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Mackay done, we were ready to tackle our next destination,
Airlie Beach -- the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef.
After settling in to the Island Getaway Holiday Park in Shute
Harbour, our first day was spent soaking up the sun on the newly
created Boathaven Beach at the Port of Airlie Development.
Once the poor cousin to the vast number of sandy beaches
surrounding the offshore islands, Boathaven now offers locals
and tourists an all-tidal beach within walking distance of town.
It's also close to Mr Bones Pizza; touted as 'the best pizza in
Airlie'. We weren't disappointed.
As should be expected, there are endless water activities in
Airlie; however, a word of advice for travellers is not to forget the
land. Make sure you book Airlie Beach Hotel's weekly Localvore
Tour.Led by the hotel's Executive Chef, Tim Whitehorn, and
Manager, Mark Bell, this 'Paddock to Plate' tour allows guests
to discover, touch and taste the produce from the local organic
farms around town. The tour includes an encounter with a
beefalo: a cross between a buffalo and a cow!
Don't get too attached, though. After visiting farms, the tour
regroups at Capers Restaurant, where Tim fires up a sumptuous
two-course meal using ingredients collected that afternoon. And
yes, that may include the cute woolly cow you just cosied up to.
Feeling adventurous, Gran and I contacted Salty Dog Sea
Kayaking, a company that hosts island expeditions to sea kayak,
swim and snorkel the vibrant coral reefs.
We decided to explore the nearby islands at our own pace
and chose a 'freedom' double kayak at a cost of $90 per
day, taking a night to camp out under the stars on one of the
uninhabited islands. Playfully known by the family as 'Gran
Grylls', Nan's long-term experience in DIY adventures assured
me I was in good hands.
Our paddle took us across crystal clear waters brimming
with coral and marine plants. This was a powerfully peaceful
experience -- at least once we passed the boat passage and
drifted through the picturesque shallow surrounds, home to turtle
Two kilometres away was a small island and our destination
for the night. The sea was choppy and the wind a little strong.
Getting there was hard work at times, but never scary. The
kayaks are buoyant and unlikely to tip over, and with two
paddlers in the boat you don't need shoulders the size of
boulders to enjoy the experience.
Salty Dog offers a glorious way to explore the waters of the
Whitsundays, and is just one way to pack an aquatic adventure
into the destination.
Not nearly exhausting what Airlie has to offer, it was time to
venture north to 'Queensland's Salad Bowl', Bowen, for a quick
stop before the long drive to Ayr for a few days of fishing.
Bowen, the northernmost town in the Whitsundays region,
grows a vast range of fresh produce known to end up on many
Aussie dinner plates. It produces 55 per cent of the country's
tomato supply and is celebrated for its delicious mangoes. It's
also renowned for the Jackman Pie.
In 2008, this tiny town of just 14,000 residents was the
backdrop for the epic movie Australia, and the local bakery was
rumoured to be a preferred fuel stop for the (in many a woman's
opinion) world's sexiest man, Hugh Jackman. So much so that
the owner renamed the bakery's signature pie after the star.
Nan and I chowed down on our Jackman Pies and marvelled
at the permanent display of movie memorabilia on the bakery walls.
With a tummy full of good tucker, it was time to drive to our
last adventure, the annual fish-off at the Barrattas.
Every year in the darkest depths of winter, when Pop was still
alive, Nan would pack up their camping car and head thousands
of kilometres north to the Burdekin Shire, just shy of Townsville.
This may be the sugar capital of Australia and a bird-
watcher's paradise, but my grandparents didn't go for the
scenery. Their mission was to hit the Barrattas, a legendary
estuarine waterway that yields good-sized barras and succulent
With Pop's recent passing, it was my turn to take up the
baton. We turned off the Bruce Highway about 20 kilometres
north of Ayr, and, on the advice of a local fisherman, planted our
tracks just off the ramp before the mouth of the creek. The trick,
according to our new friend, was to fish under trees or to troll the
edges of the water.
Eagle-eyed and ready, we waited on the bank with lines
dangling in the water and rods firm in hand. It only took a few
minutes before we snapped up three barra -- two large enough
for the plate.
That night, sitting back with a thousand stars in the night sky
overhead and fresh fish straight off the barbeque, we realised we
had not only conquered the Barrattas, but also the gap between
Gran and the Girl. ●
Mackay's colourful centre. Image © Tourism Queensland
Whitsunday National Park Campground
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