THE WAY OF THE WHITSUNDAYS
Out on the patio we’d sit,
And the humidity we’d breathe,
We’d watch the lightning
crack over canefields
Laugh and think, this is Australia.
As you fly into Prosperpine, the airport servicing the Whitsundays, these song lyrics by GANGgajang come to life and their meaning become a very poetic reality. Canefields and humidity!
After a scenic 30 minute drive from the airport, the canefields open to unveil water as blue as topaz and palm trees that touch the sky… which also happens to be the bluest of blue! Yes, pretty as a picture. We’ve arrived at Airlie Beach.
Airlie Beach, is an Australian resort town on Queensland’s Whitsunday Coast. It is THE gateway to the Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef. It was once just considered a departure point for sailing holidays, however today Airlie Beach is as popular a tourist destination as the reef itself.
To me, Airlie Beach is a more humble version of Byron Bay of old, and a much more ‘fun & young’ version of Noosa. Right away I love it.
A soft breeze, a vegan café and the smell of tropical Frangipani greet me. I feel at home. It’s Sunday afternoon and off in the background at the Abell Point Marina, a band is playing. Could this place be more chilled? Apparently not – this is how Airlie Beach rolls.
I soon learn, many people come to visit but less people leave. On a holiday, passing through, backpacking. They’ve all been caught by her spell. They’re all still here. Their stories all have a similar thread. Love.
They fell in love. With a local, with the climate or with the lifestyle. Love has kept them here. And I can’t help but wonder if that little reef, known as Heart Reef, has magical powers? Already I’m in love!
On the horizon there are islands. Plenty of them. 74 in total. Hamilton, Hayman, Daydream and Long Island. They offer a variety of resorts and holiday options, while the other islands are purely for fishing, trekking or breaking up the blue water with their white sandy beaches and dense rainforests.
It is hard to believe it was less than a year ago that Cyclone Debbie tore through leaving nothing but destruction in her wake. If it wasn’t for the unusual amount of renovations (restoration) happening in this small town, or the odd resort still closed, the signs of damage all but gone to the tourist eye. Airlie Beach was in full-flight. Like a broken bone, it has healed stronger than it was before the bend and snap!
To the locals the devastation and impact is still raw and talk is often BD or AD (before Debbie or after Debbie). With not a lot of warning, this town came under siege by a category 4 onslaught of Mother Nature. All those man-made commodities we’ve grown to live with, but not really appreciate, were gone. Running water, electricity and all that it feeds. Gone!
To put it in perspective, a local sailor tells of the queues into service station being blocks long. Like the launch of a new Apple iPhone, yet this could not be more juxtaposed. One being superficial, the other survival. Why the service station? Because it sold snack foods and accepted cash! Electricity wasn’t required to operate the EFTPOS machine or cook food. If you had cash – you were king!
Many were caught off-guard by Debbie’s arrival. But rather than talk of anger and resentment, it’s talk of how the community came together, pitched in and supported each other. Hotels took in backpackers, and let them call home with the news they were ok. Restaurants fed people rather than let food spoil. It wasn’t a me situation. It was a we!
And this thread of community underpins Airlie Beach. You may not see it, but you’ll definitely feel it. There’s a definite ‘vibe’ in the air. The soft breeze, floral perfume, the friendly smiles, all wrap you up in a heartfelt embrace.
If you’ve you have not been to this piece of paradise, it’s time you put it on your ‘to do’ list. It truly is one of the great Natural Wonders of the world…. And the people are pretty alright too!
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