Thursday, January 29, 2009

Airlie Beach, Queensland, January 26

First Dive

Tom and Stacey

In two weeks, we travelled north, about 600 miles by campervan and about the same distance by air and boat. The land has grown greener and greener. We have seen nothing remotely resembling outback. We have moved from temperate weather to the tropics here in North Queensland/Great Barrier Reef.
Camping was a great way to see the country. We could move at our own pace. We stayed at trailer parks and national park campgrounds and met a lot of Australians along the way. One lady told us about four wheel driving in the outback (personal record, 5.5 days seeing no one else). They have a single sideband radio network (like yachties) and air intake towers that allow the engine to work in flood waters. She lent us a book of Aussie poetry. Did you know “Waltzing Matilda” was originally a socio-political epic about a starving poacher who killed himself when he was apprehended by the police?
The landscape was great. The small towns attractive. We had reunions with boat friends who have sailed on to Australia. We saw Neil Young in concert. Many Aussies stayed up all night to watch the Obama inauguration.
Brisbane was a monument to big brash civic vision. Transportation system? Ferries of all speeds and sizes run up and down a completely revitalized river. Hot? Cool off in the fantastic water gardens right downtown underneath bowers of bougainvillea. Museums, take your pick of world class architecture. A massive airport. Two enormous new bridges and 20 mile freeway segments under construction.
Airlie Beach is about 1200 miles north of Sydney and 800 miles south of Cape York (the northernmost point on the East Coast of Australia). It’s gorgeous if you can ignore the pesky bugs and the stultifying muggy heat characteristic of summer, the rainy season. Reminiscent of Bali and Hawaii, it rains very hard but has cleared up every day.
This is a small resort town that is the hub of Australia’s #1 boat cruising area, the Whitsunday Islands, 74 forested mountainous islands on the inside of the Great Barrier Reef. Our friend Steve Ingram’s daughter works on a boat based here. She generously offered us her home and car while she was off at work.
Stacey’s place is made out of corrugated tin and sits in the middle of sugar cane fields by a creek under green mountains. The fields are filled with wallabies (little kangaroos). There’s water from a tank that collects rainwater from the roof, electricity, refrigeration, and hot and cold plumbing. No air conditioning, just 2 ceiling fans and big frames that slide open to the outside. No screens, but a mosquito net canopy around the bed. The area is nicknamed “Snake Valley Yacht Club” by the locals but we saw no evidence of the namesake in the five days we were here, nor of the tarantula that supposedly lives in the yard. It’s really quiet when the rain stops, the frogs pipe down, and the geckos go to sleep.
We took an excursion boat to the Great Barrier Reef. It was 55 miles out and back again. Now that we have seen one of the seven wonders of the world and tried scuba diving for the first time, we can say that we have seen more impressive reef breaks and undersea life snorkeling off Rasa Manis.


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