We arrived in Arlie Beach fairly early on Monday. Air lie is the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands, which are the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. We were very excited to go to there because we pre-booked a sailing adventure on the Matador for that Thursday - Sunday (more on that later.)
Looked for the nearest campsite to town and found one very close and very central to all the action. In fact it was next to Koala Backpackers Resort where most backpackers stay when they come through. Checked in there and went exploring.
There isn't really a beach at Airlie Beach. There is a marina and a large man-made lagoon where most people spend the days. The town itself consists of one main street of shops, bars and restaurants. What more do you need?
We spent a couple of hours at an Internet cafe catching up on emails and on the website (can never seem to catch up!!!) and ended up booking a one day dive trip around the Whitsundays for the following day. We did this because we had 2 full days to kill before the Matador (more on that later) and there wasn't a good deal else to do there.
Went to a bar that night called Beaches Backpackers just to have a couple drinks because we knew we had a long day ahead of us the next day. Ended up passing the time talking to two 19 year olds who were spending a year backpacking thru Australia (the lucky bastards!) Played some pool with them as well. They were our best friends (ok, our only friends) until their friends showed up and they quickly abandoned us to join them on the dance floor. They didn't even say goodbye! Oh well, by this point it was almost 11 and we were ready to go.
Quick trip to the bathroom and as I finally got out, saw that Lawrence was talking to one of the guys from our Fraser Island Trip. No way! He was there with 6 of the others from the trip. We were so happy to see them! They twisted our arms and forced us to stay for another drink!!! So we ended up staying til midnight and yes, I was a bit tipsy. But we never had dinner, so I was allowed. Agreed to meet up with them the following night as well. Yay, we now have friends and a plan for the next night - both of which are hard to come by...
So, early rise the next morning and I had a nice little hangover. Nothing a bit of McD's couldn't solve. And it was so good... Job was a good one because I felt fine after that, just a bit tired. Spent the day on a catamaran with 10 other people. The owner of the company was also the skipper of the trip. He lived in L.A. with his wife for 17 years as a contractor and gave it all up to do what he does now. I know where I'd rather be...
Got to dive in 2 different sights, Manta Ray Bay and Luncheon Bay. There were no manta rays in Manta Ray Bay (false advertising, I think) in fact, there was not very good visibility and we were disappointed with the corals and the lack of variety of fish. Not to mention the water was a bit too cold for my liking (though great for the hangover)
Second dive was much more fun, loads more fish, much clearer water and warmer as well. We dived at about 15m for 47 minutes so we got to do a bit more exploring. Highlight: saw a turtle, which one of the guys on the trip caught in his hands, albeit very briefly, then let go of. Got to see it swim away which is quite a spectacle in itself. Saw giant batfish about 5 times the size they were in Thailand, and saw loads of other fish and some pretty extraordinary coral as well. Made up for the first boring dive, though we both agreed maybe it was boring because we were spoiled in Thailand. Hoping our dive trip in the Reef will be more exciting.
Made it back to shore safe and sound. Just in time to take a quick nap, have a quick shower and meet up with the gang at 6pm. We got there at 6 as planned. They didn't show up til 7. Had some dinner with them and ended up staying there til the bar closed at midnight. Half of them decided to call it a night, but L and I were still wide awake and took the other half of the group to another bar. We rallied til after 3 am, agreed to meet up again the next night and parted ways.
I didn't go into detail about the Fraser group because we didn't get to know them well enough - until Airlie. So, now will give them a mention...
Kelly and Terrence - 2 guys, friends from Canada in Australia for a year on work visas
Niamh and Paul - couple from Ireland on holiday visiting Nieve's sister, Ciara for 3 weeks
Ciara - see above, she is traveling the world for a year and has been to a lot of the same places L and I have
Jenn - from Scotland, in Australia for a year on a work visa
All of them around our age and super cool.
Needless to say, the next morning we were a bit worse for wear. OK, I was worse than L, who never seems to be as hungover as me. He was out of bed and ready to go by 10. I refused to move til 12. Half the day gone already, we decided to go to the lagoon to have a day of R&R. Go figure, Team Fraser was there as well. Spent the rest of the already lazy day chatting with them and sitting in the sun. We all agreed we didn't want to drink that night (no, really!) so we went to the supermarket,. bought loads of meat and all the trimmings and met up at the barbecue area near the lagoon at 7:00. Had a great, cheap meal and a low key, much needed sober night. Said our goodbyes and that was that.
