegantly decorated with a bohemian twist.
Byron Bay is quite a special place; the beach is lovely and has a natural beauty and grace about it which Iâ€™ve rarely encountered before. We strolled around, admiring the views and soaking up the warm, tropical air. We stayed in Byron Bay for 3 days, taking time to have a few rounds of golf, sunbathe, read and enjoy the vibe. Feeling suitably relaxed and refreshed we set off for the next stage of our journey â€“ to the Whitsundays.
We stepped off the plane in Prosperine and our senses were immediately assaulted by the incredible heat. The father north we went, the hotter and more tropical the conditions became. We took a taxi from the Airport directly to Airlee Beach. Airlee is a small town, pretty much setup for backpackers and travellers – bars, restaurants and souvenir shops line the main high street. Itâ€™s popular because it really is the gateway to one of the last great paradises on Earth â€“ the Whitsundays. This was to be our destination for the next 3 days, to cruise around the Whitsundays on a yacht called Anaconda III.
We boarded the yacht around 630 in the evening where we met a bunch of new people that we be our companions for this journey of wonder. We sat at the rear of the boat and gazed at the moonlight rippling on the water and dark islands that ebbed and flowed past us. We opened up some champagne and chatted idly with our new friends as we silently moved in the dark of night towards our first destination.
As the night wore on we made more and more frequent visits to a place that became very dear to our heart, the sacred beer fridge of delight! Finally around 2am only 4 of us remained; myself, Wayne and two great Irish girls called Edel and Sue. Reluctantly we decided it was time to hit the sack, we had a big day ahead of us.
When we awoke we were already on our way, our destination – Whitehaven beach, voted the 3rd most beautiful beach in the world. Itâ€™s only accessible by yacht and has the most incredibly pristine and pure white sand and crystal clear opal and blue water. Itâ€™s bordered by tropical forests. The sand is 98% pure silica meaning however hot the sun gets the sand stays cool. It really was something special; we went for a swim, gazed out to the endless horizon and simply soaked in this phenomenal place. We then set off for Luncheon Bay where we snorkelled amongst a shoals of brightly coloured fish. Luncheon bay is flanked by tall cliffs which seemed to stretch up forever. The crew beckoned us to come to the back deck, where Logan (the first mate) was whistling and throwing bits of chicken over the side of the boat. To our astonishment a Sea Eagle left itâ€™s eerie high up on the cliffs and arrowed down to within a couple of meters of the boat, where it swopped and grasped within itâ€™s talons the chicken, before soaring back up. It was an incredible sight seeing this enormous, fearsome bird at close sight. I will never forget that moment. Whilst we moored there we also encountered sea turtles and many large fish that swam around the boat.
The next day we set sail for the Great Barrier Reef. We dived off the boat and into an incredible underwater world, huge reefs spanned as far as the eye can see, thousands of fish surrounded us, and deep below dark shadowy fish navigated through the deep channels on either side of the reef. We swam back to the yacht where Giant Trevelly, 3-4 ft long surrounded us, it was just amazing. For the rest of the holiday we sunbathed, unwound, relaxed on beaches, snorkelled and watched the sunset over the ocean. This trip was incredible and we met many great new friends.
After 3 days of total relaxation and seeing and doing things I never thought I would, it was time to move on. We hired a car and set off for our next port of call, Mission Beach and white water rafting! After stopping for fish and chips in Townsville we arrived at our hostel and went to bed early as a big day awaited us on the rapids awaited us.
We got picked up and arrived at Tully, where we had an incredible and thrilling day riding Grade 4 rapids on the mighty Tully river. It was just amazing as we navigated our way down enchanting scenery with sheer cliffs rising steeply on either side, lush and green and yet the water we rode upon alternated between dead calm and raging hell. Whilst we were there we body surfed through bubbling and churning rapids, jumped off a 10m rock into the rolling river and tried rapid swimming and raft surfing. This was just the thrill we need to rock us back to reality after the tranquillity of the Whitsundays!
So, onto the last part of our trip, our journey to Cairns and the tropical, wet rainforests of Northern Queensland. Cairns is a great little town with some great architecture, and lovely restaurants. We stopped at a place called Red Ochre Grill (one of the top restaurants in Australia), where we tried a Crocodile starter followed by a game platter of Emu and Kangaroo. They were absolutely delicious!
We then struck even further north to the Daintree Rainforest (the oldest rainforest in the world), where we hiked through thick undergrowth encountering dizzying waterfalls, bubbling brooks and witnessed incredibly ancient plants. The forest is so dense and alive with life that struggle and fight each other to reach above the canopy and bathe in the life giving sunlight. From the heart of the rainforest we set off on a cruise of the jungles and forest of the Daintree river. The placed teemed with wildlife, we witnessed 5m crocodiles sliding menacingly through the water, tree snakes hunting frogs and beautifully coloured kingfishers.
So with a heavy heart our big adventure came to a conclusion, I left the guys in Cairns as I set forth home to Melbourne, and they journeyed on to Sydney.
Since Iâ€™ve been in Australia Iâ€™ve been privileged enough to see and experience things I never thought possible. But this journey really was the experience of a lifetime, it actually does take a while for your mind to absorb all the wonders it has witnessed. As I write this from home and reflect back on what Iâ€™ve seen and done, I can barely believe it. Life here continues to surprise and delight me.