Airlie Beach, the Whitsundays and onto Townsville

This was the final leg of my journey back to Mount Isa, after leaving Mackay. I continued north up the Bruce Hwy, turning right 120km later at Proserpine and out another 40km or so to Airlie Beach, a place I’ve been many times before. It is a bit overrun by backpackers by blessed by astonishing natural beauty. I checked into my digs for the night, which was a couple of kilometres out but there is a lovely walk along the foreshore to the main drag with plenty of big boats to admire.airlie2

This was one of the two marinas along the way and I would need to return here in the morning to catch my boat out to the reef on the Whitsundays.

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This is the main beach in town and was looking empty in November.

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This is why the beach was empty. Like everywhere along the northern Queensland coast it is infested with marine stingers in the summer months. Big ones like the box jellyfish and particularly nasty ones, Irukandji jellyfish – the size of a fingernail but the smallest and most venomous box jellyfish in the world—and one of the most venomous creatures on Earth. I settled for the swimming pool area beside the beach.

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After a (safe) swim, and a beer and a feed at the local Surf Club (not much of a surf but a nice club with a lovely view over the water), I traipsed back to my digs as the sun continued its slow march westwards. airlie5

In the morning it was back to the Marina to board the Southern Stars sailing boat. It was an old boat, though not just any old boat. Built by Alan Bond in his glory days, it competed for Australia in the 1974 America’s Cup and was the first aluminium yacht to compete in the America’s Cup. It even has its own Wikipedia page. We were welcomed aboard by Kiwi skipper Pete.

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Our destination was the Whitsunday islands out through Pioneer Bay with the Molle Islands to the south and Whitsunday Island itself the large island in the distance.

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It was a relaxed cruise as Pete’s second-in-command Conor (seen here, bearded) said. Apparently they weren’t supposed to sail and only opened it up for bookings the day before so instead of 24 passengers there were just 12. Conor said that for them it felt like a day off. The other passengers were mostly Germans.

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Because it was a proper sailing boat, we did some proper sailing. That meant plenty of spray and surging forward on an angle that meant we had to clamber to the top of the boat to avoid ending up in the drink.

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After about an hour’s sailing we made it into the Whitsunday Passage, named by Cook on his 1770 voyage for the time of year he came through here. The Passage separates the two largest islands in the group, Hook Island (left) from Whitsunday Island (right).

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This resort on Hook island has been closed after suffering cyclone damage. Apparently 12 of the 24 Great Barrier Reef resorts have been closed down either from cyclone damage or the tourist downturn since the GFC. According to Conor it was also a handy port in a storm for sailors in the region.

 

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We then sailed down the ocean side of Whitsunday Island and parked off Tongue Bay and took the dinghy into the beach on the northern side of Tongue Point.

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From there it was a short walk up to the Hill Inlet lookout over the famous Whitehaven Beach. Renowned for its white sand and turquoise, blue and green water, it’s no surprise it has often been named as Australia best beach, looking out over Whitsunday National Park.

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Then it was down the other side to explore Whitehaven Beach and frolic in the water. The stingers can be an issue here too (though not as bad as the mainland) but the tour operators provide a full body wetsuit which I clambered into after considerable wriggling. But it was worth it, just to enjoy the beautiful water here. Afterwards it was time for lunch back on the boat and we found a snorkeling spot on the north side of the island. The coral was in good nick here and we saw plenty of wonderful sea creatures, before sailing back to port.

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The following morning I drove north once more. After an hour or so, I stopped at Bowen for a coffee near the shore at 360 on Flagstaff Cafe. True to the name this cafe had 360 degree views. This view is south to the marina and the township of Bowen.

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This was the view from the cafe out to the ocean with Hook Island straight ahead, and the Whitsunday passage I’d sailed through the day before.

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This was the view north towards Edgecumbe Heights Recreation Reserve. There are plenty of bushwalks around here and I’d like to come back and explore Bowen a bit more.

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But for now it was back in the car to contine the odyssey north. I stopped at Inkerman lookout just south of Home Hill. This view north shows the mouth of the Burdekin River.

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I kept going and spend my final night at Townsville. After booking in at a hotel, I drove 10km north of town to Cape Pallerenda. The protected conservation park is by the beach (shown) and used to host a military hospital in the Second World War. It received a lot of casualties from the New Guinea campaign.

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Magnetic Island gleams in the short distance across Cleveland Bay. The water looked tempting but stingers and the absence of a full wet suit kept me out. I did notice a few Indigenous kids took to the water, but I wasn’t game.

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Cape Pallerenda has a few ruined bomb shelters and gun positions like this one below. The Japanese bombed Townsville in March 1942 and again in July that year. Townsville was a garrison town home to 50,000 US and Australian troops and was a launchpad for the Coral Sea campaign. For some reason this gun position reminds me of the original Star Trek Enterprise. For me it was time to boldly go home after a lovely week on the road.

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