Crazy Will from New Zealand led our ocean rafting expedition through the Whitsunday Islands. By crazy, I mean fearless, hyperactive, and high on life (and quite possibly other substances). Ha! I immediately liked him.
As we cruised—at an extremely high speed—across the Pacific Ocean, Will took an occasional break from pointing out promiscuous rock/cliff formations (ie body parts) to philosophize about life. Will suggested that people are becoming “softer” every day because of our dependence on technology and lack of physical exertion. “This makes you feel aaaalivvvveee!” Will bellowed as our raft bounced over/through a 3 meter wave then nose dived into the sea washing water over the floor of the craft—I am not even kidding. Between ocean rafting, hiking, hitch hiking, and surf lessons, I have felt very “alive” lately!
Jim flew in from China on Thursday, January 29. We immediately left for Airlie Beach and the Whitsunday islands which are located on the Northeast coast of Australia amongst the Great Barrier Reef and about a 2 ½ hour flight from Sydney. The “airport” consisted of a narrow landing strip and a small building basically in a remote area with an Everglade feel—you even picked your luggage up directly from the plane. Though clouds covered the sky and it began to drizzle, I was at awe to see wild kangaroos along the road and excited to be with Jim so I didn’t pay much attention to the crappy weather…
After checking into the Bush Village Backpackers Boutique we headed to town for dinner. We missed the complimentary van so decided to hoof it, not even really knowing how far away we were. Two minutes later it began raining—Jim looked at me glanced at my feet and I could tell he wanted to jog. So Jim in his running shoes and shorts and me in sandals and jeans began charging up a hill in the rain giddily. After the rain picked up and I started sweating we/I decided to walk the rest of the way. The town of Airlie ended up being 1 ½ miles away from our hostel in the forest. We made that trek many times over the weekend—it rained EVERY time!
Rainy Friday (Jan 30): By this point the locals and weather report indicated that rain was in the forecast the next 8 weeks. It’s wet season at Airlie Beach–who knew? Ha….how did I miss this minor detail when planning a trip to paradise? Anyway, we went for a rainy run and hiked Mt Rooper—a small hill that overlooks the islands. After the hike we walked to the nearest bus stop. This region reminded me of North Carolina—hilly foresty areas with not many people or cars around, just green, lush land and cloudy skies. As we stood at the marked bus area (there was no shelter just a poll) it began raining again. We waited and waited…no bus…only rain. Finally, a jeep flew around the bend and pulled over—we ended up hoping in the back with the pot smoking locals after finding out buses didn’t travel far outside of town past 7pm.
Rainy Saturday: Ocean Rafting! Yes! Hands down this was the most exhilarating adventure I have ever been on. Imagine jet skiing, roller coasters, and bronco riding all wrapped into one. The 35 foot boat/raft plowed through/over waves and moving at a rate where I could feel my face fat flapping. Jim and I sat in the front of the boat holding on to nothing but the back of our metal bench. The sporadic rain felt like hail against our skin…I was laughing so hard at times I could not even scream. What were doing on the sea in weather like that with crazy Will as our captain? Jim and I couldn’t even talk to each other for most of the ride—we just bounced around enduring wave after wave as we zipped around the islands.
We stopped to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef and picnicked at a beautiful beach/island called Whitehaven Beach for lunch where I had somewhat of an embarrassing moment. The boat was anchored down on shore so after walking down the few steps on the back of the boat, you were left in about knee deep water right on the beach. Well, lunch was prepared on the boat so after making our plates we headed off the boat. Jim hopped down, and holding my plate full of food I followed—however, as I stepped off the boat, I flat out misinterpreted the depth of the water and fell while being washed up by a wave. Oh boy…but, I did manage to save my plate of food by holding it level above my head and kind of heaving it over to to Jim before I went under. Oh, and you know this graceful moment didn’t go unnoticed. I surfaced to see the Chinese family standing on the beach hysterically laughing and pointing at me. My sandwich was sorta soggy with sea water but our picnic in the rain was lovely nevertheless—we had the beach to ourselves!
The end of our 6 hour excursion concluded with a hike to a lookout then a wild ride back to Airlie Beach where Jim even admitted fearing for his life at times. I was sore the next day from holding on for dear life with such intensity.
