Last week was nuts! Steph and I traveled by bus from Brisbane all the way up to Airlie Beach between Sunday and Friday, with a few stops in between, and then did a two-day sailing tour of the Whitsunday Islands. That’s around 800 miles and 18 hours on the bus. But it was worth it!
We got hop-on-hop-off passes through Greyhound and ended up being pretty happy with that decision. The buses are comfortable, especially when they aren’t full and we don’t have to have anyone sitting directly next to us. They promise free wifi, but most of the time it doesn’t work. But they do usually have USB chargers, so I’m happy to sit and listen to the many hours of podcasts and music I have downloaded to my phone for this trip. And adding to that the endlessly beautiful green, hilly scenery that is the Aussie east coast, the hours fly by.
First, we stopped in the lovely beachy town of Noosa. We ended up getting an apartment a bit outside of central Noosa, and though it didn’t have air conditioning, we enjoyed it because we had a living room and plenty of space to spread out in for a few days. Though, I was gone for two of those days on a tour of Fraser Island!
Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world, is a bit north of Noosa. Steph did a one-day tour with a different company. I ended up wishing I had done just a 1-day tour, because Steph saw most of the things I did AND saw Lake McKenzie, the most famous lake on the island (I saw a different lake, still really beautiful, but I felt like I’d missed out on something because the water is clearer at Lake McKenzie). Staying the night on the island wasn’t particularly special (I shared a basic room with three other people and the food was meh), the bus was not in good condition, and the guide I had was the least enthusiastic, most unhappy tour guide I think I’ve ever had. BUT I loved Fraser Island itself – so beautiful. I had never ridden along a beach before, and we spent hours driving on Seventy-Five-Mile beach in our big four-wheel-drive bus, which was really cool. We also walked through a clear, sandy freshwater creek, Eli Creek, saw an old shipwreck on the beach, the beautiful lookout of Indian Head, and did a rainforest hike next to a silent sandy creek. The sand on the island is so incredibly soft! In the lake we went to, the water was the perfect Goldilocks temperature, the sand was soft, the water clear and calm, and it felt like paradise. If I were on a better tour, I would’ve loved it even more, but as it is I’m separating the island itself from the tour I was on, which left me just drained and unhappy by the end. But it’s a really unique and beautiful island!
After that, Steph and I had another night in Noosa, where we just hung out and relaxed on the beach and in cafes before getting our bus up to the tiny town of 1770/Agnes Water, whose main purpose for us was as a resting point on our way up to the Whitsunday Islands. 1770 is a weird name for the town, but apparently that’s when Captain Cook (an English explorer that’s basically like Oz’s Christopher Columbus) first set foot in the state of what is now Queensland. I think it’s a cute town, and we really enjoyed the beautiful beach and cafe next to it, but there wasn’t much we wanted to do, and we were disappointed by the hostel we stayed in. There were a few reasons for this (the included breakfast was toast only, the wifi didn’t work in the rooms, the general grunge and disorganization), but the main one for me is that they reassured us that there would be a “tour” to the nearby kangaroo sanctuary. I looked up the sanctuary and got pretty excited about it, but when we were all ready to go, the tour was cancelled because we were the only two that booked it. Bummer, especially when we had nothing else to do! We ended up catching a ride to 1770, thinking we would swim in the calm water there, and then ended up being too nervous to because of the THOUSANDS of tiny soldier crabs all over. So we waited and hoped there would be a sunset “tour” (also promised by the hostel owner), and thankfully two other people wanted to go, so we got a ride to what turned out to be one of the prettiest sunsets I’d ever seen. A redeeming quality for 1770!
On Friday, we took a 9+ hour bus ride to Airlie Beach, so that the following morning, we’d be ready for our two-day sailing trip. Unfortunately, the bed I slept in was infested with bed bugs, so I woke up with my legs covered in bites and a few on my arms as well. I’ve been dealing with the itching from those bites the last few days, but they’re now starting to heal. This isn’t to say anything bad about hostels in general, because I’d been in Oz for over a month and stayed in a bunch of different hostels and this was my first time encountering bed bugs. I stayed in a super nice hotel once in the states with a case of bed bugs, so it can happen anywhere. Bugs really like me, so some people could sleep in the same bed and be totally fine. But there are worse things that could happen, and this is one of the potential hazards of travel. I’m just now extra paranoid about bed bugs and will be checking beds for signs of them before sleeping in the bed from now on.
