I love the Whitsundays

Airlie Beach - Small town with a big personality.

Boathaven Resort - Sunday, August 15, 2010
I have written about Airlie Beach before and I am very passionate about this region and what it has to offer. However, I was a bit naive in thinking that all small towns have a wonderful vitality and quirkiness about them. We recently went on a road trip and stayed over night in a well known small town that is 3 times the size of Airlie Beach.We went out for dinner and had to drive around and around before we could find something that was open after 7:30 p.m. besides the local McDonalds or Red Rooster.  Of course the best option we found was the local pub and even though it was a bit run down and could use a lick of paint we were happy to find somewhere that had people in it. The pub had about 10 people at the bar and 6 people sitting around the dining tables. The waitress looked like she was trying to serve drinks at the MCG for a grand final crowd. She was seriously stressed about the number of patrons that had desended on the pub and our group of four just took that number up by 25%. 
I will admit the steak was good and everyone had a great meal and it was relatively inexpensive for what you received. But the atmosphere was shocking. Nobody was talking or laughing except for us (of course everyone was staring at our table). Nobody was playing pool or watching the games on the TV. They came to consume food and go home. After our meal we went for a walk down the street and everything was closed, including the cop shop. There were no cars on the road, no late night shops, no parks with bands playing, nothing.  So we went to the hotel/motel, which was now all closed up as well, and went to our rooms for the night.
While I was laying there in the motel I was thinking that our town is 1/3  this size and it seems like New York City compared to this town. Why is it so boring? Then it dawned on me,  it's because of the continual influx of tourist we get to the Whitsunday region that keeps our town vibrant and full of life. I know this should not be a lightbulb moment, I have always known we have some of the shops and services only because Airlie Beach is a tourist town, but it never dawned on me that other towns that are much bigger are so boring because they do not have tourist. I love living in a small town (most of the time) but I could only do it if it was a tourist town. The tourist are the reason we have a variety of restaurants to choose from that stay open to the late hours of the evening,  we have specialised shops with the latest fashions and gadgets on offer, we have free swimming lagoons, sailing clubs, festivals, and so much to do. The tourist are the reason the government gives us more money for infrastuctures that we need. The tourist visiting Airlie Beach is the reason we have all the beauty therapist, repair places, mechanics, and distributers of a variety of products. The needs from the Whitsunday Island resorts is the reason a lot of the suppliers, that us smaller operators on the mainland use, are here in the town. The locals lives are easier and more productive because we are a major tourist destination so we have services like taxi's and limo's. Services that a town of our size would not have if it was not for the tourist.
So I just want to thank all the tourist that visit Airlie Beach every year,  because you are the reason my favorite town in the Whitsundays is so great. 

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Learning to Dive - Whitsunday Style

Boathaven Resort - Monday, June 28, 2010

I have a few friends in the Whitsundays that own or operate their own Padi Scuba Dive companies. They teach people to dive and become certified, the offer resort dives on tours (this is for beginners or those not certified), and they also offer PADI advanced dive courses.

I have always been an avid snorkeller. I like ability to relax, float on the surface, and see the beautiful corals and marine life that is quite abundant on and near the Great Barrier Reef. My friends have teased me for years about being afraid to go diving and because I always stand up to a challenge I agreed to give it a go.

I decided to go out on Cruise Whitsunday Great Barrier Reef adventures and dive with Reef Safari. They are a popular option in our region and I had heard lot's of great feedback from our guest about the service. So off to the Great Barrier Reef I go.  I would like to mention that I was assigned a dive instructor that I lovingly referred to as Mum's hot eye candy. It helps, when you think you may die, that at least their going to find you in the arms of an amazingly hot young man. Now I know scuba diving is relatively safe but I also now that man was not supposed to breath under water and this is the conflict in my head that will not go away.

Anyway, we get to the pontoon that is permanently moored out at the reef. After 15 minutes of shoving my body into a wetsuit that I swear was given to me as a joke because it was two sizes to small, I was ready to go and swim with the fishes.
I just want to quickly mention the wetsuit. Ladies, this thing does wonders for your figure, it pushes up all the bits and smooths out all the lumps. Unfortunatly it pushed all my bits up to the top and all of a sudden I was sporting a double D rack. I have a photo of myself in this outfit before we got in the water and I proudly display it on my desk, as I looked like I did when I was 18, and that alone was worth the dive experience even without diving.

So I head down the platform to where Reef Safari does the beginner dive training and Mum's hot eye candy is taking away all the nerves and i'm starting to get really excited. Then the instructor hands me a weight belt and advises me that this will help me sink. Now I am excited because never have I been told extra weight was required to complete a task, normally it is the opposite. I mention this to the instructor and he tells me the most offensive thing that has ever been said to me and they lived to tell about it. He says "the weights are for people that have more body fat as you tend to float, we will start you with one large belt and see how you go". Now I know the precious young man meant no offence but he almost lost an appendage with that statement.  Well, three weight belts later and I finally start to level out under water without floating to the top and have boats trying to tie up to me. It does not help that he wetsuit has created two size double D floating devices that are slowing moving up around my ears.

