Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Black's Beach to Airlie Beach

October 6 -7

Black's Beach was the sort of place we would have stay longer if we'd had more time. The caravan park has been recently sold to a development company, and it won't be there much longer, superseded by apartments which will destroy the charm it has now.

Our next stop was Airlie Beach which was pretty much what Black's Beach will become: beach backed by a well-groomed park, backed by a street of upscale shops, selling mainly resort-style clothing at steep prices. It's quite attractive, but a far cry from the sleepy little backwater that Black's Beach will soon no longer be.

Airlie Beach is the hub for cruises of the Whitsunday Islands, tropical islets ringed by beaches and coral reefs. The sand is white, the water turquoise, the reef still colourful with coral and fish, although it's sad to see the extent of damage to the coral caused by thinning of the ozone layer, human trespass, fertilizer run-off and numerous other nasty things.

We hoped our own trespass on this fragile ecosystem wasn't going to contribute too much to its decline. There are a ton of different packages available: one, two, three- day or weeklong cruises on motorboats, catamarans, sailing ships or small planes. Or you can book into an island resort. We chose a one-day cruise that focused on natural beauty. It offered no waterslides, imitation coral reefs, jumping pillows(!!) or other kid-attracting features and so the vast majority of our fellow passengers were adults, mostly affectionate young couples, mostly German.

The crew were young, efficient, artificially jolly. They took us first to a hilltop lookout on Hook Island to give us an overview of the area. As every other boat had this on their itinerary, it was a bit like being on a conveyor belt, but there's no doubt that the view was worth it.

Leila, a young Belgian woman we had struck up a conversation with took a photo of us both at the prime viewing point.

On the railings as we marched single file along were plaques explaining the aboriginal myths about the place, though we had scarcely time to read them, let alone line up a photo, as we were chivvied along.

We then cruised to Whitehaven Beach, the distant curve of white sand in my second photo. We had about ninety minutes here to loll on the beach and swim in the warm waters. The blonde on-board photographer spent this time arranging couples in tourist brochure or discreetly suggestive poses, or having the families jump in the air. As she got near us, we got up and casually strolled away to the other end of the beach.

Our last stop was the best. We were taken to a point where the reef came close to the shore, issued with wetsuits and snorkels and had an hour or so of seeing some of the coral and fish that made the Great Barrier Reef so famous.
Amazing fish, and some amazing coral, but many stretches of it bleached-bone grey and dead.
It was a long day, but worthwhile, and met our criterion of something we hadn't done before.

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