“If you like pina coladas, and getting caught in the rain…” Robert Holmes
THE gorgeous ghost gums are whispering in the wild Whitsundays wind, of anecdotes and ancient tales of the land on which I lounge. A sulphur crested cockatoo, cheeky as all buggery, perches on the edge of the plunge pool in which I find myself, chattering to me above the howl. I imagine both the trees and this native bird have much to teach me about Hamilton Island, if only I could speak their language. Instead, I slurp French champagne, and absorb the soaking view. It’s a Whitsunday Monday and it’s raining cats, dogs and rainbow lorikeets.
I have arrived in the midst of the monsoon season, fully aware there could be rain. It’s the tropics, and the region doesn’t flower and flourish without a damn good soaking. The Australian tourism industry gets spoiled by long spells of drought, while the farmers search the heavens for answers to their heartbreak. It’s been a tough season in Australia, one of delirious drought and flooding rain. As I write this, things are so dire that farmers in outback Queensland have run out of bullets to shoot their dying livestock. This is Dorothea Mackellar’s Australia. But that doesn’t make it any easier for anyone.
So I am surprised and delighted just before I arrive in the Whitsundays at the cheeky campaign adopted by the locals. Fed up with the scathing headlines and horror stories around the wet weather, they nickname themselves The Wetsundays and dive head first into the monsoon. It’s a no bullshit Facebook campaign embracing the “WetsundayWeek….because every cloud has a silver lining.” Locals drink cheeky pina coladas, play beach volleyball in the rain, stage a rain dance, and host a pool party at the lagoon. This soaking spirit is infectious.
As one local puts it “It’s not heavy rain, it’s soaking” and they wrap their raincoats around it with gusto. This is the Queensland spirit I adore and I am swept up by the tide. Bring it, Mother Nature, we’re ready for you. I plunge into my plunge pool at Qualia, determined to embrace this upbeat attitude. I drive my golf cart around the island and explore every inch. Soaked, but smiling, I pause for a meat pie down at the marina, and two rainbow lorikeets perch on my shoulder. I squeal with delight. Late afternoon, I indulge in a relaxing massage at Spa Qualia. My jaw is too taught from tension, I’m told, I need to slow down. Over dinner at Qualia, manager Scott Ratcliffe laments the weather but points to the inherent beauty of the view and the resort.
“If you are going to be stuck inside, you need to be stuck inside looking at this,” he says.
“There is nothing wrong with rugged beauty.”
I ride the waves from Hamilton Island to the Port of Airlie where I meet with Tourism Whitsundays. On a cool, wet day at La Marina Italian Restaurant, we feast on Nonna’s hearty meatballs, spicy mussels and seafood gnocchi. I arrive at Freedom Shores, a quirky mainland accommodation offering which resembles ten boats. On this dreary day I am the only guest, and it is divine. A smoked wagyu for dinner washed down by a gutsy Tempranillo and a shot of tequila from one of only two bottles of its kind in Australia, and I am ready to slumber. On my way back, there’s a gorgeous little tree snake also seeking shelter from the rain. It’s a good omen. Into my boat cabin I crawl, under the doona, and listen to the divine rumblings from the heavens. I sleep like a sailor.
It’s a wild and windy crossing over to Palm Bay Resort on Long Island, but it refreshes and rejuvenates me. If only those who think my job is glamorous could see me now, all salty and drenched. It turns out be the ideal afternoon to work, read and rest. Sure, I would have loved to have snorkelled the fringing reef here, but you can’t have it all. And how often are we forced to slow down? Not often enough in Australia. I feast on woodfired pizza and share a bottle of red and some flaming good tales with the manager here. Into the night I stroll back to my cabin and again, crawl under the doona for a rollicking good sleep.
By the end of the week I’m back on the mainland, and headed north to Bowen. After three weeks of monsoonal weather in the Whitsundays, it’s trying to be fine. We drive behind a convoy of State Emergency Services volunteers headed north to Townsville, to tackle the flood mop up. There’s pot holes the size of wading pools on the road. In Bowen, I check into the classy Coral Cove Resort overlooking the Coral Sea, sip more champagne and wait for a sunset that never comes. Never mind, the company is good and the tales are tall. On my last day in the region the sun finally breaks through the clouds, shy at first, but then with gusto. The humidity cloys to my skin like a koala bear on a gum tree.
Some days you forget that Australia is a wild nation, plonked down the bottom of the globe as if it was an afterthought. But I love my Down Under homeland of fires, floods, droughts and mad monsoons. And I adore my fellow Queenslanders who reminded me of our spirit which shines, even when the sun does not. May you all get to experience a WetsundayWeek at least once in your lifetime, for it is in those stupid, soaking days that you are forced to confront yourself. And if you’re lucky, your spirit will rise with every raindrop.
The Global Goddess was a guest of Tourism Whitsundays https://www.tourismwhitsundays.com.au
IT’S a Whitsunday Wednesday and I am aboard the 80ft yacht, Brahms and Liszt which I am informed is sailing rhyming slang for pissed. Somewhere, in the shimmering waters around me, are 800 sex-charged sailors. Or so I’m told. What I do know is that every second salt is called Fitzy, so I’ve just taken to singing out “g’day Fitzy” when I walk down the dock of the Abell Point Marina each morning and hoping that my greeting lands on the right shoulders. What I am yet to learn is that crusty old salts like their calamari young, so to speak, and I have a better chance of spotting a whale in the Whitsunday Passage than hooking a man. Me, I’m more of a barracuda.
Airlie Beach Race Week and every man and his dinghy is in town, lured by the warm trade winds which sweep the Australian sailing fraternity north along the Queensland coast. The weather is perfect except for one thing. There’s no wind and so, somewhere out to sea, sit 800 frustrated sailors, the lack of breeze keeping their sails limp, so to speak.
I, too, am frustrated. I am meant to be writing a story about Airlie Beach and sailing, but it’s difficult without any wind in the sails. In these parts, it blows every week of the year but for once, Mother Nature is refusing to co-operate. Bored sailors circle each other like sharks, jokes and jibes tossed across bows, until early afternoon, when enough breeze picks up to warrant enough of a race. It’s not perfect, but it will do.
As for me, a great story I eventually find, but it is one borne from dredging rather than smooth sailing. A quick quip here, a chat there, a day out on a tallship, a spot of snorkelling, a few drinks at the yacht club, a wander down the main drag. Some stories are like life. You have to wait for them to come to you, rather than force them. And so it is with this one.
Sure, I could shout superlatives from the bow of a boat about how wonderful the Whitsundays is, but it’s all that and more. It’s the crinkly smiles behind the sunglasses as experienced eyes look out to sea, searching for a hint of a breeze. Just like I look frantically to the horizon for a story. It’s recognising boats – Fifty Shades of 50, Rum Gutz, Malice – like they are all old friends. It’s the unexpected.
I came to Airlie Beach expecting some wild winds and, if I’m a little bit honest, hoping I might meet a man. In between grasping for my story, I fantasise about what I would do with a drunken sailor. I’d be fibbing if I didn’t say the thought of sailing off into the sunset with someone held great appeal. But life’s not like that. You can’t just rig up the sails and expect the wind will arrive at your command. Instead, you sit, you watch, you wait. You drop anchor. And you laugh. At life’s perfect imperfection.
The Global Goddess travelled to Airlie Beach Race Week as a guest of the Whitsunday Sailing Club. Next year, Airlie Beach Race Week will celebrate its 25th anniversary. And with a bit of luck, there will be a breeze. http://www.airlieraceweek.com