We woke just after 7, and all met in the lobby at 7:40. Our Uber gave us an inadvertent city tour on the way to the airport due to some navigational difficulties, but by 9am we were fueled and ready for departure. Our first flight of the day would be a 3 hour run; first to the coast at Bundaberg, followed by tracking the coastline up to Rockaway.
Things were still pretty hazy, but much better than they’d been 2 days before, and we could start to enjoy a bit of the view. It was mostly arid, forested country, looking like a prime target for any forest fire that might come through.
We stopped at Rockhampton to refuel and stretch our legs. Departure was on runway 33, pointed directly at the day’s final destination of Shute Harbour.
North of Rockhampton conditions were good, albeit desolate. There was no sign of human impact for miles and miles, but every now and then you’d come across a massive mineral operation or similar. We cruised in the calm, cool air at 8,500.
As we approached Shute Harbour, we made a long fast descent to a tight right downwind, flying a teardrop to turn around and fly an offset final approach to runway 14 – this is to avoid a house which is basically right on the threshold, and sensitive to overflying aircraft. They chose a strange place to live, if they don’t like aviation!
We were met by airport staff who kindly took our luggage away for us on a cart, and had a light lunch in the airport cafe before heading into town to our respective accommodation. After settling in we met for a swim at the pool complex near the beachfront, before a light Indian dinner and bed.
It was an early start, with the bus collecting us just after 7am to take us to the “Derwent Hunter”, the sailing ship we’d spend the day on. This 90ft oak-built ship was constructed in Tasmania in 1946, over 18 months, by just 4 men. There were only 13 passengers against her maximum capacity of 39, so there was plenty of room for everyone to spread out. After a safety briefing we motored out of the harbour and headed west for a couple of hours, enjoying the views of the multitude of little islands that make up the Whitsunday area.
We arrived at our first snorkeling area, and suited up. Rowan and I were very conscious about a news story we’d read, where 2 British men were mauled by sharks in this very area. “What are the chances of that happening again?” said Rowan. “That’s probably exactly what the second British man said”, I replied.
Sting suits were mandatory to protect against jelly fish and none of us were stung. The water was a bit cloudy, and we didn’t see too much. A few solitary fish and plenty of coral was about it, and after an hour the dinghy was ferrying us back to the yacht.
We snacked on fruit as the yacht repositioned to a second location, and were soon back in the water. The poor kid who’d been stung right at the start of the first session was promptly stung again. There was a bit more to see here, including a giant clam and a relaxed sea turtle, cruising around the area. I set out to swim to the beach, a surprisingly long way but just about made it back as the last of the snorkelers were being picked up. We were welcomed back on board and greeted with a delicious cold buffet of meats, cheeses, bread and fruits.
We munched away at this as we started motoring back towards Airlie Beach, soon hoisting the sails as the breeze had picked up. A couple of hours of relaxed sailing had us back at the dock. The next morning we’d be leaving our accommodations at 0500, so we all did our own things for a light dinner (mostly snacks from the supermarket), and were in bed by 8.
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