3 – 6th April 2017
So thankfully our flight was up and running to Proserpine Airport just outside of Airlie Beach, where we were due to board the Blizzard yacht for our 3 day tour of the Whitsundays. Poor Airlie beach and the islands had to use the local phrase ‘copped it good’ – with the storm hitting them directly on March 28th.
Cyclones are circular so with this cyclone the residents and holiday makers endured 260km/hr winds in one direction, before a period of calm which was the eye of the storm, before being hit by the winds all over again but this time in the opposite direction. What we saw when we landed at Proserpine and travelled into Airlie was every tree stripped of every leaf and giant palms with perhaps only one of 2 leaves left leaning precariously.
There was also a huge amount of debris – trees down, branches down, leaves and mud everywhere – but the local teams and army had done an amazing job – this was Monday after the storm had hit the Wednesday before and the water was back on, the roads were clear and about 50% of the business were open, running on a generator. What they really need are tourists to come back and we were really happy to have made it there.
We spent the night in the Heart Hotel on the Main Street then on Tuesday morning stowed our big bags with the hotel and walked around the coast to the marina where the Blizzard and her crew were waiting. For this trip the captain was Scotty, assisted by Jazzy and helped by Darcie. Not sure if having a name that ended in an eeeee was compulsory but they were a great team. Joining us on board where 2 couples originally from the UK but who had spent the last couple of years living and working in Perth.
Our first evening took us out into the Whitsunday islands and unlike our sailing experience in Italy years ago this time there was plenty of wind to allow proper sailing. I avoided the snacks that Jazzie produced as we were really moving, and the boat was sitting at about a 45 degree angle – proper sailing is not for the weak of stomach!
Scotty, took the sails down and took the boat up a wide inlet which was to be our anchor for that evening while Jazzie prepared an amazing dinner on a stove that sits on a pivot so it stays flat – yachts eh? Amazing. We sat on deck chatting, eating and drinking – just a gorgous start to our trip.
Next day we were up early to get away and onto our next destination, and a day of pottering round the islands. The key site in the area is Whitehaven beach which has white white sand and turquoise blue water and that afternoon we spent a couple of hours walking on the beach, swimming in the 30 degree water and playing about on paddleboards. We tried a couple of snorkelling sights over the 3 days but unsurprisingly due to the cyclone the visibility was really bad.
We stopped off at the end of Whitehaven Beach at the Hill Inlet lookout point and met the team who’d just finished 3 days of work to clear the walking track of the debris – an amazing feat, the forest will return to its jungly best within a couple of months but the view from the top over the inlet was just amazing. The quartz sand piles into areas creating shallows and deep areas so the whole mouth of the inlet looks like a huge swirl of white, turquoise and blue – you can even see the odd ray pottering around the shallows.
We were lucky that night to still have dry weather for our evening meal but that night it really started to hoof it down, soaking a few people who had left the hatches to their room open. The next day Scottie did a fantastic job of avoiding the rain – at one point we were sailing along the edge of the rainstorm and could see the wall of water to our right. A catamaran passed us with a hardy bloke sat on the front wearing one of those plastic rain ponchos and enjoying his morning coffee… nutter!
So despite the devastation of the storm, this is a beautiful part of the world and the best possible way to see it. I’m going to need to come back at some point to do it again when the conditions are perfect.