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Whitsundays & Fraser Island: Small expectations and big experiences

When I first travelled to the East Coast of Australia, I did so with little expectations. In such a popular corner of the world, this lack of excitement will probably appear as quite strange but the truth is, I was afraid that Whitsundays and Fraser Island might fail to live up to their lofty reputation. In fact, it was for this reason I was so disappointed on a recent visit to Hanoi, as this bustling city in Northern Vietnam failed miserably to warrant the glowing feedback I had previously received from fellow backpackers.

However, I was very wrong on this occasion and the east coast was not only the highlight of my time in Australia but also the most unforgettable part of my two year trip around the world.

First impressions of Airlie Beach

Airlie Beach is such a vibrant town which made it the perfect spot to spend time before our trip to the Whitsunday Islands. My two friends and I had just arrived from Cairns as a hive of activity unfolded on the main street in front of our campervan. Colourful cafés lined the roadside as the sun disappeared and neon lights began to flicker above the doorways of nearby bars; it was a welcome sight after such a long drive. We spend two nights mingling with fellow backpackers in Airlie Beach and readied our bags to board a yacht on the final morning.

New friends and Whitsunday Islands

Initially, we had worried about the group dynamic and claustrophobic nature of a boat but the yacht was an impressive specimen with an incredible amount of space to move around in. At the same time, we also had joined the perfect mix of like-minded travellers who seemed more interested in having a good time rather than “getting in the way” of our experience.
Relaxing on deck with light conversation and a gentle breeze, I remember thinking that this was the most pleasant feeling imaginable, as the isolated islands of Whitsundays came into view on the horizon. In fact, few places in the world have such crystal clear waters and we could already see the white powdered sands ahead for which the islands are best known. Stepping ashore to explore Whitehaven Beach was definitely a highlight and snorkelling amidst the coral on the Great Barrier Reef was an equally memorable experience but then cruising on deck in the middle of nowhere was the genuine highlight, with nothing but a gentle breeze and light conversation with new friends.

Fraser – An island waiting to be explored

Having had such an incredible time on our Whitsundays adventure, we found ourselves travelling south with newfound enthusiasm and faith that Fraser Island might just be as special as people say.
Hervey Bay is the most popular starting point to visit the island and it was here we met four Canadian backpackers who agreed to join our adventure. Although it was great to join up with our new friends, the reason for this was because Fraser Island is best explored on a self-drive safari and for this we needed some extra bodies to reduce the cost. Rugged and relentless, the interior of Fraser Island was almost jungle like and home to some seriously challenging roads.
With that said, we managed to manoeuvre these without any accidents until the opposite side of the island where long stretches of white sands and incredible hiking trails were waiting to be explored. Fraser Island might be quite a popular destination for tourists but there is a distinct wildness about taking a road trip around this particular island, especially any time dingoes surrounded our tents.

Exceeding small expectations in every direction

From isolated islands, pristine waters and dense jungles, the scenery was breath taking in every direction and every bit as picturesque as any travel magazine. At the same time, we had arrived with apprehension for taking an organized group tour in seriously touristy waters but those people became our friends and in the end, the group aspect was quickly forgotten along with any of our concerns.
In hindsight, while we did arrive on the east coast of Australia with minimal expectations, our experience in both Whitsundays and Fraser Island were always going to exceed them, regardless of their size.

Article by Derek  Cullen

“Derek Cullen is an Outdoor Blogger from Ireland who has spent the past nine years travelling more than fifty countries around the world. Although currently working as a guide in Africa, Derek has also spent extended periods in Canada, Thailand and Australia.” My blog: http://www.nohangingaround.com

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