The main attraction for me at these islands was to SCUBA dive the Great Barrier Reef, but unfortunately, we weren't able to secure a dive trip for me. I will admit that I was really disappointed, since it has been a long-held dream of mine to dive the Great Barrier Reef, and I had done a lot to prepare for it. But with the view from our hotel room (shown above) and the promise of at least some snorkeling the following day, I managed to get over it, and our first night there was really quite lovely.
To be brutally frank, however, the snorkeling the next day wasn't great. The place we were taken wasn't actually part of the Great Barrier Reef, but rather, a small fringing reef outcrop wading distance from the shore one of the Whitsunday Islands. It was pretty clear that this reef was dying (likely because of the throngs of tourists who were brought there and who couldn't help kicking the very shallow reef as they swam; reefs are incredibly delicate), and this reef had absolutely no vibrant colours at all, but was instead a monochromatic brown. (There were admittedly a lot of fish; however this was probably because the boat captains brought along fish food for them.) It was honestly a bit heartbreaking.
People, the beaches were breathtaking. In particular, Whitehaven Beach, which we visited after the snorkeling trip, was spectacular: the sand was unbelievably white and powdery, and the ocean sparkled with intense blues and greens and turquoise.
It is no wonder that Whitehaven is consistently listed as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Here, take a look:
Simply stunning. We had an amazing time and when, later that evening, we toasted the day during dinner at a seaside restaurant, we meant every single word of gratitude we exhaled.
(Pro tip: if you want a romantic lazy holiday to get away from it all, you'd be hard-pressed to beat Hamilton Island. The Beach Club is a lovely place to stay, truly, and don't even think about missing an excursion to Whitehaven Beach. If, however, it's a dive trip you're looking for, then continue flying northward to Cairns, where apparently the dive shops and the opportunities to explore the Great Barrier Reef are far more plentiful.)
The next morning, we were scheduled to return to the airport: it was time for Hailey to return to Brisbane and her family, while Maile and I were off to spend a few days in Sydney. But before we left, we had one more thing to do.
As it happens, tiny Hamilton Island is home to a small wildlife park, one which houses many of the indigenous animals of Australia.
It is also one of the few places in the entire country where they actually allow you to hold a koala.
I've honestly never really considered koalas much before, other than knowing that they're awfully cute. So it was really interesting to learn that they're marsupials, not bears (as they're often erroneously named), which means that like kangaroos, they carry their young in a pouch. In addition, they eat primarily leaves from the eucalyptus tree which, paradoxically, contain very little nutritional value or calorie content -- and so, to compensate, they sleep a lot, up to 20 hours a day.
Also, did I mention that they're awfully cute?
When it was my turn to hold Waldo (because of course that's his name), I placed my hands the way the handler instructed, and he was lifted into my arms. He was softer than I imagined, and he smelled strongly of eucalyptus. He was also way heavier than I anticipated.
I mentioned this to Mike, the general manager of the park.
"Yeah," he grinned. "Everyone says that. I think it's because they're expecting the koalas to feel like stuffed animals."
He's probably right.
I didn't want to let Waldo go. He was awfully cute.
A week later, as we were traveling through the Blue Mountains, Graeme, our driver, told me about a koala hospital that is in Port Macquarie, New South Wales, that treats sick and injured koalas. "They're pretty special," he said. "I adopt one at Christmastime every year."
I made a note that I would look into this when I got back. And I did. And I couldn't help myself: I adopted one.
They're just so awfully cute.
Once Waldo was pried from my very reluctant arms, we returned to the hotel, grabbed our bags, and headed back to the airport. Next stop: Sydney!
read more of my australian adventure here:
Huge thanks to Tourism Australia, Air New Zealand and Go Mighty for making this adventure possible. If a trip Down Under is a dream you've had, please be sure to check out the Tourism Australia site for all sorts of juicy information about Australia; in addition, throughout October Tourism Australia, Air New Zealand and Go Mighty are running two additional campaigns to help make your dream come true in 2014: the first, Fill-A-Plane, where you can sign up to be one of 322 people to get a special discount on air travel for folks who take the pledge to travel to Australia next year; the second, "Win a Wild Card ticket to Australia," for a chance to win a trip to Australia, by simply becoming a member of Go Mighty and adding your wildest Australia-based dreams. You can check out all the details here. And to see my iPad images and listen to more in-the-moment impressions I had while in Australia, be sure to check out my Go Mighty posts of this adventure.