Our next stop during our Australian expedition was Airlie Beach and The Whitsunday Islands. The distance from Cairns to Airlie Beach was about 390 miles and it took us over 8 hours to get there. The ride itself was pretty monotonous, passing mostly sugar fields with the rain forests to our west. Once again you can go 2 hours without seeing a gas station or town. I still can’t get over the fact of how unpopulated Australia is, especially comparing to USA or Europe. At 9 pm we finally made it to our AirBnB rental in Airlie Beach. We were all pretty tired from the drive and had no problems falling asleep.
The following morning we headed to the local tourist office in Airlie where we booked a full day excursion to the Whitsunday Islands. It was a beautiful day, sunny and low 80’s so we walked over to the Esplanade. Queensland and most of Eastern Australia is known to have lagoons or swimming areas near their beaches because of the threat of stingers. This area was devastated by a massive cyclone back in March and the town is still recovering from the damages. The Lagoon was brand new and it was a perfect spot to relax, splash in the water and stretch our bones after a full day of driving.
In the afternoon we drove to Dingo Beach - according to the lady at the tourism office it was nice and secluded beach, worth the 30 minute drive...well, maybe this beach was nice before the cyclone. It was completely abandoned and a little rough. On the bright side, on the way there we stopped at the local mango stand where we bought a whole case (20) of fresh mangos for only $10 - delicious mango smoothies will be our breakfast for the next few days.
The next day was what we came for, the Whitsunday Islands! We booked a full day excursion with an awesome company - Ocean Rafting. At 9 am we were picked up by the company bus and taken to the marina. Along with other 20 people we boarded our boat. . . called Wild Thing and let me tell you, it was the wildest and crazy boat ride in our life! Our two fun and energetic captains - Claudia and Tommy made this day an awesome experience. First, we took a 45 minute ride to ta nearby reef where we all went snorkeling. Leo and Rick jumped in the water first. After 15 minutes, we switched and I had an opportunity to snorkel on my own and guess what, I saw a shark!!! It was not the first time I saw one but this time, I was alone and honestly, I almost pooped my pants hahaha!!! After the snorkel adventure, Wild Thing took us to Hill lookout, a 1.2 km walk with the most amazing views you’ll ever experience in your lifetime. Once we got off the boat, we walked through the softest, purest, most beautiful sand in the world (interesting fact #1, Whitehaven is 99.9% silica sand, known to be the purest in the World). We took the short ascent and once you get to the platform you are greeted with the most breathtaking view ever - the White Heavenly Beach and the rest of the Whitsunday Islands. I believe White Heavenly Beach was named like that for a reason - it is a true paradise, a small piece of heaven! The sand is like white sillk ( interesting fact #2: although the temperature can reach over 100 F there, the sand never gets hot because it is pure white, it reflects the sun). The water had the most amazing blue color. The mix of white sand amongst the tides of blue water made for perfect pictures and a view we’ll always hang on to.
Once we finished this hike, we had a small lunch on the boat and had some time to walk on the softest sand in the world. The last part of this unbelievable day was spent on the White Haven beach. I honestly think this was the most beautiful beach we have ever been too (interesting fact # 3, local lore states NASA bought 2 million tons of Whitehaven Sand from the Australian government to build the Hubble Telescope). The scenery was out of this world. The water was so clear you could see all kinds of fishes swimming around you. Leo has such a blast snorkeling there and trying to catch them :-) Whitehaven beach is an uninhabited island, you can only take days trips or sail, there are no accommodations on the island, which makes it even more prestine. Whitsunday Islands have been named second best beaches in the world - a true paradise! While the islands continue to recover from the major cyclone, you can see the effects of the trees and scrubbery and all but one of the islands (Hamilton island) were completely destroyed and have not reopen yet. Nevertheless, they continue to recover and the beauty of these islands is simply stunning.
The next day we had a loooooooong 13 hours road trip ahead of us...we were driving from Airlie Beach to a town called Mountain Creek - 1200 km, just outside of Brisbane. We left around 5 am and made several stops along the way to grab a bite to eat, stretch our legs and fuel up. For most of this road trip we drove on one line highways and barely passed any towns. The city of Rockhampton was the biggest city where we stopped for a yummy branch. We made it to our AirBnB rental at 6 pm, we were so happy that we made it all in one piece. Mountain Creek was merely a pit stop for us, we only stayed 2 nights and chose to just relax in our beautiful rental. We had a great fenced in back yard where the kids ran around all day. We had a really great encounter…as we were packing our car, a sweet and adorable lady who lived next door started to talk to Rick. Here he found our she was from Poland, hahaha. She insisted we come over to her house for tea and cookies, and of course, we did! Miss Bronia was the cutest grandma in the world. She prepared a small lunch, made us tea, had snacks for the kids and…brandy for momma, hahaha! Since Rick was driving he could not drink but me, come on, I would never turn down a cocktail in such amazing company. We talked, we laughed and got to know each other. Unfortunately, we had to leave and drive to our next destination but Miss Bronia will forever stay in our memory!
