Continuing the drive down through Queensland, we stopped at Bowen (the main street was used in Baz Luhrmann’s Australia). I had a photo with the Big Mango – my first of Australia’s “Big Things”. We splashed around in the beachside water play area – great fun even if you’re a grown up! From there, we drove to Airlie Beach to head out to the Whitsunday Islands. The Whitsunday Cruise boat leaves Port of Airlie at 6.30am but it’s completely worth getting up early for.
We were incredibly lucky as despite the recent cyclone, the sea was as flat as a pancake (the crew told us that there are sometimes 3 meter waves!), the weather was glorious, and hundreds of Ulysses butterflies – who are only here for a few weeks of the year – flew alongside us. The first stop was the incomparable Whitehaven beach, one of the Top Ten beaches in the world. As it was still early, the beach was deserted aside from the passengers on our boat and a pretty sand goanna. The sea is crystal clear and the 95% silica sand literally glistens white (it can be used to exfoliate your skin and clean your jewellery). Thanks to a little girl shrieking “daddy, a big fish!”, we shared the ocean with a shovel headed stingray. We were pretty sad to reboard the boat, but luckily our afternoon stop was equally idyllic.
Daydream is a beautiful island, small enough to walk around in a few hours, and is home to a charmingly old fashioned resort. When we arrived, staff members adorned in tropical fish shirts are stood on the jetty to greet us, one playing the guitar, and a resident wallaroo is munching the lawn. We begin walking when one of the staff offers us a lift to the other side of the island on a golf buggy – he gets to live on the island and drive customers around paradise on a golf buggy all day, lucky guy! We get free lunch and Bundaberg ginger beers (my favourite), get to stroke brown stingrays (unbelievably silky!) and bamboo sharks in the living reef, and go for a swim in the beautiful tree-shaded beachside pool. We departed, sadly, on the last boat of the day, and Peb could only be marginally cheered up by the Mack trucks at the BP truck stop we camped at.
We continued our east coast journey through Black’s beach where hundreds of baby turtles hatch each year and make their way to the sea – we didn’t see any but saw their little flipper prints in the sand – Mackay, which is full of pretty art nouveau buildings, and Rockhampton, where we had a coffee with Peb’s friend and his wife. We spent a day in Bundaberg at the ginger beer barrel and the Bundy rum distillery (photo with the Big Bundy Rum) and had delicious fish’n’chips by the river. We stopped at Hervey Bay to walk the 1km pier and Noosaville where we watched sunset by the river, had a photo with the Big Pelican (and saw three huge pelicans asleep on top of a lamppost), and watched hundreds of fruit bats fly around. Our final stop was Noosa Heads – Hastings Street was full of overdressed posers, but the national park and Tea Tree Bay were beautiful.
We dropped Celine off in Brisbane, where we got charged $300 for a large chip in the windscreen courtesy of a stone hurled by a big truck. Thankfully we’d bought insurance beforehand!