KAYAK FOR A CURE
Quell those fears, seasickness sufferers, because the Whitsundays are like a magical motion potion
Idon’t like boats. And they don’t like me. Travel sickness is a bit of a handicap for a travel writer, but thankfully I have outgrown the nausea that came with even long car journeys as a kid. Except when it comes to travelling on water. My head starts swimming long before the rest of my body, whether it’s on a cruise ship or car ferry.
I once inexplicably signed up for a week-long scuba diving course only to flunk on the final day when I had to put the lessons into practice in an actual ocean (I had to be ferried back to dry land) and after my last scenic boat trip I was bedridden for a week. So the prospect of spending a full day at sea fills me with a mild sense of dread.
But the good news for me and other sufferers (I present this as a public service announcement) is that there is a cure, and it’s located on the coast of north Queensland.
Follow my patented elixir: step one, hop in a kayak for a half-day paddle around Shute Harbour. You probably won’t be accompanied by my friendly Canadian guide, Alex, since he was planning to head back to the cooler waters of British Columbia. But the team from Salty Dog Sea Kayaking will pilot you between the boats heading out to the biggest and best known of the 74 Whitsunday Islands – the main attraction is Whitsunday Island and Whitehaven Beach’s 7km of pure white silica sand – to some of the smaller and less-visited islands.
First stop is White Rock, which probably doesn’t qualify as an island because it’s not much more than a pile of boulders and a small beach. But it’s a great spot to give your paddling arms a rest and scale the biggest boulder, drink in the 360degree view of turquoise waters and imagine yourself as a member of Captain James Cook’s expedition when he discovered and named the Whitsundays in 1770 (Whit Sunday is a Christian religious holiday). If you’re lucky, the final stop on your kayak tour will be Cane Cockies Beach, which is part of the mainland but still one of the most beautiful and remote beaches in the region – on our visit we had it all to ourselves except for a few visiting stingrays that cruised in the shallows.
The kayaks don’t venture beyond the sheltered harbour so it’s a gentle ride and when we pulled back into the boat ramp I realised I’d been enjoying myself too much to feel ill. But that was just part of the solution.
Next on my agenda was a trip to the Outer Great Barrier Reef – a threehour catamaran ride each way with Cruise Whitsunday.
It turns out I didn’t have to worry because the reef is so magical it cures all human ailments – part two of Paton’s seasickness potion (patent pending). I may not have any scientific evidence for that, but dipping my head under the ocean surface was like entering another world, miles away from mundane human concerns.
It continues to amaze me that the oceans cover 71 per cent of the Earth’s surface and contain up to 80 per cent of all life on the planet and yet we know remarkably little about them. And that’s true for scientists who study these things – most of us never even think about what’s going on out there apart from rare visits like this.
And it’s a good spot to do it – the Great Barrier Reef is home to 10 per cent of the world’s ocean life. At first glance, they all seem to be directly next to the pontoon where the Cruise Whitsunday catamaran pulls up, on the edge of Hardy Reef. Hundreds of tiny fish dart past in a shimmer of metallic blue. Angel fish, butterfly fish, multi-coloured parrot fish and dozens of other fish swim in every direction. Then the one fish everyone here knows by name floats into view: Elvis, a humphead wrasse as big as my coffee table.
Remarkably, Hardy Reef is just one of almost 3000 individual reefs that make up a system more than 2000km long. It’s almost too big to wrap your head around but there are lots of great options to make the most of your four hours on this small piece of the world’s largest living organism.
An underwater viewing chamber and semi-submersible boat provide a good introduction without getting wet; you can take a short helicopter flight to appreciate the scale of the reef from above; try scuba diving (not for me, thanks); or join a small group tour using SEABOBS, a kickboard with a propeller that glides on top of the water or under it to a depth of 2.5m, towing you at a fun but not outof-control speed to pristine sections of coral away from the crowds.
I was the only one of more than 300 on my full-day tour to enjoy a close encounter with a green sea turtle.
The reef is incredible, and fragile. In April last year this entire area was in the path of Cyclone Debbie which demolished a number of island resorts and damaged large areas of coral. Then there are the longer-term dangers of coral bleaching and rising ocean temperatures as a result of global warming. So go there, now – and do whatever we can to save it.
THERE ARE GREAT OPTIONS ON THIS SMALL PIECE OF THE WORLD’S LARGEST LIVING ORGANISM
The cyclone also battered the mainland, but you wouldn’t know it in Airlie Beach, the departure point for most reef tours. The coastal town is a 30-minute drive from the Whitsunday Coast Airport at Proserpine, where direct flights arrive from Brisbane daily, and Sydney and Melbourne three days a week, and has long been a haven for backpackers who will still find good budget accommodation and fun night-life. But the town is making a conscious effort to cater for more sophisticated travelling and dining experiences – Melbourne foodies, take note.
Heath Bentley moved from Perth to man the bar at Hamilton Island, then brought a small crew with him back to the mainland to establish a restaurant of his own under the stylish Mantra Boathouse Apartments overlooking the Port of Airlie. The result is Walter’s Lounge, where the array of original share plates include calamari that looks like fettuccine, zucchini with roasted cauliflower, blue cheese and truffle oil and mixed carrots on a carrot-based sauce (hard to explain, delicious to eat). Boutique wines,
cocktails and yummy desserts (my recommendation: The Beverley, named after its inspiration – Heath’s grandmother-in-law) top off a wonderful night. The Mantra complex includes a beer cafe and traditional Italian cuisine at La Marina.
For something different, drive 15 minutes north to Northerlies Beach Bar and Grill, where gigantic plates of locally caught prawns and ceviche tacos are served at tables with a view over your own private beach. The bar here is fashioned from a wooden fishing boat, a taste of the eclectic style of the Freedom Shores resort under construction next door.
A row of cabins is built to look like boats parked at a jetty and next door is a cocktail deck made out of the resurrected Shangri-La, a transport vessel used by General Douglas MacArthur during World War II. The palm trees that line the beach were sourced from the Pirates of the
Caribbean movie set and general manager Ken Meighan plans to place a treasure chest on another boat sunk in a lake outside Northerlies. Ken’s philosophy when designing Freedom Shores, which is expected to be taking guests by mid-year, was simple: “It doesn’t have to be boring”.
It’s a mantra that could apply to the entire Whitsundays, which can now add the motion sickness cure-all to its list of attractions … although it might pay to pick up a packet of Kwells before you hit the water just in case.
Rest your paddling arms and scale the boulder on White Rock; and the edge of Hardy Reef teems with tiny fish.