Sailing the Whitsundays

Land of Oz

 A road trip up the East Coast of Australia

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We had mentally been brewing this Australia trip for a while now, and the fact that it finally all fell into place was almost too good to be true. My friend Brooke had been wanting to take some time off to travel and was granted a two month sabbatical from work. I decided I wanted to start working as remote freelance designer, and all the while, up north in Canada, my old travel buddy Kayley was looking to take off on another adventure as well. Before we knew it we were on our way. We decided to make plans to leave in early February to catch the end of the Australian summer. We mentioned the trip to a couple of our Aussie buddies we had met a few years back at Oktoberfest in Germany, hoping we may be able to visit them while we were over there. Much to our surprise, the pair of them were able to take some time off and join in on the fun. We would be a family of five. Road tripping, nice and squished in a station wagon, for two weeks up the east coast of Australia.

BRISBANE

The girls arrived first in Brisbane, by way of Fiji, and grabbed a shuttle all together to our first hostel. The first place we stayed was called YHA, which stood for “Youth Hostel Australia”. A popular choice among backpackers there. It was quickly back to roommate and bunk bed life. Something you sort of suppress until you are back in it and attempting to readjust to budget style accommodation. That first afternoon we were eager to check out the town and had a walk about, quickly finding a fun brewhouse called The Charming Squire to cheers the start of our new adventure. After a few pints we headed down to the boardwalk along the river. The bustling city sat on the north side of the winding river and across to the south was an interesting little watering hole they called South Bank. It was a man made beach / swimming area that looked to be a cross between a Las Vegas pool and children’s water park. We relaxed in the warm water, caught up, and enjoyed people watching the afternoon away.

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The following day the rest of our party arrived, Dane and Byron. Our fun loving, always down for the party Aussies. That evening we all enjoyed a nice dinner at a restaurant up on Caxton street called Peasant and caught up over some tasty pork belly apps and a few pitchers of Sangria. Feeling like we had a solid start on the evening we headed over to a dance-y backpacker bar where the boys didn’t waste any time starting in on the pitchers of VB beer. It was at this moment, the midst of the dimly lit bar on weeknight I began to realize the difference between last trip with the boys, nearly 3 years ago, and now. I could no longer keep up on week long benders and this was only night one. A few drinks at the bar somehow wound us up at the only casino in town at the wee hours of the morning. I figured I’d throw a whopping $5 AUD down on the roulette table, since in truth it was the only gambling I knew how to do, and came out $50 AUD up! Lucky day!

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BYRON BAY: “Cheer up. Slow down. Chill Out.”

The next day we hit the road in our little family station wagon. It was a tight squeeze in that back seat for three but we were going to have to get cozy. Our first stop was actually to the south of Brisbane, even though the majority of our travel would be to the north. Kayley had only two weeks here in Oz and wanted to see a little of New South Wales before we spent all our time up in Queensland.

Our first stop was at the turn off the main hwy into Byron at a restaurant called The Farm. Which I can’t recommend enough. As in its name this farm to table restaurant is located on a large property and boast loads of outdoor seating and local artisan goods. If this was a glimpse as to what the rest of this town would be like, I knew I was going to be in heaven.

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Along the side of the road on the way into to the hippy town of Byron Bay, there is a wooden hand painted sign that right away sets the vibe, reading:

“Cheer up. Slow down. Chill out.”

Located right on the water this rad little spot was not only home to an eclectic bunch, but also to some amazing surf. As soon as we arrived we were anxious to get to the beach and go for a swim in the warm water. What we hadn’t yet realized was the strength of the Australian sun. We spent the day on the beach, caught some waves and finally tossed around the volleyball Brooke had been carrying for a week now. Our beach time was followed by beers (which you will realize is a breakfast lunch and dinner beverage with these boys).

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The Wreck

The following day we hired a couple boards and I got my hands on a single fin board I had been dreaming of taking out in the 80°F water. The first place we surfed was called ‘The Wreck’ named after the sunken ship that lied beneath the water just off shore. I was smiling from ear to ear being able to surf in just a bikini in the warm water. This is exactly what I had come to Australia for. Kayley was even feeling it that day and decided to hop on a board and give it a go. This was only her second attempt at learning how to surf. So I got to put on my coaching hat for a bit and help out. And she stood up!

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The Light House

We had heard a visit to Byron wouldn’t be complete with out a walk up to the light house to catch the sunset. Located a couple miles down the beach from the center of town was a peninsula that the light house sat on. This little bit of land was called Cape Byron and is, fun fact, actually the most easterly point of the Australian mainland. We enjoyed the colors of the sunset with dozens of others who must have heard about the amazing view from the top of the hill, listening to a local street musician play for the visitors on his guitar. The warm wind and sound of music rested into your bones as you took a deep breath and took in the colors on the sunset and the 180 degree view of the horizon. This little corner of the coast was beautiful. And I knew I would be back.

