Crazy about Australia’s Whitsunday Islands
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The Whitsundays are a crazy place. Crazy good. But crazy nonetheless.
The Whitsundays total 74 islands located off the coast of Queensland, about 560 miles north of Brisbane. The islands were discovered by Captain Cook and named after the day they were discovered. But Captain Cook made a mistake. The islands were actually discovered on Whit-Monday. But no matter.
The main island, Hamilton, is a privately owned island and nearly every commercial establishment is operated by this same family. Private ownership means, of course, that there’s no competition. So captive audience + no competition = exorbitant prices. This is the first crazy thing about the Whitsundays – its über expensive!
A friend suggested this article be called: “Whitsundays on $2,000 a day.” And she’s not far off. It’s not so expensive to get here ($270 RT from Sydney), but it’s expensive to stay here. I rented an apartment for the week for $1,904. Ouch.
Granted it was a rather large apartment (sleeps 5), including a kitchen (which means I could cook in), and an enormous balcony with a gorgeous sea view, so at least I was getting my money’s worth.
Here’s just a sampling of Hamilton’s stratospheric pricing for must-have beach items:
- Can of Beer: $7.00
- InStyle magazine: $10.50
- Suntan-Lotion: $20.00
- Blow-up Float: $40.00 (I buy one every year on Waikiki for $1.99)
- Pedicure: $95.00
With prices like this, it was no wonder I was beside myself when 3 island cockatoos swooped into my living room and plucked my Luna Bars off the dining room table. Then the cheeky birds had the audacity to rip them open and eat them in front of me while squatting on my lanai banister. They were my favorite ones too — Brownie Nut.
There were also reported sightings of a 2 ½ foot long green Queen snake and possums roaming the restaurants. I think I spied a kangaroo rat, but it was dark and I hesitated to investigate further.
Another “animal” to watch out for is the Irukandji Jellyfish. During the summer months, when ocean waters are warm, these small transparent jellyfish
plague swimmers. They supposedly favor deep water, although my snorkel guides say there are increased sightings in knee-high water. If stung, symptoms include severe pain, muscle constriction, and breathing difficulties. Immediate medical attention is advised.
Because of these invisible predators, swimmers need to wear a “stinger suit” in the water. I was too ashamed to have my picture taken in my Teletubby-esque blue suit while diving, but then I got up the nerve to take a photo while snorkeling. Definitely incriminating.
There are no cars on Hamilton Island, save a few shuttles to take the visitors to and from the village and the airport. Instead, everyone drives American-made golf carts. Or if not American-made, at least the steering wheel is on the left-hand side.
The crazy part is everyone still drives in the left-hand lane. So while driving in the golf cart, the steering wheel is nearest the curb. So confusing, but since a 4-seater golf cart is $45 per hour to rent, I really didn’t need to worry about it after all.
I still thought it’d be fun to tool around, so I tried to rent a bicycle, but there are no bicycles on the island for tourists. If you live on the island, you can have a bike or a skateboard, but both of these need to be registered like a proper vehicle. I didn’t see anyone biking or skating around.
Admittedly, I visited the islands at an inopportune time – 3 days after Cyclone Yasi flew through. Luckily there was little damage to the island’s physical structures. The biggest effect of the cyclone was on the human side. Hamilton usually hosts 8,000 guests with 1,500 staff. The day I flew in there were 58 guests and 400 staff, which is a ratio of nearly 7 staff per guest!
(The rest the staff had evacuated and had yet to return. As I found out later, some didn’t return at all. Because of canceled bookings, more than 180 staff were laid off within a week of the cyclone hitting.)
Even though there was an abundance of staff, most of the activities were canceled due to low numbers. So no ½ day sea kayaking trip for me, no beach volleyball, no 1-hour island tour. And they only offered one diving trip that week. This was a bummer because the Whitsundays are a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the principal reason for my visit.
So I spent most of the time sunning on the beach, which really ain’t all that bad. It was sunny all but one day, which is darn good for a tropical island during the wet season. And I was able to sneak in a game of tennis, snorkeling trip, speed boat ride, and a visit to Whitehaven Beach.
Whitehaven Beach is 7 kilometers long and a protected marine park. It is often listed as one of the “10 Most Beautiful Beaches in the World” and is the most photographed beach in Australia.
It’s known for its pristine white sand, comprising 98% silicon. Supposedly, 80 tons of Whitehaven sand was used in making the Hubble Telescope lens. Whitehaven was also the spot where Oprah treated her 92 audience members to a beach BBQ in December 2010.
Experience the craziness!
If you visit the Whitsunday Islands, consider yourself lucky. You’ll be spending your days in a tropical paradise and you’ll get to see how the other half lives.
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