KAYAK FOR A CURE

Quell those fears, sea­sick­ness suf­fer­ers, be­cause the Whit­sun­days are like a mag­i­cal mo­tion po­tion

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - DESTINATION QUEENSLAND - ALIS­TAIR PA­TON THE WRITER WAS A GUEST OF TOURISM AND EVENTS QUEENS­LAND

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.

NAT­U­RAL CURE

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

AIR­LIE AC­COM­MO­DA­TION

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.

WHITE ROCK

HARDY REEF

OCEAN LIFE

PIC­TURES: TOURISM AND EVENTS QUEENS­LAND, TOURISM AUS­TRALIA

Rest your pad­dling arms and scale the boul­der on White Rock; and the edge of Hardy Reef teems with tiny fish.

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