Australia: Paradise In The Whitsundays

Palm Bay

Travelling down Australia’s east coast we were really excited for the Whitsundays, 74 islands nestled among the Great Barrier Reef, part rainforest, part white sand beaches. However, having already spent all our money scuba diving, we had to work for accommodation. We found Palm Bay, the only resort on Long Island, 2,500 acres of national park, where we stayed for 2 weeks.

Palm Bay
Palm Bay

We did a painfully expensive food shop for the full stay, and got a water taxi from Shute Harbour. Pulling up on the beach, it was (of course) raining, but the wooden huts among the palm trees circling the bay were still beautiful. The next few days we spent working – housekeeping and gardening – and relaxing in the pool or watching the sun set over the sea. On our first day off, we began to explore the island.

Pelican Island

Only 600m from our resort was Pandanus Bay, a rock beach with an island only accessible at low tide. As we walked over the dark rocks, contrasted against white driftwood benches, we heared faint clicks as snails dropped to the safety underneath. On a rare patch of sand, the floor moved as hundreds of crabs ran from us before burying themselves in the sand.

Pelican Island at low tide
Pelican Island at low tide

The low tide had brought rocks covered with molluscs to the surface, their purple shells dangerously sharp; and seaweed clung to the branches of three lone trees to mark the high tide. We stumbled to the middle of Pelican Island where there was a small tree-covered hill that sadly, in our flip flops, it was too dangerous to walk around.

Happy Bay

A 1.3km bushwalk – complete with deadly snakes, massive spiders, and butterflies floating around our heads – took us to an abandoned resort. Hidden behind the slightly eerie compound was the gorgeously picturesque Happy Bay. The sand, strewn with pieces of coral, was shaded by palm trees full of green parakeets and white cockatoos; the clear water turned a bright turquoise in the distance where we could see the surrounding islands. Paddling in the shallows, we discovered camouflaged sting rays that darted away as we got near.

A camouflaged stingray
A camouflaged stingray

We heard the intermittent thumps of falling coconuts and collected some to open. A metal spike had been left for this purpose, but we still struggled until the groundskeeper arrived and showed us how it was done. Smashing it without any regard for his hands, he opened the outer shell in seconds. After piercing a hole with a screwdriver, we drank the sadly-warm and not-at-all-sweet coconut water.

A fresh coconut at Happy Bay
A fresh coconut at Happy Bay

The sound attracted the wildlife – a cautious wallaby sniffed at my fingers but decided against taking the piece of coconut I was offering; brave cockatoos flapped out of the trees to waddle along the sand and take food from our hands; and greedy bush turkeys stole anything we turned our back on.

A lazy wallaby
A lazy wallaby

Kayaking and Snorkelling

We took some kayaks, flippers and snorkels – and dashing stinger suits, just in case – and headed out along the shoreline, in a stretch of water shielded between two islands. The water was choppy but clear so we could see light patches of sand, clumps of dark seaweed reaching for the surface, and occaisonally a white boulder coral. Turtles popped their heads out of the water to breathe, before lazily swimming away.

We pulled up on an unnamed beach spotted with huge chunks or coral. A sandy pier jutted out into the water so we walked out until we were waist-deep. We sat there for an hour, being dragged by the waves, sunbathing and skipping stones. The only people we saw took off in a seaplane to see the reef from above.

Pulled up on an unnamed beach
Pulled up on an unnamed beach

Being overly cautious of the deadly jellyfish, we put on our head-to-toe stinger suits to go snorkelling. With our flippers already on, we clambered awkwardly over rocks – and I panicked and screamed when the seaweed touched me – until we could comfortably swim. There was fluorescent green and blue branching coral, white boulder coral, bright red brain coral, and orange anemones. There were clownfish, pink parrotfish, surgeonfish with a white spot either side of their tail, and black and white striped fish. Schools of jumping fish leaped around us and swallows swooped past our heads.

Boulder coral in the foreground, branching coral in the back
Boulder coral in the foreground, branching coral in the back

Shark Bay

To the back of the resort was what we called Shark Bay, as it was apparently their popular feeding ground. One evening, as the sun was setting, we chucked out some fish tails and shrimp shells in hopes of luring them in, but had no luck. We got our hopes up when we saw ripples and the food bobbing up and down, but it was only a tiny silver fish.

Shark Bay at low tide
Shark Bay at low tide

We went back when the tide was abnormally low. From above, the water was yellow, green and blue, and islands of life surfaced from beneath. Climbing over the slippery rocks that were normally submerged, we found turqoise crabs hiding in rock pools. We heard them clacking their pincers shut around their dinner. I waded in, scaring away some small fish, and saw red and green boulder coral, orange branching coral and a spikey sea cucumber, while never going more than ankle-deep.

Red and green coral
Red and green coral

Stargazing

Away from the lights of the cities, the moon lit up the night. It shone so brightly that it dulled the stars. One night, as it hung over the horizon, it shone orange.

However, the best time to see the stars was before the moon rose, and with no clouds in the sky, there were a lot to see. A light strip of millions of stars dominated as the Milky Way tried to make itself visible. We found the Big Dipper and searched for the Southern Cross (that’s on the Australian flag) but didn’t really know what we were looking for. Instead we saw shooting stars, trying to point them out to each other before it was too late.

The Milky Way*
The Milky Way*

And Everything Else

Not to mention the mass BBQ’s, and fresh coconut cocktails, made to the sound of geckos chirping in the rafters; the monitor lizard, who tried to make himself at home in our kitchen by scaring us out; the wallaby with a baby in her pouch hiding in the resort; the seaplanes, helicopters and private yachts coming and going; and all the tennis we attempted to play on a beach-side court.

I honestly had some of the best weeks of my life, and without a doubt, I’m going back. Palm Bay is really well-priced so next time might even be as a customer. It’s the closest I’ll get to being on my own private island.

*Thanks to Alyzée

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