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NOOSA

After only a days taste of the Byron surf we were off in the car again, headed back up north to Queensland. The boys and Kayley had plans to go camping on Fraser Island, but Brooke and I were hooked on the idea of catching some surf and decided it would be best if we split off for a couple days. We dropped the three off up in Hervey Bay and did a bit of backtracking back to Noosa, where she and I would stay for a few nights. The drive back from Hervey Bay was the first time we had driven on the other side of the road, without Byron in the car to grab onto the wheel when we were instinctively drifting off to the center of the road. But we picked it up quick, and soon got the hang of clockwise roundabouts and motorway exits on the left hand side.

Noosa is located along the Sunshine Coast. Which is about all we knew about the town other than that it was home to some quality long board surfing. We booked a room through Airbnb just outside the main part of town and our hosts ended up being surf expats from Brazil. They gave us the low down on all the best spots to check out. The conditions the next couple days were not the best so we spent the next morning at a rad little moto cafe and decided to go for a drive down the coast. About 50 round-a-bouts and 20km later we ended up in a town just south of Noosa town called Coolum. There weren’t too many waves there that day either, but we decided to rent a couple boards anyway. A day out in the water with friends, even with no waves, is better than a day on land.

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Double Island

That night, we decided we would go out for a bite along the downtown strip back in Noosa. It was there we met a few local guys at a place called, The Village Bicycle. We shared a few drinks and after chatting for a while they invited us out for a little off roading adventure the following day to Double Island Point. They picked us up at 6:30am the next morning, while everyone was still feeling a bit dusty after a night out. Apparently we had to get an early start in order for us to make it across the ferry, and up the beach while it was still low tide. We would then drive up the entire length of the nearly empty beach, to a cove where we hopped out for a surf. We spent the day there in the sun cracking jokes and making fast friends while learning more slang words to add to our Aussie vocabulary list.

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The Road To Airlie

The following day went and fetched the other half of our crew at Hervey Bay, followed by an 11 hour drive up to Airlie Beach in the far northern part of Queensland. We chose to do the long haul all in one day to be able to have a day to relax in between, but it was one of those things that only sounded like a good idea at the time. Byron was a trooper and drove nearly the whole way as the rest of the car was feeling a bit rough after a long weekend. Good thing he did as well, because during the long drive along the two lane highway we were stopped multiple times with random roadside breathalyzer checks . As much as I tease about Aussies and their drinking habits they are very strict on their no drinking and driving policies and we were thankful to have B as our fully sober chauffeur that day. After nearly a dozen stops for snacks, Bundaberg, Dane’s strange yet steady rotation of strawberry milk and beer, petrol, and toilet breaks we made it to Airlie just after 10pm, totally wiped out, but excited to be at our destination.

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THE WHITSUNDAYS

After a day of rest and a walk about the town of Airlie Beach, we hopped on a boat that we would call home for 3 days and 2 nights sailing up through the Whitsunday Islands. The old 1980s sailboat was called The Atlantic Clipper. The boat could have used a little TLC and some deep cleaning and the passengers aboard were a mix of 18-22 year olds fresh out of Uni and ready to chug boxed wine, or as they called it ‘Goon’, and party. We were definitely the oldest bunch on the boat and felt slightly out of place, not knowing what Kayley had signed us up for. But we made the best of our time with this unlikely crew out on the open sea and took advantage of the excursions, breath taking views, and beautiful white sandy beaches. We spent one afternoon snorkeling and the evening eating dinner on the deck watching a mama dolphin teach her calf how to catch fish under the stars and single spotlight off the boat at night. The Whitsundays were a beautiful set of islands but a very interesting place. Home to the clearest warm waters and loads of reef and marine life, yet you are unable to swim in the water without first putting on a stinger suit. Even while playing on the pristine white sandy beaches, you had to be covered from head to toe. The purpose of these wetsuits is to protect against potentially killer Irukandji and Box jellyfish that live in these waters.  So we rocked those funny ill fitting Scuba Steve suits and had a few good laughs as we had chicken fights in water off the coast of White Haven beach.

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When we arrived back at the dock after those few days out on the water, sea legs and all, and loaded our things back in the family car to start our long haul back down south. This time we decided to wise up and break up the drive up with a nights stay half way down the coast in the town of  Yeppoon. Luckily our Airbnb came equipped with a washer. Because after 3 days on the boat and only small bags worth of clothes, we all needed it. The ‘fun’ thing about Australia is that no one really has driers, so you just have to lay everything out to dry. And with 5 peoples clothes there were shirts hanging on sockets, pants over chairs, and underwear drying in the dish rack. But hey, you gotta do what you gotta do!

This was our last night all together before Kayley and Dane headed home. After nearly two weeks of sing alongs in the car we were once again breaking up the band, but with loads laughs and new memories in tow.

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