After strolling around Airlie Beach for a while (and trying not to ogle all the beautiful, young women who had descended on this
town for Easter weekend), I walked into the Tourist Information center on the main street. Just about every town in Australia
and New Zealand has a Tourist Information place, marked with a huge letter "i," and they're a great source of information
for what to do in that area. They also make bookings for free, they have tons of brochures, and if you don't have an AA motel guide,
which is a must-have for every visitor to Australia, they're a good place to compare motel rates.
The Aussie group The Little River Band is
pretty popular in Australia, of course. I never found the Little River but I have heard their music a lot on the radio. Here's Lady.
Speaking of motel rates, this is towards the end of "The Wet" (i.e., the summer monsoon season) here in northeastern
Australia, so it's still the off-season. One nice thing about visiting during the The Wet is that motels often have
"stand-by" rates that are sometimes as much as 60% less than the standard "book rate," the rate you'd pay if you
made a reservation. You can get a nice motel room on the northeastern coast at this time of year for about US$35 a night, instead
of paying over twice that during the peak season, which lasts from May through September.
I had done some snorkeling a few days earlier on the Great Barrier Reef when I was in Port Douglas, but I hadn't done any scuba diving
on the reef yet, so I booked a scuba trip for the next morning. But unfortunately when I got down to the dock the next morning, I learned
that the trip had been cancelled, so I settled on an all-day island-hopping boat trip through the beautiful Whitsunday archipelago. I've
posted some photos of my day-trip through the Whitsundays below. The Whitsunday Islands are absolutely beautiful, unlike any other place
I've been in Australia or New Zealand, and I'll definitely come back there again some day – some day when I'm richer and can afford to stay there overnight.
Above left: Shute Harbor is on the northern coast, a few miles from Airlie Beach. I
hopped on a boat here for a day-tour of the Whitsunday Islands and got a glimpse into the lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.
Above center: My first stop that day was on Long Island, the first of three islands I visited.
Above right: The Club Croc resort on Long Island.
Above left: After a few hours at Club Croc, I headed over to South Molle Island, another resort
in the Whitsunday Islands. Here's the pier.
Above right: The nine-hole golf course on South Molle. Of the three resorts I visited this day,
South Molle was my favorite. For "only" US$150 a night, you too can stay here.
Above left: I kicked back here under a palm tree for an hour with a cold drink...
Above center: ...then I hopped on another water taxi....
Above right: ...and headed over to Daydream Island. That's my boat tied up to the dock.
Above left: Here's the swimming pool at Daydream Island. Daydream Island was pretty hoity-toity
and stuffy, so I didn't linger here too long.
Above center: A tourist near Daydream Island died of jellyfish stings the
previous week. Here's a stinger sign and a bottle of vinegar. Nope, I didn't go swimming.
Above right: Beachfront rooms on Daydream. Time to head back to Airlie Beach.
I had a great day cruising through the Whitsunday Islands – and all for only $20.
Hervey Bay and Fraser Island
I continued my leisurely drive down the eastern coast the next morning and late that afternoon I pulled into Rockhampton, a
pleasant inland city with a population of 50,000. After getting a room at the nice Dreamtime Motel on the outskirts of town,
I headed into Rocky, as the locals here call Rockhampton, to buy some groceries. I soon learned, though, that since this was
Easter Sunday, all the grocery stores in town were closed. In fact, just about everything was closed in Rocky – and just
about everywhere else in Australia – except motels and gas stations. As the gas station attendant told me, things would
remain closed for the next few days through Tuesday morning, so I stocked up on his "scrumptious" selection of pretzels,
Pepsi, and beef jerky. Not exactly gourmet food, I figured, but it was enough to get me through until Tuesday.
Above: Lawn bowling is popular in the Land of Oz. White attire required, of course.
I continued heading down the coast the next morning and around 3 p.m. I reached the city of Hervey Bay. The first thing
you learn about Hervey Bay is that it's pronounced "Harvey," like that 1950s Jimmy Stewart movie about the invisible rabbit.
The second thing you learn about Hervey Bay is that, for better or worse – mostly worse – the city is a continuous strip of restaurants and
motels, reminiscent of so many bland American cities. During the past four months, I'd gotten spoiled by the pleasantly compact and
pedestrian-friendly layout of Australian and New Zealand cities. Hervey Bay was an unpleasant reminder of what I could expect in
a few weeks when I returned to the U.S.
The reason I was in Hervey Bay, though, wasn't to see Hervey Bay or to see Harvey the Rabbit. Instead, I wanted to visit Fraser
Island, which lies just offshore and is accessible by an hour-long ferry ride. I'd heard lots of great things about Fraser Island and
it's a very popular vacation destination in Australia. At 75 miles in length, Fraser is the world's largest sand island and there are
no paved roads on it, only sandy tracks. You absolutely have to have a four-wheel drive vehicle to get around Fraser Island, but if you
don't happen to have one, you can rent one for $50 a day. Or you can do what I did and go on a four-wheel drive bus trip.
I had high hopes of my visit, based on everything I'd heard about Fraser Island. Maybe it was because it was Easter weekend and was crowded,
or maybe it was because I was on a bus tour with 50 strangers. But whatever it was, I wasn't totally overwhelmed with Fraser Island – at least,
not as much as I was expecting to be, given all the hype I'd heard. Frankly, there are similar places in the U.S., like Cumberland Island in
Georgia, that are as interesting if not more so, that don't have all the hype. Still, I enjoyed Fraser Island. It's a unique place and
is certainly worth a visit if you're heading down the coast.
Above left: Here's a typical four-wheel drive truck in Australia. Note the "roo bar"
on the front end and the snorkel.
Above center: The town of Hervey Bay is the jumping-off point for Fraser Island, the world's largest sand island.
I took a day-tour over to Fraser to get a sandy taste of it.
Above right: The Fraser Island ferry dropping off another group.
Above left: A freshwater lake on Fraser Island.
Above right: Heading out to the beach on Fraser Island.
Above left: Our tour bus on the beach.
Above center: Cruising on the beach at 50 miles an hour. Nope, no roundabouts here.
Above right: This beautiful freshwater creek was fascinating. You can walk upstream in this
creek and then float (or walk) all the way down to the beach.
Above left: Downstream, near the beach.
Above right: And at the mouth of the creek. Fraser Island is similar to Cumberland Island
in Georgia but larger and with lots of cars (and lots of people). It was interesting and I'm glad I spent a day checking it out.