But, after that unpleasant night, we got to go sailing, a first for me! Of the many things I’ve done over the last five weeks, this one blew me away the most. It was a small sailboat with 14 passengers and 2 crew members. I was worried I’d get seasick, because I have the tendency to if I’m not always outside looking at the boat’s surroundings, but I prepared by taking a motion sickness tablet the night before at a super friendly Aussie pharmacist’s recommendation. I stayed outside on the top of the boat most of the time, and I wore sea bands at night to sleep, just in case (I’m not entirely sure if those helped or not). And I didn’t get seasick the whole time! I think the medicine must’ve really helped. So I actually enjoyed the sailing part of the trip, which was several hours a day basically sitting on the boat doing absolutely nothing but staring at the beautiful, green, hilly islands we passed, the strikingly bright cerulean color of the ocean, and trying to minimize the sunburn. I had never been on a sailboat before, so it was cool to watch the crew put up and take down the tall sails and do all the other sailing things they do with ropes, anchors, ladders, and whatnot.
In between the sailing parts, we stopped at Whitsunday Island and did a hike through the forest up to a breathtaking outlook, where we could see the swirling, blindingly white sands and bright blues of Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet. In the bay, we saw a couple of sea turtles pop their heads out of the water. Along the way on the hike, I saw a goanna, a type of Aussie lizard, which excited me mostly because I had rewatched Rescuers Down Under as “research” right before this trip, and I think Joanna the Goanna is the real star of the movie. We also went down to Whitehaven Beach itself, and Steph and I decided we were inside an actual postcard. Or possibly inside the most recent Pirates of the Caribbean movie, because that’s where part of it was filmed. We saw a few lemon sharks (totally small and not scary) and stingrays, and a bunch of fish! And when we walked through the sand, it made the funniest squeaking noise, because the sand there is actually over 90% silica, which is basically tiny pieces of glass! You guys, I walked on glass.
On Sunday, we did some snorkeling! This was my first time, and I really loved it. They had us wear “stinger suits”, which are like thin wetsuits to protect from potentially deadly jellyfish found off the coast of Queensland, of which there are two types: the box jellyfish (bigger and can kill a human within 5 minutes) and the irukandji jellyfish (super tiny, almost invisible in the water, and can kill you within a couple hours). I am TERRIFIED of jellyfish (see my post re:Sydney where I freaked out from what turned out to be harmless jellies) but once I started snorkeling and could see around me in the water, I was calm and not too worried about them. We snorkeled in two different spots, and both offered views of a ton of different, colorful, tropical fish, which was amazing! I felt like I was in either an aquarium or the movie Finding Nemo. We were just south of the Great Barrier Reef, so the reefs there are very similar. Unfortunately most of the coral where we were snorkeling was bleached white from climate change, but there was some new, colorful coral growing here and there, which was cool to see – and even the white coral was neat! Unfortunately, toward the end of the second snorkeling spot, I saw the top of a jellyfish, which was probably a box jellyfish, just a couple feet away from me, and COMPLETELY freaked out and swam away as fast as I could. The thing that scared me most was that though most of my body was covered with the stinger suit, my feet were not (I think because most people wear flippers), and you can still get stung through the suits, just to a lesser extent than direct contact. I was unharmed, but couldn’t completely calm down the rest of the session, and kept trying to keep my feet up out of the water as much as possible. So yeah, no need to worry about sharks unless you’re bleeding, but you should be scared of jellyfish.
Overall, it was a pretty amazing and eventful week. Sunday night, Steph and I said goodbye and went our separate ways again, because she doesn’t have as much time in Australia as me (she has a job to get back to, and stuff) so she went straight up to Cairns on a night bus, while I spent another night in Airlie Beach and took a bus up to Townsville for a few days, where I am now!