Arriving at Airlie Beach

I’ve traveled to the Whitsundays, an area in northeastern Australia, for my first trip to the Great Barrier Reef! This involves perfect teal water, lots of fish and coral, and learning to drive on the left side of the road. Oh, and rules:

  • It’s not a great idea to snorkel after 4:00 pm — you might get bitten by a shark.
  • It’s not a great idea to walk near a river estuary after 5:00 pm — you might get pulled under by a crocodile.
  • When you’re hiking, you don’t necessarily need to look out for snakes in the bush — just look for them right on the trail. But you probably won’t see any. And if you do, they’ll probably just slither away. And they probably won’t be poisonous. (Note the use of a lot of “probably” here.)

Ah, Australia. So far, so good, though — I’m on day two, and nothing has tried to eat or bite or sting me.

To get here, I flew into Mackay and then rented a car for the two-hour drive north through the hot, dry sugar cane fields and past miles and miles of “cane railways.” My base of operations for the first leg of my trip is Airlie Beach (pronounced “Ailee Beach” — never mind the “r”). I stopped off just next door for a lunch of smashed avo and a fantastic chai latte at the Fat Frog, which sits on Cannonvale Beach:

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I then checked into my Airbnb on Mandalay Road, which has a stunning view down to the water.IMG_4975

It’s a terrific vista, even though the grass is all burned to a crisp.

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They’re in the middle of a drought here, which does not make for easy gardening. But my Airbnb hosts are doing a spectacular job with their bromeliads.

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Add a few palms and succulents, and you have a gardening masterpiece:

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For my first outing, I decided to trek Conway National Park from Shute Harbour to Coral Beach. This involves walking through a lot of dry, scrubby bush. But I loved the cycads (I’m amazed at any plant that has been around since the dinosaurs) …

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… and the grass trees:

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It’s a little puzzling that something so low to the ground has the word “tree” in its name, but I have to guess that the nomenclature is related to the giant stalk that grows up out of the middle of each plant:

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At the top of the stalk is a long, pokey flower.

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These flowers, when dry, can be used to start a fire in the bush. You can also use the plant’s resin for all sorts of things — and if you’re really, really hungry, you can eat part of the stem.

The otherwise unremarkable trail leads up and down a small rise, and you end up at Coral Beach:

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True to its name, the entire shoreline is covered in pieces of broken-up coral. The view out over the ocean is lovely, but I would not call this an inviting swimming spot.

Instead of testing out the water, I continued down the trail to The Beak, which offers a spectacular lookout:

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I also thought I would give the nearby Swamp Bay/Mt. Rooper hike a try — after all, if nothing else, it has a great name. And the trail was an easy one.

 

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But after a while, the “do not hike alone” warning at the trail’s entrance began to get to me. So I returned to my Airbnb to enjoy a quiet sunset.

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Dinner was at Walter’s Lounge, which is wonderful. I had fresh fish served with fish croquettes atop a mint-pea puree, broccoli, creme fraiche, and horseradish, followed by a luscious melted brie with sourdough bread. If you ever find yourself in Airlie Beach, make a reservation here for dinner!

 

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