After a relaxing breakfast we decided to pack up and move from Miowera, heading down the Bruce Highway we turned off travelling through farmland over a small creek (with a pull off road that looked like a good campsite for the night) to the Hideaway Bay Road. Our first stop was past Hideaway Bay to the end of the point at a resort called Montes for coffee and cake. It was Julie's mum's birthday, she would have been 75, so Julie was a bit sad. The view from our beachside table was superb and the weather was fantastic, although it was sure to rain on us sometime today, it always rains on us wherever we are on Julie's mum's birthday, always…
As we were leaving Julie took a fancy to the seafood pasta on the dinner menu so Glen booked us In for dinner at the same table by the beach. Julie deserved a bit of spoiling.
We decided to have a swim at Dingo Beach and spent the majority of the day there before having a short walk on Hideaway Beach and making our way to Montes for sunset and a stroll along the beach before dinner. They'd moved our table back under cover because they thought it was going to rain, but we got them to move it back out next to the beach as we were pretty sure we wouldn't get rain before dinner was finished. We had a lovely dinner, although they serve their wine in cheap pub glasses which is totally out of keeping with the quality of the flatware and the food.
On the short drive from the restaurant to the creek it began to rain. Julie's mum never fails us. We set up the camper in the dark and a light rain yet by morning the canvas was dry.
After a short drive we arrived at the Airlie Beach Markets. Got some bargains in fruit and vegetables some rosella jam and a latte but by this time, about 8:30am, Glen was baking so we made our way to The Lagoon, the free man made swim lagoon, and cooled off with a swim before wandering the town. We got some information on some tours, went away for a little while, settled on a snorkelling tour for the next day and tried to book but it was now full, so we chose another company, Ocean Rafting.
On booking in at Flametree CVP we learned of deals with Whitsunday Cruises but even with the benefit of hindsight I'm glad we went with Ocean Rafting for the inner reef. We were both going to do an introductory scuba dive and the CVP owner said it was best to dive on the outer reef. We booked our outer reef tour through the CVP and got a free transfer to Hamilton Island worth $120pp thrown in. We set up and hit the pool. Saturday evening at Flametree they have a get together to relax and raise money for charity. We arrived at 5:30 with drink and chair and the finger food started coming around and the music started. After a few wines some of the ladies got up to dance. We hadn't realised it was instead of dinner so we went back to cook while the residents partied on.
Next morning we were picked up and taken to the marina, issued with stinger suits and allocated a boat - Jammin'. We chose the Northern Tour which had 2 snorkel sites and Whitehaven Beach for lunch. At the first stop, Manta Ray Bay, Glen was first over the side and was met with wall to wall fish including some large bat fish, giant trevally and wrasse. We were in the water for almost an hour and Glen was the last one out. At 25 degrees the water was lovely. The second site was one they don't get into often as it's rare conditions are favourable. Today was perfect weather. Sunny and still with no swell. At Mackerel Bay there weren't quite as many fish but more coral and a turtle. Once we alerted everyone to where the turtle was we left them to it as we'd swum with turtles in WA and 18 people following a single turtle is better than 20. in spite of the stinger suit Julie ended up with a jellyfish sting on her neck. A bit painful and annoying but luckily not one of the bad ones. After an hour it was back aboard the boat and after a short ride we arrived at Tongue Bay for the walk up the Hill Inlet Lookout over Whitehaven Beach. Most tours came down the same way but Ocean Rafting has 3 of the 4 licences to land on Whitehaven so we walked down to the beach for a lovely lunch and swam in the clear water over the pure white sand.
While none of the day felt rushed it was soon time to go and on the way back the drivers had bit of a play over each other's wake and came close side by side. Lamingtons were served for afternoon tea and this was new to the British guys on board who had no idea the Aussie icon they had received. When we got back to the CVP we went for a drive. We drove to Shute Harbour and the dock and found where we needed to be at 7am the following day. With the inner reef being so good we couldn't wait for the outer reef.
