Adventures off the Great Barrier Reef

With Australia Day coming up, I think it’s only appropriate for me to share one of my last Australia adventures. (Sydney here, NZ sheep farm here.) Part of me has been reticent to write these last posts about my trip because that means it’s truly over!

But here we go.

From Sydney, we flew up to the Prosperpine Airport (PPP.) << That fact will come in handy later.

Airlie Beach

What could go wrong in a place this pretty?!

From PPP, we took a 30-minute airport transfer to Airlie Beach, which is considered the “gateway” to the outer Great Barrier Reef/Whitsunday Islands.

We landed by 10am, so we were checked in to our B&B by about 11:30-noon, by the time we waited for bags and the transfer. We had lunch at a cute place called The Deck, overlooking the water before walking around the town to explore, since it was slightly overcast and threatening rain all afternoon.

I was bummed at first at the rain preventing us from beaching, but then I fell in love with the cute beachside town (and cute beachside wares — I bought a whole lot of cute cheap beachy clothes) and finally really and truly downshifted into vacation mode, and quickly. Don’t get me wrong, Sydney was amazing, but another city not that different from an American city felt like a trip, not a vacation, if that makes any sense.

We were walking down the street, and I legit started tearing up out of happiness. I nearly didn’t go on this trip because of some family reasons, so I was so so grateful that I was able to go — and here I was, with one of my best friends on the other side of the world, visiting a place I never dreamed I’d actually get to visit. I felt like an incredibly lucky lady that afternoon — and really, for most of my trip.

Airlie Beach

Because, hello.

In Sydney, we didn’t go out of our way to eat anywhere particularly nice or well-known for its food, so we decided here was the place to have a long, leisurely dinner. TripAdvisor rated a place called Walter’s Lounge #1 in town, so we figured it was worth a try. OMG we are so glad we did. We did their tasting menu with the wine pairings for less than the equivalent of ~US $70 per person. Toto, we are not in NYC any more. We stopped at a bar called Paddy Shenanigan’s on our way home for a nightcap because it was raining and we were lured in y a dry place with live music. 10/10 would dance again.

Airlie Beach

The only negative about the trip: I didn’t sleep very well…anywhere. Whether it was the excitement, the time change or having to share a bed, I don’t know, but I was usually up by 6. So, upon waking up on the beach outside the Great Barrier Reef…obviously, I went for a beautiful run, knowing I’d be on a boat for two days.

When reading about exploring this area, all of our guidebooks suggested the best way to explore was via a live-aboard boat. Well, if you insist! As two single women in our mid-30s, we were hoping to strike a balance of not being with a bunch of 22-year-olds or a bunch of families/couples. (No offense if you’re any of those.) We ended up going with Whitsundays Sailing Adventures’ Wings 2 and had an amazing time!! The exchange rate was heavily in our favor the entire time we were there — we paid about $400 each for two nights on the boat, including all meals and snorkeling adventures, which seemed like a great deal to us. The only thing we had to provide was our own booze. The booze rules included no glass or red wine…well, sweet. Thank god for boxed wine, or “cask” wine, as they called it…

Whitehaven Beach

We moored just off Whitehaven Beach in the pouring rain for the first night, and the captain promised a walk in the silica sand the next morning bright and early before breakfast. It was still raining, but Meg and I decided to go for it anyway — what was a little rain when we were on one of the best beaches in the world? It was worth it to see this rainbow. We came back on board and had breakfast before heading back out to explore Whitsunday Island, hiking over to the magical Hook Inlet. (Note: I only packed sandals on the boat, so hiking in sparkly Birks was fun.)

Hook Inlet

Here’s a magical photo they took on a past trip. Unfortunately, it was completely rainy and overcast when we were over there (and we didn’t have our cameras on us for this reason), but it was still beautiful.

Hook Inlet

(We had one disposable underwater camera on us…)

Other than that, we spent lots of time laughing and lounging on the boat and plenty of snorkeling.

Snorkeling Whitsundays

Oh hi…

Great Barrier Reef Whitsundays

Great Barrier Reef Whitsundays


Great Barrier Reef Whitsundays

Great Barrier Reef Whitsundays

Oh hello.