We arrived at our next destination, a little beach town called Pottsville. Our AirBnB rental had a perfect location, only 1 block from the beach. It felt so amazing to be able to get up in the morning, walk barefoot to the beach, go for a run and swim in the very cold ocean. We could hear the Pacific waves crashing in from our patio. We decided to really slow it down this week, the Aussie culture is wearing off on us and we have no problem with that : ) We literally just walked across the street to the beach each day. We managed to visit a waterfall called Minyon Falls, located only 35 minutes drive from our house. It was quite beautiful scenery : ) In the afternoon, we drove to Brunswick Beach and relaxed. Leo met this adorable little girl and they instantly clicked. They played together all afternoon, ran around the beach, splashed in the water and chased each other like crazy. Poor Mila had a tough time because we forgot her swimsuit and she ended up wearing Leo’s beach guard, and let me tell you, she was not happy about it! I must admit that Byron Bay area is very unique and interesting. People seem so free and happy here, they all have a huge respect and love for the land. It’s kinda a stress free community, everyone minds their own business and simply enjoy life and I kinda like it, a lot!
So we lived in Florida for 8 years and I have never surfed - embarrassing! I paddle boarded a lot but never gave surfing a chance. So when I was signed up for a half day surf course in Byron Bay, I was all in. After breakfast we all drove to Byron Beach - stunning place. Rick and the kids stayed there for the rest of the day while I walked over to Stoked Surf School and registered for the half day course. Along with me there were 7 other people so quite a small group. We took a 20 minutes bus ride to a secluded Sharpes Beach where we were given a short surfing lesson on the beach and then it was show time. Our instructor explained to us all the necessary details on how to catch a wave and ride it, looked pretty easy but the reality was a bit different. At the beginning, I had problems with timing the wave but once I figured it out I was seriously stoked! It was so much fun! I really can’t believe that I have never tried it before. I fell off the boat numerous times but also rode the waves like there was no tomorrow. It was such an adrenaline rush and I absolutely loved every second of it. My legs are bruised up and I am super sore, but I could not be more proud of myself. I found a new hobby and cannot wait to try it again!
Well, my new hobby beat me up a bit…I woke up super sore and my legs looked as if I fell off a bike.haha! I am a mess! Nevertheless, I am still living the moments of riding the waves…Today, we decided to drive back to Byron Bay. We headed to the famous Byron Bay Lighthouse, which was build in 1901. This lighthouse is one of the top ten most photographed places in all of Australia and I must say, it’s stunning. The Historic lighthouse surrounded by spectacular greenery and insanely turquoise waters full of dolphins. We took a walk towards the most Easterly Point of Australia, called Cape Byron and as we walked down the steps we spotted many dolphins swimming and jumping in the water. It was such a gorgeous view, another pinch me moment during our world journey. At the end of the pathway, we found a sweet secluded beach called Little Wategos Beach. We set down our blanket under a tree and enjoyed breathtaking views. Leo immediately ran into the water and loved being knocked down by the waves. At one point as I was watching him, I noticed a surfer and, what I thought was a shark! I wanted to scream at him but after a while I realized it was a dolphin :) I was lucky enough to capture one of them jumping right out of the water - simply amazing. It was close to 3pm and Mila started to get tired so we decided to head back to town. We really wanted to visit a local market and a place called The Farm but as soon as we climbed back to the lighthouse, it started to rain. In that case, we decided to drive home and left our Byron Bay adventures a bit unsatisfied… we really wanted to do more. I guess we will have to come back here one day!
The motto of Byron Bay says - “cheer up, slow down, chill out”. It’s a gentle reminder to enjoy life’s little moments to the fullest. You could say that the concept of time stopped here many years ago. It is paradise. People are super relaxed, happy, barefoot and free. Everyone carries a surf board, not rushing anywhere, because honestly, there is no need to be rushed. There are no high-rises or corporate buildings. It seems as most people work at the local boutique shops, bars and restaurants. There are many street musicians and hand made arts and crafts displays. It’s a true hippie town with a free spirit and flower power. Everyone looks so happy and worry free, no one cares what you look like or what you wear - no judgement whatsoever. Honestly, this place had the most beautiful people on our entire journey, everyone was in great shape and their smiles are contagious. It was a good reminder for us too. We’ve started to get caught up in thinking too much about the future, where we want to live and what we want to do that we started to take our eye off of staying in the moment. . .enjoying and living every day to its fullest. Tomorrow we are leaving this slice of heaven and heading 5 hours south to Crescent Beach. We are still about 10 hours away from Sydney and slowly, we will make our way down there. For now, we say adios and thank you to Byron Bay - a picture perfect town with the best vibe in the world : )