SATURDAY 16 MAY MACKAY TO AIRLIE BEACH 192kms
Today’s drive was predominantly through sugar cane country. There were forested ranges to the west that provided a backdrop to the farming country. In places, low wooded hills appeared on the other side of the highway, too.
We stopped at Proserpine for fuel – 69cpl. Just north of that town, turned off the highway and took the road to Airlie Beach. I had read some material about Airlie that suggested it would be a pleasant place to stay, to get some idea of what the Whitsunday region is like.
There is a whole string of islands off the coast, between Mackay and Bowen, loosely called the Whitsunday Islands. The name comes from one of the largest islands that Captain Cook so named, because he thought he found it on Whit Sunday. The region is known for its aqua seas, white sand beaches, sheltered sailing, and is a popular place on the backpacking circuit.
Driving into Airlie is spectacular. We came through a farming valley, up an ordinary looking hill, then, at the crest, the incredible view suddenly appeared. Right in front was this brilliant bay, with lots of yachts floating at anchor, heaps of islands dotted about, and jungle green headlands. It is unexpected and beautiful. We were told later that locals always slow down at that point, if driving behind tourists, because they know the exact point ahead at which the brake lights will come on, as the tourists automatically slow down and go “wow” – as we did.
The many islands are steep sided and jungle-y green.
We drove through the town – actually more like a village – to the Big 4 Airlie Cove Caravan Park. Our site here cost $16.20 a night, after club discount but they have no weekly rate or concessions. It was a very attractive park, with heavy tropical growth all round. It is the first place we have stayed that really felt tropical. We were able to walk around and choose our site. We rejected two that had large, fat, goannas asleep on their cement slabs – no point in making life hard for ourselves! Chose a site that had a lot of shrubbery and trees around, and an annexe slab. Discovered later that the trees were home to possums that thought our roof was a great new night time jumping game venue.
The park has a wonderfully attractive swimming pool – large and irregularly shaped, with a spa area to one side open to the pool itself. It looks very inviting.
The whole atmosphere here is very verdant, lush, tropical, full blown. I love it.
After set up, which included putting up the awning roof – outdoor living will be most pleasant here – we drove on to the end of the road, at Shute Harbour, which has a large marina with an obscenely large amount of dollars anchored in it! This is a major departure point for the Whitsunday Islands – day trips, reef cruises, fishing charters.
We drove up onto the headland above the marina and saw homes there that have views that must rank with the best in the world! The sunset on the sea below was bright purple.
It was dark when we drove back to Airlie Beach to get fish and chips for tea.
There is a vibrant atmosphere along the beach front strip that is the centre of town. It features many backpacker accommodation places and some lower key resort and unit structures, but does seem mostly geared to the younger generation – a contrast to Noosa. There are many cheap eateries and shops selling sarongs and T shirts. The place was busy, being a Saturday night. There was that peculiarly tropical smell of warm air, scented flowers, char-grilling food – it reminded me of Darwin.
John found that all the steep hills around us are barriers to good TV reception.