Well it is off to the adventures under water and I am holding on to my instructors hand (while I imaginge what our kids may look like) while he guides me under the pontoon and out to the expansive Great Barrier Reef which is only meters away.  Everything is going fine and I assume we are relatively close to the surface because I feel so comfortable. Then I tilted my head back to release a bit of pressure from my ears and I realise that we are about 10 meters under the surface and my mind starts racing. My instructor must have noticed as he gave me the OK sign of which I promptly gave him the OK sign back. I was not going to let this get to me. Obviously we were still going lower into the deapths of the Great Barrier Reef and I lifted my had again to adjust the ear pressure and somehow a small amount of sea water got into my mouth. It made it's way to the back of my throat and for some reason I seriously needed to cough. 

Uuummmm.. How do you cough under water with a regulator in your mouth? Did we go over that in the training class? Damn the cute instructor, it's his fault I was not paying attention, and now I am in absolute panic mode.

I look at the instructor, he must see the panic in my face because he looks a bit panicked, I shake my head and start kicking as hard as I can to the surface. (by the way this is the 1st lesson that they teach you of what not do) I feel the instuctor trying to grab my leg and all Ii can think is "you can shove that OK sign where the sun don't shine" I am out of here. About 2 meters from the surface I decide the most logical thing to do is rip my mask off because hey! it was in the way and the only thing it was doing was providing me with life giving oxygen. I break through the surface and I am trying to stay up with the three dang weight belts on. I am floating on my back when the instructor pop's up next to me with a big grin on his face. I said he could leave me and that I would just float over to the pontoon and I was not going to finish my dive. He shook his head and told me that he was not going to let me quit. I thought that was very noble of him considering I was contemplating knocking his block off.  He advised me to relax, just hold his hand and let him guide me, all I need to do is enjoy my surroundings. I nervously agreed to try it again.

This time I did exactly what I was told. I relaxed, held on to my georgous instructor, and took in the spetacular views of the corals and marine animals. IT WAS AMAZING. I saw sea turtles, close enough to touch, the entire cast of Finding Nemo, spectacular corals of all shapes and sizes, huge clams, and even off in the distance a Mantaray glided by.

We spent a good half hour under the sea and he had to squeeze my hand a few times to get me to agree to go back up to the surface. Once it was over and we swam back to the pontoon I had a smile as big as the Great Barrier Reef itself. That is until I got over excited and forgot I had three weight belts on and jumped up on the platform only to collapse under all the weight. Much to the amusement of the other instructors and experienced divers getting ready to start their dives. 

I have to say I still love a snorkel but I do go diving when the chance comes around and my goal this next year is to become a certified diver. Most first time dive experiences are not as traumatic as mine but that is my life. Diving the Great Barrier Reef should be on everyones Bucket List!!

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Could the Gulf Coast Oil Spill ever happen to us.

Boathaven Resort - Sunday, June 13, 2010

I watch every day with fear and tripidation with what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico and the environemental disaster that is unfolding each minute. It's a subject that I hold dear to my heart for a few reasons.
One, I grew up in that area of the world and lived and played along the Gulf of Mexico for almost 20 years. I know that it's not these peoples livelihood that is being effected it's the rest of their lives, FOREVER. Everything I did, when I lived along the coast, was connected to the ocean. The food we ate, our sport, our outdoor lifestyle, and our income was somehow connected to beach, the sea, and the vast wetlands around us. This one disaster will be handed down to many generations to deal with as we will not know the long term effects until they happen. Unless they come up with some sort of cleanup system that not only cleans the surface oil but the blobs of oil (the size of footy fields and from some reports small towns) that are floating beneath the surface and close to the bottom of the ocean. The southern part of America will be recovering for a while and the after effects will be felt around the planet for years to come.

The second reason I think about the BP oil spill is that I now live in another part of the world that is on the coast and maintains a delicate balance to produce some of the most spetacular scenery Mother Nature has on offer. The Whitsunday region and more importantly, the Great Barrier Reef, would never survive an environmental massacre like the Gulf of Mexico is taking right now. I know we do not have drilling wells after the Royal Commissions, federal, and state governments ceased allowing petroleum drilling on the Great Barrier Reef. (A study in 1990 concluded that the reef is too young to contain oil reserves-thank god) Oil drilling remains prohibited on the Great Barrier Reef, yet oil spills due to shipping routes are still a threat to the reef system, with a total of 282 oil spills between 1987-2002. Thankfully none of them have caused permanent damage and been quickly contained.
I know it's safer for the liners to travel inside the reef system than the outer edge, because if they do have a mechanical problem they can anchor up and repair themselves in calmer waters. The waters on the outer part of the Great Barrier Reef are to deep to anchor and the vessel could possibly end up crashing into the the reef system because they can not anchor. But we should make sure it is mandatory that all ships that pass through are double hulled, have a Reef Pilot on board that knows the waters, and has the most modern environmental clean up procedures on board. Hefty fines (like billions of $) should apply for any breaches of these rules. 

I don't ever want to be in a position like BP and the USA are in now, talking about what they should have done and how they will prevent this in the future. There is no future for most of the families along the Lousiana coast that rely on these waters. Even if they get it clean, who is going to eat an oyster from the gulf region in the next 10 years? Who is going to even think about planning a fishing trip to the Lousiana wetlands when they assume it will be tainted with oil and tar balls?  Who is going to move to these regions knowing most people are out of work?

The Whitsunday Islands and reef systems are some of the most beautiful parts of the world and I hope one day everyone will get to witness a whale breaching in turquoise waters, a sea turtle swim between your legs while your casualy checking out the vibrant corals, or a mantaray leap out of the water and then glide along next to your boat. If we are diligent about keeping it clean then someday everyone can witness these amazing sites for many generations to come.

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