After saying good bye to Barry and Jane - our amazing hosts for the week, we flew out of Melbourne, north towards the Whitsunday Islands - 74 islands off the coast of Australia known for their beautiful beaches, sunny skies, and snorkelling.
Our flight was delayed for over 2 hours, but we flew into Hamilton Island in the afternoon and caught a ferry over to Airlie beach, where we were staying. We passed a lot of the pretty islands on our way over the Airlie Beach (it is on mainland Australia). I had google mapped our arrival destination, and it looked like our hotel was right across the road, so I wasn't worried. However, once the ferry pulled into Shute Harbour, everyone on board dispersed, and we were left alone standing in a parking lot, gazing up at a huge, towering hill past a busy highway.
Tyler asked for help, and the guy from the ferry company said there was no way to walk and we'd have to call a cab. Tyler tried a pay phone but the coins fell through, so I asked again and this time he said a bus would come in 2.5 hours. I insisted that we were right across the street and asked how we could walk to our address, and he finally pointed us in the (wrong) direction. We followed another couple struggling up the hill and pulled our suitcases behind, dragging them across the grass.
With the heat, steep incline, and no idea where we were going, we were feeling pretty miserable, but kept putting one foot in front of the other, and eventually found the place - Airlie Apartments. Checked in, cooled off, and quickly booked a few day trips, then set off down into the town for an early dinner.
We were starving and settled on a place called Shipwrecked, both ordering surf n turf, but it was not great food. The view was lovely though - the sun setting over the lagoon, people strolling along the boardwalk, palm trees waving in the breeze, and we both started to relax. Airlie beach itself wasn't anything too spectacular. The strip of shops and restaurants was almost a bit tacky looking, and the place we stayed at felt like a musty cottage. It suited us fine though, as a place to sleep, and we set out on Friday for our first day trip - to the Great Barrier Reef!
As part of the 30 things I wanted to do before turning 30, I thought it'd be nice to see a sunrise and sunset on the same day - really enjoy the day and be outside as much as possible. Here is the sunrise from outside our apartment this morning:
We took a bus to Shute Harbour, and then got on a boat that would take us out to the Great Barrier reef. It took a few hours to get there, and they asked around if anyone wanted to try scuba diving. I'd never really considered it. I love snorkelling, but I'm not very coordinated/ athletic /adventurous, and felt pretty content not to try it. Tyler thought it'd be fun though, and asked the guy if he could try it, and the instructor spoke about it with such passion and enthusiasm that he convinced me I might want to try it too. Plus, then Tyler and I could do it together and that would make it a bit less scary for me.
We first sat through a demonstration of the gear and some hand signals, the basics of how to expel air from your ears, sinuses and lungs. Once we arrived at Reef world, a floating docked area with a viewing station, the underwater equipment, change rooms, and a glass bottom boat, I felt calm, and squeezed into a full wetsuit and got fitted with my weight belt, air tank, and scuba mask.
We went down to an underwater pool and went through the motions again, and then started to breathe underwater, practicing how to tile your mask back to get the water out, how to retrieve your mouthpiece after blowing the water out of it if you lost it. It was getting cold sitting there, submerged about a foot underwater and I grabbed Tyler's hand.
To my surprise, he was shaking with cold even more than I was. I gave him the ok? hand signal and he returned it, nodding that he was all right. He stood up a couple of times, and I wasn't sure what he was doing, but later he confessed that his imagination had run wild a bit and he was feeling panicky, thinking about drowning, and the bubbles blowing over his face were freaking him out.
But he got back in, took a few deep breaths, and we all went down into the water.
One other girl we were with panicked and backed out, so there were 3 of us with one instructor and he took up carefully down below the surface one by one, waiting for us to pop our ears. There was a rope that we clung on to as we moved about 12 meters below the surface. We posed for a few photos but I was nervously clenching the air supply with my teeth and look pretty unhappy! The sensation was wonderful though - feeling weightless, drifting through the water - watching blue and yellow schools of fish float by, hundreds of silvery fish flashing in the sunlight. I tried hard to keep inhaling and exhaling deeply, and I was all right.
Once we were done, I was freezing cold and stiff, and dried off in the sun for a few minutes before Tyler convinced me that we ought to snorkel, too. So we did and it was just the BEST snorkeling I have ever done. The water was quite shallow over the reef, and still in my wetsuit, I could float right over the reef. I saw clown fish, electric blue swordfish, a crab, and the coral itself was beautiful and alive - this one wavy looking bright purple thing closed itself as I waved my hand over it. It was beautiful and I didn't want to stop. We could also see the reef drying out and showing above the shallow water in some spots. The captain told us that was ok and just meant it would grow sideways now instead of up.
We had a fantastic buffet lunch around 2pm, and then had just enough time to look around, and check out some marine life in the viewing station, before the boat set off home. There was an issue with the engines, and so they apologized, but the boat was driving at less that half speed.
It was rolling and churning though the waves, and they passed out sick bags, just in case, and an elderly man soon made a dash for the door. A young mother turned white and put her head down next, and then the girl we'd scuba dived with was heaving over her bag. Oh dear, barf chain. My tummy had felt a bit queasy too, but Tyler was fine, so I laid my head down gingerly in his lap and closed my eyes for the next couple of hours.
We eventually transferred to another boat and sped off, just in time to catch the whole sky filling up with a gorgeous gold, orange and pink sunset from the top deck of the boat.
It was the picture perfect end to an unforgettable day and we would both try scuba diving again in a heartbeat.