Airlie Beach, Whitsundays & Magnetic Island

It’s been a while!! I am finally in a good place (details to come) to backtrack on this and get caught up from when I last posted before Christmas. Going to jump right in:

I took the overnight bus on Chrismtas Eve from Agnes Water to Airlie Beach, it was pretty uneventful and I arrived into town around 7:30am Christmas morning. It was a bit strange! Everywhere was pretty closed up and it was quiet. By some stroke of good luck, I was able to check into my room at the hostel (usually the beds are not ready until 2 PM), dropped my things and went out in search of breakfast. Since everything around was so dead, I was in the process of convincing myself a McDonalds breakfast wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world… until I found a little mom and pop cafe open for breakfast! Christmas miracle. I had a good meal and went back to my room to shower and nap since it was still early in the morning. The rest of the day was extremely relaxed, I bounced back and forth between the hostel pool and the Airlie Beach Lagoon Pool just across the street and enjoyed the down time!

The next afternoon, I ran into my friend Marisa from the Fraser tour! I knew she was doing her Whitsundays boat trip over Christmas, but we didn’t anticipate running into each other on the back end before mine. We were so excited to see each other and spent the afternoon together at the hostel; that night I joined her at her boat afterparty and met a bunch of people she had done the tour with. We had a fun night; the bar, Boaty’s, was just next door to the hostel, they were serving cheap drinks and it was a karoke night so there was some good music playing. For one of the first times that night, I felt like I met a lot of new people and also saw a lot of familiar faces. I’ve learned that it is true, once you get further into your itinerary traveling the coast, you really do see a lot of the same people and become friends that way.

My Whitsundays boat trip was booked for 12/27-12/29, so the next day I packed up, you could only bring a small bag without zippers (apparently this helps prevent bed bugs), picked up my alcohol and headed to the marina for the 2:00 departure. I did my tour on the Atlantic Clipper, the most notorious “party boat” on the water. When I was booking the tour, this was one of the only boats left with availability so I decided to go for it, though I will admit I was a little hesitant to see how crazy things would actually be. As the group of ~50 boarded the vessel, we were told to grab a drink and meet on the top deck for the intros/safety briefing. Good start! Everyone began naturally breaking off into groups and chatting; I found myself in a mix of girls who were traveling in pairs and we all began getting to know each other. While I really have met a ton of other solo travelers, there are still always moments when I feel more aware of being on my own, but I think over the time I’ve traveled so far I’ve become more and more comfortable/confident/okay with this and I noticed that about myself on the Clipper!

For some context, the Whitsundays are a group of 74 islands off the east coast. Some islands/beaches are more famous than others, but it’s really popular to do boat trips through the area. Anyways, that first night on the boat we got into the mix of islands and stopped for the sunset. Our boat had 2 waterslides, so they put out one of them and we were able to go for a swim! Everyone had to wear “stinger suits” aka wetsuits because the jellies in the water can be pretty dangerous in this northern part of the coast. The chef on board had dinner ready for us shortly after, and we all enjoyed a solid meal in the lower deck area. The boat itself is huge! Even with 50+ people, I didn’t feel like we were squeezed in with no space. That night the “party” wasn’t really that crazy; the group I was hanging with were all pretty subdued so we enjoyed a few drinks outside before heading in for the night.

The next morning our wake up call for breakfast was bright and early because we would be quickly arriving to the famous Whitehaven Beach. My luck with good weather continued and we had a great day at the island to get the full effect of Whitehaven- that famous blue and white swirly view from the overlook did not disappoint! After the short hike through the woods for the lookout point, we decended onto the actual beach and spent a few hours walking around the sand and playing in the water. This had to have been the whitest, finest sand I’ve ever seen and felt; you can actually clean your hair, teeth and jewelry with it safely. The water was so tropical as well, and went spent the bulk of 2 hours chatting about how out of this world the whole place felt, like we were on another planet. The call to leave came too quickly, this had been such an iconic stop for me after seeing nothing but perfect photos of this place, and I was so grateful to have had good conditions to see everything (a lot of people who had gone on the tour over Christmas had cloudy/rainy weather and even some trip cancellations). Over the remainder of the afternoon we hung out on the boat. We had lunch, snorkeled and then began the night’s festivities as the sun began to set.

I’ll give it to the crew to say that they put on a fun party that night. The music was pumping and we were all dancing the night away in ridiculous costumes they had offered us. There were drinking games, team games and competitions to get us all partying together and it was a really fun time overall! Siebele- if you’re reading this you should know you are one of the happiest, most joyful Belgians I’ve ever met and I love that we are friends. You crushed it on the dance floor both this night and New Years! Our final half day on the boat was pretty uneventful; we had breakfast and cruised to a spot near the marina where we played on the waterslides, jumped from the diving platform and had time with the standup paddle boards. I have no complaints about my Whitsundays excursion but I will say that my Fraser tour will always hold a special place in my heart, still taking the lead for me as far as multi-day trips go.

I was exhausted when I got back to the hostel for my last night in Airlie, and totally ready for some alone time. I checked into my 4 bed room and at 2pm walked into a room of 3 guys passed out asleep/hungover, with one of the top bunk mattresses on the floor. I was appalled hahaha. I quickly showered and got out of there, keen to find a place in the shade outside to take a nap. I returned later that night to my room pumping with music and energy with these 3 guys. This turned out to be one of my favorite nights, the 3 of them were Aussies traveling together on a winter holiday and on a complete 2 week bender. But they were so friendly and engaging after they woke up from their day long nap! They apologized for the state of things, which I thought was hilarious, and we spent a few hours chatting before they went out again. They wanted to know all about where I’m from and what I was doing and it was really cool to share the conversation with people not backpacking the way I am.

