Whilst sitting in McDonalds at Airlie Beach waiting for the photos to backup, we browsed through the glossy brochures Julie had picked up from her research. We had already decided on a day trip (to avoid joining a backpacker sailing crew in cramped conditions for 3 days), and 'Reefjet' or 'Ocean Rafting' presented themselves as common options through the commission-based agents. We decided to go with 'Ocean Rafting' as the lifeboat-style 'rafts' made for an interesting choice compared to the Reefjet catamaran that was similar to the one from our Hervey Bay outing.
The day started at a fast pace with an enthusiastic crew (the happy tea-boy turned out to be a boat captain fooling around), and after passing the Molle group of islands, we stopped at two spots just off Hook Island for snorkelling. The captain introduced us to 'Big Albert' an extremely large Horn-Headed Wrasse, and his girlfriend, a Giant Trevelly. Both fish were HUGE (seemingly bigger than that large grouper I saw just off Koh Tao) and happy to mingle among the snorkellers as the crew threw bread from the boat, immersing us in a feeding frenzy.
Later we stopped on Whitsunday Island and walked an uphill trail to a vantage point over Whitehaven Beach, the most talked-about beach in the area. Fabled for its fine quartz-white sand, used in the making of the Hubble Space Telescope, it provided an idyllic spot for lunch, sunbathing (the clouds passed quickly), and yet more snorkelling with the Rays that floated in the shallow waters.
As we were cruising away from Whitehaven after lunch, suddenly, a carrier bag flew out the back of the boat. Immediately spotted by the captain, the boat tipped and floated sideways, like a rollercoaster, as he spun the wheel. We gently halted, almost perfectly at the landing site, and his colleague leaned over and pulled the bag out of the sea with his little finger. "Captain Planet!" exclaimed our Captain in a most radical tone. He followed up with "I'll log that as a man-overboard procedure; won't have to practice it again 'til next month!"
Back on our way again, we passed through the passage between Hook Island and Whitsunday Island, and spotted a mother and baby humpback whale. The mother was teaching the kids a few tricks and both were waving flippers and sticking their tails out of the water.
The day finished with a demonstration of boat handling as we met up with another boat on the way back from the other side of Whitsunday Island, and we started to criss-cross in each others wake. It was a bit like wake boarding, but on a boat, or 'Ocean Rafting' as they called themselves. After a few 90 degree hard turns in the wake and plenty of bouncing, the two boats circled each other, chopping up the ocean for more action.
Once safely ashore, we decided to walk off our sea legs instead of catching the free shuttle bus a short distance back to our accommodation, and recounted the days adventures as we walked.