At 7am we parked at the dock and went inside to find something more like an airport check in than a wharf. There were two airport check in counters complete with the scale and conveyors that go out through the wall. We checked in and booked our times for Hamilton Island the following day. We boarded the Seaflight which picked up more passengers at Hamilton Island and we were soon headed out to Hart Reef and the pontoon moored there - Reef World. Glen had taken his sea sick tablet but it was another perfect day with glass seas and no wind, even two hours out to sea at the Reef. On the trip out we booked in for a scuba dive and of course a helicopter flight over Heart Reef. Our first dive briefing was done as we were still travelling out and we learned the hand signals we would need. As we were pretty booked up as soon as we arrived we orientated ourselves as to where the various things were, checked out the under-water observatory then suited up and got straight in for a snorkel. The water was a pleasant 26 degrees but today we were in wetsuits rather than stinger suits because we were scuba diving later. Keeping an eye on the time we worked our way along the reef and back again enjoying the wider variety of fish and coral than we saw at the inner reef. Back at the pontoon we had to strip out of the wetsuits and dry off as all of the food was on Seaflight. Lunch was a smorgasbord with seafood, chicken and a variety of salads, fresh bread or wraps. With no time to eat our plates were covered in glad wrap, our names written on them and they were put in the fridge for us. Back on the pontoon we had a little time to kill and watched the 2-3m gropers sitting like docked submarines under the pontoon before pulling on the wet wetsuits and fronting the dive master. It was warm so none of the usual discomfort many of you associate with pulling on a wet wetsuit for that first ski after it's been outside all night from the previous afternoon of water skiing. Julie was very nervous but the instructors were very reassuring. There was one instructor to each diver and we had weight belts put on before sitting on a bench while the tanks were strapped to our backs. Obligatory photos were taken and we were then escorted down the stairs to a waist deep "pool" consisting of a floor and three walls of aluminium mesh. We were shown how to breathe and equalise the pressure in our ears then proved we were ok and not going to freak out by putting our heads under then kneeling on the bottom for a couple of minutes. That test passed the three of us were allowed to the edge where the instructor took our arm and swam us just below the surface out from under the pontoon, past the under-water observatory to the edge of the reef returning the OK sign every minute or so as we slowly descended. Julie and her instructor were in front, then the other guy and Glen was last. The tanks which were so heavy on land felt like nothing in the water and at first it wasn't much different to snorkelling but as we descended the light changed and so did what we saw. The coral wasn't as colourful but the fish were bigger. We could see under the ledges and realised what we'd been missing by floating about on the surface all these years. The feeling of air bubbles over our ears as we breathed out was a weird sensation and looking up it looked like we were such a long way down. Much deeper than the 11 foot 6 deep end at Revesby Pool where Glen and his friends would prove themselves by touching the bottom and all without the excruciating pain in the ears. Pretty soon we were joined by Taylor, the underwater photographer, and her entourage of tens of fish including a large wrasse who doesn't mind a pat as long as Taylor feeds it every now and then. With no rush to the surface for air Glen and his instructor could pause and watch the amorous advances of a cod on his intended wife and watch another fish's spots turn brighter blue as we slowly approached before it darted off to devour a smaller fish. We did four passes of the coral wall at different depths then swam back to our entry pool past the 20 or so 1m long giant trevally who were enjoying a rest in the shade of the pontoon. Julie loved it and her apprehension vanished as soon as she hit the water. You can see from the photos and the smile on her face just how much she loved the experience.
Speaking of love it was now time to see the most romantic place in all the world… OK maybe that’s a stretch but it was almost time for our helicopter joy flight over heart reef. Unlike Horizontal Falls and on the Outback Floatplane Experience the helipad wasn't attached to the main pontoon so it was a short boat ride to another pontoon. We'd been talking to two sisters on the boat ride out in the morning and they were on our helicopter flight. Mary wasn't keen to do this but was making the effort however she didn't want the front seat offered to them. We generously offered to swap so they could sit in the back seat and she wouldn't even have to endure a window seat. We ended up in the front with the pilot and a clear view all around. I know, the sacrifices you make so others are comfortable! Maybe it truly is lucky to be pooped on by a bird as earlier in the day Julie got christened by a gull. The other couple on our flight wanted the front seat too but they were already seated so it was offered to us.