Nemo Great Barrief Reef Whitsundays

ALSO WE FOUND NEMO. (Which is what I wrote on all of my postcards…)

Wings 2 Whitsundays

Wings 2 Whitsunday

Wings 2 Whitsunday Flash Tattoos

And this is how we spent our nights…

Wings 2 Whitsunday

Yes, I know my nose is red. It always burns first…

Leaving Whitsundays…

We disembarked the boat around 11am on Friday morning. The captain mentioned, sort of in passing, the night before that btw, sometimes the airport closes because the runway is under sea level and it floods. I heard that but didn’t really process it, thinking, no way the airport will close!

We sat down for a nice lunch at the lovely Breeze Cafe…where our transfer company called to tell us that, yup, our flight was canceled. The airport was closed. Effffff. (Airport #1, PPP, for those of you following along.) We shifted from chill vacation mode back to our New Yorker/problem solver mode ASAP.

After several hours on the phone, we found ourselves with a flight the next day out of Mackay Airport (Airport #2 in our tale), about 100 miles away from us. Our original itinerary had us flying from PPP to Brisbane that night for a quick overnight, followed by flying to Christchurch the next morning.

We found ourselves a new hotel, met up with our boat friends for drinks (SO MUCH FUN — clearly the Americans showed them their new favorite bar, Paddy Shenanigans) and were still in bed before midnight for our early, expensive cab ride to airport #2.

Our cab company texted they were at the hotel, and we went down.

“I have bad news,” the driver told us. Pretty sure the look on both of our faces just said WTF all over. “Well, the road to the airport is flooded.”

“Oh! Ok. Can you just take another one??”

“There’s only one. Believe me, I really want this fare, but I can’t do it.”

And…we shifted back to New Yorker mode again.

“I don’t know, can we take a helicopter somehwere?” (Sure, but for $2000/person. Ok, maybe not.)

“What about a boat??”

The half-joking suggestion ended up being our out. Hamilton Island Airport (Airport #3) was about a 45-minute ferry ride away from where we were.

We booked the ferry and even though we still had 2 hours, hightailed over to the ferry terminal to wait.

Now, Meg and I get along really well, but this was a logistically difficult situation, and I tend to shut down in stressful situations sometimes so I don’t snap, so once we figured out the logistics, I was done. I had nothing left to say and for two people who can’t shut up/stop giggling, we ate breakfast very quietly.

I also like to try to diffuse situations with humor or surprises…

and I had really wanted to buy some sort of beachy bracelet, so while in the Billabong store, I bought us friendship bracelets. Because I am an adult.

Billabong Friendship Bracelets

And, by some miracle, we made the ferry and made it to the airport.

Hamilton Island Ferry

Hamilton Island Airport

In some degree of delirium/astonishment we were actually getting on a plane, taking photos of the plane until we got yelled at. Oops.

Lilly Pulitzer Passport Cover

And…this is all we ended up seeing of Brisbane during a super-quick layover.

BUT! We did finally make it to New Zealand…

Craziest travel story? How do you deal with stressful situations, travel or otherwise?

5 comments on “Adventures off the Great Barrier Reef

  1. Katie

    I’m either a fake positive, or a shut down and deal. It depends on how my other travel partners are reacting. But way to make it work and get to where you needed to go!

  2. Jim

    Ha! Traveling is always an adventure but I suppose that why it’s all worth it and the experiences just get funnier the longer ago they happened 🙂

  3. bonobo

    I spent 10 days on the GBR and it was the worst experience of diving I have ever had. I might as well been diving in Vietnam.. on the beach. Everything was dead and there was hardly any sea life to see. I will never go there again. If you want a better dive, but colder, go to New Zealand and dive Poor Knights Island. I swam with hundreds of sting rays ranging from 10′ wing spans to new borns. This was right after Steve Irwin decided he could ride the back of a sting ray and when I found myself amoung so many I was at first fearful. But as I decended deeper the stingrays, esp the younger ones, would swim right up to my face and then gently glide by, eyeballing me the whole time. After 30 minutes I was one with them. It was the most exciting and exhilarating dives I have ever had. Skip GBR and go for the show…

  4. Heidi

    Always a danger in the “wet season”! A beautiful part of the world for sure, very surprised at a commenter above saying it was an awful dive experience. I live in Australia and although the reef has definitely degraded over the years, I’ve never had a bad dive / snorkelling experience. I have so many crazy travel stories; multiple missed planes flying on someone else’s staff pass, staying with random strangers after neglecting to book accommodation, picking up hitchhikers, sleeping on a riverbank….it just goes on and on & I wouldn’t trade those crazy times for anything.


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