The morning of 12/30 it was finally time to leave Airlie; it felt as though I had been there for ages and was ready to keep moving! I took a 10am bus to Townsville and then a quick ferry over to Magnetic Island, where I would spend New Years Eve and the next 3 days. Magnetic Island is a small spot off the coast, and I had absolutely no idea what to expect from it! I ended up being on the same bus/ferry with an English friend named Megan who I had met through Marisa a few days prior. Megan was staying at Base hostel, apparently with every other person going to Maggie for NYE, which was where the big party would be. I had booked my stay at the YHA on the other side of the island. It was part of a koala sancutary and offered a little more peace and quiet that I was looking for :). I relied a lot on Megan to keep me connected and involved with things since I was staying a bit out of the way, and it ended up working out so well! I will start off by saying my time on Magnetic Island easily tops the charts as some of my favorite days on the east coast.

That first night I ended up just settling in to my hostel, doing much needed laundry and chatting with some of the girls in my little A-frame dorm room. The hostel I stayed in was so so cute; it was mixed with a campsite, there was a koala sleeping in a tree outside of my dorm, the common area felt a bit like a tree house and the rooms/facilities were really clean and new! I loved the outdoor shower and sink they had too, because it felt like a partial camping experience.

The most popular activity to do on MI is rent one of these little pink “Barbie” cars to drive around the island for a day. Megan and I had agreed to do this together, and she knew 2 other girls from her hostel interested as well. So the following morning, NYE day, I was up and ready, waiting for my little crew to come pick me up. They pulled in around 11 in this cute little mini Jeep car thing! I was instantly floored and I once again found myself in a group with phenominal energy. Megan, Victoria and Emilie were an awesome little girl gang and I was loving our vibes; we were excited for a full day but totally operating on relaxed island time. We first drove up the street from me and had breakfast overlooking Horseshoe Bay, a strip on the northern part of the island. The girls offered to then quickly drive back to the rental place so that I could sign my info and have driving privileges; they even got an autmatic car just for me, the lone American who doesn’t know how to drive manual :). This was my first time behind the wheel in Australia and I was LOVING it! It was so fun to drive this little car around and get my first taste of being on the left (wrong) side of everything. I felt like I picked it up pretty easily too.

We made our way down the one main road, heading towards an offroad area called West Point, and the furthest we could go in that direction. We stopped at the small, secluded beach here and really marveled at how remote things felt on MI, it’s a really unique place. After that we turned around and stopped for some lunch, taking a quick break to regroup for the rest of the afternoon and finalize our plans for the night. Our final drive that day was on another unpaved road; this one a lot more rugged than the first! We were barely making it up the hills and through the massive potholes as we drove off road towards Radical Bay, but it was such a fun ride. We enjoyed the secluded, jungly, beach views in Radical Bay around 4:30 and then wrapped up our time with the car. The girls dropped me off back at my hostel and I had plans to meet them back at theirs around 6:00 for dinner and our NYE celebrations. We all agreed we had had so much fun that day, just chatting away, listening to good music and driving with the wind in our hair. We all apprecaited each others’ energy and it was awesome.

NYE has never been a favorite holiday of mine, but this year things were different. I had one of the best nights I can remember bringing in 2019. After getting ready in my one nice outfit (lol) I took the bus back down to Base with a good number of others who were heading that way for the big party too. Base had a big yard and picnic area they they had set up for a DJ, drink tents and places to sit and socialize. I met back up with Megan and Victoria, along with a good number of other girls they had met in the hostel. I was really loving all of the lady power and energy; once again we were all feeding off of each other and just really excited to dance and drink and have a drama free night. I think I’ll always remember how I brought in 2019: dancing with some new friends, laughing, buzzing and totally content. It was nice being away from all of the normal NYE hype, there was no flashyness or fakeness about this scene and we were all just having a genuine good time on this crazy beautiful island. Megan, Victoria and I ended the night around 2:30 with personal pizzas and lots of water. We felt great.

On New Years Day, I met back up with my 2 gal pals and we walked to a small local house with a chalkboard sign out front offering hair wraps. I was so excited that Megan and Victoria shared my same childhood nostalia for hair wraps!! All I want is some fun string and beads in my hair, and I’ve been unable to do this because of work/school/life for years. No time like now; we all picked our colors and beads and for $20 each we spent an hour or so with this young, local woman chatting away about anything and everything as she did our hair. It was perfect. Unfortunately, Megan had a to catch a bus that afternoon as she was moving onto the next part of her journey in NZ, so we said our goodbyes (I miss you Meg!) and Victoria and I spent the rest of the day together on a realllllyyyy long hike.

Victoria- I hope you read this at some point, and you know this already- but you are such a standout to me and one of the most influential people I’ve met during my travels. I love how fast friends we became and you best believe I will be hopping the pond to come see you some day. On New Years Day, we hiked over 13 miles!! It was such an outstanding afternoon; we had perfect weather and enjoyed the exercise, the views and the company. Meeting a person like Victoria has reinforced everything I’d imagined about traveling solo; that you will meet other solo travelers who have experienced all of the same ups, downs and sideways emotions you have and you will form an instant connection through that shared experience. I think we talked that entire afternoon, not missing a single beat as we went along. I loved every minute. We did The Forts hike, saw a mama and baby koala (I 100% got teary eyed at that), went up to Hoseshoe Bay, and along trails to Balding and Radical Bays. We made it back to Horseshoe as the sun was setting and I went for a swim, one of my favorite moments and happiest way to cleanse myself into the new year. It was a really really really good day.

We knew we would be overlapping again on the next leg in Cairns, so we said quick goodbyes that night and I regrouped back at my hostel. I packed up and said goodbye to MI the next morning, 1/2, and caught a ferry back to Townsville and the bus to Cairns. More to come on my final east coast stop in my next post!



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