We were told by the pilot that the Heart Reef was a little smaller than most people expect, and it did seem small from the air but the manta ray swimming close by was just a speck in comparison so we aren't sure how big it really is. Suffice to say it was big enough to see and we were stoked to see it in real life after all the pictures we've seen of it over the last few years. Our deckie from Ocean Rafting told us that Whitehaven Beach is the second most photographed spot in the country behind Sydney Harbour yet when Julie's photos of Whitehaven hit Facebook few had even seen it before or at least few recognised it. Perhaps it's partly because it looks slightly different after every tide and partly because when you get down to it it's a white beach that could be anywhere. It's not instantly recognisable like Wineglass Bay in Tassie or indeed Heart Reef or the Harbour Bridge. Heart Reef may not get the visitors to make it the most photographed but everyone recognises it. Wonder how many knew it is just a 2 hour boat and 5 minute helicopter ride from Port of Airlie… We could not have asked for any better. We had perfect weather with blue sky and no wind and we had the uninterrupted view from the front seat. Julie rates it as one of the great moments of the trip but Glen isn't asking where the kiss from Outback Wrangler Matt Wright fits in… Postscript - the young lady in the front of the helicopter when he flew in to kiss Julie we have recently seen in a "popular women's magazine" as being Matt's fiancée. Our congratulations to them both.
Anyway back to our highlight day… Our next activity was to catch the last semi-submersible boat tour of the day. Basically it's a glass bottom boat on steroids and while every other trip it has done that day averaged 30 passengers we had 6. I'm not sure how it is propelled or steered so accurately but it makes its way along the reef wall from the snorkel limit for about 100m. It is able to skim centimetres from the coral and we have the benefit of a guide telling us what we are seeing. Julie spotted the one and only turtle they'd seen all day. Back at the pontoon it was straight up the gangplank back onto Seaflight for the trip back to Airlie, leaving only the 9 doing the reef sleep and crew on the pontoon - (we are so doing the reef sleep next time, they spend two days and one night on the pontoon and the weather for those two days was as perfect as you could get, and yes there will be a next time, family in tow we hope). We were given our lunches and soon the photos of the day were being shown on the screens. Prices were great if there were 5 of you but tended to be on the expensive side if you just wanted one or two shots, still we'd paid for the trip, scuba and helicopter so we could hardly quibble and bought 5 photos which came with 100 general reef shots which admittedly we'll probably never look at again. You can imagine the trip back in the afternoon past some of the Whitsunday islands with no wind and smooth seas and then they served muffins! To Glen this was bliss.
That evening on returning to the dock we decided to go for a drive and ended up at The Lagoon. We swam around for a while and asked the lifeguard what time it was open till. She said "I know you, you teach at Moorebank" Yep, Glen had run into an ex Moorebank student, Jessica Simmonds. Of course he couldn't place her at the time and it came to him later. She'd been there for 3 years and we'd come across her on her first shift as lifeguard at The Lagoon. Her day job is in IGA. Remarkably brave these young people who settle thousands of kilometres from their family. You have to admire them.
The next day it was back to the marina and we boarded a boat for Hamilton Island which picked up and set down at Daydream island on the way. Arriving at Hamilton we explored the shops at the port including the artist at the far end of the beach which had some absolutely incredible stuff, much of it in cast marble - you can buy instructional DVDs of the technique. One thing you notice on Hamilton Island is the golf carts. There are hundreds. We chose the free shuttle bus to get around and our first stop was One Tree Hill with it's views of the surrounding islands and it overlooks the Resort area. That's where we went next and pulled up a couple of deck chairs by the pool. It was evident pretty quickly that this is the bogan island, albeit rich bogans but bogans none the less. Of course not all were bogans but there were enough to keep us entertained. There were a nice family where the brothers, one wearing VFL shorts as swimmers were chucking a wahoo footy around. Glen wanted to join them.. They were there with mum, dad and sister. The group next to us were "destination wedding" where it appeared the brother in law was going to absolutely cop it from his wife later. Their child was tired, we assume they'd already had to check out of their room and he went off with his mates leaving wife and child even when asked not to. The groom played with the kid and helped out the mum. Later when the dad returned we were surprised the pool didn't turn into an ice rink - in our humble opinion he deserved it.. The most intriguing group we would pick as being from Punchbowl. A single girl arrived first dropped her towel and revealed her bikini bottoms were inside out. You'd just love to tell her but how could we? No worries she spies her friends and over come a couple, let's call them Lebanese Christian as that's probably the closest stereotype. He with his board short legs tucked up to stubby length jumps in the pool and heads for the pool bar making a loud show of getting them a drink. She is asked by bikini girl to put sunscreen on her back - phew she'll get told now, but no she vaguely rubs a bit of sunscreen on and doesn't notice a 100mm white tag flying