The very moment our modern and comfortable Greyhound Bus rolls into Airlie Beach, we know this is going to be a special stop on our way from Brisbane to Cairns. Dubbed the gateway to the Whitsundays, a spectacular island group part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Airlie Beach is a bit of a backpacker-party place.
Just around the corner however is Cannonvale, where AirBnB hosts Heather and Steve and their two lovely cats accommodate us for a week – a “work break” we’ll never forget.
Ocean rafting: exploring Whitsundays
Sailing out to the Whitsundays is why most travelers come to Airlie Beach, and Ocean Rafting have built themselves a reputation for being among the best operators to do so. Thanks to their unique vessels and skilled skippers, Ocean Rafting can take you out to all the highlights in no time, much faster than any other operator.
Big waves aren’t much of a problem for craft, crew or skipper, though they might be for you if prone to sea sickness. If that’s the case, just get a prescription-free pill from the local pharmacy before hopping on board (like we did) and you’ll be fine.
We went on the Whitsundays ocean rafting Southern tour with eco host Sarah, daughter of Brian and Jill Perry of Hervey Bay whale watch, who happens to be the youngest female skipper in Australia. Once we leave sheltered Airlie Beach harbour, Sarah lets her two V8 motors growl, and chases the raft over water at around 60 km per hour. Full speed ahead we race the waves, felling the water hard as stone when we touch the surface.
Once we’ve reached the first of the Whitsunday Islands, we slow down for a more gentle cruise along rocky, woody bays. Not long and we spot the first whale – a nearly new-born, just a few dozen meters away. Turtles stick their heads out of the water, as we put on our wet-suits and snorkel masks for an underwater view of the Great Barrier Reef.
Visibility isn’t great that day due to the windy weather earlier that week (and we are spoiled from our stay at Lady Elliot Island some days earlier…), but we can spot the coral reef and varieties of fish.
Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island
Whitehaven Beach is no doubt the most famous place on Whitsunday Islands, which we notice as soon as we hop off the raft to get a feel of this perfect white sand – comfortably cool despite midday heat.
The 7 kilometres long beach was awarded Queensland’s Cleanest Beach in Keep Australia Beautiful’s 2008 Clean Beach Challenge State Awards. In July 2010, Whitehaven Beach was named the top Eco Friendly Beach in the world by CNN.com. Dogs are not permitted on the beach and cigarette smoking is prohibited.
Whitehaven Beach is known for its white sands. The sand consists of 98% pure silica which gives it a bright white color. Local rocks do not contain silica so it has been suggested that the sands were brought to the beach via prevailing sea currents over millions of years.
Unlike regular sand, the sand on Whitehaven Beach does not retain heat, making it comfortable to walk barefoot on a hot day. This sand is also very fine, and can damage electronic equipment, such as telephones and cameras, although it is good at polishing up jewellery.
Great Barrier Reef conservation
Conserving the pristine marine environment of the Great Barrier Reef has become a bit of a concern lately due to Australia’s lust for mining and China’s hunger for natural resources, which has even put the Marine Park’s status as UNESCO world heritage into question.
Eco-friendly tourism is a much gentler economic activity and as such a great alternative to mining or drilling for oil. Our Ocean Rafting crew Will and Sarah are both actively involved in conservation by voluntarily monitoring wildlife for the Marine Park Authority.
It is mid-afternoon as we speed back from the perfect white sands to Airlie Beach. Chocolate cake in hand – which makes the earlier on-board lunch buffet complete – we enjoy the wind, sun and unspoiled views across Queensland’s coast.
Bicentennial walkway in Airlie Beach
Whitsundays ocean rafting sure is a highlight when visiting Airlie Beach, but there are some other things you don’t want to miss out on. Even if you only have a couple of days in Airlie Beach, walking the Bicentennial Walkway right along the inner coast line is a must, especially in the morning or during sunset.
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