“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
A CHINESE family, whose Hello Kitty fashion sense loudly suggests they got dressed in the dark on this particular morning, are on my flight over the Great Barrier Reef. But I have bigger concerns today than fellow tourists who combine stripes with flowers and chuck in a Mickey Mouse or two for good measure. I hate small planes and spend most of my time in them imagining plunging to a fiery death while clasping at my notebook just hoping, when the time arrives, that I can pen the perfect farewell sentence. The fact I am placed in the front seat next to the pilot, and warned to touch NOTHING, does little to erase my fear as we soar over the Whitsunday Islands. It is only when we drop to 150 metres above Heart Reef that I unclench my fists long enough to snap a photo or two. Even a scaredy cat like me can appreciate this natural wonder and I’m pretty sure when I’m back on terra firma I’ll love it even more.
I’m in the Whitsundays writing a story on the Great Barrier Reef from every angle and for the next five days I am the equivalent of Action Barbie, constantly stepping out of my comfort zone in the name of research. Later that morning I find myself zipping out to Whitehaven Beach on an ocean raft which reaches speeds of up to 30 knots. The colourful Chinese family are on this trip too and plonk down right beside me, one of them clutching a sick bag she’s snatched from this morning’s light plane flight. Soon enough, Hello Kitty is using the bag, just metres from my face, and as the wind whips up and we hit bumps, I live in mortal fear she’s going to spray her vomit all over my face. Even more fascinating is the fact that after each time she yaks, she quickly composes herself, with nary a snotty nose, flushed cheeks or bloodshot eyes in sight. I’m almost as enthralled by this spectacle as the breaching whales which stalk our boat.
We arrive safely at Whitehaven Beach where we are explicitly warned, in several languages, not to feed the sea gulls. The Chinese family alight, give their child a giant bread roll, and proceed to watch her feed the sea gulls, the hungry gulls angrily swarming Hello Kitty and her clan on the beach. It’s like something out of a Hitchcock movie and it is only when the chain-smoking Germans, who smile maniacally like they’ve stepped straight off the set of Die Hard, and who are polluting the pure silica sands with their toxic fumes, complain that the birds are “annoying” that the child stops.
I half expect to find the Chinese family the next day when I arrive at Daydream Island, their Hello Kitty fashion shredded to bits by the birds, but there’s just a couple of topless mermaids sunbaking on the rocks when I arrive. I’m half tempted to join them on this perfect winter day, but I have bigger fish to fry. I am on a Stingray Splash Tour which involves me stepping into thigh deep water and having baby stingrays suck on my toes like a member of the British Royal family. One ray even tries to mount my leg and I’m pretty sure he wants to have sex with my shorts, just like a British Royal. But they are like a group of baby puppies and it is one of the most delightful moments of my travel writing career. I eschew Lovers Cove and its snorkelling as there’s only so much a single woman can bear, and spend the afternoon in the day spa.
It’s a bit of a bumpy two-hour boat ride out to Reef World on the outer Great Barrier Reef the next day and I suck on four cups of ice to stave off seasickness. I stare feverishly at the horizon and think fondly of Hello Kitty and her sick bag. She would have adored this journey. And just as I’m about to vomit, we arrive in the calm lagoon of Hardy’s Reef where I have booked a learn-to-dive session. As fate would have it, it’s just me and a handsome Spaniard who holds my hand tight for the 30 minutes he’s showing me the Great Barrier Reef from below. I really should be looking at the coral and the fish, but it’s not every day a handsome Spaniard holds my hand and I’m mesmerised by his brown hair which floats in the water like sea weed. He has come-to-reef-bed-with-me-eyes. And yes, as one mate suggests, there may have been a giant grouper down there and I’m not talking about the fish. I fantasise about us having to share the same oxygen hose.
I sleep the night in a swag on the reef pontoon under the big moon and stars with a small group of fellow travellers including a happy Hong Konger called Mabo. Mabo is prone to laughing hysterically at absolutely everything, followed by loud exclamations of “very good, very good”. Mabo’s wife apparently works hard in a seafood company in Hong Kong while Mabo himself spends his days wandering around the world, becoming particularly excited when he poses for photos with nubile Netherlanders. At one point when snorkelling, I find Mabo sitting, stranded on a floating device out on the reef, unable to swim back to the pontoon against the turning tide. When we’re both rescued, I tell him he could have drowned. “Yes, very good, very good,” he replies. His enthusiasm is infectious. There was plenty of colour above, on and below the Great Barrier Reef on this trip and I got to hold the hand of a handsome Spaniard. I didn’t find Nemo, but I met a man named Mabo. And life is very good indeed.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Tourism Whitsundays – http://www.tourismwhitsundays.com.au