Which landed well rested in great shape for our sailing adventure the next morning on THE MATADOR... The company's motto is "The world is 70% water. SAIL." That caught our attention as well as the brochure which said:
3 Day 2 night
At 85 feet, Matador is the largest IOR yacht ever built. Matador competed in 52 races, 8 regattas and 2 World Maxi Championships undefeated. Constructed from carbon fibre at a total cost exceeding USD$20 million, Matador is truly an awesome sailing machine.
Refitted in 1997 for charter work, guests can now have the opportunity to enjoy thoroughbred sailing at its best. Matador departs twice a week for a three day two night Maxi Sailing Adventure. Matador accommodates 20 guests and 4 crew in shared accommodation.
Awesome saning machine indeed! We had no idea what to expect from this trip. I have never sailed before and L sailed as a child but never on any ship this big. There were 17 passengers and 4 crew on the boat. 4 female passengers and 1 female crew member, the rest men. Great odds for me (for a split second, forgot I was married - but I'm allowed to look, right?)
To introduce this lot of passengers:
The Brat Pack: 5 guys in their 20's who met backpacking and traveled together to Airlie to do this trip. All of them were hung over from overdoing it the night before. So much so that they all crashed at 8:00 that night!
The 3 Muppets - 3 guys in their 20's from England. One of the guys was really nice but most of his teeth were rotten or had fallen out - so it was very difficult to talk to him until it was dark (not being mean, it's true!)
The French couple - they were both gorgeous and so nice as well.
Hansel and Gretel - a brother and sister team from Birmingham, Ala. (This is for the sisters --Found out later that night that he went to Camp Alpine and she went to Skyline! What a small world! Almost broke out in a chorus of Jubilate Deo with them but we decided to spare the rest of the boat) Nice to finally meet Americans on the trip. They were both like me - left the south after high school. She lives in L.A. He in NYC.
Sharon and Mike - an older Aussie couple on holiday for 10 days
Stuart - the ambitious backpacker, traveling on his own who got along with everyone
It was indeed an awesome sailing machine. And we sailed just like they do on TV! Difficult to describe but when the boat sailed, it was practically on its side the whole time. In other words, one side of the boat was in the water and the other side in the air. We sat on the side in the air, where we were basically at a 180 degree angle with the water. Have never experienced anything like it.
As it was a hands on experience, we all got to take turns as grinders to raise and lower the sails. Took about 8 people to do this each time. And all the energy you have. Not as easy as it looks on TV. But very good for toning the biceps. We also had to rush at the same time to the other side of the boat whenever they wanted to change the direction of the sails. Adrenaline rush at its best!
Some people got to steer the boat as well, but we were too slow to volunteer so missed that opportunity.
In 3 days on the water we had mixed weather, but it was mostly cloudy and cold. We experienced sailing in all conditions which the crew said was the best way to go. At one point it started raining so we all put on yellow raincoats. Looked like the Morton's fishermen! We traveled as fast as 12.5 knots, which is apparently quite fast though didn't feel like it.
The days consisted of sailing and stopping at different islands for sunbathing, snorkeling, exploring, etc. We docked for sunset (which we never got to see due to clouds) then spent the evenings after dinner drinking on deck. We were all set to stay up late with the Brat Pack - but they were all so hung over from the night before that they all passed out by 8! Not joking, the rest of the passengers were lame as well. L and I were the last to bed at 9:30.
We assumed they would be up for a laugh the next night as they all seemed to have color back in their cheeks. They were even going on about polishing off the box of "Fruity Lexia" (really cheap white wine) they had brought on board. They were doing a fine job of it and decided to go down to play drinking card games. We got suspicious when we didn't hear anything for quite some time. Yep, they had all passed out - AGAIN! Yes, it could be that they didn't want to hang out with us old folks but they admitted they were just plain pathetic.
It did clear up that night and the stars were out in full force. Don't think I've ever seen so many stars in my life. It was dazzling! Some of the other guys stayed up with us to enjoy the stars as well and we went to bed at a much more respectable 11:30 that night.
All in all a great trip, bought the T-shirt, ticked the box. Had a Matador reunion that night back at the Beaches Bar. All of the passengers and one of the crew members joined us. The Brat Pack redeemed themselves as they had fully recovered and were out to get pissed again. Saw them in a different light and wondered how the trip might have differed if they hadn't slept the evenings away...