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  • Writer's pictureClaire

19/02/24 Airlie Beach

Todays little jolly began at the civilised hour of 0800 hrs when we went down to meet our pickup for todays adventure. When we got downstairs, right outside the front door, was a parrot on it's back, gasping it's last breaths. It had decided to unalive it self by flying head first into the reception window at immense speed and left half of its brains all over the window above. If we had been somewhere other than right outside the hotel and under the security cameras, we would most likely have put it out of its misery. As it was, we stepped over it and went to meet the minibus.

I was hopng it wasn't something of a bad omen, because todays trip was flying out over the Whitsunday Islands, the Great Barrier Reef, and the beautiful Whitehaven beach, in a six seater plane...

Our driver arrived bang on time and on the way we picked up a gaggle of french girls from one of the backpackers in town. Once they were loaded in we got on our way to The Whitsundays Airport. Its about a 30 minute drive from Airlie Beach, and takes in some seriously pretty countryside. Acres upon acres of Sugar Cane lined the roadsides along the route. The trip was quite quiet in general, but we did discover that the word fuck in french is the same as it is in English. We know this because the girls were using it every other word. I actually felt quite at home with them just for that one little word. They didn't interact with Si and I, I suspect that we were perhaps a little old for them to be interacting with.

The airport is small, but very pretty. Aside from small aircraft flying out of there on a daily basis, there are also daily internal flights around the country. When we arrived, there was no sign of the plane, and we had a little wait in the mini bus until it taxied in and pulled up next to the fuel pump.. Its fair to say the plane was a lot smaller than I was expecting, it was what I would describe as dinky. It was a few minutes until the plane was unloaded, and there were people pouring out of and it was like Mary Poppins bag! The Pilot, took photographs for all the passengers and then shooed them in the direction of the mini bus. Once they were outside the gate, he began to do preflight checks. He produced a step ladder and then used it to check the fuel level on the wing and then topped it up, he also did something under the bonnet, way to technical for me! Once that was done we were called over to the plane, invited to stand under the wing for our preflight safety briefing. We were all allocated life jackets in a yelllow pouch which went around our waists. Instructions on how to put it on and what to do in an emergency were given, and once everyone was happy and the pilot had checked the life jackets were on properly we were able to board.

Prior to flying we had to fill out height and weight forms for the flight. This info was used by the flight company to seat us in appropriate seats to balance the plane out. Si and I were sat directly behind the pilot four of the girls sat behind us and the other in the co pilot seat. The plane, as I mentioned was a small one so there wasnt a huge amount of room. Once we were all seated, strapped in and headphones on we made the short trip to the runway. A lot of radio chatter came through the headphones, which we had been advised would happen, and we were cleared for take off. As the little plane hurtled up the runway, wacky races popped into my mind, and catch the pigeon was going around in my tiny little brain. The way my brain works, actually scares me sometimes.

Off the ground we soared over the sugar cane fields, and the cane processing plant, which is absolutely huge, and provides a large number of jobs as you can imagine. There are two crops a year harvested, and viewing them for the sky was mightily impresseive. Leaving the Sugar Cane fields behind us, and still climbing, we flew over The Conway National Park, a stunning area, covering 86.9 square miles. Inside the Natonal Park are stunning creeks and waterfalls, as well as beautiful hiking trails. Going over the mountains, there was some turbulance, I think the little plane made it feel far worse than it actually was. The little plane was bouncing around ike a ping pong ball. Our pilot "Lucky" had given us the heads up and so we were prepared for it. The weather when we left the ground was brilliant sunshine, but there were clouds coming in. Initially I was dissapointed, because I wanted Si to see the reef in all its glory, but I was later to realise that a bit od cloud is no bad thing.

The flight over the mountains was around 10 minutes, just as the ocean came into sight, Lucky pointed out the Proserpine River below. Its a very muddy brown at the moment due to all the heavy rains that the area has been having. The area is known for saltwater crocodiles, who love it's murky depths and you can actually do a boat safari up it and see the crocs. Im not sure its something i would rush to do personally, Salties are one of the worlds most deadliest animals and grow up to 6 foot in length. They are also comfortable in seawater as well as fresh water and can sometimes spend weeks at sea drifting and swimming and having a bit of a nibble en route. Fun fact, warmer nest temperatures will produce males and cooler temps produce mostly females. a saltie can lve over 65 years, whilst that sounds impressive, the mortality rate in the young is massive and only about1% of the newborns will survive due to other predators. Another fun fact, they actually sleep with one eye open. Their central nervous system is wired a bit differently and the left eye stays open when the right side of the brain is awake and vice versa I think I'd like to be able to shut down half my brain at a time, I choose to shut down the bit that forgets everything and cant do maths!! Most saltie attcks occur in the summer months when the rivers are swollen from the rains. The moral of the story ? dont swim in water if you cant see the bottom! or if there are warning signs depicting a croc.