out on the back of a black bikini bottom! Seriously? It appears the couple are still smashed from the night before and are continuing. He sits on the side of the pool drinking and chatting to bikini girl as his girlfriend stands in the pool drinking. Bikini girl has only just met them by the sound of his conversation, which everyone could hear. He then tells his girlfriend to jump out and give him the bag. An elderly couple take pity on the girl and give him the bag from which he takes cigarettes and lights up under the no smoking in the pool area sign. Finishing his cigarette he leaves the butt in the dregs of his drink on the very edge of the pool and they leave a towel on their deck chair to reserve their spot. As the elderly couple leave the gentleman picks up the glass with the floating butt and puts it on Neanderthal's deck chair. We then went for a walk along Catseye Beach and unfortunately missed the trio's return. Wonder what he made of the glass on his seat? I hope it wasn't picked up before he saw it. Bikini girl wasn't drinking but the couple were downing cocktails standing in the water with him talking loudly the whole time. At one stage he makes a big show of taking his credit card to the bar to get more drinks, spends ages trying to impress the barman then comes back with his own drink and apologises for forgetting to get a drink for her. She goes to bar while he chats to bikini girl. Along come 5 early 20s people of Indian appearance and they don goggles. All 5 stand in the chest deep water and four of them then seem to try to touch the bottom with their hands while the skinny guy wearing glasses and holding his phone in a plastic pouch takes video of the attempts. One girl finally does a passable duck dive and tries to teach the others who continue to basically splash on top of the water. Really nice watching them have such a good time with lots of splashing and laughing. At this point balding old guy and his younger companion get back into the pool for a final swim before they catch the boat back to the mainland. He begins a game of tip. Glen actually beat Julie this time.
We walked the short walk over the hill to the dock and bought an ice cream - they need a retail assistant… there are worse places to work… With time to spare we went into Trader Joes and found prices very high. Even the newspapers and magazines had a 50c island markup. As we sailed back to Airlie it was pretty clear to us we aren't resort people as even with people watching the day was pretty boring.
We'd stayed an extra day at Flametree CVP because of our free trip to Hamilton and much to Glen's surprise it was Wednesday and the mozzies and midgies were being fogged this morning. Glen could have sworn it was Thursday so the fogging would have been done yesterday. Between ducking the clouds of pesticide we had breakfast and packed up then restocked on the way out of town headed for Cedar Falls for lunch then Cape Hillsborough. Glen's faith in the GPS took another beating as since it was getting late we decided to check out the free camp first. The GPS said Cape Hillsborough was just 1.5km down the road. Turns out the road was a 4WD track with big wash outs and ended on a beach. No worries we'll put it in 4WD. The end of the beach was miles from the National Park we thought we were going to so after getting stuck we let the tyres down a bit and were able to get off the beach, back up the track and onto the road out to the national park. There was supposed to be kangaroo feeding on the beach but we either missed it or it didn't happen so after checking out the rest of the beach and the CVP we had dinner in the park then headed back to set up camp in the dark.
The next day it was into Mackay and we got the long awaited second season of Outlander from JB HiFi and had a swim at the Blue Lagoon before having a drink at the Eimio Hotel overlooking the beach and ticking it off from our Top 101 Beaches book. We intended to spend the night at Eungella National Park. The drive from the valley floor is 4km of steep climb and once again the car got so hot we had to stop half way up. While trying to cool the car we lifted the bonnet and found that the air con belt was off. After all the money we spent getting it fixed at Mareeba! Since it was now dark we went to the Broken River campground as it was the most accessible. We saw 3 or 4 fireflies, much bigger than the one Glen saw at Wallaman Falls. That night there was a spectacular and prolonged lightning storm which dropped a little rain but it was soon over. Camped right next to the river next morning we could see a platypus from our campsite. After breakfast we went for a walk along some of the trails and ended up seeing lots of turtles and a few birds we hadn't seen before. We came across a large pool in the river and saw a platypus there so we were able to watch it feeding for 40 minutes or so, getting some great shots, before Glen got hungry and we went back for lunch. Glen checked the car and found the driving pulley for the air con had come off -later identified as the harmonic balancer. It seemed to be stuck on with rubber. A bit more platypus watching in the afternoon then some Outlander watching in the evening. Only one firefly tonight. Spent a fairly quiet day around camp catching up the next day and we had a little bit of rain around lunch. Again only the single firefly that night.
Packed up the next day and explored the area and the campsite only accessible by 4wd which looked great. If we'd come in the daylight we would have stopped there, but speaking to campers they hadn't seen a single platypus and we would have missed out on that special experience. The Sky Window Lookout is so high and looks out over a flat valley floor. Very impressive.
We drove down the mountain towards Finch Hatton Gorge.