Between Cairns and Brisbane there are three things that backpackers hit. The Great Barrier Reef (usually from Cairns), Fraser Island (slightly north of Brisbane) and The Whitsunday Islands. The town closest to them is called Airlie Beach and the backpackers trade has set up shop in droves in this tiny little town. There are high end hotels and guesthouses and hostels and not much in between. There are some more places to stay down the road in Cannonvale and most people at that point come with a car. But with no transport options other then The Big Red Dog, I was staying smack in the middle of Airlie. Like Cairns, the day to day life isn’t super expensive and there are deals around every corner. While up to this point, every backpackers adverted that they sell the cheapest way to experience The Whitsundays, I had a feeling I would get a better deal in town for what I wanted.
There are so many options and information on all sorts of boats, this was the most overwhelming thing I had dealt with during my trip so far. I didn’t want the cheapest. The cheapest boats mean sailing and you actually have to work and they just end up floating parties and orgies and that is so not me at all. I wanted something in the middle. I booked a couple of days at Airlie Beach Waterfront Backpackers not knowing my plans and while I was checking in I mentioned to the girl that I hadn’t booked my boat yet and could she give me some tips. This ended up being one of the best choices I made.
The front desk girl immediately started looking up with was available over the next few days and helped me decide on what I would like. There was a super hot deal on a really expensive boat that was like dirt cheap because it was leaving like the next day or something but it was still more then I wanted to spend. I finally figured out which boat would be best for me and unfortunately the next available sailing wasn’t for a week. Considering I didn’t have anything else to do, I booked it as well as extended my nights at the hostel. In booking the boat directly with the hostel, I got $25 off one night (barely a dent in my double room, but whatever) as well as free luggage storage and a deep discount if I booked my Fraser Island trip with them. That is what sold it for me. During my week, I hung out and poured over the brochures for Fraser Island and figured out which tour or if I wanted to do a self drive. Half way through the week I decided that I wanted to do a full on tour (which in itself was super smart on my end) and went back to the front desk and booked and paid for it all. Because I did everything through the hostel I got discounts on everything I wanted and nothing left over on stuff I didn’t, which is the problem I had with all the packages sold through the travel shops. There was hardly any flexibility on what was included and I didn’t want to pay for anything I didn’t want. In booking everything myself and getting deals along the way, I probably paid a little more, but I used
everything and nothing went to waste.
In waiting until the last minute I totally chose the right boat for me. I went out on this boat called PowerPlay and it was fantastic. Had everything I wanted and nothing extra. And just by the luck of the draw my boat had NO GERMANS or DUTCH!!!! I didn’t even realize it at the time how lucky this was as they are EVERYWHERE in Australia, especially during the summer months. There were two groups of English girls, an English guy, some Australians (who of course I liked the most) and a French girl and that was it!!! There was the captain, the hostess who was an Australian up from Melbourne and the dive guy was Canadian, so we clicked on our North American-ness. Overall I picked a good one.
Cons: They really pushed extras like going on as many dives as possible and once we were underwater, were encouraged to be as entertaining as possible for the camera, to encourage us to buy the pictures. That is so one of my least favorite things EVER on tours. We were encouraged to do flips which I was not comfortable at all doing and I said no numerous times before the dive guy let up.
Pros: Not a party boat at all. Both days we were so tired, everyone crashed at like 10pm, especially the second day. The first night I hardly got any sleep, I was so hot, so the second night I slept on the deck and it was fantastic. I love sleeping outside. Spent the perfect amount of time and timing at all the beaches and dives. I did a two day/two night boat and it was perfect as I started to feel a little seasick when we were driving in and out from the reef.
When I was done with the dive trip, I was taking the midnight bus out of town but before that I found the girl who booked the boat for me and told her about my trip, the good, the bad and how all in all it was a good trip for me. Man, I love the locals! I always had the best time chatting with them.
Sorry for the lack of photos. I was always really nervous in taking my camera out on the boat for fear that I would drop it, so all my photos are in the head!
Moral: I am glad I didn’t book my boat before I arrived as I feel I got a deal on what I wanted, but if you don’t have like months to kill, it’s better to prebook. The Whitsundays is a tad over-hyped but I still had a really good time.