I've wanted to visit the Whitsundays for years, ever since a friend showed me her pictures of Whitehaven Beach. It's a beautiful cluster of islands just off the coast of Airlie Beach in Queensland. Most backpackers reserve a night or two on a sail boat and spend a couple days cruising around the islands and drinking themselves silly. That's because most backpackers in Australia are children. In an attempt to avoid being stuck on a giant boat with fifty 18 year olds drinking copious amounts of bagged wine, we opted for a smaller company that promised a more relaxing trip around the islands. I also happened to find a "great deal" on Bookme.com that allowed us to book two tours for the price of one. If you ask Will, he can tell you that the greatest thing about the "great deals" I find online are the prices. Saving money usually means losing out on comfort. Our Whitsunday experience was no exception.
We were told to meet at 2:30 for our departure from Airlie Beach. Being the responsible old people that we are, we got there early and found a huge group of young people sitting on cases of beer waiting for their trips. I started getting excited, knowing this would surly be a the fun weekend we'd been promised. We started asking around and quickly realized that none of the young, fun people sitting on cases of beer were on our boat. They were all on the Atlantic Clipper, the infamous party boat in the Whitsundays. Panic set in. We all collectively agreed, without saying it out loud, that we booked the wrong boat. When the Clipper crew arrived and escorted their guests to their boat, the waiting area emptied of all but a few stragglers. All 13 of us were sailing on the Mandrake.
Our deckhand, a little guy with dreadlocks who answered questions like “how long have you been working here?” with comments like “About 3 moons,” and will henceforth be referred to as Avocado, gathered us up and started showing us to the boat. We walked passed super yachts and giant sail boats, we walked passed jet boats and medium sized sail boats... Finally, we stopped in front of small, nameless boat that had about 10 faded floatie noodles on the deck and was in serious need of some tender love and care. Dilapidated might be too strong of a word, but then again it might not. Avocado turned off the main pathway and onto the dock leading up to the boat. No one followed. We all thought he was kidding so we just waited for his little joke to play out before we moved on to the real boat, hopefully one with paint and a couple seats here and there. When a skipper emerged and Avocado threw his bags on the deck of that ugly little boat, we all realized it was the Mandrake. But you never judge a book by its cover, so it wasn’t until we got inside that all 13 of us really started to regret booking whatever “great deal” we found on the internet.
It was one of those “it is what you make it” moments so we cracked a beer as we set sail. The rest of the trip went somewhat similarly. The beds were incredibly uncomfortable and the boat reeked of sewage. Basically, it felt like we were camping in a portopotty. I’m not going to lie, this was unfortunate. I had been looking forward to this trip for so long and hoping to have the best weekend ever. But, accommodation aside, we actually had an amazing time on the Whitsundays.
Whitehaven beach was gorgeous. We went during high tide, which was unfortunate in that we didn’t get to see the famous swirls the sand creates in low tide. It did mean, however, that we actually had some water to play in. A few hours went by relatively quickly and I found myself not wanting to leave the beach. But all good things must come to an end, so we made our way back to the Mandrake and set sail to our next destination, a snorkeling spot off the coast of one of the islands. Having been somewhat disappointed at the Great Barrier Reef, I wasn’t expecting anything too exciting here. I was blown away. I’ve never swam with so many fish in my life! And they were so curious and friendly. When I stopped moving long enough, five or six of them would swim up to my mask and start biting at my hair. It was an awesome experience and between the snorkeling and the beach, I almost forgot we were sailing on the hardly able, somewhat stable vessel. Until someone flushed the toilet.
All in all, our skipper was great and Avocado gave us some good laughs. The food was all freshly prepared on board (in the kitchen/dining room/bedroom) and, most importantly, we got to see the most beautiful beach in the world. I can file this experience under “you get what you pay for,” a folder of mine that’s getting rather large.