Rainy Sunday: We spent the day eating delicious food while trying to keep dry. Apparently all the rain came from a cyclone in northern Australia.
Rainy Monday: After a run in the rain we packed up, checked out, and grabbed some breakfast in town before catching the Greyhound to the airport in Brisbane. By now, everything Jim had brought with him from China was wet and reeking (my stuff sorta smelled too but not as bad because it didn’t have that initial Chinese-y stench that his did), and his leather sandals had left brown stains on his feet. Haha…we were a mess and ended up being late for our bus….as Jim and I were scrambling to make it to the bus stop with our stinky luggage the heavens opened up once again. This is when I lost it. Jim was so stressed about getting to the bus on time that he took my big duffel bag and began jogging through rain leaving me with suitcase on wheels. I struggled to keep up and by this point couldn’t control my laughter and was unable to compose myself—the harder I laughed the harder it rained and the slower I walked. Jim was exasperated with me but couldn’t help crack a smile as we stood outside the locked bus (the driver was busy collecting tickets) in the pouring rain. Sunny Sydney here we come!
Sunny Tuesday: Enjoyed a peaceful day showing Jim the city and my internship site—the Sydney Observatory. We went out to eat with Court and Rob at a small Italian restaurant and shared weekend stories. Something metallic got in Jim’s eye sometime during the day.
Sunny Wednesday: That metallic object ended up leaving a rust ring in his eye. Jim spent the day getting his eye scrapped at the eye hospital and explored more of the city while I was at work. In the evening we celebrated his rust removal over a dish of chicken penne pesto pasta (the best dish of pasta I have ever had in my life after my dad’s) at the Italian restaurant by our apartment complex.
Sunny Thursday: I finally finished the rough draft of my self guided tour brochure for the Observatory and sent it in for editing! After work I gave Jim a personal tour of the Observatory attempting to impress him with my recent acquirement of Australian history and astronomical knowledge. We then walked to the Opera House and followed a charming path through the Botanical gardens and Hyde park.
Sunny Friday: Jim finally gets to enjoy a beach day in the sun! We packed some pb&j and crashed some waves at Bronte beach. In the afternoon hiked from Bronte beach to Bondi along a coastal pathway that winds along the shore and up into the surrounding cliffs. I love how Sydney has this picturesque, peaceful area so close to an energetic, busy city.
Sunny Saturday: Surf lessons! Jim and I ferried over to Manly (my favorite beach) and joined Manly Surf school for a couple (brutal) hours of surfing, or in my case, paddling. I’m not going to lie to ya, the wetsuit does make you feel pretty cool giving you that “I’m a ligit surfer” feel. Well, that feeling abruptly left after the first wave toppled my board over me. There is a lot of technique, balance, and practice needed before looking like a ligit surfer. Jim did pretty well paddling out there catching a wave and then standing up. I was pathetic. I would paddle my little heart out only to inhale large amounts of salt water, get stuck in a rip, and then be signaled by the instructor to ride the next wave in (on my stomach). I’d then walk up the shore to enter at a safer location to try again. This process repeated itself. Meanwhile, James was loving life one (small) wave after another. For dinner, we indulged in sushi at Darling Harbour, which made me feel better after my poor performance.
Sunny Sunday: We spent Jim’s last day in Sydney back at Manly beach first finding our way to Sydney Harbour National Park just off the coast. Once we made it to Northern Head we stopped to admire the scenery. The beautiful views of the Harbour Bridge to the south and the Pacific Ocean to the north was well worth the 20 minute uphill run.
Later we rented surfboards—I had to redeem myself after yesterday’s embarrassing demonstration. Miraculously I managed to stand up a few times, but enjoyed coasting in on my stomach more. I also let me board get away from me a few times…though it was connected to my ankle, it whipped forward with gusto at one point and nailed Jim. Ha! Also, I couldn’t figure out to carry the board because my arms weren’t long enough to carry it against my waste so I awkwardly drug it by the cord (the leash) and had to ask Jim to carry it across the street for me.
Over a juicy bacon cheeseburger (Jim’s final supper before heading back to China to begin his second semester of teaching) we agreed that our time together in beautiful Australia was great, memorable, and lively regardless of the weather.