The river is also a favorite spot for Bull sharks, and they will travel up the river for many miles in some cases, to breed in the brackish waters during the summer months . The Females, who don't actually raise their young, can give birth to a litter of up to 15 live pups unlike other shark breeds which lay eggs. It's pretty smart reproductive strategy that almost guarantees their survival. The nurseries provide the pups with protection from larger predators until they mature when they tend to move to saltwater habits. The bull sharks are the most dangerous ones in Australia, as they are the most territorial and aggresive . They tend to stake their claim on a patch that is abundent in food resources. It's a little unfortunate really that humans flock to those same areas. They have been known to have a nibble on the odd human, apparently only out of curiosity, and they have the one of the most powerful bites they will easly outbite a great white. Lucky did advise against going swimming in the creek. Excellent advice that I think I might heed in this instance.

Leaving the greenery of The Conway National Park behind we soared out over the ocean towards the Whitsunday Islands, which are mountains of Emerald green vegetation with incredible rocky outcrops that just rise up out of the sea. There are 74 Islands in the Whitsundays, the majority of which are uninhabited. Hamilton Island is the largest inhabited Island and has a commercial airport. A variety of accomodation types from luxurious adult only, to self contained apartments and houses ensures that the Island is accessible to every budget. The biggest Island is Whitsunday Island which is uninhabited and one of the most popular Islands for day trips due to the beautiful Whitehaven Beach. This is followed By Hook Island which lies opposite it. Flying over them gives you a greater perspective of their size which is hard to grasp from merely sailing around it. Hill Inlet lies to the North of Whitehaven Beach, as the tide shifts, the white silica sand combined with the blue- green hues of the inlet, blend seamlessly to create a swirling fusion of jewel like turquioise colours . From the air it is just stunning, and I cant believe we are in the position to be able to have this amazing birds eye view of it. Moving away we headed out towards the Barrier Reef which took us around 10 minutes. The radio chatter continued, but none of it was relevant to us so everyone was able to contentedly gaze out of the windows as smaller Islands passed beneath us. The first glimpse of the reef was just insane, the colours, shapes, and sheer size of it was just a feast for the eyes. The Reef itself covers 348,000 square kilometers and the entire eco system was declared as a world heritage site in1981. It is 2000 kilometers long and has evolved over thousands of years, having been exposed and flooded by at least four glacial and interglacial cycles. The history of these cycles can be seen in the very core of the ancient corals. Deep channels run between the reef's, deep inky blue in the sunlight, in contrast to the turquiose over the reef. The channels on average are around 35 metres deep. One of the highlights of the flight was seeing Heart reef, something I had only ever seen on postcards prior to today. It was discovered in 1975 by a local pilot and is protected under the umberella of The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. You can't snorkel or dive on it and hopefully this will keep it pristine and untouched for many many years to come. The only way to see it clearly is from the air. After Lucky did two fly overs so everyone could get a picture, we started the return trip, taking a different route so we could take in more of the stunning Islands. He was telling us the names as we flew over them but I have to be honest here and I've forgotten them. (face palms self in utter disgust) We came in over Airlie Beach and could see our apartments as we headed back towards the airport in Proserpine. In total we were out for over 70 minutes, they say time flies when youre having fun, well in this case there has never been a truer word said!

When we landed and all unloaded from the plane, Lucky happily took photographs for everyone, so obviously Bob got in on the act, we had to stop him trying to fly off again he had so much fun on the flight. We did have a chuckle because when Lucky spotted him, he said we had a stowaway and if he had known that he'd have charged us for an extra seat. Good job he didn't notice Kev as well is all I can say!

The next load of passengers to go out on the plane hadn't yet arrived, so Lucky escorted us off the tarmac and back out onto the grass to wait for the minibus. The turn around was really quick, the minibus turned up, the next passengers got out and we hopped into the cool interior and shut the door quicly. We were each given a bottle of cold water which was appreciated, the little plane didn't have much in the way of air conditioning, so we had all got a bit warm. We were dropped back into Airlie Beach, we could have gone back to the apartments but we decided a long cool drink was in order and it made sense for us to get dropped in town.

After some liquid refreshment we went to the supermarket to get some supplies in and with that little chore done, made our way back to the apartment. We did have to stop on the way to take pics of Bob on a jetski and sat by a big monkey called George.

The route back took us past the Airlie Beach foreshore reserve, a pretty palm tree lined bay, with a small white sandy beach and a little further on the Port of Airlie. Along the way we (I) lost Kev who had let go of Bobs arm, so Si had to go back and look for him. He was just lying there, nose-less and looking a bit pathetic and sorry for himself by all acounts, he cheered up when Si went back for him. Poor bugger has already been abandoned once! With Kev safely clinging onto Bobs arm again I spotted a golf cart and decided the boys needed a photo so they jumped in. I think it cheered Kev up although Bob looked more than a bit cheesed off, which now begs the question, did Kev jump or was he pushed ??

Almost at the apartment, we began discussing the Poly Gone and wether or not there would be a parrot wake for it tonight after it unalived itself this morning. We suspect it might be a noisy affair, but we hope they are considerate of the neighbours ....

Much Love


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